Saturday, May 31, 2014

Eloisa James

Mary Bly, who writes under the pen name Eloisa James, is a Fordham English professor and Shakespeare scholar who has degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. From her Q & A with Rachel Kramer Bussel at Vulture:

How has your romance writing been received in your academic life?

I did not come out as Eloisa James until I had tenure and I’d hit the New York Times best-seller list. People magazine wanted a picture of me to run with a review of my second book. The chair of the English department said, “You will not get tenure. You will destroy your career.” When I got tenure, I thought, If I keep this secret any longer, I’m denigrating my own readers.

At the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, which I attended recently in New Orleans, several people told me romance was maligned and I thought, Are they exaggerating? But then this New Republic piece came out.

I get things like a student this fall who told me, “Why should I care about your grade? You write Shakespearean porn.” But overall I’d say that the amount of negative attention to romance receded a lot until Fifty Shades of Grey. That article had enormous queasiness related to women’s sexual desire, which he funneled into “This book is so badly written …” but that book is beloved worldwide. It may be badly written — I didn’t read it — but it clearly hit a chord, and I don’t think he liked that.

Is some of that bias about the escapism factor?

No. Guys are reading Game of Thrones, and there’s a lot of escapism in that. There’s something very upsetting about a book viewed as existing only to titillate women. I’m surprised by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lynn Cullen

Lynn Cullen is the author of Reign of Madness, a 2011 Best of the South selection by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and 2012 Townsend Prize finalist, and The Creation of Eve, named among the best fiction books of 2010 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and an Indie Next selection. She is also the author of numerous award-winning books for children, including the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter, which was a 2007 Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection and an ALA Best Book of 2008.

Cullen's latest novel is Mrs. Poe.

From the author's Q & A with Erin Al-Mehairi:

Q: Mrs. Poe’s title of course isn’t meant to mislead, but why did you or your publisher choose it when your protagonist isn’t Edgar Allan Poe’s wife, but the female poet Frances Osgood?

A: I chose that title from the very start. I was thinking of the book, Rebecca, in which the main character is obsessed with Rebecca, the former wife of the narrator’s new husband. Rebecca isn’t told from Rebecca’s point of view, but through the eyes of the new wife. I thought I would write Mrs. Poe in the same vein—written from Frances’s point of view about her obsession with Mrs. Poe. Frances wanted to be the real Mrs. Poe, and actually was more suited for that role and so should have been, hence her obsession.

Q: Why did you choose Frances as the narrator or protagonist? What do you hope readers remember about Frances? Why is she not more well-known as in my mind she is one of the greatest female poets of the 19th century?

A: I identified with Frances since she was a woman trying to make a living writing, never an easy thing to do, and especially difficult in 1845. I wanted to explore what it’s like to be a woman and a writer through her eyes. I wonder if Frances didn’t remain well-known long after her death because she wrote about being a mother and about love, subjects that “serious,” i.e. male, authorities on poetry discounted. I also wonder if her relationship with Poe...[read on]
Visit Lynn Cullen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mrs. Poe.

The Page 69 Test: Mrs. Poe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh’s latest novel is The Moon Sisters.

From her Q & A with Christi Craig:

CC: How was writing The Moon Sisters different from writing your debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy?

TW: They were both personally challenging novels for me to write, but when I wrote (and re-wrote) The Last Will of Moira Leahy (2002-2008), I did it for me. I wasn’t under contract. I was exploring my ability as a writer, and then pushing up against and redefining those boundaries as I grew. It was an exhausting but intensely rewarding experience.

When I wrote The Moon Sisters, I was under contract, as I had a two-book deal with Random House. Instead of writing for myself, as an exploration of ability, I was writing for a publisher, who had an expectation of ability. And, really, I had to live up to that expectation. That made me nervous, and even made me a little fearful. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I only had one book in me?

Ultimately, I did work through those fears, and—who knows?—maybe the fear helped. I’m very proud of the book The Moon Sisters has become; it’s the...[read on]
Visit Therese Walsh's website and Facebook page. Follow her on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Will of Moira Leahy.

Read: Coffee with a Canine: Therese Walsh & Kismet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Michelle Gable

Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. When not dreaming up fiction on the sly, she currently resides in Cardiff by the Sea, California, with her husband and two daughters.

Gable's The Paris Apartment is her first novel. From her Q & A with Nicole Meier:

Congratulations on the release of A Paris Apartment. For those who aren’t familiar, can you shed light on the real-life apartment that inspired your novel?

Thank you! The real-life story is a captivating one. In 1940, as Paris fell to the Germans, a young woman locked her apartment, fled to the south of France, and never returned. When she passed away in 2010, the apartment and its news-making contents were discovered.

The amazing home was filled, floor to rafters, with the most exquisite pieces of art and furniture imaginable. One painting, rendered by famed portraitist Giovanni Boldini, sold for over €2 million at auction. The portrait was of the woman’s grandmother, Belle Époque courtesan Marthe de Florian.

In the book, it’s impossible not to feel April Vogt’s excitement as she uncovers the apartment’s treasures, specifically the Boldini painting. Are you also an art history enthusiast?

Not to the extent that April is given her multiple art history degrees! The conventional wisdom is “write what you know” but I believe it’s “write what...[read on]
Visit Michelle Gable's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Paris Apartment.

My Book, The Movie: A Paris Apartment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue’s latest novel is Frog Music.

From the author's Q & A with Courtney Gillette of Lambda Literary (reprinted at Slate):

In the New York Times Book Review, you were recently asked about books that influenced you, and you said that it was Jeanette Winterson’s novel The Passion that “made [you] believe that fiction could feature a lesbian storyline and still be truly literary.”

You might say I was naive not to have realized this!

But that’s a revelation I completely identify with. I remember reading a lesbian memoir for the first time and realizing, “Oh! People will read about lesbians’ lives!” It hadn’t occurred to me until I was reading it.

Well, because so many of us, when we were first seeking out lesbian storylines, were doing it like desperate junkies, searching for something to relieve our needs! So it wouldn’t have occurred to us that this was a cultural product that other people would like to read. But also, when I first found lesbian books, usually imports from America, I bought any of them, all of them! And a lot of them weren’t that literary, but they hit the spot. They saved my life. They made me realize I could be a part of this world. But they seemed a different thing from literature. The Winterson was a real breakthrough for me. I also remember the first moment—and this might sound like a strange breakthrough—but I remember the first moment I went into a bookstore and there was a lesbian book, and I didn’t buy it. I thought, oh, I don’t actually need to buy that one! I’ll wait a buy a good one.

What a nice abundance of queer literature there is, that we can afford to discern our tastes among it.

Absolutely, and not feel so desperate for it that...[read on]
Visit Emma Donoghue's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tony Hillerman

From Tony Hillerman's 2008 Q & A with Gregory Lalire:

What did you read as a boy?

Everything I could get my hands on.… We had the state library. If you wrote them a letter, they would send you a list of books and then you'd send them a list of what you wanted to check out and money to cover the postage. I'd be asking for War and Peace, or cowboys and Indians, combat, war stuff, aviation. I still remember opening the first package and pulling out History of the Masonic Order in the West. Then there was Recovery of the Cotton Industry in South Carolina. Stuff like that. But I read them.

What made you want to write?

Well, I always enjoyed reading.… I got in the Army, got in a rifle company…well, everybody in my company decided when the war was over we were going to circulate a petition, ask Congress to abolish West Point, tear down all the West Point buildings, salt the ground so it wouldn't spring back up and then get Congress to enact a Constitutional amendment banning people who could not pass a fourth-grade intelligence test from gaining a commission in the United States Army.

We had been screwed up by West Point officers. We were at a little town in France, close to the German border. The Germans held the other side of the stream, and we held our side. And the West Pointers decided they wanted us to go to the other side and capture two Germans.… We got ready to go, and they called it off. The next morning, they decided we would go that night. By now, everybody on both sides knew we were going over there. We got up to the front, and one of the guys said: "Surely you're not going over there. The Germans have been working all day—we've been watching them—and getting ready for you guys."

Boy, were they ready. We just got the hell kicked out of us. I got blown up in a barnyard. The first guy who carried me back got shot, but the next guy dumped me in the creek. Anyway, I got back. I couldn't see much—the Army still rates this eye as blind—both of my knees were broken, and my left foot had been rebuilt so that I still have to buy shoes two different sizes. But I was sitting in a wheelchair, thinking that the Army doesn't have any use of me anymore, and I knew I didn't want to farm. I started thinking that maybe I'd like to write, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Michael Cunningham

From a Goodreads Q & A with Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours:

You displayed amazing insight into the feminine experience in The Hours. Where did you gain such a nuanced understanding of women, specifically women in and on the page?

Michael Cunningham: People ask, sometimes, about my ability to write convincing women characters (I’m not only a man, I’ve been one all my life). I of course am always glad to hear that people find my female characters convincing.

I do, however, have a counter-question of my own – I wonder why some male writers have such difficulty writing women characters.

I don’t want to under-estimate the differences between genders. But at the same time, I believe that at our deepest levels – the levels of our natures, our characters – we’re much more alike than we are different. I don’t really think that men and woman come from different planets (though if I did, and had written a book about it, I’d be much wealthier than I am at present, wouldn’t I?).

I wonder sometimes if it gets down to this: I like women. I’m interested in women. It may be as simple as that. It may be that some male writers simply don’t like women all that much (and, for that matter, the reverse – there are probably women writers who don’t particularly like men).

That said, when I’ve finished a book that involves prominent women characters – which, now that I think of it, would be every book I’ve written – I show it to a few women friends, by way of a reality check.

This, however, is slightly tricky ground – what woman...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 23, 2014

Susann Cokal

Susann Cokal is a historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and professor of creative writing and modern literature. Her new magnum opus is The Kingdom of Little Wounds, set in the Scandinavian Renaissance; it received starred reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English.

From her Q & A with Dodie Ownes at School Library Journal:

Sometimes I felt like I needed a scorecard to keep track of the King and Queen’s connections, and their relationships with the court and other countries. Royal families sure are messy, aren’t they?

Yes, they’re messy—tangled—and especially so back then [in late-16th century Skyggehavn, Scandinavia], when it was a tight tangle: the same families married into each other, though they ran different countries and duchies, so it wasn’t always easy to say who was related to whom and where the alliances lay. There was so much in-marrying that when a man (always a man) wanted a divorce, he could usually prove that a marriage was null by reasons of consanguinity—blood relations. So you were supposed to marry someone from a select group, and then you had to please that person so your marriage wasn’t declared an incestuous sin. Alliances were shifting more often than on an average episode of Survivor; [and] anyone in favor for the merest moment was suddenly besieged by other courtiers hoping to get a leg up on the ladder. I imagine it all as the kind of clog you find in a U-joint under your sink—all tangled up, tightly wound, everything...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Susann Cokal's website.

Writers Read: Susann Cokal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron's first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award for best crime first novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Cameron's work has appeared in the New York Times, the Globe & Mail, and The Millions. She worked as a wilderness instructor in Ontario's Algonquin Park and for Outward Bound. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

Her latest novel, The Bear, is about a family who gets attacked by a black bear in Algonquin Park. The children survive, but their parents do not.

From Cameron's Q & A with Christine Fischer Guy at The Millions:

The Millions: In her study of Canadian literature, Survival, Margaret Atwood wrote that in the books she read as a child, “The main thing was to avoid dying, and only by a mixture of cunning, experience, and narrow escapes could the animal — or the human relying on its own resources — manage that.” Five-year-old Anna narrates your novel, and part of the tension in The Bear is the reader’s awareness of the killing indifference of the Canadian wilderness: we know the kids are not all right.

Claire Cameron: The real start was in the voice. It started to whisper to me. My son was five years old at the time and nattering incessantly. At five there’s that moment when their vocabulary catches up with their inner life. In the background was my ongoing interest in bears. I’ve spent a lot of time in the wilderness. I started to write with that voice and the wilderness stuff wrapped itself around that voice. A bear came to mind. I’m so well acquainted with the attack that happened in 1991 in Algonquin Park, where I’d worked as a camp counselor the year before and the year after it happened. It was a couple who were experienced campers and it was around Thanksgiving. As far as bears go, that timing is crucial. No one else was there to witness it, but in reconstructing the scene they think it was a predatory attack, and they think the bear attacked the woman first. There are signs that the man put up a fight. It was a young male bear, which is another important point. Young males get kicked out by their mums and they don’t have their own territory. They are the ones that are more experimental and willing to take a chance.

What took me years to come to terms with was that the couple didn’t do anything wrong, and the bear was just being a bear. The summer after, I and a lot of people who worked at the camp were searching for a reason, we were hoping that the campers had done something wrong, that the campers had done something to bring this on to themselves. There wasn’t ...[read on]
Visit Claire Cameron's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Learn about Claire Cameron's five favorite stories about unlikely survivors.

My Book, The Movie: The Line Painter.

Writers Read: Claire Cameron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Richard A. Clarke

Richard A. Clarke served for thirty years in the United States Government, including an unprecedented ten continuous years as a White House official, serving three consecutive Presidents. In the White House he was Special Assistant to the President for Global Affairs, Special Advisor to the President for Cyberspace, and National Coordinator for Security and Counter-terrorism.

Clarke's books, both fiction and non-fiction, include the national number one bestseller Against All Enemies and Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It.

His new novel is Sting of the Drone.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: So your book begins or has a central aspect, a drone strike, and then the sense of vengeance that one of the people who was associated with it, one of the targets who survives, ends up having. It raises this fundamental question that we deal with in Yemen and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Are the drone strikes worth it? Or is the sense of rage, outrage, the collateral casualties, is that all - does that all outweigh the benefit of getting this one guy?

CLARKE: No, we began the drone program - the lethal drone program to get one guy - bin Laden. That didn't work. But the idea was to have a very restricted list of very senior people. And it did kind of work for that. And we had nothing else that worked. And so, if you put yourself into the mind of the counterterrorism official in the novel or in reality, the counterterrorism official feels the weight of the world on his or her shoulders. They have to stop the next attack, they have to save the lives of Americans. And they look at their quiver and there are very few arrows, very few arrows that work. And the drones did. So there begins to be a seduction, an addiction. Will that work? Well, it worked to kill him. And let's do it some more. Well, maybe we should broaden the definition of who we're going to kill. And then you end up, as we are today, having killed probably 2500 people in five countries. And they all have friend. They all have family, they all have tribe. And when a program gets that big, it also becomes a phenomenon in and of itself. And so you get protests in the street about the drone program.

ZAKARIA: You raise another issue in the book, which, again, seems to me part of a very interesting real-life discussion. The whole book is like that, but one that struck me, in your version, the terrorist organizations are becoming drug cartels and the drug cartels are becoming terrorist organizations that, you know, partly begun as a necessary way of financing because the U.S. and other allies have essentially cut off terrorist financing, so effectively, the only way to make money is to go into the drug trade, opium in Afghanistan. How real is that?

CLARKE: No, that's very...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won fiction awards from The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, Narrative Magazine, and others, and a story was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She holds an MFA in creative writing.

Bergstrom's new book is Steal the North, her debut novel. From her Q & A with Jennifer Smeth at Book-alicious Mama:

What was your inspiration for Steal the North?

I wrote short stories (five of which can be found at for nearly a decade before composing my debut novel, Steal the North. In my short stories, characters are usually trying to leave eastern Washington, just as I did only days after I graduated from high school. My stories are far more autobiographical. It wasn’t until I’d been away from my homeland for longer than a decade that I began to miss it. I thought why not write a character, for the first time, who misses eastern Washington instead of another one who is desperately trying to flee it. What if a California girl, who attends an art high school in Sacramento and lives in a midtown apartment surrounded by theatres and ethnic restaurants is suddenly sent north for the summer to eastern Washington to live with her fundamentalist aunt and uncle in a trailer park? And what if, instead of hating it, the girl falls madly in love with the landscape, her aunt and uncle, and the Native American neighbor boy? I wanted to write a novel about a woman who had turned her back completely on her past, including her family, her faith, and the landscape that had shaped her. In doing what Lot’s wife had been unable to do, however, this woman left her daughter without any connections and no sense of herself. Steal the North is a novel of reclamation: a daughter’s journey to steal back her birthright. The idea of birthright—I believe that was...[read on]
Visit Heather Brittain Bergstrom's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Steal the North.

Writers Read: Heather Brittain Bergstrom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 19, 2014

Evan Osnos

Evan Osnos's new book is Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.

From his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: What are the Chinese people really like? Do they adhere to all the stereotypes put on them by the West? Are they steadfast and loyal to the Communist Party? Are they either poor farmers or rich businesspeople with very few in between? And are they really good at math? Of course, not, but my next guest Evan Osnos takes me much deeper into just who today's Chinese really are, what their dreams are. It's his new book "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China." Osnos was the "New Yorker's" China correspondent for years. He's now based in Washington for the same magazine. Evan, you say that it's actually very easy to understand China in a sense if you can imagine the Gilded Age in America?

EVAN OSNOS: It's true. If you make a comparison to the United States experience, we're living right now through - American about 1890 - think about it. You know, we were coming out of the Civil War which in China's case means the Cultural Revolution, means pulling the country back together again. And one of the things you are also doing was building the country up. You know, we laid railroad tracks across the United States. China, as we know, has built more high-speed rail than the rest of the world combined. So, there is this incredible sense of what's possible. But at the same time, that means that you're generating huge amounts of wealth and it's going off into some people's hands and not into others.

ZAKARIA: And the real story of your book is the rise of Chinese individualism?

OSNOS: Yeah?


OSNOS: Yeah, that's right. I mean what interested me most was...[read on]
Visit Evan Osnos's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bret Anthony Johnston

Bret Anthony Johnston's new novel is Remember Me Like This.

From his Q & A with Susan Cheever for The Daily Beast:

Susan Cheever: Your book has the delicate and precise mechanics of a Swiss watch. Every scene fits together like a jigsaw puzzle piece by the end of the book, when the reader finally knows everything. The flow of information is perfectly calibrated. How did you do that? Did you write outlines use index cards keep it all in your head?

Bret Anthony Johnston: I wrote the first draft of the novel without rereading a word of it until I reached the end, then I went back and cut and cut and cut. The second draft was half as long as the first, but I still feel as though I needed those hundreds of pages of shoddy writing to find the book that would eventually be published and reward the reader’s attention. The imagination is necessarily irresponsible, and I’ve never had an interest in trying to corral it. Anytime the characters went in a direction I didn’t expect, I felt shot through with adrenaline. The book ends far differently than I thought it would, and that surprise seems worth every narrative dead end that I encountered and had to revise along the way.

So I never outlined in the early drafts, but once I had a sense of what the novel’s ideal arc would be, I erected a huge bulletin board in my office and tracked what the readers and individual characters knew at a given time. Each character had his or her own color of ink, so I could assess the novel holistically, judging where I needed more of, say, the mother character because there wasn’t enough of her color in the third section of the book. So, yes, when I’m generating material, when I’m writing those initial drafts, I want my imagination to be messy and irresponsible, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 16, 2014

Moira Crone

Moira Crone is the author of several novels and story collections including What Gets Into Us and A Period of Confinement; her works have appeared in Oxford American, The New Yorker, Image, Mademoiselle, and over forty other journals and twelve anthologies. She has won prizes for her stories and novellas, and in 2009 she was given the Robert Penn Warren Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers for the entire body of her work.

Her latest novel is The Not Yet.

From Crone's Q & A with Tom Andes at Bookslut:

Your new novel is a work of science fiction, and it had its own remarkable genesis. I was wondering if you could talk about how The Not Yet came to be and what caused you to switch genres.

I had a dream in the late 1990s. A couple was sitting at a table at Le Bon Temps Roulé, a bar on Magazine Street in New Orleans. A young man was talking to a woman, and a voice came to me and said, "She's 200 years old." I thought, What is this world? I wrote into it. I didn't know where it was going. The thing I liked about it was that the world you're writing about becomes a character, and it increases the interest in the story because the reader's not only finding out about what's happening, but she's also finding out about a newly conceived set of relationships and historical conditions. Writing speculative fiction is like having one of those crayons that has three or four different points, all in one barrel. Readers are interested in the language, as they would be normally; they're interested in the characters. But they're also interested in the environment and the social and emotional attitudes people have, which are new. People wrote me letters after I published part of it in the New Orleans Review. That was unusual, to get fan letters about a story in a literary journal. The editor asked me to serialize the book. I felt insecure because I didn't know where I was going; I hadn't thought of a plot because I'd spent so much time trying to build the world, so I stopped. I went back to my normal realistic writing, and I did another book of stories, What Gets Into Us, that would eventually come out in 2006. Then I thought I would see if I could finish this other book. I came up with a plot, and I applied for and got an ATLAS grant, for Louisiana artists. The grant period began the week of Katrina, September 1, 2005, so that year, I didn't have to teach. They were very kind to take a chance on this unusual speculative novel, unlike what I had done before.

How much of the novel had you written by that point?

I had submitted eighty pages for the grant. But I had written half of it, if not more. At that time, the novel began, "In my twenty-second year, I was called home to the ruins of New Orleans." The whole description of Malcolm's trip, the watery vision of Tchoupitoulas Canal, all the imagination of the city underwater and how you would navigate it in a boat, where the landmarks would be, all that had been written before Katrina. It was very freaky. We were taking our daughter to college in the Northeast, and we ended up renting a hotel room in New York the day the storm happened. The next day, when the flood came, we went to a Kinko's because we didn't have our computers. We looked online, and we saw the Tulane campus was underwater. That's a block from our house. We were really panicky because...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Moira Crone's website and the Facebook page for The Not Yet.

Writers Read: Moira Crone.

My Book, The Movie: The Not Yet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 15, 2014

David Gordon

David Gordon was born in New York City. He attended Sarah Lawrence College and holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature and an MFA in Writing, both from Columbia University, and has worked in film, fashion, publishing, and pornography. His first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, Purple, and Fence among other publications.

Gordon's latest novel is Mystery Girl.

From the author's 2013 Q & A with Claire Luchette for Bustle:

BUSTLE: Let’s talk about your love of mysteries. Where does your interest in the genre come from?

DAVID GORDON: Well, it goes way back. Edgar Allan Poe was the first serious writer I ever read. But I never really wrote mysteries — I wrote a lot of poetry — until I was urged by my agent and my thesis advisor, who said I really should write something with a story. And I am a kind of post-everything writer, so I thought about what types of stories I relate to. I really love genre narratives that fit form. It’s almost poetic form. It’s limitless: I just did what I wanted to do with it.

The way you wove the story [of Mystery Girl] was really impressive.

Thank you. That was really hard. And I didn’t necessarily set out to write a mystery. I originally wrote a version of this novel as a five-page short story before I wrote The Serialist. And then after writing The Serialist I really became obsessed with the idea of plot, and I made it a goal to be able to write something shapely and complicated.

The way you describe your struggle with narrative and plot reminds me of the protagonist of Mystery Girl, Sam, who struggles as an experimental novelist.

Well, for some degree I always start with myself, because where else am I going to start? And I think I’m also lazy. I tend to think of...[read on]
Visit David Gordon's blog.

Gordon's first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award.

The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

Writers Read: David Gordon.

The Page 69 Test: Mystery Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Peter Mountford

Peter Mountford’s debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, won the 2012 Washington State Book Award and was a finalist in the 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize. In its full-page review, The Seattle Times wrote: “Debut novels don't come much savvier, punchier, or more entertaining...the work of an extraordinary talent.”

Mountford's latest novel is The Dismal Science.

From his Q & A with Orli Van Mourik for Brooklyn Based:

One of the things that struck me about your books is how unabashedly idea-driven they are. When you boil it down, the fates of both protagonists really hinge on their evolving beliefs about money and the role it should play in our lives. It would be really easy for this type of material to turn turgid and unreadable in the wrong hands. Did you struggle to balance the political and personal demands of the stories?

The poet Carolyn Forche said something to the effect of, “Good political writing erases the division between personal and political inquiry.” I’m paraphrasing, but the point remains that if you’re struggling with that question, then you’re probably in trouble. As soon as a story feels like an invective, some kind of op-ed that’s trying to sneak in the side door, it’s dead in the water. Op-eds work well at a page and a half, but try hammering your message into your reader’s brain for 250 pages and they’re going to be very uncomfortable.

To me, great essays involve a writer wrestling with material that is very dangerous and unsettled for them—they’re at war with themselves on the page. Great fiction, likewise, is about the unanswerable and shadowy part of life. David Foster Wallace talked about how reading fiction made him feel less alone, because you the reader are peering so deeply into the lived experience of someone else. I want the energy of great essay and I want the energy of great novels—that intimacy that Wallace is talking about is achieved through penetrating very deeply the interior space of a very complicated person’s life, you’re drilling down into their essence. But from my experience, political questions—questions of class and money and power—are also...[read on]
Visit Peter Mountford's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

My Book, The Movie: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

Writers Read: Peter Mountford.

The Page 69 Test: The Dismal Science.

My Book, The Movie: The Dismal Science.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jen Percy

Jennifer Percy's book Demon Camp: A Soldier's Exorcism is about PTSD, war, and American culture. Demon Camp invites readers into the life of Caleb Daniels, a veteran who, after returning from Afghanistan, finds himself haunted by a demon he names The Destroyer.

Percy's Q & A with Elisabeth Sherman at Harper's magazine:

Did you set out initially to write about PTSD and then met Caleb, or was it the other way around? How did deliverance become the focus of the book?

I wanted to more fully imagine the homecoming experience of soldiers and their time at war. The language we use to talk about PTSD has historically been determined by political and economic factors. It’s attached to a vocabulary that intentionally limits our ability to imagine atrocity because it’s protective and reductive. It benefits the perpetrators but dehumanizes the other. It’s a process of rationalization. But what happens when that vocabulary is discarded, and we partake in an effort to fully imagine the experience of soldiers and veterans? This is the space I hoped to inhabit. We might refuse to imagine wartime experience because it’s outside the realm of the ordinary; or maybe it feels unnecessary, or is too demanding on our psyches. But when we do imagine it, what we find is often the familiar. It’s ourselves. And that might also be a reason we turn away.

If we think about traumatic experiences as the past moving into the present, and settling there, disallowing the possibility of escape, then Caleb had engineered a belief system around this state of being. The war followed him home, but he lived with it. He managed to exist in a somewhat symbiotic fashion with his demons. It was a constant dialogue. A process of negotiation. And the conversation felt like a contained dialectic — between Caleb’s present life and his past actions, but also between homecoming and war; between...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 12, 2014

Louis Bayard

With his most recent novels, Roosevelt's Beast, The School of Night, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard, in the words of the Washington Post, has ascended to "the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league." A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar® and Dagger awards and has been named one of People magazine's top authors of the year.

In Roosevelt’s Beast, Theodore Roosevelt—author, adventurer, and President—goes on expedition to the Amazon with his son Kermit.

From Bayard's Q & A with Bethanne Patrick at Washingtonian:

What was your “elevator pitch” for this book?

I described it as “Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’ ” When you’re writing about the jungle, you can’t avoid Conrad.

When did you realize you’d be telling Kermit’s story, not his father’s?

I was drawn to Kermit because his story is so untold. All I could find is that he was “a troubled soul.” Every family has that person who can’t seem to adjust to reality. That’s why I felt it was important to begin with Kermit at his end, as a failed Army officer shuttled off to a post in Anchorage, to see that he never recovered from his ordeal.

Kermit had some burdens of inheritance.

Yes, his uncle Elliott is a terrifying specter in my book, a man caught between depression and alcohol, the only antidepressant they had at that time. Kermit also has his father’s influence. Teddy...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Louis Bayard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Pale Blue Eye.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Night.

The Page 69 Test: Roosevelt's Beast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mary Szybist

Mary Szybist is the author of two books of poetry: the eloquent and musical Granted, and winner of the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry, Incarnadine.

From her Q & A with Bo Olson for Omnivoracious:

Aside from its obvious connection to the word "incarnate," the word incarnadine, in a literal sense, refers to a particular shade of red. How did you settle on the title of this book?

Incarnadine swirls around one of the iconic scenes of incarnation, the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, the scene in which Christians envision God entering into this world, into a body, into time—so that obvious connection is an important one.

The color, however, is important too. "Incarnadine" originally meant pink or flesh-color, but since Shakespeare's famous use of it in Macbeth, it has come to mean blood-red. Incarnadine is especially haunted by the iconic figure of Mary, who is almost always portrayed by painters in blue and red; those are the two dominate colors in this collection. In the notes at the end of the book I include a short passage from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot explaining why earth appears blue from space: "And why that cerulean color? The blue comes partly from the sea, partly from the sky. While water in a glass is transparent, it absorbs slightly more red light than blue... the red light is absorbed out and what gets reflected back to space is mainly blue." I call the book Incarnadine, but blue is the color most often mentioned and described in the poems. In my mind, both colors are always at play.

If one reads about your work across the web, they'll often come upon the phrase "intimate spaces." How does space into play in poetry and Incarnadine, which speaks often to the Christian scene of The Annunciation and a literal inhabitance of the body?

I am interested in the distance between things: the distance between people, the distance between humans and animals, the distance between our conceptions of what is divine and what is human. Sometimes these distances can be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sarah Churchwell

Sarah Churchwell's latest book is Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby.

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

Q: You do a remarkable job of explaining how F. Scott Fitzgerald brilliantly exposed the deadly hollowness of the lifestyle he lived – yet was swept along almost helplessly. What do you make of the way he viewed the world that he embraced yet seemed to despise?

A: His ambivalence mirrors our own, it seems to me. "Gatsby" is a novel about a bust written from within a boom, and its ambivalence about materialism and aspiration certainly speaks to our society. We know that hankering for luxury and the good life is empty and toxic, and yet it doesn’t stop us from wanting it.

He had a fierce appetite for the gorgeous, an artist’s sensibility that meant he wanted everything to be beautiful, luxurious, sensual. Yet he was also a moralist, with a strong sense of right and wrong. He was in some ways far more straitlaced than people realize today.

So he was torn, as was Zelda. They loved the high life, and didn’t want to admit what it was costing them emotionally, psychically, physically. I don’t think that’s so hard to understand or to sympathize with.

Q: We know that both Fitzgeralds had amazing perceptive powers about their era. Looking back, what do you think they missed or purposefully ignored?

A: No one in their era sufficiently understood the perils of addiction: They didn’t realize...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Michelle Huneven

Michelle Huneven's first two books, Round Rock and Jamesland, were both New York Times notable books and also finalists for the LA Times Book Award. Her third novel, Blame, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and also a finalist for the LA Times Book Award.

Huneven's latest novel is Off Course. From the author's Q & A at Rosemary & Reading Glasses:

How would you describe the inception of Off Course? What was the writing process like?

MH: As often happens with me, I started out with one book in mind, but another one happened. I had wanted to write a novel that charted a woman’s life from childhood to a version of stable adulthood with some years en route spent lost to trouble. Well, that book didn’t happen. In Off Course, I started right where my heroine, Cressida Hartley, at age 28, turns off the beaten path. She’s at a perilous, vulnerable stage, when she’s done with school and about to set forth in life. She should be settling into a career and making at least general decisions about marriage and family. But first, she has to write her dissertation. For whatever reason, she can’t get going on it. She just can’t. She makes herself ever-available to distraction and gets lured away from her friends, family, and self. Or, to quote the epigraph, “demons arrive singly and in droves, often taking the form of men.”

In terms of process, I tried something new with Off Course, which was to write a certain number of words a day. 1000, I think, which is a lot. Too many. This was not an effective method for me. To meet my daily goal, I wrote a lot of dreck, some of which stuck to the book for a long time and interfered with plot and shaping. Also, I had to go back and fix every damn sentence. Did forcing myself to produce at such a rate prove a worthwhile exercise for my imagination? No.

The setting for much of the novel sometimes seems like another character in Off Course. How did you decide to set the novel in the Sierras?

MH: My parents had a cabin high up in the Southern Sierras, so it was a geography and community with which I was deeply familiar. I went up to the cabin as a kid, although not...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Huneven's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blame.

The Page 69 Test: Off Course.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Daniel Levine

Daniel Levine studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Brown University and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Florida. He has taught composition and creative writing at high schools and universities, including the University of Florida, Montclair State University, and Metropolitan State College of Denver. Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in Colorado.

From Levine's Q & A with, The Strand Magazine's blog, about his new novel, Hyde:

TSM: Have you always been a fan of Stevenson?

DL: I didn’t truly come to appreciate Stevenson until I started researching Hyde. I had read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in high school, and the story clearly pressed its imprint into my fifteen-year-old mind. But other than Kidnapped and a few short stories, I didn’t read much of Stevenson in the years leading up to Hyde. Even when researching my novel, I certainly didn’t read everything of Stevenson; there are still many works of his I haven’t opened. But I have read a good deal of his personal essays and travelogues, and I read Claire Harman’s fabulous biography, Myself and the Other Fellow, which truly brought the man to life for me. He was an incredibly sympathetic person, and I feel that we shared an affinity of nature—a passionate spirit, a distaste for overly traditional society, a yearning for achievement and recognition, a certain tendency toward self-indulgence, and a restless wanderlust. Stevenson was exceedingly prolific (my impression is that he wrote a few clunkers along with his masterpieces), and more than the great body of his work, I came to love the easy flow of his sentences, his light, elegant style. It’s been said that he was the least-Victorian Victorian, that his early death sealed him into the Victorian age and thus that’s how he is categorized. But he was quite modern in his voice and grace, and every line he writes—even, or especially, in his letters—is infused with his charming, self-aware, slightly rascally soul. I have a deep affection for him that goes beyond his authorship.

In fact, I’ll admit to having entertained the whimsical notion that Stevenson was somehow guiding me through the composition of Hyde. For instance—I read Claire Harman’s biography twice: once in New Jersey at the very beginning of my research when the idea was extremely nascent, and once, three years later, in Colorado after I had finished the novel and was waiting for responses from the publishers. Reading the biography this second time was strangely reassuring. I would have these uncanny déjà vu moments where I’d realize that I had used in my book, or been influenced by, some subtle aspect of Stevenson’s life, without having...[read on]
Visit Daniel Levine's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Hyde.

My Book, The Movie: Hyde.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won fiction awards from The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, Narrative Magazine, and others, and a story was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She holds an MFA in creative writing.

Bergstrom's new book is Steal the North, her debut novel. From a Q & A at the author's website:

Q: Your protagonist’s mother runs away from her hometown and the fundamentalist Baptist Church. Do you have a personal connection to the church?

A: I grew up in two different Baptist churches, the second one being far more fundamentalist. I have many anecdotes. I remember, as a teenager, rafting down the Snake River in a long dress. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants, let alone swimsuits, even for outdoor activities. Each year on the Fourth of July, families gathered at the church to watch apocalyptic movies. I was educated through the tenth grade in an unaccredited basement academy by deacons’ wives, some of whom, like my mom, hadn’t even finished high school themselves. Students were instructed to circle the church should state or federal agents try to close down our school. For a while our church became paranoid of devil worship (it was the 1980s after all). Signs and symbols became evil: McDonald’s golden arches, Proctor & Gamble’s astrological logo, and so forth. A segment of our church didn’t believe in going to the doctor for any reason. My parents weren’t part of this segment. We weren’t allowed to own a TV, radio or secular books. The public library was as off limits as the movie theatre—in part because of the atheist manifestoes and pornography that supposedly lined its shelves, but also because by the door was a totem pole. I snuck to see E.T. with a cousin when I was a young teenager and literally feared...[read on]
Visit Heather Brittain Bergstrom's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Steal the North.

Writers Read: Heather Brittain Bergstrom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 5, 2014

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's latest book is One Summer: America, 1927.

From his Q & A with Emma Chastain for The Barnes & Noble Book Blog:

Did you ever consider writing a baseball book?

I always wanted to do a baseball book; I love baseball. The problem is that a very large part of my following is in non-baseball playing countries. So I have to factor that in. And I’ve always been keenly fascinated with Babe Ruth as a person. You don’t have to know anything about baseball to respond to Babe Ruth because he’s just this magnificent human being. And a really good story because he was this kid who grew up essentially as an orphan, you know, had a tough life, and then he became the most successful baseball player ever. But he was also a really good guy. He was good to kids and he was very, very accommodating to his fans. If you look at photographs, he’s always surrounded by hundreds of kids, and they obviously loved him and he loved them. You don’t have to know baseball to respond to that. So I thought Babe Ruth would be a good way for me into baseball.

I did realize that Lindbergh was at the same time. I thought, “That’s got to make for an interesting story, the fact that you’ve got these two things happening.” And what I found—to my complete surprise—was there were all these other things happening at the same time in the summer of ‘27. Things like the Great Mississippi Flood and the execution of Sacco-Vanzetti, Al Capone and Prohibition. There’s lots and lots of books on all of those things individually but nobody’s ever seen them as part of a package. What I found was that all these things interlinked in interesting ways, and influenced each other in ways that hadn’t been noticed before.

Did you discover anything that surprised you about the way Americans lived their daily lives in 1927?

A lot of it was just...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory was the 2009 winner of IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award for his first novel Pandemonium. His second novel, The Devil's Alphabet, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and was named one of the best books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and The Year’s Best SF.

Gregory's new novel is Afterparty.

From his Q & A with Andrew Liptak for SF Signal:

Andrew Liptak: Afterparty takes place in a reasonably near future US where computer and pharmacological technology has reduced the cost for manufacturing drugs. How did you come to a story about this?

Daryl Gregory: I like how you asked that: How did I come to this? And now all I can hear in my head is David Byrne shouting, “Well? How did I get here?”

It’s a tricky question to answer. For every novel of mine there’s a long chain of half-baked ideas, plot requirements, mistakes, and in-the-moment improvisations that lead to whatever story ends up on the table. Sometimes I’m just grabbing stuff from the fridge and throwing it in the skillet. After it’s published, I can’t quite remember all the steps in the recipe, but I’ll take a stab at it.

When I started brainstorming this new book, I knew I wanted to write about neuroscience and religion. Over the years I’d written several hard SF stories about weird questions in consciousness, but it felt like it was time to tackle the subject at length.

So, I needed a character whose brain gets modified to experience “the numinous,” that ecstatic feeling that you’re in touch with a higher power. But for that kind of rewiring, you have a couple narrative options: Disease, Drugs, or Disaster (AKA, head trauma). I love writing about neurological diseases, but I realized that if I used drugs, I could construct a fast-paced thriller, and I’m a huge fan of crime novels. I worship at the church of Elmore Leonard.

All the science needed to construct such a drug is possible now, if you have a reasonably-equipped lab, and you get lucky. But I knew I wanted the story to...[read on]
Visit Daryl Gregory's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Afterparty.

The Page 69 Test: Afterparty.

Writers Read: Daryl Gregory.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 2, 2014

David Oppegaard

David Oppegaard is the author of the Bram Stoker-nominated The Suicide Collectors, Wormwood, Nevada, The Ragged Mountains and And the Hills Opened Up. Oppegaard’s work is a blend of science fiction, literary fiction, horror, and fantasy. He lives in St. Paul, MN.

From Oppegaard's Q & A at This is Horror:

Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?

For fiction I’d say 85% chills and 15% gore. This lets the gore really stand out, like blood on a wedding dress.

Why should people read your work?

When I was in middle school (around ten years old) everybody in my grammar class had to write a story and read it in front of the class. I got really into it and wrote ten pages on our black and white Macintosh and then printed the story out and bound it with yarn, using black and red construction paper for the cover. The story was called ‘Deadly Forces’ and concerned a man named Axel Gibson (I was really into GNR and Lethal Weapon) who underwent various ordeals as he passed through a violently haunted castle in a quest for a magical amulet. I read my story last. The bell rang for the end of class while I was still in the middle of the story, but nobody made a move to leave (and we normally flew out of that damn grammar class) so I kept reading until the end of the story – Axel Gibson triumphed and I received a loud ovation. I’ve...[read on]
Visit David Oppegaard's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Suicide Collectors.

The Page 69 Test: Wormwood, Nevada.

The Page 69 Test: And the Hills Opened Up.

My Book, The Movie: And the Hills Opened Up.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Christopher Priest

Science fiction writer Christopher Priest's books include The Prestige, The Islanders, and The Adjacent.

From his Q & A with Nicole Hill at The Barnes & Noble Book Blog:

The Adjacent, much like The Prestige and your other works, uses misdirection (and the presence of a stage magician or two) to great advantage. What’s your particular fondness for that technique?

Magicians and novelists use similar techniques! An illusion is a story, it has a plot, it has surprises, it’s inventive, it’s a form of entertainment—and none of it is real. Magicians misdirect by playing to the audience’s assumptions.

A novelist misdirects the reader with plot: it’s a contrivance, a way of telling the story. Details are leaked out one at a time. Some things are not revealed or discussed until later. The reader knows from the outset that it’s fiction, it’s not real. But (like magic) fiction can seem real enough, can contain elements of reality that the reader will recognize. The book might be set in New York, Geneva, Caracas…all real places, and the reader will have some kind of pre-knowledge of them, sometimes a close knowledge, sometimes just a vague knowledge. But the novel will do something different with the setting, something made up. The reader is misdirected.

To answer your question, when I was researching The Prestige, I realized...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue