Your debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, has just beaten a record held by Dan Brown by spending 20 weeks in a row at the top of the bestsellers chart. How do you feel?--Marshal Zeringue
It’s great to break a record. It’s also, though, a slightly artificial thing, isn’t it? I’m not even sure when those records began, and from an author’s point of view, that’s not the most important thing.
Having worked as a financial journalist, you borrowed money from your family to support yourself while you wrote the book, which must have given it an extra edge?
Yes. If this didn’t work I was either going to have to go back to being a journalist or come up with something completely new to do. It was the last chance.
The story revolves around what Rachel, whose life has more or less fallen apart, sees from the 8.04 at the start of the day and the 17.56 at the end. We get glimpses of London life, but this is not a city novel, is it?
No, it’s more suburban than metropolitan. It felt right to me that...[read on]
Monday, February 29, 2016
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Idra Novey's new novel is Ways to Disappear.
From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: How important is setting in your work, and could this novel have taken place somewhere other than Brazil?Visit Idra Novey's website.
A: This book is very much a response to the particular joys and chaos of Brazil. I translated three different Brazilian authors before writing it and getting to know them and their work and Brazil itself was what led me to write it. It is my love letter to Brazil and the lush images in its literature.
Q: How did you choose the book’s title, and what does it signify for you?
A: I started the book before having children and chose the title with travel and translation in mind, how they both create opportunities to disappear, but over the many drafts of the book I had two children and began to write about the way...[read on]
Saturday, February 27, 2016
C. Joseph Greaves spent 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer before becoming a full-time writer. In addition to penning historical/true crime fiction (beginning with 2012’s Hard Twisted, from Bloomsbury), he writes (as Chuck Greaves) the award-winning Jack MacTaggart series of L.A.-based legal mysteries (Hush Money, Green-Eyed Lady, and The Last Heir) for St. Martin’s Minotaur. Greaves won the 2010 SouthWest Writers International Writing Contest and has been a finalist for many national honors including the Shamus, Rocky, Reviewers’ Choice, and Audie Awards, as well as the New Mexico-Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma Book Awards.
His latest book is Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo) (Bloomsbury), a novelization of mobster Lucky Luciano’s colorful and controversial 1936 vice trial.
From Greaves's Q & A with KL Wagoner for SouthWest Writers:
What is your elevator pitch for Tom & Lucky?Learn more about the book and author at C. Joseph Greaves's website.
My short pitch is: Boardwalk Empire meets House of Cards. My longer pitch, from the book flap, is: The year is 1936. Lucky Luciano is the most powerful mobster in America. Thomas E. Dewey is an ambitious young prosecutor determined to bring him down, and Cokey Flo Brown—grifter, heroin addict, and sometimes prostitute—is the witness who claims she can do it. Only a courtly Long Island defense attorney named George Morton Levy stands between Lucky and a life behind bars; between Dewey and the New York governor’s mansion. This is their story.
What inspired you to write the book? What made you choose to focus on the trial of gangster Lucky Luciano and expand on the lives of those involved?
In 1999, I was having lunch with a friend whose father, George Morton Levy, had been one of the most successful New York trial lawyers of the Depression era. My friend casually mentioned that after her father died in 1977, her family packed up all of his office files and stored them in a barn in upstate New York. Intrigued, I flew to New York, rented a car, and drove to that barn where, as advertised, I found fifteen or so rusting file drawers under a moldering tarp. I spent the better part of a day rummaging the drawers until I found what I was looking for—Levy’s file entitled “People v. Charles Luciano.”
I didn’t...[read on]
Writers Read: C. Joseph Greaves.
Friday, February 26, 2016
Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith are the authors of Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. From their Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: You write of the two men, “Theirs was an improbable relationship.” Would you describe it as an actual friendship, or more a relationship where each was somehow using or getting something from the other?--Marshal Zeringue
RR: I would describe it as something that certainly developed into a friendship, but both were a little wary of each other.
They did want to get something from each other. Malcolm wanted more from Cassius, but Cassius used Malcolm to find his voice. Malcolm would read one of his speeches, and [soon] Cassius was saying something that was just about the same thing.
Muhammad Ali was a little bit of a mimic—he did it spectacularly well. Many of his ideas were not his ideas; he was adopting many from Malcolm X, and Malcolm from Elijah Muhammad.
JS: I would echo what Randy said. It’s remarkable how we’d be reading a news story with Clay, and obviously he had come from a meeting with Malcolm in New York.
You knew [based on] what Clay was saying about the civil rights movement—he had said he was in favor of the NAACP, and a couple of days later he was saying that the NAACP was ignorant.
By 1963, Clay had embraced the message of the Nation of Islam, and the rhetoric of Malcolm X. You can see the evolution of Cassius Clay into Cassius X.
RR: If ...[read on]
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Joe R. Lansdale's latest novel is Honky Tonk Samurai.
From his Fresh Air interview with Dave Davies:
DAVIES: When you look at your body of work, there's quite a range of stuff here. There's horror and science-fiction and Westerns and detective stuff. What inspired your imagination as a kid?--Marshal Zeringue
LANSDALE: When I was a kid, comic books were the first thing. They were - the most important thing I ever discovered were comics, DC Comics in particular. And I could read very early - 4 and 5 - and so I would read comics. And the comics then led me to be interested in just stories in general. And back then TV was just actually starting to be something and they were putting on old movies like the Johnny Weissmuller "Tarzan" movies and these old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers movies and stuff. And I watched those with great enthusiasm, and I watched old movies, like "Casablanca" and "The Big Sleep" - whatever they put on. I watched "Hopalong Cassidy." All of those things just inspired me. And then when I began to realize that a number of these things came from books, I began to search for books and stories.
Now, where I lived there wasn't even a library at that time so we would go to Gladewater. We lived in Mount Enterprise. I was born in Gladewater but we lived in place called Mount Enterprise. And when we would go to Gladewater, I would check out a bunch of books on my library card. And then later they started having a bookmobile that came through Mount Enterprise, and I used that to my advantage. Neighbors loaned me books. And once people knew I was nuts for books, they would give me books. My mother was nuts for books. She loved nonfiction in particular, but she was always getting books somewhere and bringing them home, and I read anything I could get my hands on because it was like I was born to it. Now, I don't think that's true since writing is a man-made art, but I think the creativity was something that I was born to, and...[read on]
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Alice Oseman is the author of Solitaire. From her Q & A with Between the Covers:
Are there elements of Solitaire that resemble your own experiences at high school?--Marshal Zeringue
Definitely! I went to an all-girls grammar school which accepts boys into the two final years (Sixth Form), just like Tori does. I based the school on what I knew from my school – the school assemblies, the common room, the cliques, the layout, even the nameless town in which the book is set. Solitaire’s backdrop is completely taken from my world. And while the characters are all fictional, they are definitely inspired by types of people I knew at school. Hipsters, sassy teachers, pessimists, partyers – school really is full of stereotypes, and part of the fun I found in writing Solitaire was smashing those stereotypes into pieces.
If you could invite five fictional characters to dinner, who would you choose?
Firstly, I’d invite Jay Gatsby. Actually, I’d let him just take over the organisation of the dinner. He’d be sure to make it fabulous. I’d invite Kathy from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so she could tell me about her life, and then with Artemis Fowl, because he’s my most extreme literary crush and also a well-known genius, I would plot how we could rise up against the dystopian regime Kathy is stuck in. So I guess I’d have to get...[read on]
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Q: Why did you decide to write about Supreme Court dissents, and what do you see as some of the most important ones?--Marshal Zeringue
A: The book in some ways grew out of the Brandeis biography. Brandeis wrote very important dissents in the 1920s. After that book was finished, the editor at Pantheon, Victoria Wilson, wanted another book.
My wife suggested I write about dissent…the question was how to do it. I did not want the book to be a law school textbook. I did not want the book to be a book only lawyers and scholars would read…
I try to give an overview of how dissent can play an important role, and it’s interspersed with entr’actes, a look at specific dissents—Brandeis in Olmstead, Hugo Black in Betts v. Brady. I show how important some dissents can be, and how [they can eventually become] the law of the land.
Q: In the book, you write, “All of the justices agree that dissents, if well reasoned, almost invariably make the majority opinion stronger.” What are some recent examples?
A: There’s a dialogue here. A really good example is told by Justice Ginsburg about writing the majority opinion in the VMI case. She says her majority opinion went through several drafts, and each was made stronger by the fact that she knew what Justice Scalia was going to...[read on]
Monday, February 22, 2016
Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of novels such as A Wedding in Great Neck and You Were Meant for Me as well as dozens of books for children. She is the editor of and a contributor to The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty, as well as All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader.
McDonough's latest novel is The House on Primrose Pond.
From the author's Q & A with John Valeri for Hartford Books Examiner:
John Valeri: What first inspired you to write “The House on Primrose Pond”—and, after six previous novels, what about this particular premise struck you as fresh and resonant?Learn more about the author and her work at Yona Zeldis McDonough's website.
Yona Zeldis McDonough: In the past, writing a novel began when I heard a voice—a character that was speaking in my ear—and this one was no different. The first voices I heard belonged to Susannah Gilmore, and her elderly neighbor, Alice Renfew. Susannah’s voice was both sad and angry; she was widowed when her husband was killed in a bicycle accident (and not wearing a helmet, despite her frequent nagging) and she moves from her home in Brooklyn to New Hampshire with a good deal of resentment. Alice’s voice is also sad and angry though both these emotions are more muted as she has had more time to live with, and adjust to, her emotions.
But there were some new elements here, including the setting (more on this later), the idea of a novel-within-a-novel, and the inclusion of three poems that form an essential part of the narrative—and which I had to write myself. I felt that these formal components forced me to go both wider and deeper than I had in the past. It was hard, but it was ultimately very satisfying.
JV: Your protagonist, Susannah, is a novelist. How were you able to draw upon your own career experiences to achieve authenticity—and what, in your opinion, makes writers innately intriguing characters?
YZM: I think it’s hard to make a writer...[read on]
Coffee with a Canine: Yona Zeldis McDonough & Willa and Holden.
Writers Read: Yona Zeldis McDonough.
The Page 69 Test: The House on Primrose Pond.
My Book, The Movie: The House on Primrose Pond.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Andrea Davis Pinkney has written many books for children and young adults, including The Red Pencil, winner of the 2015 Children's Africana Book Award, and Rhythm Ride.
From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: Your book The Red Pencil takes place in Darfur. Why did you decide to set the book there, and how did you research the recent history of Sudan and Darfur?--Marshal Zeringue
A: In the year 2003-2004, Darfur and the crisis in Sudan was everywhere in the news. My own children were in middle school at that time. I asked them, Do you know what’s going on in Darfur? They sort of knew. I thought, How do middle schoolers make sense of the complexities of war, and a crisis like that? They need to know.
The other piece was that as an author I visit schools all over the globe—practically every state, and on the continent of Africa. People were saying, You’ve got to tell this story, and I was saying, I agree.
Aside from the specifics of Sudan and Darfur is the larger question: How do any of us make sense of any war?
The research came in many forms, first through my school visits here and abroad, talking to students about war, Sudan and Darfur.
It was one of those things where intention and longing meet up---people from Sudan and Darfur started entering my orbit. I...[read on]
Posted by Marshal Zeringue at 4:05 AM
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Jessa Crispin's new book is The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life.
From her Q & A with Kristen Evans for the Los Angeles Times:
What is it about tarot that helped you and your work, or has helped others’ work?--Marshal Zeringue
Well, for my own work, it was more about how integrated my life was going to be with my creativity. I’m trying to be thought of as an intellectual, and here I am reading tarot cards. I think the weirder you allow yourself to become and admit that you already are, then the more fun you have. But at the same time, public perception does change.
I’ve already gotten a lot of weird pushback about the tarot book, from mostly men, and when I wrote a piece about St. Theresa for "The New York Times," I got weird email about how sorry people felt for her that she had this belief in God. And I was like, “It worked out fine for her! She did a lot with it.” Why not have critics writing about mystical topics? I’m fine with being known as a mystical weirdo.
There’s something really grounded about this book, though. It’s extensively researched, talking about historical artists and writers and the ups and downs of creativity.
I was 19 before I ever went to an art museum. It just was not valued in my family. The access you get then comes from biopics about artists, and always has this stupid narrative about genius, knowing from a very young age that you’re meant to be a great painter or composer. But if you actually read people [describing] their process, you realize that it’s mostly trying, failing, trying, failing. That it’s not...[read on]
Friday, February 19, 2016
Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism. From his Q & A with Isaac Chotiner for Slate:
So why do you think fighting over judicial nominees has become so fraught? Does it go beyond mere partisan rancor?--Marshal Zeringue
As the laws that pass Congress tended to be vaguer in nature—because that is the only way you can build the coalitions—they would pass a lot of the buck on to the courts. The courts were perfectly happy to intervene, or in some cases had to intervene. It became increasingly clear to political actors that majorities in Congress could come and go. Presidencies could come and go. Judges would stay on for a much longer period of time. We saw a whole set of changes including the kinds of people nominated for judgeships by presidents. They wanted to make sure they were very predictable, no great surprises. It became even truer with Republicans as the Federalist Society emerged and saw this as their opportunity to dramatically alter policy in the country.
Starting with Clinton, who nominated a bunch of people who by every standard were moderate, the Republicans began to look at this as slots. They wanted to delay and obstruct as much as they could because they wanted to keep the slots for their president. They were quite effective in that. Of course, we got a lot of judges then that came through with Bush....[read on]
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Larry D. Sweazy's novels include Escape from Hangtown, See Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, Vengeance at Sundown, The Gila Wars, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil's Bones, The Cougar's Prey, The Badger's Revenge, The Scorpion Trail, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won the WWA (Western Writers of America) Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013. He also won the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for books the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer award in 2007 (for the short story "See Also Murder"), and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010. Sweazy was awarded the Best Books in Indiana in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. And in 2013, he received the inaugural Elmer Kelton Fiction Book of the Year for The Coyote Tracker, presented by the AWA (Academy of Western Artists). Sweazy has published over sixty nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year's Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys' Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and several other publications and anthologies.
Sweazy's new novel is A Thousand Falling Crows. From the author's Q & A with Scott Montgomery at MysteryPeople:
MysteryPeople Scott: Both the character of Sonny and the story [in A Thousand Falling Crows] are unique. Which came first?Learn more about the book and author at Larry D. Sweazy's website and blog.
Larry Sweazy: Sonny, no question. Characters always seem to come first to me. I knew a few things about Sonny from the beginning (his real name is Lester). I knew he was at the end of his career and that his father had been a Texas Ranger, too. Sonny had a perspective of history, could remember his father talking vividly about going after outlaws like King Fisher and John Wesley Hardin on horseback, while Sonny was rooted in the Twentieth Century, going after Bonnie and Clyde in a 1932 Ford. I also knew that Sonny was a World War I veteran and suffered from the Thousand Yard Stare (our version of PSTD). He was also a widower with a difficult relationship with his only son, who is also a Texas Ranger, but for seemingly different reasons. The story came out of research for another project I was working on and I stumbled across an article about Bonnie and Clyde coming out of the Ritz movie theater in Wellington, Texas. There was a chase, a shootout, and a flaming car crash where Bonnie was hurt, but they escape. The timing was right and l knew that I could insert...[read on]
Coffee with a Canine: Larry D. Sweazy & Brodi and Sunny (April 2011).
Coffee with a Canine: Larry D. Sweazy & Brodi and Sunny (April 2013).
The Page 69 Test: The Badger’s Revenge.
The Page 69 Test: The Devil's Bones.
My Book, The Movie: The Devil’s Bones.
The Page 69 Test: The Coyote Tracker.
The Page 69 Test: The Gila Wars.
My Book, The Movie: Escape to Hangtown.
The Page 69 Test: Escape from Hangtown.
The Page 69 Test: A Thousand Falling Crows.
Writers Read: Larry D. Sweazy.
My Book, The Movie: A Thousand Falling Crows.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Nayomi Munaweera's new novel is What Lies Between Us. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: How did you come up with the idea for What Lies Between Us, and for the book’s main character?--Marshal Zeringue
A: I’ve been quite interested in mother-child relationships. I’m very interested in women’s issues—my first book was about two women going through the civil war in Sri Lanka. It’s something I’ll always be grappling with.
I was going to write about domestic violence—she would have murdered her husband. I thought that was too easy to garner sympathy for the character—I was interested in unsympathetic characters and how you humanize that.
I was thinking of a woman who had killed someone—her husband was emotionally too easy [in terms of sympathy for the character], so I turned it quite a bit darker.
I read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is such a brilliant book. The most obvious threat is coming from the child. The only scarier thing than that is...[read on]
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Rachel Cantor is the author of the novels Good on Paper (Melville House 2016) and A Highly Unlikely Scenario (Melville House 2014). Two dozen of her short stories have appeared in venues like The Paris Review, One Story, Ninth Letter, Fence, and Kenyon Review, and she has received fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is always at work on another book.
From Cantor's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:
So much of your wonderful novel is about second chances—and how we read or misinterpret them. Can you talk about this, please?Visit Rachel Cantor's website.
Thank you for calling my novel wonderful and thanks for the thoughtful question! Yes, the book is to a large extent about second chances. My protagonist, Shira Greene, is stuck. She had big dreams when she was a girl, as a young woman she was a rising academic star, but now she’s a bored file clerk who bristles when her bosses tell her to smile. This isn’t what she’d intended for her life but she can’t imagine anything better. Like many characters in fiction, she needs a deus ex machina to bust in and change everything. And he does, in the form of an eccentric Italian poet—and thank heavens, or Shira would still be temping in New Jersey, unsure why she’s so unhappy. In the end, though, it’s not enough that someone pushes Shira to change—it’s the necessary but not sufficient condition for change, as the philosophers say. She’ll also need to make some choices herself, she’ll need to act. It’s not enough that she be given a second chance: she also needs to take chances. This is her “test,” in the language of the book. Her true second chance is...[read on]
See Cantor's list of the ten worst jobs in books.
The Page 69 Test: A Highly Unlikely Scenario.
The Page 69 Test: Good on Paper.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.
She teaches fiction writing at The University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She also ghost writes a weekly column, and has ghost written two books.
LaBan's new novel is The Restaurant Critic's Wife.
From the author's Q & A with Christy Snyder for Geekadelphia:
What book(s) have had a strong influence on you or your writing?Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.
That honor goes to S.E. Hinton’s That Was Then, This Is Now, which I read in middle school. It was the first time I wanted to be with a book more than I wanted to be in my actual life at the moment, and when I finished it, I missed it so much it hurt. That had never happened to me before. That was when I decided I wanted to try to do that someday – create a world, a story, and people who might touch readers the way I had been touched by that book.
What do you like to read other than novels?
Well, of course I read...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Restaurant Critic's Wife.
Writers Read: Elizabeth LaBan.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Q: One technology you describe in the book is Project Plowshare. What impact did it have, and why do you see it as pathological?--Marshal Zeringue
Project Plowshare was a U.S. government scheme that ran between the years 1957 and 1974 [involving detonation of hydrogen bombs for excavation projects]. This was called “planetary geoengineering.”
The plan was harebrained beyond belief, but the scientists who worked on it, including Edward Teller and a Nobel prizewinning physicist, among others, were so enthralled by the idea of using the awesome power of H-bombs for peaceful purposes that they systematically downplayed, minimized, and underestimated the minor detail of radiation damage...
The scientists detonated several bombs experimentally...[read on]
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Isaac Chotiner: As a historian of fascism, what do you make of Trump’s rise?--Marshal Zeringue
Robert Paxton: Well, it’s astonishing and depressing because he’s totally foreign to any of the skills that are wanted in a president of the United States. What we call him is another matter. There are certainly some echoes of fascism, but there are also very profound differences.
Start with the echoes.
First of all, let me preface it by saying that I’m very, very reluctant to use the word fascism loosely, because it’s almost the most powerful epithet you can use. I guess child molester might be a little more powerful but not much.
Nazi maybe, but that’s just a version of fascism.
It’s the same thing. It’s enormously tempting. Anyway, the echoes you can deal with on two levels. First of all, there are the kinds of themes Trump uses. The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. “Making the country great again” sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline, that was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately, because the country isn’t in serious decline, but he’s able to persuade them that it is. That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline. That’s another one. Then, there’s a second level, which is a level of style and technique. He even looks like Mussolini in the way he sticks his lower jaw out, and also the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.
I read an absolutely astonishing account of Trump arriving for a political speech, somewhere out West I think, and his audience was gathered in an airplane hangar, and he landed his plane at the field and taxied up to the hangar and got out. That is exactly what they did in 1932 for Hitler’s first election victory. No one had ever seen a candidate arrive by plane before; it was absolutely dazzling, the impression given, the decisiveness of power, of authority, of modernity. I suppose it was accidental, but wow, that is an almost letter-perfect replay of a Hitler election tactic. And the capacity of Trump to enlist working-class voters against the left is exactly what Hitler and Mussolini were able to do. There are...[read on]
Friday, February 12, 2016
Idra Novey's new novel is Ways to Disappear.
From her Q & A with Francisco Goldman at Literary Hub:
FG: I’m curious what experiences with violence led you to this book. I grew up outside Boston and there was plenty of violence in that environment. Violence has been around me my whole life. But it was nothing like the violence I experienced when I moved to Guatemala for the first time in 1979. I had a lot of innocence, an American kind of innocence. That was the kind of violence that changed my life and I still struggle with how to express it as a writer. That tension is permanent.Visit Idra Novey's website.
IN: Me, too. I didn’t live in South America until I was 20 and came to it with a similar kind of naiveté. I grew up in Appalachia and most of my friends had cases full of guns in their basement. I knew people who’d gotten shot in hunting accidents and domestic violence was rampant but it wasn’t anything like the palpable, ever-present threat of violence one feels living in a city like Rio de Janeiro or Salvador, both of which, I just read, are among the 50 most violent cities in the world. I thought my reckless childhood in Appalachia had prepared me to deal with any kind of situation, but it just wasn’t true.
FG: And you get at that innocence so masterfully in this book. It’s so forgiving. Because it’s just the way people are—no better or worse. There’s no reason the protagonist should arrive in Brazil and be an expert on extortion and loan sharks. She just is who she is, though in her own way she’s actually an incredibly brave person. Her greatest act of bravery is to forgo every kind of conventional career choice and dedicate herself to translating an obscure Brazilian author. I bet nuns earn more money. I live next to a convent in Mexico City and the nuns have a stationery store. I bet their annual income is higher than that translator’s.
IN: Oh, I bet it’s higher! Everyone loves stationery.
As for describing people as they are, I just started reading Hilton Als’ White Girls. In it he says of Flannery O’Connor that her central strength as a writer was her ability to write with humor and without judgment about her crumbling social order, which was definitely my intention as well—to write about a particular kind of North American naiveté with a sense of humor, and without condemning it. To just...[read on]
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Sharon Guskin's new novel is The Forgetting Time.
From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:
The premise of your novel absolutely haunts me. I’ve been reading about transferred memories for a while now (some quantum physicists think these are cellular memories, handed down like genes) and I actually even convinced a hypnotist friend to regress me to a past life (that’s a whole other story.) What was it that haunted you so that you absolutely had to write this novel? And do you believe in past lives?Visit Sharon Guskin's website.
I've always been drawn to the question of what comes next. I was a hospice volunteer for a while; death didn't seem to freak me out, so it seemed like something useful to do. And being around people who were facing imminent death woke me up. It wasn't that I suddenly felt more appreciative of life, though that's part of it. It was more a sense of: wait, there's more. Isn't there? More to life than what we're perceiving, and how we're going about our days. Why aren't we talking more about that? I started to read, as you did...And one of the things I read was a book called Old Souls about Dr. Ian Stevenson and his research with very young children who seemed to remember previous lifetimes. I was struck by these amazing cases -- there are almost 3,000 of them; quite frankly they are mind-blowing. Children who give numerous concrete details about other people they seem to remember being -- actual verifiable people who lived and who died (often) just a year or two before they were born. I started to think, what if this is true? What if this happens when we die? What does that mean for us, for how we live our lives? The novel came out of that question.
That question has taken me down my own spiritual path, but I think...[read on]
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and Between the World and Me.
From his interview with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:
Your book is a lot about people who are victims of circumstance and history. Do you ever look at Dylann Roof like that, as a victim of history from the other side?--Marshal Zeringue
Sure I do. Dylann Roof is not the only person who bears responsibility. The Confederate flag represents an attempt to perpetrate a lie about American history, to bury the fact that half this country thought it was a good idea to raise an empire rooted in slavery. That is a part of our history. When you bury that history other people take control of it and use the flag for their purposes, and to ennoble their own hatred. Putting off the discussion allows the narrative of white supremacy. We really empowered that dude. It is very, very sad. But wait, I want to go back and make a point, it is a very important point and I want to make it as clear as I can.
I am going to edit it out.
[Laughs]. OK, you see these black folks who are disproportionately poorer and prone to crime and suffering crime, live in neighborhoods where it doesn’t appear that folks are keeping stuff up, and there is a steady background white noise saying that these people kinda deserve it, that they are lazier than you are, not as intelligent as you are, and when you receive some history about how folks ended up in that state you get two things: first, you’re told that it happened a long time ago, and second, that it has no impact on what it does right now. That’s a lie. That’s poisonous. That myth about black people is deeply tied into the Lost Cause. Nikki Haley says Roof perverted the flag. No, he correctly understood what it stood for. It stood for the right to take people’s bodies. We have...[read on]
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Valerie Martin's latest story collection is Sea Lovers.
From her Q & A with Anita Sethi at the Guardian:
Where does your interest in exploring nature come from?--Marshal Zeringue
I grew up in a swamp in Louisiana. It’s beautiful in a scary way. It’s nature that’s really ready to take over, forceful and full of creatures that are not pleasant to be around such as large rats and alligators. It’s also very hot. As a child I was enchanted with that world.
Several stories have that interlacing of beauty and terror…
Yes, and it does come directly out of that environment, especially some of the areas outside of the city where water and earth are so interchangeable – you can’t help but notice the beauty. I’ve always had a sense of that spooky, marvellous world.
Tell me about the title, Sea Lovers…
The mermaid in the title story is the real sea lover. I’m terrified of the sea, I think with good reason, because it’s rising. When I...[read on]
Monday, February 8, 2016
TF: A real legal drama is palpably played out in this novel. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you chose to move away from being a Deputy District Attorney to take up writing?Learn about Alafair Burke's seven top novels that show the real lives of lawyers.
AB: It was a bit accidental, as everything good in my life seems to have been. After graduating from Stanford Law School, I became a Deputy District Attorney. I worked as a prosecutor for about five years. Like a lot of lawyers, I thought about making big changes – becoming a law professor, or maybe starting that book idea I had in the back of my head for a while. But I liked the job enough that I may never have left, except I followed a man (now “ex,” by the way) to another city and, as a result, had to make some changes. I took a summer off and started writing the story I’d been carrying around for years—set back in my old office, in the city I loved (Portland, Oregon). After a couple of years as a law professor, I finally finished it, thinking it would be my one book I could show people on a shelf when I was old. I was lucky enough to find editors who just assumed I had other books to write. THE EX is my eleventh novel. I still feel like I should pinch myself to see if it’s real. That’s why I tell people who want to write a book that the only way it’s going to happen is if they start.
TF: Olivia, in The Ex, is at times a flawed but very determined character. She decides to take up the case of her ex, which brings all kinds of personal issues and feelings into the mix. It sounds like you are a keen observer of people and family dynamics, is that so?
AB: Oh, yeah, I’m definitely all about the feelings! Sometimes I think you have to...[read on]
Visit Alafair Burke's website.
The Page 69 Test: The Ex.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
I always think writers are haunted by some idea and they write their novels to come to terms with it. So what sparked the writing of your novel?--Marshal Zeringue
First off, I just want to say thanks for having me on your blog as a debut novelist. I’m honored! I think you are totally right in the case of Girl Through Glass. I was haunted by this book, this material, by my own past. Ballet was my great young love. After I stopped training that whole part of my life became locked in a very private place. It was shocking, being cut off from this whole world that had sort of raised me. I tried to put it behind me and move and devote myself to other things. One day, I sat down and wrote what is now the entire first part of the novel—and then I cried. So I knew I had something. But it took me many more years to figure out what.
You trained as a dancer, which gives your novel a fascinating authenticity. Are there any skills from dance that translate to putting words on the page? And do you still dance or take classes?
I started writing during college, after I had a second surgery that just made it clear that I could never be a professional dancer. And writing following dance, yes, they were very connected. I think I tried to give...[read on]
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Judith Hooper's new novel is Alice in Bed.
From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: Why did you decide to write a novel about Alice James?--Marshal Zeringue
A: It happened when I was researching a nonfiction book centered in late 19th century Boston that was refusing to come together. I fell mysteriously ill (not unlike Alice James) and while stopped dead in my tracks, I found myself unexpectedly switching gears to fiction.
William James had been part of my stalled book and I was drawn to the diary and letters of his “hysterical” sister. Alice was droll, original, and somehow startlingly modern; she didn’t suffer fools gladly and painted hilarious word-portraits of her world (referring to Britain’s “tinsel monarchy” and observing, “How they must love to see a back!”)
Perhaps because she herself had suffered, she empathized with the English poor, the Irish, and colonized people everywhere. She’d have made a great heroine even if she hadn’t had two famous brothers and written a diary that stunned the literary world.
As a devotee of Proust, I was drawn to this person with a vivid inner life and almost no outer life. But how to write it? My solution—which did not emerge immediately-- was to...[read on]
Friday, February 5, 2016
Shabana Mir is the author of Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity. From her Q & A at the University of North Carolina Press website:
Q: Did the women in your book have a hard time combining their "Muslim" and "American" identities? Did they have to resolve conflicts between the two?--Marshal Zeringue
A: My participants knew that observers and others thought that their "Muslim" and "American" identities were in perpetual conflict. None of them said that they experienced this conflict. Where they saw conflict was in the way others saw what it means to be "American" and "Muslim." In other words, if you think an "American" young person is a White, Christian person who drinks at college then, yes, there is conflict between being "American" and an observant Muslim. There are certainly plenty of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Christians who do not participate in hedonistic youth culture, and plenty who do. When we assume that an "American" and/or a "Muslim" has an "essence" that is religious or irreligious, liberal or conservative, etc., that is when we engage with the problem of conflict between these incommensurable identities. Intisar (a Somali-American student), for instance, is personally comfortable with praying in the prayer-room as well as attending a dance show; Teresa, a White convert, is comfortable with being an observant Muslim as well as smoking; but neither of them is comfortable being seen doing these "conflicting" things. The problem is not in being this complicated person. The problem is...[read on]
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Sally Hepworth's latest novel is The Things We Keep. From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:
So, rather than ask, “Where do your ideas come from?” (every writer I know hates that!), I want to know what was haunting you at the time that gave root to this novel?Visit Sally Hepworth's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.
I suppose I was haunted by the question: If you take away someone’s memory, what is left?
Five years ago, I was flicking television channels when I came across a news segment about a young woman—a newlywed—who was pregnant with her first child. She had also recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 31 years old.
A couple of years later, I was having coffee with a friend who is a nurse at a dementia facility. She told me about an elderly man and woman who held hands in the communal living area of the center every day. They came into the facility as strangers. Their memories were less than five minutes long. They were both non-verbal. Yet every day, they sat next to each other. Every day he reached for her hand, and every day she allowed him to take it. And for them, every time was the first time.
It got me thinking about....[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Secrets of Midwives.
My Book, The Movie: The Secrets of Midwives.
Writers Read: Sally Hepworth (February 2015).
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many young adult verse novels about the island, including The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino author, and The Lightning Dreamer, recipient of the 2014 PEN USA Award. Her books have also received multiple Pura Belpré Awards and Honors, Américas Awards, Jane Addams Awards and Honors, International Reading Association Award, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and many others.
Engle grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. Her books include Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, is a verse memoir about those childhood visits.
From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: As you were working on your family memoir, Enchanted Air, was the writing process different than with some of your other books that didn’t deal directly with your own experiences?Visit Margarita Engle's website.
A: The writing process was completely different! Ordinarily, I write historical verse novels that require an incredible amount of research, while allowing certain details to be imagined. In this case, I couldn’t include any fiction at all, and my only resource was memory.
It was also an intensely emotional experience that resulted in loud sobs and wild mood swings. There was also a lot of fear and uncertainty. What would relatives think? What if I’m misunderstood by readers from various backgrounds?
Despite all these challenges, in the end it turned out to be a healing process, because I faced excruciating memories that I had been avoiding for decades.
Q: As a poet, what do you hope younger readers gain from your works and that of other authors who present their stories in verse?
A: It would be wonderful to see young people grow up with a love of....[read on]
Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.
The Page 99 Test: Enchanted Air.
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
James D. Stein's new book is L.A. Math: Romance, Crime, and Mathematics in the City of Angels.
From the author's Q & A with Debra Liese at the Princeton University Press Blog:
L.A. Math is definitely an unusual book. Brian Clegg described it by saying “It’s as if Ellery Queen, with the help of P. G. Wodehouse, spiced up a collection of detective tales with a generous handful of practical mathematics.” How did you happen to write it?Learn more about L.A. Math at the Princeton University Press website.
JS: I absolutely loved it when he described it that way, because I was brought up on Ellery Queen. For younger readers, Ellery Queen was one of the greatest literary detectives of the first half of the twentieth century, specializing in classic Sherlock Holmes type cases. The Ellery Queen stories were written by the team of Manfred Dannay and Frederick Lee — and my mother actually dated one of them!
The two other mystery writers who influenced me were Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. Rex Stout wrote a series featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin; the books are presumably written by Archie Goodwin describing their cases, so I used that as the model for Freddy Carmichael. The relationship between Archie and Nero also served, somewhat, as a parallel for the relationship between Freddy and Pete. Nero and Pete both have addictions — Nero wants to spend his time eating elaborate cuisine and raising orchids, and Pete wants to spend his time watching and betting on sports. It’s up to Archie and Freddy to prod them into taking cases.
How does Agatha Christie enter the picture?
JS: I’d taught liberal arts mathematics — math for poets — maybe ten times with temporary success but no retention. Students would learn what was necessary to pass the course, and a year later they’d forgotten all of it. That’s not surprising, because the typical liberal arts math course has no context that’s relevant for them. They’re not math-oriented. I know I had several history courses discussing the Battle of Azincourt, but I don’t remember anything about it because it has no context for me.
Agatha Christie’s best-known detective is Hercule Poirot, and one day I was in a library reading...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: L.A. Math.
Writers Read: James D. Stein.
My Book, The Movie: L.A. Math.