Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rebecca Alexander

Rebecca Alexander is the author of the book Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

A: I think the most important thing—I was pretty disappointed [to] find the book in the disability section. It was such a bummer. We still live in a world that’s closed-minded. We’re still very much not a totally inclusive society.

Having a disability doesn’t mean that’s who you are. We’re all dealing with something. People who identify with my book are not necessarily people with disabilities. My process is similar to other people’s—a journey toward self-acceptance. I found the book on the disability shelf, and thought, We have a lot of work to do.

Having Usher Syndrome—on the one hand, people could say, That’s the worst thing. There’s no question on some days I feel terribly sad. [But] if it weren’t for Usher Syndrome, I never would have learned sign language and tactile sign language, or recognized how fragile life can be…

I don’t think people look at me and say, She’s going deaf and blind. You don’t know what people are going around with.

Q: What advances have been made regarding Usher Syndrome Type III in recent years?

A: Stem cell research is really important, and there was a big step back when stem cell research was put on hold. All different...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs, like her iconic character Dr. Temperance Brennan, is a board-certified forensic anthropologist, and creator of the Fox television hit Bones. Reichs has written fourteen books in the Temperance Brennan series, all New York Times bestsellers. With her son Brendan Reichs, she co-writes the Virals series of novels for young readers.

From her Q & A with Caitlin Pinks at the Guardian:

I really love your Virals novels and am particularly interested in the supernatural element of the stories, was it hard to think of ways to keep the supernatural element of the story going?

The hardest part of the supernatural element was keeping that angle in line with actual scientific principles. In the Virals series — which I co-write with my son, Brendan Reichs — we use science in our fiction more so than write “science fiction.” That’s how we like to think about our work.

What made you decide to have a supernatural element in the books at all?

Brendan actually came up with the idea to add a supernatural element, or a piece of “grounded fantasy,” as my editor likes to call it. When we were in the Turks and Caicos my son adopted a dog for me (thanks), but Turk fell sick almost immediately with parvovirus. We’d never heard of it, but quickly learned how deadly an illness it can be for a puppy. Thankfully, Turk pulled through. We’d frantically learned everything we could about the virus when he was battling the disease, and the idea sprang from there. What if humans could contract a weaponized form of parvovirus? The rest is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2016

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife. Her new book, The Swans of Fifth Avenue is the #1 Indie Next Pick for February.

From Benjamin's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I’m totally fascinated by the subjects of your novels, from Alice of Alice in Wonderland, to Mrs. Tom Thumb. And I love the whole idea of centering on the “swans” the glamorous society ladies of New York City’s Manhattan. So I want to know, what do you look for when considering who or what to write about? What particularly haunts you about your subjects, and do you see a running theme between each of them?

I think I'm drawn to people whose public stories are fairly well known, but whose private lives seem to indicate that there was a lot more going on that we didn't know about or learn about. The liars of history, in other words. So far, I think the only running theme I see (but then again, authors are the very last people in the world to understand what they've written; readers get that so much sooner than we do!) is the theme of an unconventional love story. Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll); Lavinia Warren Stratton and P.T. Barnum; Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh. And now, Truman Capote and Babe Paley. Not all of these are affairs of the flesh but they are all affairs of the heart, in one way or another.

This novel seems as though it was a blast to research. What was the most fun? What was the least? And what surprised you?

Yes! It was the most fun I've had writing a book; I felt as if I were invited to the most fabulous party in Manhattan, with Truman Capote as host, and I was able to eavesdrop on every conversation. The parties, the entire era (an era in which everyone dressed to the nines, even just for lunch), the clothes, particularly - they were just so much fun to explore, and then write about.

The least fun part was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

My Book, The Movie: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Marilyn Hilton

Marilyn Hilton is the author of the middle-grade novel Full Cicada Moon.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: In the acknowledgments in Full Cicada Moon, you write, “I wrote [main character] Mimi’s story in wonder and terror and awe, not knowing if I could or should write it.” Why did you decide to write it, and why did you question whether you could or should write it?

A: I wanted to write a story about a girl whose mother was Japanese and whose father was African American, like my husband—a story that our children and children like them could see themselves starring in.

But, being of English and Scots descent, at first I felt that I wasn’t the right person to write this book. I had family stories, memories of growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s in New England, the experience of studying in Kyoto the year after graduating from college with a Japanese major, and a love for history and research.

Then the story didn’t give up on wanting to be told. Soon I was possessed by Mimi, the 12-year-old protagonist, and her family, the town they lived in, and the people they met there. So I began writing Full Cicada Moon despite my fears, approaching the story as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible, and I loved every moment of it.

Q: Why did you choose 1969 as the year in which to set the story?

A: From the start, I wanted to isolate Mimi in place and time so that it was highly likely no one in her new town would have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Jo Marchant

Jo Marchant is the author of Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Why haven’t more doctors embraced the neuroscience of mind-body therapies? Is it a fear that people will fall prey to charlatans and not get the medical care that they need? Or is the simply the way alternative healers present their cures?

I think there are several intertwined reasons for this. Much of the skepticism does seem to come from a fear that if we acknowledge a role for the mind in health, this will encourage people to believe in the vastly overblown claims of some alternative therapists. The mind cannot shrink a tumor, banish a life-threatening infection, or mend a broken spine. To pretend otherwise raises false hope and put patients at risk if they don’t get the conventional treatment they need. (I agree that we need to be clear about the limitations of the mind in health, but underestimating it is dangerous too. When scientists and doctors ignore or deny evidence that alternative therapies do help some people, this damages trust in science among the millions of people who feel they benefit from these therapies, and pushes them towards pseudoscientific explanations.)

Another reason for the reluctance to accept research in this field is that science in general is based on a reductionist, materialist worldview that goes all the way back to Descartes, in which subjective elements – thoughts, feelings, experiences etc – as seen as less “real”, and less worthy of scientific exploration, than measurable physical matter. For many fields of research this is a useful distinction, it helps us to get rid of observer bias in experiments, for example. But in medicine the way we feel is of crucial importance, and I think we have to find a way to take this more seriously.

Then there’s the fact that our medical system is based on evidence from clinical trials. We compare treatments against placebos (fake medicines) to make sure they work. That’s important, and works well for physical interventions such as drugs. But it means we underestimate the value of other components of care. This is partly because most trials are funded by drug companies. A more fundamental problem is that placebo-controlled studies are specifically designed to discount any effect of the mind – pathways such as expectation, stress reduction and social support – because these elements are all present in the placebo group too. Any approach that harnesses these mechanisms will automatically fail the trial, no matter how much it benefits patients.

We’re left with medical systems that ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based author of the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House. Her short fiction has been chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), and appears regularly in journals like Harper's, Tin House, Ploughshares, and New England Review.

Makkai's latest book is the story collection Music for Wartime.

From her Q & A with Christine Sneed:

Your stories are often very funny. I'm thinking especially of "Painted Ocean, Painted Ship" and "The November Story." Some say that a writer has to be born with the ability to be funny, but I'm not sure I agree. Do you ever set out purposely to write a comic story or does the humor emerge as you progress?

I've realized along the way that when I think I'm being funny, I'm actually being dark and depressing, and if I set out to be totally serious, it ends up being funny. My aesthetic is an odd blend of humor and darkness, I think... Which isn't to say "dark humor." That's something else entirely, and in my mind it involves laughing when people fall down the stairs. I do think that I edit to be funny, or funnier, if the occasion warrants. There are ways to make a sentence funnier -- like saving the joke so it lands with the last word of the sentence, rather than earlier -- and I'll notice those opportunities on...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

The Page 69 Test: The Hundred-Year House.

My Book, The Movie: The Hundred-Year House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 25, 2016

Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is the author of Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.

From his Q & A with Amanda Marcotte at Salon:

Your book was hard to read, but one part that gave me a lot of hope was the Allison Huguet story, which you build the book around. In your recounting of it, Allison viewed what happened to her as rape from the minute that it happened. Are young women just smarter about these things?

I think they’re getting smarter. When you start looking at rape cases, women never say, “I was raped,” like Alison. They say, “Oh my God, I’ve been raped? Was that rape?” Their first reaction is doubt, and I don’t know how you change that. Because that’s not so much cultural, as psychological, that’s brain chemistry. You cannot face, that, “Oh my God, I was just raped!” So you question it.

And of course that works against a victim. As soon as she goes to law enforcement or whoever investigated it, they say, “Wait a minute, you’re not even sure you were raped? How are we going to get a conviction?” When in fact the psychology shows that that’s the most common way women do react.

I don’t know when things started to change. It was maybe starting when I was in college in the ’70s, but it’s definitely in the last five or 10 years. More and more women are saying, “Fuck it, I have nothing to be ashamed about! The fucker who raped me is the guy who should be ashamed. I’m going to use my name, I’m going to come forward.”

With my book, initially I assumed all the women would want to have pseudonyms. In every case, including Alison’s, I tried to talk them out of using their real names, and in every case for each of the women I interviewed, they all came to me and said, “No, I want you to use my real name.” I’m proud of them for doing that, but I didn’t want that responsibility. So I’m like “no,” and they’re like “yes.” And that’s a sign that stuff is changing, and that’s what it takes.

Silence and alcohol are the main weapons perpetrators use to get away with rape. It’s not knives and guns. It’s silence and alcohol. And the silence is something the women can do something about, if...[read on]
See Jon Krakauer's five best list of books about mortality and existential angst.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott's new novel is The First Order (Sam Capra Series #5).

From Abbott's Q & A with Kay Ellington at Lone Star Literary Life:

In your seventeen novels to date it seems you’ve traveled the world, do you do a lot of traveling for research. What are some of your favorite places to visit?

For the Sam Capra novels (Sam is a former CIA agent who owns bars all around the world), I usually go to the locale of the novel, which has been different for each book in the series. Some of my favorites have been London (a major setting for my novels Panic and Adrenaline), Paris (where I set much of Trust Me), and Miami (where I set Inside Man and some of The First Order). I’ve also done overseas travelling for book tours or literary conferences, including England, Ireland, and France. But I mostly like staying home in my office and just writing.

The First Order, your most recent novel, is your fifth Sam Capra book. For our readers not familiar with your work, would you describe the series and this newest volume?

Sam Capra is a former CIA agent in his late twenties, and a single father. He lost his promising CIA career in the events of Adrenaline (the first novel in the series, and a Today Show and Good Morning America summer reading pick). He came into possession of a number of bars around the world, to use as a cover while doing freelance work using his spy skills for a mysterious employer. Throughout the series, Sam has struggled over the death of his brother Danny, who was a relief worker killed in Afghanistan by extremists. In The First Order, Sam has found evidence that suggests Danny is not only alive, but has taken on the world’s most dangerous assassination job: killing the Russian president on American soil during a state visit. Sam has to go undercover into the inner circle around the Russian president to try to both stop and save his brother. I like to say it’s both an assassination thriller and a...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me.

The Page 69 Test: Adrenaline.

The Page 69 Test: Downfall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson's new novel is Moonlight Over Paris. She also has written the novels Somewhere in France and After the War is Over. From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your main character, Helena, was a minor character in your two previous novels. At what point did you decide to write a novel centered on her?

A: Early in the process of writing After the War is Over, I started to feel a little bit guilty about Helena. I worried that she was doomed to a life that was unsatisfying as well as unhappy – can you tell that I tend to get pretty wrapped up in the lives of my characters? The only solution, I decided, was to write a book about her and find a better ending for her story along the way.

Q: The novel takes place in Paris in the 1920s. Why did you choose that setting, and how important is setting to you in your writing?

A: Setting is vitally important to me, and I go to a great deal of trouble to enrich my books with details that will bring the past to life as vividly as possible.

As far as Paris in the 1920s is concerned, it simply fit in perfectly with Helena’s journey. I wanted to send her somewhere that would inspire her to spread her wings, and where better than the most beautiful city in the world, and at a time when...[read on]
Visit Jennifer Robson's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer Robson & Ellie.

My Book, The Movie: After the War Is Over.

The Page 69 Test: After the War Is Over.

Writers Read: Jennifer Robson (January 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 22, 2016

John Donvan

John Donvan and Caren Zucker are the authors of In a Different Key: The Story of Autism.

From Donvan's Q & A with Scott Timberg at Salon:

The anti-vaccination movement has been strange to watch, as the public reaction and the science have gone in two different directions. How does this fit into the larger story of autism and its history?

The vaccine episode was basically a negative, with one exception: It gave the general public an awareness of autism that it had never had before, because it scared everybody. It got them to think, “My family doesn’t have anything to do with autism, but maybe it will if I get my kid vaccinated.” The one positive thing about that story is it popularized awareness of autism.

All of the rest was negative in that it eroded confidence in the vaccine program; it eroded trust in science, it was a highly contentious and divisive issue in the autism community.

There was no real vindicating research when the question [of autism’s relationship to vaccination] was first raised. But then research began to be undertaken, between 2004 and 2008, to show that vaccines were not causing autism. So the story sort of stops and ends with the science as far as we’re concerned.

And unfortunately it stole...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2016

John A. Connell

John A. Connell’s novels include 2015’s Ruins of War and its soon-to-be released sequel, Spoils of Victory.

From his Q & A with J. Kingston Pierce at The Rap Sheet:

JKP: Were you most interested, originally, in fictionalizing Germany after World War II or in writing a detective novel?

JAC: Of the four novels before Ruins of War, three are historical crime fiction, but none are detective novels. Though I’ve read and loved many detective novels, I hadn’t considered writing in that specific subgenre. It was Mason Collins’ back story, as a U.S. Army CID [Criminal Investigation Division] investigator, that dictated I go there, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

JKP: Had you long been a reader of crime fiction? Who were your favorite authors in the genre when you started Ruins of War?

JAC: Aside from [reading] most all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories as a teenager, I also turned to Agatha Christie, then Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. I have so many favorite authors, crime fiction and otherwise, and scores of great writers have influenced my writing. I can say that some of the authors who had an influence on my approach to Ruins of War and Spoils of Victory were James Ellroy, Martin Cruz Smith, Nelson DeMille, Dennis Lehane, and a dash of Graham Greene.

JKP: Two facets of Collins’ history interest me in particular. First, that he’d broken “the blue code of silence” while a member of the Chicago Police Department and been subsequently booted from the CPD, “and blackballed from every big-city police force” in the States. Second, that he’d been a prisoner of war and resident of German concentration camps, including horrific Buchenwald. How important were those elements in your creation of Collins as a character, and how do they influence his behavior?

JAC: Early in his detective career at the CPD, Mason tries to bust a ring of corrupt cops who murdered his partner. He broke the blue code of silence by going to the district attorney, but the system turned on him, framing him for selling drugs and booting him off the force. That unjust treatment fosters Mason’s distrust and lack of respect for authority. And being blackballed from every big-city police force is another facet of the masterless samurai ethos, leaving Mason with no ties to home. Except for his grandmother, he has no family to go back to, nothing to anchor him, little to create a sense of identity except through his own convictions. And the experience of being a POW and interned for a short time in Buchenwald has left him bitter and disillusioned with humanity. Yet, despite those deep scars, he...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ian Leslie

Ian Leslie is the author of Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that "a major concern of this book is that digital technologies are severing the final link between effort and mental exploration." How is that link being severed, and can this be reversed?

A: The modern web is a wonderful tool for the curious. Google and Wikipedia can launch us on amazing journeys of discovery.

But here's the thing: the web is also great for the incurious, or the plain lazy (and let's face it, most of us, including me, are lazy some of the time).

If you want an instant answer to a question, any question, there is no better way to get it than online. You just bang in a few words to the search box and before you've finished typing, there is your answer.

At which point, your curiosity is quenched before you even had time to feel its itch. When everything is made so easy for us, we can fall out of the habit of the hard thinking that is a crucial part of the curious mind.

So part of the reason I wrote the book is to urge people not to accept those top line answers, to use Wikipedia as a starting point, not a destination, to dig down, to accumulate knowledge - to make an effort.

Q: How is curiosity affected by age?

A: We are born curious. As any parent knows, a young child is a question machine. In fact it's been estimated that between the ages of 3 and 5 a child asks 40,000 questions.

Not just any old questions either, but “explanatory questions” – “why” and “how” questions. We have this innate hunger to learn about the world in which we find ourselves.

But ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Gwendolyn Womack

Originally from Houston, Texas, Gwendolyn Womack began writing plays in college while freezing in the tundra at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She received an MFA from CalArts in Directing for theater and film and was a semi-finalist in the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship. She currently resides in California and can be found at her keyboard.

Womack's first novel is 2015's The Memory Painter. From her Q & A with Frannie Jackson at Paste:

Paste: What sparked your imagination to write The Memory Painter?

Gwendolyn Womack: The original idea came to me quite suddenly years ago as I was walking down the hallway of my apartment, and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I stood there for several minutes feeling jolted and excited. The spark of the idea was that neuroscientists had created a wonder drug that would allow us to access all our past lives—and with that drug we could remember how to speak all the languages we had known in the past and remember every previous talent and ability we had ever possessed. By the end of the day, I had the present day lifetime with Bryan sketched out along with the 1980’s neuroscientists storyline, and then the rest of the story grew from there.

Paste: Your novel spans 10,000 years of history; which time period was the most challenging to write?

Womack: Looking back, I’d have to say ancient Egypt for several reasons…primarily because it is the answer to the story, the climax and where the journey for Bryan and Linz began. I wasn’t working with any known historical figures to use as a framework when I wrote those chapters. Also, I was trying to weave in alternate theories about...[read on]
Visit Gwendolyn Womack's website.

Writers Read: Gwendolyn Womack.

My Book, The Movie: The Memory Painter.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory Painter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 18, 2016

Richard Grant

Richard Grant is the author of Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write of Mississippi that "no state is more synonymous in the rest of the country with racism, ignorance, and cultural backwardness." How did living in Mississippi affect your views on that image of the state?

A: Most everything here leads into what looks like a contradiction or a paradox, and is better described as layered complexity. Parts of Mississippi are indeed terribly racist, ignorant and mired in a kind of self-protective lie that you might call backwardness — a fear that change will bring terrible disaster.

But Mississippi also understands racism on a deeper, more nuanced level than most of the country. It has thought about it more, and come further, if only because it had so far to go. Not until you live here is it possible to untangle and understand these things, because they don't conform to standard-issue Northern/liberal/Yankee protocols of logic.

Q: You also state, "Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America." Why is that?

A: There's a genuine love of life here that I don't see in most places, and a talent for enjoying it under difficult circumstances. It is a place of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Steph Cha

Steph Cha's latest novel is Dead Soon Enough: Juniper Song Mysteries (Volume 3).

From her Q & A with Sarah Weinman:

The Crime Lady: What I love about the Juniper Song books is how much she changes over the course of each book. We meet her, in Follow Her Home, as a post-collegiate who more or less stumbles across a murder and sleuths it out. Then in Beware Beware she's a detective trainee, and now, in Dead Soon Enough, she is a junior detective, a part of a team. How important was it to show Song's professional growth and, to some degree, maturity over time, and when does she start running the agency?

Steph Cha: I actually wrote Follow Her Home as a standalone novel, and only decided to write Beware Beware when I had a strong idea for a sequel. Same deal with Dead Soon Enough. But once I figured out that I was writing a series, I knew I had to make sure that the sequence mattered, and that Song’s experiences in each book changed her outlook and her position in the world in essential—if not always major or obvious—ways. I think of Song as a real person, who’s grown with me, and I wanted to chart all the shifts in her character, in the things and people she cares about, in a way that felt organic. And, since she’s moving through her twenties, it made sense to give her some kind of a career path, which is something she lacked in the first book. Follow Her Home was all about Song dealing with her past and finding a purpose for her sluggish millennial life, so I’m glad that she’s stuck with investigation and carved out a path for herself. I don’t think she’s planning to...[read on]
Visit Steph Cha's website and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Steph Cha and Duke.

My Book, The Movie: Follow Her Home.

The Page 69 Test: Follow Her Home.

Writers Read: Steph Cha (April 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Lauren Kessler

Lauren Kessler is a writer, narrative journalist and author of nine works of literary nonfiction. Her newest book is Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker.

From Kessler's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, “The Nutcracker is my cure for middle-aged doldrums.” What about The Nutcracker especially appeals to you, and how did it pull you out of those doldrums?

A: The Nutcracker has special emotional resonance for me. It was the first ballet my mother took me to at age 5 -- and we went to Lincoln Center for the Balanchine production every year until I left for college. I have taken my own daughter to the ballet every holiday season since she was 5.

But also, from a practical point of view, it is really the only ballet I could ever hope to perform in, as much of Act I involves dances performed not en pointe. I was not ready to dance on my toes. Well, I was ready, but I knew that my feet weren't.

The book is about my quest to dance with on stage with a professional ballet company, but it is more broadly about shaking it up, mid-life, when you don't have to, when circumstances don't force you to take on a big challenge.

The book is about actively pursuing challenges, about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2016

Kate Hilton

Kate Hilton's latest novel is The Hole in the Middle.

From her Q & A with Amy Sue Nathan:

Amy: Your story is about a working mom having it all, or trying to. Do you feel like you have it all? How do you differ from your main character Sophie?

Kate: In The Hole in the Middle, Sophie, the main character, is mired in her own expectations of what it means to be a successful wife, mother, employee, daughter, friend, and woman. The book tracks her journey into a greater self-awareness about her own impossible standards for herself, and how they undermine her essential happiness.

When I was writing the book – I wrote it on Sunday afternoons while working full time – I was trying to resolve these very questions for myself: What does it mean to have it all? Have I achieved it? In hindsight, I can see that I was struggling with a nagging perfectionism that was undermining my sense of self. In the end, I think I came to the conclusion that there isn’t an objective ‘all’ to be had. There have been points in my life when I could have made a list of desirable achievements, and ticked off every box, and still known in my secret heart that I was deeply unhappy. Today, I’d be able to tick fewer boxes on that old list (I’m not married anymore, for starters), but I’m happier than I used to be.

Amy: And that being said, what sparked the idea for this novel? Do you remember the moment you had the idea. Did it start with a person, place, or thing? (Mine always start with a sentence, and I think “Oh my, I need to write that down.”)

Kate: I’d always wanted to be a writer, but until five years ago, I...[read on]
Visit Kate Hilton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Karen E. Bender

Karen E. Bender's books include the novels Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms, and the new story collection Refund.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What are some of the common themes that you see running through your stories?

A: Some of the themes that kept coming up--money, of course, the complexity of family, especially with small children, random violence, economic insecurity, envy, the desire to connect and the odd and beautiful ways in which people connect.

And cats--who say so much, in their unique way, about being human. Our own cats kept jumping up on the desk when I worked, so naturally they...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Bender's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Town of Empty Rooms.

The Page 69 Test: A Town of Empty Rooms.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Marieke Nijkamp

Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel is This is Where it Ends.

From her Q & A with Dahlia Adler for the B&N Teen Blog:

Researching for this book could not have been easy. What were some of the most standout things you learned while looking into school shootings?

I spent a lot of time doing research, from reading investigation reports to watching documentaries to listening to recordings of 911 calls. That last part of research was particular harrowing, but I felt it was important, both to understand and to be respectful to the experience. I did not shy away from telling the story, so I could not shy away from doing the research.

But what really stood out to me is that, through news reports and popular culture, we have a very specific image of who a school shooter is. A loner. A failure. A young guy addicted to violence, bent on revenge. And that simply isn’t true. There is no such thing as a set profile for a school shooter. They can be loners, but they can also be part of the popular crowd. They can be high school dropouts, but more often than not they’re straight-A students. The one thing the vast majority of shooters has in common is that they’re white guys who (often) struggle with a combination of entitlement and not feeling seen, heard, recognized (again, often) as a result of either experiences of grief and loss, and/or of bullying. And that is a decidedly different problem than the (trench coat mafia–inspired) image of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Julie Iromuanya

Julie Iromuanya is the author of the novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this novel, and for your characters Job and Ifi?

A: When I was growing up, I rarely saw stories about African immigrants set in America; yet this was my story. As Toni Morrison says, if the book doesn’t exist, then you must write it.

Job came to me as I began to mine my own stories. In his earliest form he was essentially a composite of different kinds of bachelor friends my family has known over the years.

I drew up a ridiculous character sketch about a man who is simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by everything America has to offer. In the middle of all of this confusion is an aristocratic family back home that has invested every one of their hopes and dreams in his success in America.

In many ways, Ifi serves as Job’s counterpart—or better still, his counterpoint. Like him, she becomes heavily invested in keeping up appearances. But because of her poverty and circumstances, marriage is her path to upward mobility, and her aunt and uncle have paved that path.

As a result, she feels a sense of duty like Job does. But also, importantly, Job is initially the face of her American Dream. By the end...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jamie Mason

Jamie Mason was born in Oklahoma City, but grew up in Washington, DC. She’s most often reading and writing, but in the life left over, she enjoys films, Formula 1 racing, football, traveling, and, conversely, staying at home.

Her 2015 novel is Monday's Lie.

From Mason's conversation with Linda Davies for The Big Thrill:

A major theme of MONDAY’S LIE (as the title would suggest!) is lies. As authors, I’ve always thought we are mythomanes, inventing legends for other people, not for ourselves. But those skills and that predisposition can easily spill over into our own lives. Are you partial to the occasional lie? If so, can you pull it off?

I don’t know if I’m any good at it, because beyond the occasional “little white lie” to grease the skids of everyday life, I try to avoid lying. This is not because I’m noble. It’s because I hate anxiety. I’m a cautious creature and I do what I can to arrange my life and my personality to keep my stress levels low. Lying about significant things would probably just do my head in.

Tell us a bit about yourself, some biographical details, but also what turned you into a writer and when. It seems that many writers are living out their childhood dreams and ambitions. What about you?

Ha! It all goes back to question one somehow. What’s funny is that when I was a kid, I would tell grownups that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up—but I was lying. I only said that, because it made adults go all impressed and say “Oh!”

I liked that.

As it turned out, though...[read on]
Visit Jamie Mason's website.

The Page 69 Test: Monday's Lie.

My Book, The Movie: Monday's Lie.

Writers Read: Jamie Mason.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tendai Huchu

Tendai Huchu is the author of the novels The Hairdresser of Harare and The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician. He was born in Zimbabwe and now lives in Scotland.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the main characters in The Hairdresser of Harare, Vimbai and Dumi, and why did you decide to set part of the book in a hair salon?

A: Writing the book was a spontaneous affair. It started with Vimbai’s voice, the first line: “I knew there was something not quite right about Dumisani the very first time I ever laid eyes on him,” and I was out of the gate after that…

I decided to use the salon as a microcosm of Zimbabwean society, a place where people from all walks of life can meet and interact organically without me needing to orchestrate those encounters.

Q: What do you think the book says about tolerance and intolerance in Zimbabwe?

A: I’ve discovered in the last couple of years that what the author intends of the work and what the reader deciphers are two very different things.

I never set out to write a polemic for or against one thing or the other. Instead, if the book demonstrates tolerance/intolerance in its characters, this is merely a reflection of the situation in that simulation. I think most societies fluctuate on who/what they will...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ed Tarkington

Ed Tarkington's new book is Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

From the author's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always want to know what sparks a book--what was haunting you at the time so you knew you had to write this?

Well, to tell you the truth, I've known I was going to write this book since I was a kid. I had an older half-sister whom I really loved. She turned me on to the music that makes up the soundtrack of the novel, so to speak. Like Paul in the novel, she smoked in the house. I knew she was a bit of a bad girl. What I didn't know--what I didn't find out for several years--was that she was struggling with mental illness, which really thwarted and overtook her life and caused a lot of pain for her and everyone around her. I didn't really find out how bad things were for my sister until I was about ten, when she attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol. That night was also the first time--one of only two times, as a matter of fact--that I saw my father cry. The combined effect of those events moved me profoundly. It was, for me, the origin of the urge, you might say. I understood implicitly that the only way to make sense of the emotions I was feeling would be to write about them. Still, I pushed the core conflicts and characters in this story away for a long time. I needed to find a way to distance myself from the more personal elements of the story. I also had to overcome the fear--acquired from years of mainlining Cormac McCarthy, Robert Stone, and Denis Johnson--that this material wasn't serious or edgy enough. Mercifully, I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 8, 2016

Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee is the author of the new children's book Firefly Hollow and the forthcoming Maybe a Fox, written with Kathi Appelt.

From McGhee's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Both Firefly Hollow and Maybe a Fox involve interactions between humans and animals. Why does that intrigue you?

A: I have a dog and a cat, and beyond I like watching animals when they don't know a human is nearby. A deer when I'm sitting on the porch of my shack in Vermont, birds at the little bird bath in my front yard, the rabbits who live in my backyard vegetable garden.

What is their experience of the world, this same world that I live in? How does it appear to them, and what do they smell and taste and see that I can't? Questions without answers, because I'm just a human being and limited to human powers.

Beyond that, though, talking animals in books are never really animals. They're humans disguised as...[read on]
Visit Alison McGhee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Kevin Hazzard

Kevin Hazzard's new book is A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back. From his interview with Terry Gross for Fresh Air:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Kevin Hazzard. And we're talking about the 10 years that he spent as an EMT and then as a paramedic. So he was the one who - sometimes he drove the ambulance, he was the guy who showed up in the ambulance to administer emergency medical services. Now he's written a memoir called "A Thousand Naked Strangers." "A Thousand Naked Strangers" - were most of the people who you had to meet naked?

HAZZARD: A lot of them are. These kinds of things never happen at a convenient moment. You know, there's no really good time to get a car wreck or to get hurt. And so especially people at home, you know, they're - you catch them in all kinds of compromising positions. And then there's just a huge range of people that, for whatever reason - you know, whether it's mental illness or, you know, just had way too much fun last night - find themselves out in the street partially or completely naked and need to be dealt with in one way or another. So there's - yeah, literally, there are many people naked. But metaphorically, you know, also practically all of them are.

GROSS: A lot of people have do-not-resuscitate orders. And if you're working with somebody in a nursing home or a hospital, you have easy access to those papers. But somebody could have a DNR and have cardiac arrest at home. And they might be alone; they might be with people who don't know whether they have a DNR or not. So what are you supposed to do as a paramedic when you're in that kind of situation where you don't know?

HAZZARD: Cross your fingers. I mean, if you think about it, Thanksgiving - you can't even get all your family members to agree on whether they want fresh or canned cranberry sauce, right? I mean, the simplest decision in the world, and you will get four brothers who will fight to the death because they all have a different opinion. And then, add to that now that decision is what to do if mom drops on the floor. And a lot of times, it kind of depends on who the first person is to arrive, whether - you know, does she live with one of the sons who wants her to be revived? Does she live with one of the children who doesn't? You know, even if there's a DNR that has been signed, oftentimes people can't find it. So then you have to say, OK, we don't have, technically speaking, a valid DNR, so we have no choice but to work. And the family will get angry with you, and say, no, no, no, that's not what she wanted. But you can't prove to me that's not what she wanted. And how do I know that you don't have a sister who's on her way right now who knows that there's no DNR, and who's going to come flying through the door and wonder why we're not doing anything? And I actually got stuck in a parking lot one day. We brought a - it was a man. We brought him out, his wife was with us. You know, they were elderly, and she was beyond being able to talk to us just because she was in such a panic. She said, call my son. So we call her son, and the one son said, he's got to be worked. And the other son, who lived down the street, was adamant that he not be worked, and there was a DNR, the wife just was incapable of finding it, understandably. So we're in the parking lot, and the son pulls up, and he's blocking our ambulance. And he's screaming at us to stop doing what we're doing. We're literally doing CPR on a man in broad daylight in the morning, and he's saying, stop, stop, stop, I have the DNR my hand. What do you - I mean, there's no class that prepares you for a moment like that because now you have to decide, do I leave this guy in the street? I mean, how do I take him off my stretcher and put him back on the floor. You know, it really puts you in an awkward position.

GROSS: Yeah, what did you do?

HAZZARD: Well...[read on]
Visit Kevin Hazzard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mariana Mazzucato

Mariana Mazzucato is the author of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths.

From her interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: [Y]ou're turning on its head everything that people think about government, which is that government can't pick winners and losers, gets it all wrong.


ZAKARIA: And yet you're saying the historical record shows that the government actually has picked lots of winners.

MAZZUCATO: Yes, absolutely. So, again, all those technologies were picked, the biotechnology sector itself was picked. The National Institutes of Health, since the 1930s have spent something like $900 billion on, you know, the technology that basically formed that industry. And again, private companies, of course, were important, but they basically surfed that wave and we've got plenty of surfers out there, we just don't have that wave, for example, today, in the green tech industry.

ZAKARIA: But what about Solyndra? People are thinking --

MAZZUCATO: Absolutely. So, first of all, and any venture capitalist will tell you this, for every success you have about eight or nine failures. That's fine. But what the private venture capital industry has had, which the public investors have not is an ability to actually reap something from the upside to cover the downside, so Tesla, Tesla S Car actually received a very similar amount of moneys a Solyndra did. So, $465 million guaranteed loan. So, had Tesla not been the success that we know it is, that money would have been bailed out by the taxpayer. As they have to bail out Solyndra. But, you know, the population just doesn't realize that this is what happened and they only see that Solyndra lost. They only hear that story, but also we haven't been wise in terms of actually treating this like a portfolio...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson is the author of Negroland: A Memoir.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, “I call it Negroland because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and subtle.” Why do you find it so, and why did you choose “Negroland” as the title of your book?

A: “Negro” was my formative racial designation, the primary marker of that identity. It was, in the years I grew up, the chosen, the preferred word of my people, capitalized of course. (As colored” had preceded it as the chosen word; as “black” and “African-American would succeed it).

“The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History,” “The Negro National Anthem,” “The National Council of Negro Women” – the word it was everywhere in our history and in our everyday talk. So I wanted it to designate a certain historical time and period.

And I wanted “land” to suggest, evoke, several things. The sense of totality that world had, and its borders, which could be fixed or permeable. I mean this literally in terms of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 4, 2016

Keith Lee Morris

Keith Lee Morris's new novel is Travelers Rest.

From his Q & A with Kevin Nance for the Chicago Tribune:

Q: What was the initial impulse for the book, which is very different from your earlier novels?

A: It's pretty tough to trace. I guess most books have a strange evolutionary pattern, but this one is stranger than most. For a long time I've written two different kinds of fiction. One is what I guess you would call straight realism, or "dirty" realism some people would say. Small-town Idaho stuff. Blue-collar protagonists, down on their luck, the underdog, etc. Both of my previous novels were in that vein. But at the same time, for the past 20 years I've been writing what I call "dream fiction" — stories that are based on dreams or have a dreamlike quality. I've always done that with short stories, though, never with something as long as a novel. So this was my first attempt to write in that mode in a novel.

Q: How does that work?

A: The way I do it is I start off with a piece of a dream and let a narrative start to unfold without knowing exactly where it's going. This novel was originally going to take place at the beach. We go to St. Simons Island in Georgia on vacation every year, and the book started with a dream I had about this beach house where we stay. I walked outside, and there was a window on the outside of the house that shouldn't have been there, and there were two people in the window, talking to one another. So that was the initial impulse. But after...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Dart League King.

The Page 69 Test: Call it What You Want.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Martine Bailey

From a Q & A with Martine Bailey, author of An Appetite for Violets and A Taste for Nightshade:

Cheshire is famed for its historic beauty, its leafy lanes and distinctive black and white buildings. Does Cheshire play any part in your writing?

Martine: In An Appetite For Violets I imagined Mawton Hall to be in the borderlands between Cheshire and Wales. That is where the real-life Erddig Hall that inspired me is, and its wonderful 18th-century kitchen. Cheshire's landscape is particularly soft and green and it's easy to half -close your eyes and imagine the past. In the village where I live nothing much has changed over the centuries; as I write I have a long view of the tower of Chester Cathedral over fields of dairy cattle, while to the south I can gaze at the distant Welsh hills.

My new novel, The Penny Heart [US title: A Taste for Nightshade], also has a Chester link. When I was living and writing in New Zealand and Australia, I discovered that the best account of the early European settlement was written by a Chester soldier named Watkins Tench. He tells such a sympathetic and humane story about the early convicts, the aboriginal people and the desperate starvation years that I think there should be statue erected to him in Chester! I also based some aspects of Delafosse Hall on a once abandoned Jacobean house called Plas Teg, near where I live, though other great houses...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: An Appetite for Violets.

The Page 69 Test: An Appetite for Violets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell is the author of the hugely successful series featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta.

From her 2007 Q & A with Rosanna Greenstreet for the Guardian:

What is your favourite book?

The Old Man And The Sea.

* * *

What is the worst thing anyone's ever said to you?

'No wonder your father left you. You talk too much.' (My teacher said that to me when I was in the first grade.)

* * *

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Lincoln. Also Jesus, to see what he has to say about...[read on]
Learn about the novel Cornwell wishes she'd written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 1, 2016

Peggy Levitt

Peggy Levitt is the author of Artifacts and Allegiances: How Museums Put the Nation and the World on Display. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write about the different approaches to their museums and their changing populations in Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, Doha, New York, and Boston. How did you pick these locations, and did one country’s or city’s approach particularly stand out?

A: I picked these places because I was interested in looking at pairs of countries at different stages of nation-building projects, and where they were in their status in the world.

Sweden and Denmark are old imperial powers. They’re over that; they’re not trying to be great world powers. The United States is, depending on who you talk to, at its height or on its way down. Singapore and Doha are really using museums to build their nations and stake out a more prominent position in the world.

It’s interesting to compare the three sets, and include settings outside the West…You have to be fair in comparing. Each country is very different in its demography, its history, its way of managing diversity.

It’s not surprising that some of the more innovative programming in the United States is not [found in the] the central focus—the Brooklyn and Queens museums are not like the Met; they have more freedom.

The [world culture] museum in Sweden is doing really innovative programming. That has to do with a commitment to creating global citizens.

Q: You write, “What museums do in New York and Boston also says something about how the United States sees itself in the world.” What do you think the Boston and New York approaches say about that?

A: I think comparatively speaking, each of the museums I focused on is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue