Saturday, October 20, 2018

John Kerry

John Kerry is a decorated Vietnam veteran, five-term United States senator, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and US Secretary of State for four years. His new memoir is Every Day Is Extra.

From the transcript of Kerry's interview with Fareed Zakaria:

FAREED ZAKARIA: Let's get right into it with the former Secretary of State, John Kerry. He is the author of a new memoir, "Everyday is Extra." I want you to start by explaining the title. It comes out of your service in Vietnam.

JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It does. It's augmented by life itself but service in Vietnam assured a lesson with my crew and I and others I know who have been there that if you're lucky enough to survive and you come home and so many other good people didn't you feel a gift. You have a sort of sense of responsibility about how you should live your life because you are fortunate. And it's a gift to be able to have a life of purpose; to be able to get things done and to always recognize the degree to which you are bless because of that.

It's also a lesson that there are a lot of worse things in life than losing an election or losing a debate or whatever, but I think it puts a lot of things in perspective and importantly it encourages you to maximize the days you have. So I think those of us who live with that sense are lucky and it's a way of trying to encourage other people to realize you don't have to go to war to have that sense. Anybody who's had cancer or anybody who's had an accident or whatever, you learn how fragile things are and I think it's a great philosophy by which to live....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 19, 2018

Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy is the Russia and East Asia editor at The Washington Post. He is the author of four nonfiction books, including The Root of Wild Madder: Chasing the History, Mystery and Lore of the Persian Carpet and 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness.

Murphy's new book is Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Man who Lived to Tell about It.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that you first learned something about this story in an exhibit about shipwrecks. How did that eventually lead to your writing Adrift?

A: The first thing, of course, was that the exhibit mentioned a single survivor. This meant there was likely some kind of diary or personal account stashed away in an archive or family records.

It became quickly apparent there was enough for a compelling story that had never been told in full. The survivor, Thomas W. Nye, was front-page news at the time when shipwrecks (without a survivor to tell the tale) were often relegated to short items in the press.

But the research soon led me to wider narratives and subplots. Early 1856 was a terrible period for North Atlantic ice. It was one of the worst in generations, according to some ship captains.

At least three other vessels went down around the same time as the John Rutledge, the ship in Adrift. More than 830 people lost their lives in the North Atlantic in the span of eight weeks. Amazingly, one of the owners of the John Rutledge was aboard one of the other ships that went down.

Irish emigrants accounted for most of those lost at sea during that horrible stretch. This created another element in the book. I wanted to...[read on]
Learn more about Adrift, and follow Brian Murphy on Facebook.

The Page 99 Test: Adrift.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Abigail DeWitt

Abigail DeWitt's new novel is News of Our Loved Ones.

From her Q&A with Yona Zeldis McDonough at the Lilith blog:

YZM: You write so beautifully and intimately about France—what is your connection to the country?

AD: Thank you! I’m a dual citizen of France and the U.S. My mother was a young, French, theoretical physicist when she came to the States in the late 1940s to study at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. She’d lost half her family in the D-day bombings and intended to go home after two years to re-join her three surviving siblings, but instead, she met my father and married him. Still, she was deeply committed to helping rebuild France after the war, so, to make up for marrying an American, she founded the École de Physique des Houches in the French Alps. She and my father taught at the University of North Carolina, but we spent every summer in France so she could run the institute and we could know our relatives.

My mother’s family was very close-knit, and, though they admired my father, it broke their hearts that my mother had moved to the States, that my sisters and I seemed more American than French. Most of them did not speak English, and our French was never quite as good as our English. I loved France, but also felt a step behind there, and I was haunted by my family’s war experiences. For a long time, because I often failed to “get” things in French, and because my family’s grief about the war was both pervasive and unacknowledged, I thought of France as...[read on]
Visit Abigail DeWitt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Norman S. Poser

Norman S. Poser is professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School and author of the new book, The Birth of Modern Theatre: Rivalry, Riots, and Romance in the Age of Garrick. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that this book emerged from research on a previous book about a prominent 18th century judge. What intrigued you about the theater during that period?

A: I became interested in 18th century theater from working on my biography of Lord Mansfield, who presided as judge in several legal disputes involving theater people. The people, particularly Charles Macklin and Samuel Foote, had colorful personalities.

Also, theater people were friends of Mansfield. The more I learned about the actors and theater managers of that time, the more they interested me.

Q: Why did you start the first chapter with a description of a 1741 performance of The Merchant of Venice?

A: Macklin's portrayal of Shylock was revolutionary. It was a new acting style, which was a forerunner of the Method acting of people like Marlon Brando. Also, I felt that Macklin's own account of that evening in 1741 was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Martha Brockenbrough

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of the soon-to-be-released Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump.

From her Q&A with Shannon Maughan at Publishers Weekly:

What is Unpresidented, and what compelled you to write it?

Unpresidented is a biography of Donald Trump that reaches back before he was even born, to his grandfather’s immigration to the United States and expulsion from Germany for dodging the draft. I cover how his dad started his business and the trouble his dad encountered with the law at various times to how Donald established himself in Manhattan, when he first developed political aspirations—it’s much earlier than you would imagine—all the way up through the election and the tumultuous first year-and-a-half or so of his presidency.

I had just finished writing a biography of Alexander Hamilton and I absolutely fell in love with the form and became even more deeply interested in the founding of our nation and the constitutional principles than I had been before. I started my career as a journalist. And I also taught First Amendment to students so it’s long been an interest.

Donald Trump’s campaign and election astonished me, for lots of reasons, and after he was elected, I immediately wanted to write a biography, but it took me about a year or so to understand what the most useful book would be for young readers. To connect it back to Alexander Hamilton a little bit more, Hamilton died because he was afraid of an Aaron Burr presidency. He thought Aaron Burr had shifting political principles. Aaron Burr’s finances were also in trouble and Hamilton thought that made him susceptible to influence from foreign governments. He said that no one in Burr’s financial situation could make a living as president, because they didn’t get paid much. Hamilton thought Burr was a demagogue. As I was researching that, I was noticing the parallels between Aaron Burr and Donald Trump, right down to the combover; Aaron Burr had small ears. There are things that might not necessarily make it into the book, but certainly Aaron Burr also had...[read on]
Visit Martha Brockenbrough's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Game of Love and Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2018

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's new novel is The Great Believers.

From her Q&A with Jennifer Solheim at Fiction Writers Review:

Jennifer Solheim: I’m going to make a jerk move by asking a deceptively simple question to begin. The raison d’être of The Great Believers is the story of the AIDS crisis in 1980s Chicago. You had the idea before the 2015 Paris attacks to set the contemporary narrative there. But then this leads me to wonder: why Paris?

Rebecca Makkai: Actually, Paris came first. But it was 1920s Paris, which is now only a subplot in the book (and we’re never there in scene). I wanted to write about a woman who’d been an artist’s muse around WWI, and things evolved from there. (This was all before I even started writing; for every novel, I spend a few months stewing on things and working it out mentally, and it was during this time that it really shifted to being a book about AIDS.) When I realized—quite a way into the process—that I wanted a contemporary narrative in there as well, it made sense to me to bring things full circle and have Paris in...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

The Page 69 Test: The Hundred-Year House.

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

My Book, The Movie: The Great Believers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hazel Gaynor

Hazel Gaynor's new novel is The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter was based at least in part on historical figures. How did you learn about Grace Darling and what made you decide to focus your new novel on her?

A: I first learned about Grace Darling and her heroic rescue of survivors of a shipwreck in my early school years. There was something about her Victorian clothing, her isolated existence on a remote island lighthouse, her bravery - and her name - that really captured my imagination.

As a novelist, I wanted to know more about her. Who was the real person behind the chocolate-box heroine she became? I wanted to understand the complex young woman who struggled beneath the glare of her unwanted fame.

I felt there must be more to her story, and I was right! While visiting my family in Northumberland in 2015, I stumbled across...[read on]
Visit Hazel Gaynor's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl Who Came Home.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl Who Came Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Elana K. Arnold

Elana K. Arnold's new novel is Damsel.

From her interview with Joy, Children’s Programming Director at Brazos Bookstore in Houston:

JOY: First let me say that it was quite interesting to read this book within the context of our current fiery political and societal landscape: The #Metoo movement. The aggressive movement working to overturn Roe v. Wade. The endless list of powerful men whose flagrant misogyny is finally being called out for what it is. And of course everything that has been going on with the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings as I finalize this interview… You have said that DAMSEL is about ‘waking up female in the man’s world.’ Can you talk a bit about why you chose a form of fairy tale narrative to tell this story? Were there any particular fairy tale or fairy tale retellings that inspired your process?

ELANA K. ARNOLD: Yes, we have all been lit aflame by our current landscape, and even more true, perhaps, is that the fire-hot coals of our discontent have been fueled by the massive bellows of our current landscape. My idea began with a dragon, and dragons live in fairy tales, so it seemed natural to let DAMSEL evolve in that direction… but almost immediately I saw how effective it is to take today’s very current problems—misogyny, rape culture, gaslighting—and illuminate them by setting them in a time and place that isn’t the here and now. Of course, our problems aren’t new problems—they’re the underpinnings of many of the European fairy tales I grew up reading. As far as inspirations, this book is probably the result of having read Goldman’s PRINCESS BRIDE, King’s EYES OF THE DRAGON, and Rice’s CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY on...[read on]
Visit Elana K. Arnold's website.

The Page 69 Test: Burning.

The Page 69 Test: A Boy Called Bat.

Writers Read: Elana K. Arnold (March 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 12, 2018

Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain's new novel is The Dream Daughter.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note in the acknowledgments for The Dream Daughter that you've thought about writing this story for years. What finally made you decide the time was right, and what was the initial inspiration for the book?

A: My previous career was as a hospital social worker in a maternity unit, way back in the early ‘80s. Sometimes I think about the babies who didn’t make it back then, and how today’s advances (especially with regard to preemies) would keep them not only alive but thriving.

Thinking about that led to the idea: what if a woman pregnant in 1970 learns that she could save her unborn baby’s life by traveling to the future for a procedure?

I had a few other books [and] I was afraid my editor wouldn’t go for this one so I put it on the back burner for quite a while. But when I told her the story, she said “wow!” I’ll always be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's latest book is The Fifth Risk.

From his NPR interview with Ari Shapiro:

SHAPIRO: In each part of the government that you look at, you tell the story of what happened during the transition between Election Day and the inauguration. And in each case, the story is pretty much the same. What happened?

LEWIS: Well, what happened was before the election, the Obama administration had spent the better part of a year and a thousand people's time creating, essentially, the best course ever created on how the federal government works and what the problems are in each of these departments with the idea that the day after the election, hundreds of people from the new administration would roll in and get the briefings and learn what the problems were and how they dealt with them.

And the Trump administration just didn't show. I mean, across the government, parking spaces were empty, and nice little finger sandwiches that had been laid out went uneaten and briefing books went unopened to the point where, when I roll in a few months later, I'm the first person who's heard the briefing that the Trump administration was supposed to get.

SHAPIRO: And when the Trump administration ultimately did send some people, or one person, there was a pattern in the kinds of people who showed up.

LEWIS: Well, the real pattern was everybody who showed up was a Trump loyalist, and very few of them had any kind of qualifications for the jobs they were being sent into. And the spirit with which they approached was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith's new YA novel is Hearts Unbroken.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that the novel is partly "an exploration of speech--journalistic, political, artistic, religious, and interpersonal, as well as speech rooted in hate..." What do you hope readers take away from this aspect of the book?

A: I hope that they consider the costs and possibilities of their words, the power of their voices and the need to use that power responsibly in every aspect of their lives. Which of course includes making amends when the words they choose are the wrong ones.

Q: The novel takes place in Kansas. How important is setting to you in your work?

A: Setting is critical. I’m a sense-of-place writer, and the majority of my stories are set in locations I know well. There’s an expression “I know where you’re coming from.” It means “I understand you.” Think about how we equate that.

My protagonist Louise grew up in Cedar Park, Texas, which is outside Austin, where I now make my home. (Incidentally, I’m a regular author visitor to the YA reading group at Cedar Park Public Library.)

She moves to suburban northeast Kansas, where...[read on]
Visit Cynthia Leitich Smith's website.

Writers Read: Cynthia Leitich Smith (March 2009).

The Page 69 Test: Feral Curse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Alice Walker

Alice Walker's new collection of poems is Taking The Arrow Out Of The Heart.

From her interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SIMON: Well, we've heard wonderful things about you, of course. I'd like to begin with - if you could read us a section of your poem about your beloved Oakland called "Loving Oakland."

WALKER: OK.

(Reading) If gentrifiers do not despoil it, which means getting rid of poor and black and people of color people, Oakland can be what it has been for a long time, an urban paradise. It is a place where the young blond woman crossing the street in front of your car would look like a threat to the neighborhood, except she's frowning over some deep issue in her inner life and wearing outrageous vivid blue shoes. It is a place where, as you sit on the grass by the lake, a tall black man of a certain age strolls by blowing his saxophone. You smile and bow. He bows back with his horn. His day is mellow. He's in the sun. He has given mellowness and sun free of charge to you.

SIMON: If I might ask you about that first line, if gentrifiers do not despoil it, are you concerned that Oakland might be improved, as they say, at the cost of a lot of people?

WALKER: Yes. In fact, it's happening as we speak. So many huge buildings, apartment buildings, forcing the people out. And so many, now, people living in tents - you know, so many homeless people. There are a lot of brokenhearted souls, you know, in Oakland who've lived there all their lives. I just...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 8, 2018

Abigail DeWitt

Abigail DeWitt's new novel is News of Our Loved Ones.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that the story you tell in News of Our Loved Ones was inspired by your own family history. At what point did you decide to write the novel?

A: For a long time, I’d thought about writing the story of my aunt who died on D-day and the story of my great-uncle who was saved by his own painting. I did write those stories, and then, a while later, I was drawn to write the story of the half-American girl walking on the beach.

I began to see how the three stories were connected, so I thought of writing a collection of linked stories, but the more I wrote, the more I saw that the meaning of each story depended on all the other stories and that what I was writing was a novel with multiple points of view.

I never know what I’m writing until I write it, so in that sense it’s not exactly a decision. I begin by following a character and seeing where that character leads me—it could be into a novel or a short story about that character, or it could be into a novel or story about a completely different character. The original character could turn out to be simply a character who “introduces” me to someone else.

My best writing begins as...[read on]
Visit Abigail DeWitt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister's new book is Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger.

From her NPR interview with Rachel Martin:

MARTIN: You lean into history in this book. And it's full of examples of men's anger being laudable, creating admirable political change. The Boston Tea Party is a great example. What historically was so threatening about women's anger?

TRAISTER: Well, in part, that anger of the founding - our founders, who were the white men chafing against their lack of representation and who were angry and protested in ways that we understand correctly to - this is our revolutionary moment. But when they made their new nation, they codified some of the very inequities that they themselves were angry about with regard to the British government. So they built the nation on slavery and the disenfranchisement of women.

MARTIN: You referenced the racial dynamic of the Me Too movement earlier. But I want to ask again because women who speak out are condemned in the broader culture under many circumstances. But there is an outsized penalty for women of color who do so. Do you think those voices are being heard loudly enough in this moment?

TRAISTER: I think it's almost impossible for us to conceive of the voices of women of color as being heard loudly enough because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Jake Burt

Jake Burt's new book is The Right Hook of Devin Velma.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Right Hook of Devin Velma?

A: The notion sprang from my own trepidation toward social media. When my first novel came out, I joined Twitter, established a webpage, etc.

I was nervous about it, and I think that discomfort led me to explore ideas of fame, publicity, and family in a new way - hence Addison Gerhardt, the (VERY) reluctant emissary and Devin Velma, the eager experimenter.

They're two sides of the same coin, launched into a situation they couldn't possibly have prepared for. It was a ton of fun thinking about how they'd react to it. I hope that comes across in the novel!

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?

A: The message I'm hoping kids take away is...[read on]
Visit Jake Burt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Greetings from Witness Protection!.

Writers Read: Jake Burt (November 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 5, 2018

Michael Kinch

Michael Kinch is the author of Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity.

From his NPR interview with Susan Brink:

The first attempts to control smallpox go back at least 1,000 years and didn't involve vaccines. Can you describe those attempts?

Smallpox was probably killing a half a million people a year in Europe alone. The medical community had adopted a practice called nasal insufflation. You could take a little bit of the material from a smallpox scab, turn it into a powder and have a child snort it into the nose. Or you could intentionally scrape the skin and put material from a smallpox pustule under the skin of a healthy individual. That was called variolation. Those procedures caused smallpox, and people got sick. But far fewer of them died because most people would get a less virulent form of disease than if they were infected through exposure to a smallpox patient. Those who survived were then immune to smallpox.

How do you suppose people even thought of doing those disgusting things with scabs and pus?

You have to make assumptions. Maybe someone who was caring for a person with smallpox got a cut, and the cut got infected with pus from the patient. Then the caretaker noticed that afterward, they were immune to smallpox infection.

Variolation and nasal insufflation worked reasonably well, but they were not vaccines. What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Peter Nathaniel Malae

Peter Nathaniel Malae's new novel is Son of Amity.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Son of Amity, and for the family you write about?

A: I was driving home from a 500-word writing session for my last novel, Our Frail Blood, down a pretty isolated country road that leads to my neighborhood. I had a CD of CCR on and was kind of disappearing into the music, as I sometimes do as a form of recovery after a day of digging through a scene.

Anyway, this one song of theirs, “Run Through the Jungle,” opened up on the radio. It starts with this sort of long deep yet piercing guitar chord that sounds almost like a hell-bound demon moaning about being hell-bound, and as it was really stretching out, I thought, Wouldn’t that be crazy to be sitting in a movie theater in the dark when this sound comes on full blast, and then when the song starts into its riff eight seconds later the film opens with a close-up to a guy’s face. He’s driving up from a faraway place, you discover, to confront his sister’s rapist.

Once I got this “image,” I had about two minutes until I reached my home. By the time I turned off the car, about 75 percent of the novel’s major plot points had already filled in for me, a skeletal story, if you will. From there it was just a matter of slapping on muscle and skin, and getting the story’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Alyssa Palombo

Alyssa Palombo's new novel is The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow.

From her Q&A with Meghan Masterson:

Tell us about your inspiration for The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

I had been casting about for an idea for my third book for a couple months when I came up with it – the idea hit me like a ton of bricks, basically. I was in the shower at the time, and suddenly I had the idea for a feminist retelling of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, with lots of historical detail, and one that would answer the question that Washington Irving leaves somewhat open-ended in the original: what did happen to Ichabod Crane? Immediately I could hear Katrina’s voice, and the title came to me at the same time. I got out of the shower, basically did a happy dance in my bathroom, and started writing that day. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I love all things creepy and spooky, so this book was a pure joy to write because it gave me a chance to play with all that.

What three words would you use to describe Katrina?

Determined, spoiled, and loyal.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on this book?

I was definitely...[read on]
Visit Alyssa Palombo's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Violinist of Venice.

The Page 69 Test: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

Writers Read: Alyssa Palombo (May 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman's new novel is Waiting for Eden.

From the transcript of his NPR interview with Rachel Martin:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: Elliott Ackerman served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he often draws on that experience in his writing. In a new novel out today, he explores the life of a seriously injured veteran named Eden and those who were closest to him. It is a story about fidelity and commitment and knowing when to let go. The book is called "Waiting For Eden."

ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Eden is a man who, when the novel opens, we find him and he has been in a hospital bed for about three years, and he has burns all over his body. He's not conscious. He can't see. He can't speak. And he can't hear in his - and he's sort of trapped a little bit in his own mind and waiting next to him is his wife, Mary. And the book opens right before Christmas, and for the first time in three years, Mary leaves Eden to go back and spend the holiday with her daughter. And her departure causes Eden to suffer a stroke and his mind, as a result of that stroke, unlocks itself, and we begin to learn about...[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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Karen Brooks

Australian-born Karen Brooks is a novelist, an academic, a newspaper columnist and social comentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer, and dabbled in acting. Her new-in-the-US novel is The Locksmith's Daughter.

From Brooks's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that you've always been fascinated by locksmiths. How did you come up with your character Mallory, the 16th century locksmith's daughter?

A: It wasn’t easy coming up with Mallory. When I first started writing, I knew where and how I wanted her to end up, but as to how to introduce her, what type of person she’d be, I was a bit stuck. Basically, she evolved (hopefully as a fully rounded person) as I wrote and rewrote.

I wanted her be someone who, despite being given wonderful opportunities (education, learning a trade at her father’s side, a respectable upbringing) felt she needed to redeem herself in her eyes and society’s because of something dreadful she’d done – a poor choice she’s made.

I think once I pinpointed what kind of mistake she would make and why, her character – her inner strength, ability to own her errors and seek not to repeat them, her strong moral code, empathy, capacity for forgiveness etc – came forward. She learns from her blunders and those others make and doesn’t try to excuse her faults but mend them.

Does that make sense? I fell in love with Mallory as I wrote and wish I was half the woman she is!

I should also tell you, when I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue