Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Arvin Ahmadi

Arvin Ahmadi's debut novel for young adults is Down And Across. From the transcript of the author's interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Scott Ferdowsi is 16 years old, hasn't figured out what he wants to do with his life. That worries his Iranian-American parents who believe their son lacks drive - grit - and doesn't take advantage of the opportunities they work so hard to give him. Hoping to find his purpose in life, Scott quits his perfectly good summer internship, high-tails it to Washington D.C., the city of ambitious young people working as bartenders and servers on their way to being lobbyists and legislators. "Down And Across" is the debut novel for young adults from Arvin Ahmadi. He joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

ARVIN AHMADI: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Does he lack grit, or has he just not found something to fall in love with a little?

AHMADI: He doesn't know. And that's the thing. And that's kind of how I fell upon grit. It's this inspirational idea that the No.1 indicator of success isn't your IQ or where you come from, it's grit, your ability to persevere.

SIMON: Tenacity might be - yeah.

AHMADI: Sure. Tenacity, persistence. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Xhenet Aliu

Xhenet Aliu's new novel is Brass.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Brass, and for your characters Elsie and Luljeta?

A: Growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut, I was surrounded--at home, at work in the industrial park, in my community college classes--by a lot of women who informed the character of Elsie.

These were single moms with a ton of hustle, women who lived hard lives and still managed to have a nasty sense of humor, women who were sharp enough that, if they’d been born just a few minutes down the road in some of the wealthier parts of Connecticut, it would have been assumed that they would go to college and thrive in the obvious ways that our culture values.

I knew Elsie so well that I barely had to write her; it just took me a while to figure out that there was a reason to.

When I first started writing seriously, I was panicked because I thought a person like me, with no pedigree and not a cosmopolitan bone in my body, had no stories to tell.

I didn’t think people wanted to read about things like poor and working-class people, recent immigrants who weren’t success stories, post-industrial factory towns, because I so infrequently encountered them myself as a reader. Eventually I realized...[read on]
Visit Xhenet Aliu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 29, 2018

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman's new novel is Sunburn.

From her Q&A with Lloyd Sachs at the Chicago Tribune:

Q: One of the most impressive things about "Sunburn" is that for all its cutting touches, all of the characters are afforded a level of understanding you don't often find in this kind of novel.

A: That human scale wasn't there in an early version. A good friend who read it when I was midway through said to me, "That's not you. That's not the kind of book you write." And I knew that wasn't the kind of book that interests me as a reader.

Q: What led to you to take on noir after all these years as a novelist?

A: I had read Anne Tyler's "Ladder of Years," a dark, cathartic fantasy in which a woman escapes her unhappy family life and spends time alone, in her own house, for a long period of time. And I thought that could be a noir story: What if the person passing through town is a woman? I didn't want to write about the present day, but a time when it was easier to disappear. So I set it in 1995, before...[read on]
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Caroline Fraser

Caroline Fraser's new biography Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, is a finalist for the National Book Critic Circle Award. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What first got you interested in writing a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder?

A: I first thought about it seriously when I was working on the chronology and notes for the Library of America edition of the Little House books, which I edited. As I was writing those materials, I kept coming across such fascinating stuff in the history she lived through, and it made me want to learn more.

There were all these tantalizing clues in the letters she wrote to her daughter, Rose, about the Dust Bowl and the Depression, about the history of the locust outbreaks and drought on the Great Plains, and even the ways in which her work for the federal government, as secretary/treasurer for the National Farm Loan Association, somehow evolved into her disdain for the New Deal.

The more I learned, the more I felt readers might respond to the historical background of Wilder’s life. There was a moment when I was writing a note about the “Minnesota massacre,” as Wilder calls it in Little House on the Prairie, when I was reading about the history of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.

And I just thought...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Rewilding the World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dennis Palumbo

Dennis Palumbo's new novel is Head Wounds.

From his Q&A with Mike Barson at Crimespree magazine:

MB: Even though you have lived in Los Angeles for decades, you continue to set the Rinaldi series in your hometown of Pittsburgh. What are a couple of the things you particularly love about Pittsburgh?

DP: There are too many to list, but I’d definitely start with the people—friendly, colorful, opinionated, and with familial roots going back generations. Certainly true of my Italian family, tracing back to immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island. Then, as a locale in which to set a mystery series, the city itself is an intriguing amalgam of old and new, transitioning from a blue collar, industrial town into a white collar, state-of-the-art tech hub. As you might imagine, this has resulted in an uneasy clash of cultures that I get to explore in my Rinaldi series.

MB: As a licensed psychotherapist, you have knowledge that is not available to us civilians… Have you ever drawn on that expertise to help shape the villains in this series?

DP: Yes, primarily from my earliest clinical work as a staff member at a psychiatric facility. Plus all the research I’ve done on psychopathology and various personality disorders. In terms of how Daniel Rinaldi helps victims of violent crime, I was privileged to work with one of the nation’s leading trauma experts, Dr. Robert Stolorow. My fictional psychologist incorporates much of...[read on]
Visit Dennis Palumbo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Night Terrors.

The Page 69 Test: Phantom Limb.

My Book, The Movie: Phantom Limb.

Writers Read: Dennis Palumbo (February 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 26, 2018

Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner's new novel is Into the Black Nowhere.

From her Q&A with Texas Monthly:

TM: We’re also at a moment when there’s a great deal of public discussion of the victimization of women. In your books there are a lot of male villains preying on women. Do you feel like you’ve been tapping into an undercurrent that’s suddenly front-page news?

MG: I do. I’m very aware that women are exploited, even in a twenty-first-century Western country. If I can expose some of that and some of the ways that even a seemingly normal person can exploit people, maybe it’s valuable. But I also wanted to feature female investigators who have agency—literally and metaphorically—to tackle the issue.

TM: Right now there’s also a very nationalist and violent right wing on the rise in America. Is that a subject that interests you?

MG: Absolutely. My family is from Oklahoma City. The morning the [Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown up by Timothy McVeigh, in 1995], my aunt was driving down the street and was injured in the bombing. My grandmother was volunteering at a hospital just blocks away and was there until one in the morning as they brought people in. It rocked the city, and I don’t think it rocked the country...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Gardiner's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Dirty Secrets Club.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory Collector.

My Book, The Movie: Meg Gardiner's Evan Delaney series.

The Page 69 Test: The Liar's Lullaby.

My Book, The Movie: Meg Gardiner's Jo Beckett series.

The Page 69 Test: The Nightmare Thief.

The Page 69 Test: Ransom River.

The Page 69 Test: The Shadow Tracer.

The Page 69 Test: Phantom Instinct.

The Page 69 Test: UNSUB.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Michael Tapper

Michael Tapper is the author of Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face.

From Tapper's interview at the Columbia University Press website:

Q: What are the main discoveries about Bergman in the book?

Besides his image makeover it could be summarized in a few words as: TV, Henrik Ibsen, primal therapy and politics. He did not choose TV just out of financial necessity when the film industry faced a severe crisis, he actually loved the new medium and longed to explore it as an artist. It was technically primitive, which suited the austere style with little scenery he had perfected in the late 1960s.

Much has been written about Bergman’s artistic relationship with August Strindberg, but in the 1960s and 70s Henrik Ibsen became an important source of inspiration. Bergman staged several of Ibsen’s most important and influential plays, and updated both Ibsen’s themes and modernist strategies in his TV productions. The most obvious case is Scenes from a Marriage, in which Ibsen’s A Doll House is explicitly referenced.

For anyone who lived through the 1970s, the cultural impact of Arthur Janov’s primal therapy is unforgettable and Bergman was one of many who were spellbound. He not only read Janov’s then-bestselling books and let the famous psychiatrist’s ideas flow into the work on Face to Face, working title: “The Psychiatrist”, he also contacted Janov and met with him at the Primal Center in Santa Monica. There were even talks about them working on a film project together, but the tax-evasion scandal in April 1976 put a stop to these plans.

Politics was also central to Bergman’s work in this period, although no scholar has really touched on the subject. Frequently, texts on Bergman imply that he was an opponent to the social democratic politics that shaped post-war Sweden. In fact, the opposite is true. He was a fervent supporter of the social democratic party, considered himself to be a socialist and even contemplated going into politics in the early 1970s. This can be supported by several interviews.

More complicated was his relationship with feminism. He considered himself as feminist and was convinced that he had more feminine than masculine sensibilities, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Janet Fitch

Janet Fitch is a writer and a teacher of fiction writing.

She is the author of the #1 national bestseller White Oleander, a novel translated into 24 languages, an Oprah Book Club book and the basis of a feature film, and Paint It Black, also widely translated and made into a 2017 film.

Fitch's latest novel is The Revolution of Marina M.

From her Q&A with Jennifer Haupt at the Psychology Today blog:

JH: What was at the inner furnace of this novel?

JF: For me, it was always staying in the inner life of the character, Marina, and not trying to extricate the different political positions and philosophies that were happening at the time, aspects of history that were interesting to me but not intrinsic to the story.

JH: Where did this story begin for you? Did it begin with Marina?

JF: Well, that’s like asking “Where does a river begin?” A river begins from many different rivulets, creeks, and brooks. They come together and build a broader body of water recognizable as a river; that’s your book. One strand of this novel is my background as a history major in college focusing on Russia. I’ve also long been a little bit in love with everything Russian, especially literature. I have often had Russian characters in my writing. It was only a matter of time until there would be a Russian novel.

This novel actually began with a failed novel I wrote before “Paint It Black.” A story came out of that novel, about a Russian émigré working in L.A. in the 1920s. I loved that character and thought maybe I could write a novel about her. But when I tried to write her story in the ‘20s, I realized I didn’t know enough about her. I wanted to know what her life was like during the Russian revolution. What were her memories? Her experiences? Every time...[read on]
Visit Janet Fitch's website.

The Page 99 Test: Janet Fitch's Paint It Black.

The Page 69 Test: The Revolution of Marina M..

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Elizabeth Buchan

Elizabeth Buchan is the author most recently of the novels The New Mrs. Clifton and I Can't Begin to Tell You. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your two most recent books are set during World War II and its aftermath. Why did you choose that period to write about in these novels?

A: I am always intrigued how, even if the writer has already written about it, a subject sometimes refuses to die and nags away until something is done. But, then. who wouldn’t be fascinated by the women who worked in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War?

My second novel, Light of the Moon, was about a female SOE agent operating undercover in occupied France where she discovers, like Edith Cavell, that patriotism is not enough.

Researching for it proved to be addictive and I made many contacts and some cherished new friends who worked in the undercover agencies.

They told me about the beautiful and fantastically brave Violette Szabo (Carve Her Name with Pride), the equally splendid and intriguing Christine Granville, and the extraordinary Nancy Wake who they revered for their cool bravery and resourcefulness.

All of the agents, both the men and the women, knew that...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Buchan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Separate Beds.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Buchan (March 2011).

My Book, The Movie: Separate Beds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 22, 2018

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age.

Benjamin's new novel is The Girls in the Picture.

From her Q&A with Anna Roins at Authorlink:

AUTHORLINK: Thank you for joining us here at Authorlink to discuss your latest, remarkable release, The Girls in the Picture. It’s about Hollywood pioneers; screenwriter, Frances Marion and movie-star, Mary Pickford and their passion to create movies together despite the challenges imposed on their gender. Was it your intention to explore their relationship from the start, or did it just develop that way once you started writing?

BENJAMIN: Yes, it was always going to be about their relationship. I’ve read bios of both women, and books about the silent era just because I’m fascinated with that time and place and the people who created the film industry. And in reading, I became intrigued about this friendship and all it meant to both the women, and the industry as a whole. Of course when writing a novel, you need that arc; you can’t just write of a time or place without a great story to tie it all together. So this book about this particular time and place was always going to have this friendship as that narrative driver.

AUTHORLINK: Terrific, thank you. Some women in Hollywood are still struggling to have their creative voices heard today. Do you believe there will ever be an even-divide between male and female scriptwriters, directors, producers and actors?

BENJAMIN: Well, we can...[read on]
Visit 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.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Picture.

Writers Read: Melanie Benjamin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 21, 2018

McKelle George

McKelle George's new novel is Speak Easy, Speak Love.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea of a young adult version of Much Ado About Nothing set in the 1920s?

A: Even though I hated Shakespeare in high school, I saw some amazing adaptations on a study abroad in the UK at the RSC and the Globe.

Much Ado About Nothing has always been my favorite play–and deals with feminism in different ways with the parallels of Hero and Beatrice, and because women had just gotten the vote before the 1920s and there was a new idea of what it meant to live and be alive, it’s a great decade to play around with...[read on]
Visit McKelle George's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Christian Picciolini

Christian Picciolini is an Emmy Award-winning director and producer, a published author, TEDx speaker, global peace advocate, and a reformed extremist. His new memoir is White American Youth: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement--and How I Got Out. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Dave Davies:

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. We're speaking with Christian Picciolini. As a teenager, he was recruited into a violent white supremacist group. He became a prominent leader and the frontman for a white supremacist punk band. He left the movement after eight years and now works to get others out of hate groups. He has a new memoir called "White American Youth."

You know, you spent a lot of time traveling around the country as you rose in prominence in the movement. You went to Germany and toured there with the band with some groups there. And there's a point where you give a really evocative description of the skinhead rally where you say, it begins with speeches, and there's lots and lots of beer-drinking throughout and then, you know, frenzied, you know, music and then eventually, sooner or later, fights break out among different groups who are in attendance or because someone was jealous over a romantic approach to somebody's girlfriend. It doesn't exactly sound like people were trying to put together a strategy for change, right? Either winning elections, or armed revolt or much of anything other than coming together and having these moments with each other which often ended in violence.

PICCIOLINI: Well, I don't think that that's correct. I do think that there were a lot of concerted strategies in the '80s and '90s that we're seeing take hold today. We recognized in the mid '80s that our edginess, our look, even our language was turning away the average American white racist, people we wanted to recruit. So we decided then to grow our hair out, to stop getting tattoos that would identify us, to trade in our boots for suits and to go to college campuses and recruit there and enroll to get jobs in law enforcement, to go to the military and get training and to even run for office.

And here we are 30 years later and we're using terms like white nationalist and alt-right, terms that they came up with, by the way, that they sat around and said, how can we identify ourselves to make us seem less hateful? Back in my day when I was involved, we used terms like white separatists or white pride. But it certainly was neither one of those. It was white supremacy and - as is white nationalism or the alt-right...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 19, 2018

Steph Post

Steph Post is the author of A Tree Born Crooked (2014) and Lightwood (2017) as well as a short story writer, reader, teacher and dog lover (among many other things...).

Her new novel is Walk in the Fire.

From the author's interview with Michael Noll:

Michael Noll: I’m from Kansas, not Florida, but I recognize the spirit of certain parts of your novels’ setting, if not the actual place itself. One of the things I love about how you write about the place—the swamps and run-down houses and bars and weird churches—is that they aren’t metaphors. And they’re not overblown to elicit a kind of false emotion in the reader. They’re just the places where the characters happen to be. This is hard to pull off, at least based on my reading experience. Maybe it’s because writers who come from those places tend to leave, or because they consciously or unconsciously write for an audience that isn’t from that place, their portrayals of it feel a bit like giddy cultural tourism. Did you have an audience in mind for these descriptions?

Steph Post: Wow, first of all thank you so much for your kind words. And I’m so glad you picked up on the fact that none of the places or settings are metaphors or tableaux or symbols to represent something in a character’s unconscious. They are, as you say, just places where the characters happen to be. Which doesn’t lessen the setting’s importance- it simply makes it more relevant to the characters of the novel.

And so perhaps that’s the audience I have in mind when I write descriptions of a landscape or a dive bar: the characters themselves. The characters are everything and so whenever I craft a scene I have to keep in mind whose point of view I’m writing from. I can have a little more poetic license when writing, say, from Ramey’s point of view. She looks at the world through a more open, more considering, lens than a character like Judah or Benji or Clive. Judah might look out at a landscape and feel something remarkable, but he’s not going to expound upon it. And so when writing from his point of view, I can’t go off into some florid description of the light filtering through the trees and liken it to a stirring in his soul or something. Judah would call bullshit. Actually,...[read on]
Visit Steph Post's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Steph Post & Juno.

My Book, The Movie: Lightwood.

The Page 69 Test: Lightwood.

My Book, The Movie: Walk in the Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are the authors of How Democracies Die. From their Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Isaac Chotiner: Was there some aspect of Trump’s campaign, or the early months of his presidency, that made you want to write this book?

Daniel Ziblatt: That’s really the period in which we decided to write the book, during the campaign. We kind of had this eerie feeling we had seen this movie before, with accusations that Hillary is treasonous, or aggressive violence, or later on in the campaign this ambiguity of whether or not he’d accept the results of the election, and this was stuff we had seen before in the political systems that we studied. We could draw on our knowledge of other countries and other places and times to try to understand what was happening.

Steven Levitsky: Those are three things, I think it is fair to say, we never expected to see in a U.S. presidential election.

What historical examples about those three things led you to then write a book called How Democracies Die?

Ziblatt: I studied Spain in the 1930s before the Spanish Civil War erupted. The two main political factions on the right and the left both regarded each other as enemies of the state. In speeches the left would say the groups on the right were really fascist and wanted to undermine the state and those on the right said the same thing about the left. This kind of spiraling rhetoric preceded the Democratic breakdown in Spain. Similar kind of thing in Germany in the late 1920s.

As you researched the book, did you get more or less concerned about what you were seeing in the U.S.?

Levitsky: I think more concerned about some things and less concerned about other things. I’ll give you one example. I am, even relative to when we wrote the book, shocked and surprised by the degree to which the Republican Party is willing to go along with Trump’s shenanigans. We had...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Allegra Huston

Allegra Huston is the author of the new novel Say My Name. She also has written the book Love Child. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Say My Name, and for your main character, Eve?

A: I wanted to write a love story, and I wanted to base it on my fantasy—that one of the great songs would have been written for me. It’s my first novel, and I wanted Eve to be somewhat similar to me, so I made her 48. I didn’t want an old rock-and-roller, but a guy on the verge of making it big. That led into the story of an older woman and a younger man.

Q: Do you think attitudes have changed over the years regarding relationships between older women and younger men?

A: I think they’ve changed to some extent, though not enough. It’s still, "Ooh, an older woman"--a programmed-in response that older women are more knowing and experienced. There’s something predatory, lubricious, forbidden, edgy about the whole deal, though certainly as you look around, there are more relationships between older women and younger men.

The cougar thing drives me mad. What is...[read on]
Visit Allegra Huston's website.

The Page 99 Test: Love Child.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore's latest work of non-fiction is The Romanovs. From the transcript of his December 2017 conversation with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: In your book about the Romanoffs, one is struck by the absolute brutality of the family. I mean, they-- you know, the way (ph) the father kills his son in front spectators. That kind of brutality and almost unimaginable barbarism is part of Russian history, and do you think that informs the present in any way?

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It very much is part of Russian history, and you're right. You know, the Romanoff story is a story about how families and individuals are corroded and destroyed by power. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death, as you said, Catherine the Great overthrew her husband and he was strangled to death, Alexander I was downstairs while his father, Paul, was beaten to death, strangled, and had his head stomped on.

So, yes, this is a family story, but not a family as we know it. But it does inform the present, too. I wrote this book to explain "Why Russia?" "Why Putin?" (ph) "What is exceptional about Russia?" (ph)

And when you take away all the modernity and the facade of elections in Russia, and you look at how Putin runs Russia, you see this (ph) tiny group of people competing and jockeying for the attention of one man, and a tiny group of people making secret decisions, becoming vastly wealthy--

ZAKARIA: It's a court. (ph)

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It's a court. It's definitely a court, and Russians often call him "the Tsar." (ph) They know that the key to power, just as it was in the Romanoffs, with favorites like Rasputin, who was the spiritual advisor to Nicholas Alexandra (ph), or Potemkin, who was sleeping with the tsarina, or Count Kutaissov, who was the barber of Emperor Paul, is access to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 15, 2018

Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau's newest book is The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you first learn about William Mumler [a "spirit photographer" in the 19th century], and what intrigued you about his story?

A: Each of my books has grown out of a lingering question from the one before. In this case, after my 2015 history One Nation Under Gods was published, I realized that though I had told the stories of many minority religious groups in America, I had somehow missed spiritualism.

The massive popularity of ideas concerning communication with the dead in the 19th century struck me as full of narrative potential, so it was just a matter of finding an individual in that world who had a story that cried out for telling. With that in mind I read spiritualist newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s and soon...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Samuel Moyn

Samuel Moyn's forthcoming book is Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World. From his December 2017 Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Since we disagree about how much of a threat Trump poses, I guess I’m curious about what in your mind would set off alarm bells for Americans to take to the streets about this administration being a threat to American democracy. Would it be firing Robert Mueller and closing down the Russia investigation?

That would be disturbing, and I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s rock-solid agreement that the president doesn’t have the power to fire Robert Mueller. He may have to do it through an intermediary. It’s within his constitutional power.

I think the investigation should be pursued to the end, and in the end, there’s the heavy weaponry of impeachment, which is the way you remove a president for suspicion of wrongdoing. I don’t know that two-thirds of the Republicans will ever think Trump needs to be removed, and if he is, it [would be] for someone potentially worse.

I guess I come back to the fact that Trump is in a box. We’ve shown our power with respect to his feints, which is largely what we’ve seen in the direction of policies that are truly beyond the pale. In that situation, we need to focus much more on beating him, first of all, in a congressional majority mounted against him, and in the long run to defeat him the next time around. I just think it’s shortsighted not to focus as soon as possible on what...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

The Page 99 Test: Christian Human Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman's new novel is Zap!.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Zap?

A: My engineer friend Anthony mentioned a friend of his who was fascinated with the power grid. This made me realize how little I knew about the subject myself. There happened to be a new book about the grid by Ted Koppel, so I read that – and was alarmed by the dangerous scenarios he described. I wanted to know more, and writing a book is a good excuse to do research.

Q: You based your character Luis on a real-life person. What made you decide he would make a good fictional character?

A: As with all my books, there was more than one inspiration. For Zap, my friend Luis’s life story was another. Luis’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua. They worked very hard when they came to New Jersey, and young Luis – born in the USA -- was left to his own devices at times.

He grew up in a tough town and had some harrowing experiences, stuff I had a hard time even imagining. He told me once it was...[read on]
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Strudel's Forever Home.

Writers Read: Martha Freeman (November 2016).

The Page 69 Test: Strudel's Forever Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 12, 2018

Volker Kutscher

Volker Kutscher's thrilling historical noir novel is Babylon Berlin. From his Q&A with Martha Greengrass at the Waterstones blog:

Your protagonist, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath, is a fascinating and sometimes elusive character in these novels. Newly brought into the Berlin Vice squad, he’s both an establishment figure and an outsider. Why do you feel it is important that Rath should occupy that dual position? How crucial is it to giving the reader a way into the world you’re creating?

The most important thing to me is that the reader should view Weimar Berlin through the eyes of contemporary characters, people who don’t know what the future holds. For Gereon Rath who, of course, is the main character, I wanted a guy in Berlin who’s not a Berlin native, who doesn’t know his way around, to whom everything is new, and who is curious. Beside that probing curiosity, he is also kind of naïve. He is not interested in (or better: disgusted by) politics. Like too many Germans back then, he thought, ‘Why should I care about politics when the most important thing is to live a normal, everyday life?'

At one point, early on in Berlin Babylon, Rath states he wants ‘nothing to do with politics, only criminals’. How important was it for you to expose the complex cross-pollination between the political fracturing of society in Berlin, burgeoning criminality and a wider social picture? Did you want to create a sense that political impact was all-permeating?

The main thing is to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Meryl Gordon

Meryl Gordon is the author of the New York Times bestselling Mrs. Astor Regrets and Phantom of Fifth Avenue, a Wall Street Journal bestseller. She is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor to Vanity Fair. She is on the graduate journalism faculty at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She is considered an expert on “elder abuse” and has appeared on NPR, CNN and other outlets whenever there is a high-profile case.

Gordon's latest book is Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Bunny Mellon?

A: I had done two previous biographies of women over [age] 100 in the Social Register with gazillions of dollars. I thought I was done with the genre.

I was asked to do a story on Bunny for Newsweek in 2011 and she agreed to speak to me. The sweep of American history involved in her life—it was so fascinating to relive the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Normally by the time someone reaches their 80s, you’re beginning to wind down, but she had more chapters! [It was interesting to see] how close she was to power.

Q: How did you research her long life, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: The first year you hit your head on the wall, and then things open up. The first year, I was talking to Bunny’s...[read on]
Visit Meryl Gordon's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Phantom of Fifth Avenue.

Writers Read: Meryl Gordon.

The Page 99 Test: Bunny Mellon.

My Book, The Movie: Bunny Mellon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's novels include Swing Time. From her interview with Sally Campbell for the Waterstones blog:

The novel’s title, Swing Time, refers to the famous film (starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) as well as swing dance more generally but it also seems to gesture towards the idea of the pendulum swing of time itself. To what extent do you think dance, in common with the act of writing or reading, is a mode of time-travel? A way of connecting with other people in another moment?

I think dance carries across time well. If you see a kid doing the shim sham in some early 20th century footage, you feel the echo in your own body, in contemporary pop videos, in the dancing people do in the club. It is perhaps the art form least imprinted by fashion: it takes a long time for a dance to look antique. And even when it is, some element is always recognizable.

Many of your novels focus on characters, often women although not exclusively, who have a particular presence, a captivating beauty, poise or power. Swing Time has several such characters, are you particularly drawn to characters with their own brand of magnetism?

I suppose I must be. You learn these things only by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

William A. P. Childs

William A. P. Childs is the author of Greek Art and Aesthetics in the Fourth Century B.C.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

What is the character of the art of the fourth century?

On the surface there is little change from the high classical style of the fifth century—the subject of art is primarily religion in the form of votive reliefs and statues dedicated in sanctuaries. The art of vase-painting in Athens undergoes a slow decline in quality with notable exceptions, though it comes to an end as the century closes.

Though the function of art remains the same as previously, the physical appearance changes and changes again. At the end of the fifth century and into the first quarter of the fourth there is a nervous, linear style with strong erotic overtones. After about 370 the preference is for solidity and quiet poses. But what becomes apparent on closer examination is that there are multiple contemporary variations of the dominant stylistic structures. This has led to some difficulty in assigning convincing dates to individual works, though this is exaggerated. It is widely thought that the different stylistic variations are due to individual artists asserting their personal visions and interpretations of the human condition.

The literary sources, almost all of Roman date, do state that the famous artists, sculptors and painters, of the fourth century developed very individual styles that with training could be recognized in the works still extant. Since there are almost no original Greek statues preserved and no original panel paintings, it is difficult to evaluate these claims convincingly. But, since there are quite distinct groups of works that share broad stylistic similarities and these similarities agree to a large extent with the stylistic observations in the literary sources, it is at least possible to suggest that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 8, 2018

Bill Minutaglio

Bill Minutaglio is the author, along with Steven L. Davis, of The Most Dangerous Man In America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon And The Hunt For The Fugitive King Of LSD. From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Ari Shapiro:

SHAPIRO: Timothy Leary is best known for promoting psychedelic drugs. He was called the High Priest of LSD. His famous catch phrase was turn on, tune in, drop out. So why did Nixon view him as the most dangerous man in America?

MINUTAGLIO: You know, a lot of people had called Nixon that, so maybe he was doing some diversionary politics there.


MINUTAGLIO: (Laughter) Nixon needed a poster child, someone to vilify in his burgeoning war on drugs. But it really was a matter of misdirection. The war in Vietnam was still raging, and there was a lot of violence, aggressive activism on the streets of the country. And we stumbled across doing some research a tape where Nixon at the White House with many of his infamous colleagues, a lot of the Watergate-era folks, had gathered around and said, you know what?

To salvage your approval ratings, to misdirect attention away from this flagging war in Vietnam, a stagnant economy, your swooning poll numbers, we need to find a villain, a guy in a black hat. And why not choose Timothy Leary? He's sort of the godfather of the countercultural revolution. And we can make him...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Michele Campbell

Michele Campbell is the author of It's Always the Husband: A Novel.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for It's Always the Husband and for your three main characters?

A: I took inspiration from my own college days, and also from the fact that I was living in a college town at the time I began writing the book. I knew I wanted to write about female friendship gone very, very wrong.

I needed a setting that would explain why three extremely different women, who have little in common and are clearly bad influences on one another, might form an intense friendship.

I found the answer in memories of my own freshman year of college. You leave home for the first time and are suddenly surrounded by kids your own age, who may be smarter, prettier, richer, and, yes, nastier than you. That moment is incredibly intense, fraught with drama and peril as well as learning and growth. I think it...[read on]
Visit Michele Campbell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania and translator of The Odyssey. From the transcript of her interview with NPR's Lauren Frayer:

FRAYER: Let's go to the text. In case our listeners didn't do well in their high school tests or simply don't remember, the plot of "The Odyssey" is actually right there in the first stanza. Here's what I read in high school. It's the Robert Fagles translation. (Reading) Sing to me of the man, muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.

And, Emily, I wonder if in contrast you could read the first lines of your version there.

WILSON: Sure. So this is my version. "Book One - The Boy And The Goddess." (Reading) Tell me about a complicated man. Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy and where he went and who he met, the pain he suffered in the storms at sea and how he worked to save his life and bring his men back home.

FRAYER: You're a much better dramatist than I am.


WILSON: I ham it up.

FRAYER: You read it better. This is plain, contemporary language. This is not intimidating for the layperson. Can you explain how you translated those opening lines of "The Odyssey?"

WILSON: So - I mean, I spent many, many, many days and hours and weeks rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. I didn't sort of instantly have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 5, 2018

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan is the author of Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

So what is collective intelligence?

My interest is in how thought happens at a large scale, involving many people and often many machines. Over the last few years many experiments have shown how thousands of people can collaborate online analyzing data or solving problems, and there’s been an explosion of new technologies to sense, analyze and predict. My focus is on how we use these new kinds of collective intelligence to solve problems like climate change or disease—and what risks we need to avoid. My claim is that every organization can work more successfully if it taps into a bigger mind—mobilizing more brains and computers to help it.

How is it different from artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is going through another boom, embedded in everyday things like mobile phones and achieving remarkable break throughs in medicine or games. But for most things that really matter we need human intelligence as well as AI, and an over reliance on algorithms can have horrible effects, whether in financial markets or in politics.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sam Graham-Felsen

Sam Graham-Felsen's new novel is Green.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that the inspiration for Green came from the question, “Why are interracial friendships—lasting ones—so rare in this country?” How did that question lead to the novel?

A: This is my first novel, but in everything I’ve written, from short stories to essays, I usually find myself starting out with a question — something I’m curious about, feel confused by, and want to try to work my way towards understanding better.

So it’s true, I started out with that animating question, but, of course, I knew I couldn’t — nor did I want to try to — answer a question as sweeping and general as that, especially in the form of a novel.

All a novel can do is describe specific characters in a specific situation. The situation I was interested in was a friendship between a white kid named Dave from a privileged, middle class household, and a black kid named Marlon who lives in a housing project around the corner from Dave’s house.

I knew, heading into the novel, that I wanted to write about why the friendship built up so quickly, but also why it fizzled out so quickly.

How would the differences in the levels of privilege between Dave and Mar grate on their relationship? What kind of micro and macro-agressions might Mar face, including from Dave? How would...[read on]
Visit Sam Graham-Felsen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman's latest novel is Dark at the Crossing.

From the transcript of his interview with Adam Linehan at Task & Purpose:

Are you suggesting in this book that the way American counterinsurgency was conducted in Iraq was counterproductive?

I hate writing that tells the reader what to think. I saw and have been a party to very heavy-handed raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve sat around with Marines saying, “Wow, you know, I get why they don’t like us. I would be laying in IEDs and taking pot shots at us with sniper rifles, too, if they came to the U.S. and did what we’re doing.” But at the same time I don’t think that completely absolves the other side of culpability. I think everyone is to blame. That’s the point. Nobody has clean hands. That’s the nature of war.

Did you write this book with veterans in mind?

No. People oftentimes read my bio into the book, but I’m just trying to write a good book. I’m very glad if veterans read it and appreciate it. Oftentimes, particularly with international events, the events are so complex that it’s very difficult to understand them an...[read on]
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Green on Blue.

My Book, The Movie: Green on Blue.

My Book, The Movie: Dark at the Crossing.

The Page 69 Test: Dark at the Crossing.

Writers Read: Elliot Ackerman (February 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Kate Manne

Kate Manne is the author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.

From her Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at Slate:

Isaac Chotiner: What was it that made you want to write this book, or what made you feel that we were talking and thinking about misogyny in a way that needed a corrective?

Kate Manne: Do you remember the guy in California, Elliot Rodger, who uploaded those YouTube videos? One was called, “The Day of Retribution.” He was seeking revenge against the “hot, blonde sluts” who refused to have sex with him or to give him the love, and sex, and affection that he felt that he was entitled to.

Anyway, he did indeed go to this sorority house full of these representative women that he felt denied by. When he was turned away for knocking on the door too loudly and aggressively, he turned and shot three other young women. Those are the events that got me initially interested in misogyny because his crimes were so obviously misogynistic, but there was a lot of denialism in the media on the part of mainstream, as well as conservative, commentators that this could possibly be misogyny.

A lot of the reasons given why Elliot Rodger wasn’t in fact a misogynist seemed to be really off-point. There was the fact that he killed men as well as women on what became a killing spree that day. But we don’t expect other kinds of prejudice not to have accompanying comorbidities. The fact that Hitler was homophobic isn’t evidence that he wasn’t anti-Semitic. That would be a ridiculous thought, but people seem to be requiring of misogyny this unique kind of prejudice harbored in the heart of a man toward only women and toward all women. That just seemed really unlikely to be instantiated very widely because if women are being giving, and loving, and serving, then why...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 1, 2018

Éloi Laurent

Éloi Laurent is the author of Measuring Tomorrow Accounting for Well-Being, Resilience, and Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:
Why should we go “beyond growth” in the 21st century to pay attention, as you advocate, to well-being, resilience and sustainability?

Because “growth,” that is growth of Gross Domestic Product or GDP, captures only a tiny fraction of what goes on in complex human societies: it tracks some but not all of economic well-being (saying nothing about fundamental issues such as income inequality), it does not account for most dimensions of well-being (think about the importance of health, education, or happiness for your own quality of life), and does not account at all for sustainability, which basically means well-being not just today but also tomorrow (imagine your quality of life in a world where the temperature would be 6 degrees higher). My point is that because well-being (human flourishing), resilience (resisting to shocks) and sustainability (caring about the future) have been overlooked by mainstream economics in the last three decades, our economic world has been mismanaged and our prosperity is now threatened.

To put it differently, while policymakers govern with numbers and data, they are as well governed by them so they better be relevant and accurate. It turns out, and that’s a strong argument of the book, that GDP’s relevance is fast declining in the beginning of the twenty-first century for three major reasons. First, economic growth, so buoyant during the three decades following the Second World War, has gradually faded away in advanced and even developing economies and is therefore becoming an ever-more-elusive goal for policy. Second, both objective and subjective well-being—those things that make life worth living—are visibly more and more disconnected from economic growth. Finally, GDP and growth tell us nothing about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue