Monday, December 31, 2007

Christa Faust

Christa Faust, author of works such as Hoodtown and the forthcoming Money Shot, talked to Donna Chavez at Publishers Weekly about writing the novelization of Snakes on a Plane.

A couple of exchanges from their Q & A:

You won the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers’ Scribe Award for Best General Adapted for your novelization of Snakes on a Plane. How did you get that job?

It was an assignment. Originally it was called Pacific Air Flight 121 and the [Samuel L.] Jackson character was just a generic action hero.

Novelizations need to be completed before the film is shot, sometimes before it has even been cast, in order to be released at the same time as the film. The amazing Internet buzz for SOAP didn’t gear up until I was nearly finished. In fact, we had to do some last-minute scrambling to get hold of a final draft of the script that included the famous “motherfucking snakes” line in time to meet my deadline.

Is the award great, or what?

The award itself is a wonderfully cheesy golden star that sits in a place of honor beside my desk with other bits of writer’s mojo like my letter from Richard Prather and a small statue of the Blessed Virgin dressed as a Dominatrix.

Some people look down their noses at media tie-in work and think of tie-in writers as a bunch of soulless hacks just out to make a buck. I love tie-in work and have infinitely more respect for hard-working writers like Lee Goldberg and Max Allan Collins than I do for self-styled literary geniuses who are still sitting in mom’s basement polishing their unpublished masterpiece. It was a hell of an honor to be recognized by my fellow tie-in writers. They really understand how tough the job can be.
Read the full interview.

Visit Christa Faust's website and her blog to learn more about her work.

My Book, The Movie: Christa Faust's Hoodtown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Andrew Bridge

Andrew Bridge is the author of Hope's Boy.

Robert Anasi interviewed Bridge for Publishers Weekly.

A couple of exchanges from the Q & A:

Is the foster-care system as horrible in general as it was for you in particular?

Well, everyone’s experience is different. These are all individual lives, and individual tragedies, that we’re talking about. But I think overwhelmingly, there is far, far too little good. Within two years of leaving foster care, a third to half of the kids are homeless, and a majority of the girls are pregnant. And their kids often end up in the same system.

Is it mainly a problem with the system?

The government does a fairly good job of paving roads and putting out fires, but when it comes to caring for the lives of individual people, it tends to do poorly. Veterans hospitals, psychiatric care, public nursing homes, you name it. We have a long history in this country of not respecting the integrity and values of families in poverty.
Read the full interview.

Learn more about Hope's Boy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 28, 2007

Dana Milbank

Dana Milbank is a correspondent for The Washington Post and author of the just-released Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes that Run Our Government.

Jamie Malanowski interviewed him for

The introduction and opening exchange:

Dana Milbank, a correspondent for The Washington Post, has just published Homo Politicus, a smart and very funny tour of Washington and the people there who run our government. In ths book, Milbank adopts the guise of an anthropologist to examine their culture and behavior, a very clever and revealing way to think afresh behavior we often take as par for the course. Milbank interrupted his coverage of the campaigning in Iowa to answer some of our questions:

PLAYBOY: Congratulations on your book! It’s kind of devastating to liken our wise and eminent leaders to guys who wear grass skirts and coconut bras. How did you get the idea for this approach?

MILBANK: As someone who wears a coconut bra most weekends, I never thought of my treatment of Potomac Man as Devastating. I see myself as a foreign correspondent, sending dispatches home to normal Americans about the curious creatures who live in the capital. When Bill Thomas at Doubleday suggested an anthropological twist on this notion and proposed calling it Homo Politicus, I jumped at the idea, in part because I figured the confusion caused by the title could boost sales in places such as DuPont Circle. And while my anthropological skills are admittedly suspect, I think it’s beyond dispute that Washington people exhibit many traits in common with cultures we consider primitive: tribalism (partisanship), violence (political campaigns), and hunting and gathering (inserting earmarks in spending bills).

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Conn Iggulden

Conn Iggulden's The Dangerous Book for Boys won Book of the Year at the 2007 Galaxy British Book Awards. His latest book, Lords of the Bow, part of the “Conqueror” series based on the life of Genghis Khan, is published in January 2008 in the UK and March 2008 in the US.

Anna Metcalfe of the Financial Times asked him a few questions, including:

What book changed your life? And why?

Legend by David Gemmell. I read it when I was 14 and it set me on the path to historical fiction. I wrote a book a year from then on.

* * *

What novel would you give your own children to introduce them to literature?

The Twits. Roald Dahl was cleverer than he was given credit for.

Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

David I. Kertzer

Sarah F. Gold interviewed David I. Kertzer for Publishers Weekly.

The introduction and one exchange from their dialogue:

In Amalia’s Tale ... David Kertzer tells how in 1890 an illiterate Italian peasant woman — who contracted syphilis from wet-nursing a foundling — took on Bologna’s social and medical elite.

Both with Amalia’s Tale and your earlier The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, you show a knack for finding stories that were sensational in their time but then forgotten.

This is such a dramatic phenomenon: women in large numbers who were getting infected with syphilis [from nursing foundlings]. The question was, was there a way to tell the story in a rich enough manner to make it come alive. [Unlike the Mortara kidnapping] this was a story that the authorities did everything possible to hush up, and the principal, as a peasant, was powerless. I was fortunate because, as I dug further and further, I found a treasure trove of materials in an unexpected way for such an obscure person. One thing I discovered while doing the Mortara book was how vital and rich court records can be in providing insight into the powerless and illiterate people of the past.

Read the full Q & A.

Kertzer's Amalia’s Tale is due out in March 2008. Visit David I. Kertzer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 24, 2007

Allison Brennan

Toni McGee Causey interviewed Allison Brennan for Murderati.

One exchange from their Q & A:

You always have fascinating characters, and I know you write three books a year, plus the other works (short stories, etc.) Finding a character and getting the details are generally different for every writer, so I'm curious: how do you brainstorm characters? Do you write out descriptions, do a dialog with the character, chart them, or something else? What inspires you, character-wise?

(blushing deeply) Thanks Toni. I think your phrase “finding a character” is how I do it. I find out all about them as I write the book. I generally know a little bit about my characters, but not much. I don’t really know enough until I get them on the page. I don’t write out descriptions (which really screws me during the copyedits sometimes), I don’t dialog with them, chart them, or anything that would considered “plotting” (shivers.)

What I do is start with the idea. Like, “Earthquake under San Quentin.” I knew from SPEAK NO EVIL that Theodore Glenn had been convicted of killing four strippers in San Diego, but it was a throwaway line to get Will Hooper out of town because I didn’t need him in the story at that point. But when I started my prison break series, Theodore became my villain. I wrote the scene of the earthquake and put Glenn there. What was he doing? He had something in his hand. It was a letter. To Robin. Who the hell is Robin? Right—she testified against him. Then he shreds it in anger. Wow, he has some emotion there—the only emotion he has. So you can see I learn about my characters as I write. They sort of tell me. Usually when I get stuck writing it’s because I start telling my characters what to do rather than letting them do what they need to do.

I did know that Glenn came from a good family, wasn’t abused as a child, and he isn’t a traditional serial killer. Usually when I get in their heads I figure them out. Sometimes they come fully formed, like Joanna Sutton my heroine in TEMPTING EVIL. Sometimes it takes me a little digging, like Kate Donovan in FEAR NO EVIL. She was such a tight-lipped bitch, er, heroine, it took me awhile to figure out what made her tick. Anthony Zaccardi in the novella came fully formed, it was the heroine Sheriff Skye McPherson that I had a bear of a time with. Again, because she’s a closed, private person and just didn’t want to open up.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Orhan Pamuk

Two exchanges with Orhan Pamuk about his novel My Name is Red, from a Q & A at the publisher's website:

AAK: You have used the rather unusual device of telling this story through many narrators. In fact, no two consecutive chapters are in the same voice. Why did you structure the novel this way? What challenges did this structure present?

OP: It was so much fun to impersonate my characters! I enjoyed finding the voice of a sixteenth century ottoman miniaturist, a mother of two children who is looking for a husband, the voice of her kids, the demonic voice of a murderer, and the narrative of a dead man on his way to heaven. Not only my characters speak in my story but objects and colors as well. I thought all these distinctive voices would produce a rich music—the texture of daily life in Istanbul four hundred years ago. These shifts in viewpoint also reflect the novel’s main concern about looking at the world from our point of view versus the point of view of a supreme being. All of this is related to the use of perspective in painting; my characters line in a world where the restrictions of perspective do not exist so they speak in their own voice with their own humor.

* * * *
AAK: What kind of research did you have to do to write a novel of such rich historical detail?

OP: It took me six years to write this book. Of course, I spent a lot of time reading books and looking at picture, but I rarely thought that of it as "research." I’ve always enjoyed what I was reading and I read what I enjoyed. Ottomans were great record keepers and the records of the governor of Istanbul were well kept and published. So, for hours I used to read the prices of various clothes, carpers, fish or vegetables in Istanbul markets in a given year. This led to interesting discoveries; for example, I learned that barbers also performed circumcisions or pulled teeth for the right prices.

As for researching the paintings, that was more personal because beginning at the age of six, I’ve always thought that I would be a painter. When I was a kid I used to copy the Ottoman miniature that I came across in books. Later, I was influenced by Western painting and stopped painting when I was twenty when I began writing fiction.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dave Wann

Dave Wann is author of many books, including Affluenza and the new Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle.

From a Q & A at his website:

Q. You write that happiness depends on how well basic human needs are met. So if needs like social connection, stimulating work, and creative play are not met, you’re saying we resort to consumption instead?

DW. Absolutely. Over-consumption is an addiction, and addictions arise when we’re off-balance and insecure, as our society now is. Because we feel empty, we want something to want, but consumption can’t really fill us up unless we’re consuming something of real value in moderate, sensible amounts. On the other hand, when we are healthy, active, and stimulated by life’s many adventures, we don’t need or want to buy as much.

I make a clear distinction between gratification and true happiness. Gratification is about infinite and often insatiable wants, while happiness is more grounded in meeting achievable, satisfying needs. For the past fifty or more years, the hidden mission of the marketers has been to deliver dissatisfaction guaranteed, because real happiness is not as profitable. As a result, we aren’t meeting needs for nutrition, efficient cars, the respect of our peers, sufficient leisure time, as well as the skills and habits that can use leisure time well.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Simple Prosperity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 20, 2007

D. Graham Burnett

Anna Mundow interviewed D. Graham Burnett, author of Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, for the Boston Globe.

Mundow's introduction and the first exchange of the interview:

In 1818, in a New York City courtroom, the case of Maurice v. Judd posed an apparently straightforward question: Was whale oil fish oil, and therefore subject to state inspection and taxation? As expert witnesses testified, however, the trial quickly became a passionate public debate on the order of nature and the supremacy of man. In the fascinating "Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature" (Princeton University, $29.95), D. Graham Burnett describes the trial, its undercurrents, and its repercussions with sublime wit and consummate skill. Burnett, the author of "Masters of All They Surveyed: Exploration, Geography, and a British El Dorado" and "A Trial by Jury," is associate professor of history at Princeton University. He spoke from his home in Princeton, N.J.

Q. Is there a common preoccupation that connects this and your previous books?

A. I suppose I'm concerned with the way that facts become facts. My first book dealt with the history of cartography; maps are wonderful spaces to see natural and social facts in the making. My second book is more personal. In 2000 I served as the foreman of a jury in a murder trial in Manhattan, and found myself completely caught up in the complicated dynamics of proof, evidence, and persuasion in the courtroom. "Trying Leviathan" represents an intersection between those two previous books, perhaps, since here I open up a legal case that is of real importance in the history of science. There was a good deal of serendipity in all this. I am a lover of "Moby-Dick" and had decided I wanted to write a book about changing ideas about whales in the modern era - how did these creatures go from monstrous "beasts" to soulful, musical friends of humanity? I was doing this research when I stumbled on the records of Maurice v. Judd.

Read the entire interview.

The Page 99 Test: Trying Leviathan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Max Allan Collins

John Kenyon of Things I'd Rather Be Doing interviewed Max Allan Collins, author most recently of a "posthumous Mickey Spillane novel, Dead Street, finished by Collins.... A Killing in Comics, an interesting mesh of vintage crime novel and a comic strip, and finally Collins' own Hard Case Crime novel, Deadly Beloved."

The opening exchange from their Q & A:

TIRBD: For a guy who has tried a number of different things over your career, 2007 will go down as a groundbreaking year: Your first novel featuring comic character Ms. Tree, finishing a Mickey Spillane novel and writing a hybrid of sorts in the book A Killing in Comics. Does a year like this tell you anything about avenues you have left to explore or give you more license to try new things?

MAC: It was a busy writing year as well, perhaps the busiest of my career. I probably should be slowing down, but as I get older, the reality that the time ahead is finite becomes all too apparent. So a lot of what I've been doing reflects me getting around to doing things that I've intended to do for a long time – the Ms. Tree novel, for example. Black Hats, the Wyatt Earp novel (written as Patrick Culhane), is a notion I've been nurturing for 10 or 12 years. My new DVD, “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life,” is the culmination of all of my years of Ness interest as well as my desire to keep honing my filmmaking craft. I'm at a stage where about half of the effort is designed to make a living – the movie and TV tie-in work – and the rest is artistic ambition and working to get done all of the things I'd like to do.

It looks like I may get to do Nathan Heller again, and I will very likely write the final two books, to make sure the series has a sense of having been finished. If they are successful, I'll fill in with earlier stories, but I have always intended to do Marilyn and Kennedy as Heller's last cases.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Zoë Sharp

Zoë Sharp, author of Second Shot, was recently questioned by the committee of writers at Elaine Flinn's Evil E.

Here's her exchange with Jason Starr:

Jason Starr: How do you get such a great sense of America in your writing?

Publishers often throw around the ambiguous term ‘the big book’. What do you consider a ‘big book’?

Sharp: Wow, I take it as a big compliment that you think I’ve got a sense of America in my books, Jason. Thanks you! We’ve spent a lot of time in America over the past seventeen years - I think the tour last September was our 35th visit. And we’ve been to some fairly off-the-map areas, which gives you a real feel for different places. I think being a photographer helps. I do a lot of location shoots for the magazines I work for, which I have to find very quickly qonce we arrive in a particular place, so I’m used to driving around looking out for interesting backgrounds. Plus I get bored quickly if I have to read great swathes of description, so I try not to write it. I’m always aiming to capture a place or a person in as few words as possible. A snapshot rather than a portfolio.

‘Big book’ is an interesting concept, isn’t it? I think it’s something that captures the spirit of the moment. I have been having a conversation similar to this with Ali Karim recently, and we kicked around the idea that a breakout book is something that really plugs into a zeitgeist. And we all know how long it takes to plan and write a book, and then for it to go through the production process, there really is a huge amount of luck involved in striking just the right note at the right time when it finally hits the shelves. I would also take a guess and say it usually falls outside a series, a more weighty, character-based novel, and has a theme that can be summed up in a few words rather than half a page. A real ‘high-concept’ idea, to borrow a phrase from the movie industry. Does that sound about right? If you find out the answer, can you let me know?

Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kyle Mills

Kyle Mills is the author, most recently, of Darkness Falls, which deals with an ecoterrorist trying to destroy the world's oil supply.

From his Q & A with

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.

A little background: I didn't research my first novel as well as I should have, because after hearing about how hard it is to get published, I didn't think anyone would ever read it.

One day, I received a letter from a guy who said he hoped I wouldn't be mad and then went on to list my mistakes page by page — missing only one obscure error relating to the construction of crack pipes. Not only was I not mad, I immediately printed off a copy of the book I was working on and mailed it to him with a note saying, "See what you can do with this one."

Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rupert Thomson

Rupert Thomson is the author of eight novels, among them The Five Gates of Hell (1991), The Insult (1996) and Divided Kingdom (2005). His latest novel, Death of a Murderer, has been shortlisted for the 2007 Costa Novel Award.

Anna Metcalfe of the Financial Times asked him a few questions.

Two exchanges from the interview:

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, the greatest office novel ever.

* * *

Which literary character most resembles you?

It’s arrogant, but the cat in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 14, 2007

Oliver Sacks

Author and neurologist Oliver Sacks was interviewed for the The Bat Segundo Show, a literary podcast featuring interviews with today's contemporary writers.

Here are some of the subjects covered and a brief transcript from the interview:

Subjects Discussed: Musicophilia, emotional responses in patients with dementia and Tourette’s, an amazing musical rendition from Alzheimer’s patient Woody Geist played by Dr. Sacks on his CD player, the relationship between music and the auditory cortex, the memory of performance, responding to rhythm, the overpotent stimulant qualities of music, earworms, music as “advertisements for toothpaste,” being bombarded with tunes in interior environments, the dangers of iPods, neurological speculation upon having a “soundtrack to one’s life,” musical hallucinations vs. brainworms, musical perception and “intercranial jukeboxes,” musical dreams and the hypnopompic state, the dangers of being oversaturated with sounds, pattern recognition, blind children and absolute pitch, famous blind musicians, septo-optic dysplasia, amnesia and the case of Clive Wearing, Chomsky and speculation upon a hypothetical innate musical theory, congenital amusia and those who sing out-of-tune, associating a song with a sound, and recent developments in melodic intonation therapy and the right hemisphere.


Correspondent: Really, what’s the difference between, for example, this innate idea of music and the kind of cognition in Clive’s head?

Sacks: Say that again.

Correspondent: I’m sorry. The difference between the innate rules of music versus the cognitive processes that cause him to sing and perform quite well. What causes him to perform as well as he does?

Sacks: It is memory. It’s procedural memory. The memory of how to do things. And that — I don’t know if one needs to bring Chomsky into this.

Correspondent: You mentioned “anticipation is not possible with music from a very different culture or tradition.” So I didn’t know if you were making a comparison to Chomsky with this kind of proviso of…

Sacks: Listen, I think this Chomsky thing is a red herring. And I don’t know how to answer it properly.

Correspondent: Okay, no problem. We’ll…

Sacks: So let’s — and I think the business of Chomsky and implicit rules doesn’t have anything obvious to do with Clive’s memory.

Correspondent: Okay.

Sacks: You know, otherwise we will get into a knot from which we cannot explicate ourselves.
Listen to the full interview.

Learn more about Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Diana Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of Crescent, which was awarded the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and was named one of the twenty best novels of 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor, and Arabian Jazz, which won the 1994 Oregon Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Her most recent novel is Origin.

Luan Gaines interviewed Abu-Jaber for Curled Up With A Good Book. Two exchanges from their Q & A:

Luan Gaines: What was your inspiration for Origin?

Diana Abu-Jaber: I woke up one morning, quite literally, with this woman’s voice in my head. I knew that she was someone without parents and that she believed she had this mystical connection to the animal world. It all grew out of that voice and that myth of origins.

* * *
What would you like readers to take away from Origin?

Probably my first aim is always to entertain, but a close second is that I try to evoke a sense of meaningful connection to and insight into another person’s experience. I love Forster’s dictum to “only connect.” And finally, I also have some thematic strains running through this story about conservation of the earth’s wild places and animals.
Read the full interview.

The Page 99 Test: Origin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Carolyn Hart

Carolyn Hart is a mystery writer who has won multiple Agatha Awards.

Her books include the popular "Death on Demand" mystery series, the "Henrie O" mystery series, and Letter from Home.

Part of an exchange from Hart's interview with Publishers Weekly:

PW: When you wrote your first Death on Demand novel, why did you have your amateur sleuth, Annie Darling, own a mystery bookstore?

CH: That goes back to the whole heart of what happened to me as a writer. When Death on Demand came out [in 1987], it was my 15th published book and I was really invisible as a writer. I’d sell a mystery here and there, and it would be published and immediately disappear into the black holes of publishing. I think New York at that time felt that mysteries were the province of the dead English ladies and hard-boiled American private eyes. So I got to the point that I thought, This is really stupid. I am going to write one more book, and this time I am not going to give any thought to the market. I’m not going to care about the fact that nobody seems to like mysteries. By setting it in a mystery bookstore, I can, through my protagonist, celebrate the mysteries I love, both present and past.
Read the full interview.

The 18th "Death on Demand" mystery is due out in Spring 2008.

Read more about the author and her books at Carolyn Hart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pat MacEnulty

Pat MacEnulty is the author of four books as well as numerous short stories, essays, poems and plays. She is also a teacher, workshop leader, writing coach and freelance editor.

Her latest novel is From May To December.

From a Q & A at her publisher's website:

What do you consider to be the most important moment in literary history?

When Virginia met Leonard Woolf.

What is your favourite quotation?

In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.

Which writer (living or dead) would you most like to have dinner with?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We could have cocaine for dinner.

What book are you reading at the moment?


Who is your favourite character (from a book)?

Huck Finn.

Read the full Q & A.

Read another interview at Pat MacEnulty's website.

The Page 99 Test: From May To December.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2007

J.T. Ellison

In September 2006 Julia Buckley interviewed J.T. Ellison, author of All the Pretty Girls.

One exchange from their Q & A:

Why do you like mysteries? Who is your biggest mystery influence?

When I started reading mysteries, I was devouring authors like Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag and Patricia Cornwell. I bought every James Patterson book. As I grew as a reader, I discovered some amazing voices, people like John Sandford, Lee Child, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais. I aspired to write like Sandford and Connolly, and hope that I achieve that goal. I adore some of the new authors out there. Robert Fate and Cornelia Read have been my two favorite wonderful discoveries this year, and I adore Tasha Alexander and Alex Sokoloff. There’s just a bunch of great new fiction out there. I wish I had more time to read so I could rejoice in the written word of others more.

I think I’m drawn to mysteries because the authors right the wrongs, the black hats lose (or the story portrays black hats with such amenable action that we root for them). I like to feel swept away, breathless, uncertain what might happen next. I’m always so disappointed when I figure out “who done it.” I’m not as well read as a lot of people, so I still can get fooled pretty easily. Kudos to the authors who do that for me; you’re guaranteed sales for life.
Read the full interview.

The Page 69 Test: All the Pretty Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sarah Langan

Nicholas Kaufmann interviewed Sarah Langan for Fear Zone.

Their opening exchange:

Both your novels deal a lot with the economic issues of living in a small, Northeastern town. In The Keeper, Bedford is in an economic depression because the old paper mill, which was the main employer in town, closed. In The Missing, Corpus Christi's comfortable economic bubble is on the verge of bursting. What attracts you as a writer to these kinds of settings? They're definitely different from a lot of what we see in modern horror novels, where economic issues are rarely mentioned, let alone allowed to play a role.

I've always liked epic novels drawn on wide canvases. The models for those kinds of books, for me at least, were written by Brits. Dickens, Waugh, Maugham, Austin, Forster, etc. These guys lived in time when you could wind-up in debtor's prison, and so their characters were threatened by that possibility just as much as the authors. Maybe they were incensed by the society in which they lived, because they'd been brutalized by it. Dickens worked ten hour days in a boot factory by the age of twelve. Maugham and Forster were gay, and in their early twenties witnessed the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for sodomy. Austin never married, and as a consequence was never safe from the specter of poverty. Waugh, well, I think he was just mean and self-righteous. But I still love him. Anyway, they wrote big stories because they wanted to change the world, or at least show its inequities, so that others might become incensed, too.

The modern American inheritors of that tradition include Richard Russo, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Russell Banks, Joyce Carol Oates, Don DeLillo, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, and Dorothy Allison. But even while the gap between the middle class and the rich widens into a chasm, the epic has gone out of style. It's been replaced by more nuanced, intimate stories, and that's a real shame.

The reasons are myriad: Epics are harder to write. They take more time, and involve researching not just a culture, but several characters' perspectives. Also, their size daunts readers, who might not have the time or back muscles to lug a 1,000-page opus. More insidiously, I think our culture has gotten more narcissistic. It's more fun to write about hot chicks in New York drinking cosmos, because they enrich our fantasy lives. I don't contest the skill of these novels, but put in a different context: What if Forster had written a tell-all memoir about growing up gay at Cambridge, instead of that haunting cave scene in A Passage to India? What if Austin's heroines had spent the length of their novels learning to dress better and lose weight? Sure, it would be inspiring to every body out there who needs to shed a few, and make their man treat them right, but it also would have been a grave loss. A corruption of the reader and author both. Because there's a whole big world out there, once you get your head out of your navel.

Epics can change your life. They can keep you up reading long past midnight. They can bring you to tears and laughter, both. They invite you to sit down a long while, and they tell you every detail, so that when the payoff comes, it really pays off. We felt sorry for the criminals in Capote's In Cold Blood, and as a consequence questioned the death penalty, even for cold-blooded murderers. We changed an industry because of Sinclair. Dickens advocated social reform. Austin let us know that perhaps old maids chose poverty over a marriage without love. That kind of bravery deserves compassion, not pity. Tom Wolfe made us laugh, and then weep, at the glittering, hollow world of Sherman McCoy.

Anyway, I think what drives me to write about class issues is that they're present. Money makes the world go 'round. I'm at a loss as to why more authors don't spin their tales around class issues. More and more, they're relegated to science fiction and satire, meanwhile consumerism replaces churches, and a third of our population has no health care. So, I guess my long-winded answer is, class issues are inextricably linked to an honest reflection of any world I might create. They're life, warts and all.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Keeper.

My Book, The Movie: The Missing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 8, 2007

J. Kingston Pierce

Novelist Declan Burke interviewed J. Kingston Pierce, editor of the indispensable crime fiction website The Rap Sheet and author of a highly anticipated novel-in-progress.

Their opening exchange:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Is there any self-respecting author or enthusiastic reader who could offer just one title? It’d be like asking me to choose the single book I would take with me to a deserted island. Hell, I’d drown myself in the ocean before I ever reached that frickin’ island, if I knew I was going to be stuck there with just one book to read for the rest of my foreseeable days. But back to your actual question: what book I’d like to have penned. It would be a toss-up between Ross Macdonald’s THE CHILL (1964), Peter Lovesey’s WAXWORK (1978), Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE (1953), Rennie Airth’s RIVER OF DARKNESS (1999), and maybe Elmore Leonard’s LABRAVA (1983). Oh, and I would go to my grave a happy man, indeed, if I could ever produce something even remotely as brilliantly disturbing as Robert Wilson’s A SMALL TOWN IN LISBON (1999).
Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2007

Duane Swierczynski

Earlier this year, Kathleen Bolton interviewed Duane Swierczynski, author of The Blonde and other terrific fiction, for Writer Unboxed.

The opening exchanges of the interview:

Q: Tell us about your road to publication

DS: It was the usual road: in dire need of resurfacing, full of confusing signage, and populated by violent highwaymen who’d just as soon carve out your liver as siphon your gasoline.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad. But it was a long road. This December will mark 20 years since I started writing fiction for real. I remember the exact date: December 27, 1987. That was the night before my best friend’s birthday. I was 15 years old, and broke, so I wrote him a horror novella as a gift. It had a shock ending, and when he read it, he let out this great yell. That’s when it clicked for me. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life trying to do that again, for as many readers as possible.

Hundreds of stories and novel fragments and half-baked ideas later, I wrote The Wheelman as a lark, to see if I could write a stripped-down, fast-moving heist novel. I honestly thought it had no chance of selling – I mostly wrote it to entertain myself. It sold in two weeks. Nobody was more stunned than me.

Q: Did you think that it was never going to happen? How do you keep the drive to write alive, especially after a 20-year wait?

DS: I don’t really think I had a choice. The drive refused to go away, no matter what. The funny thing is, I remember saying to my wife at one point, “Look, I may never get published I may end up with 20 novels in my trunk that my grandkids discover someday, and have a good laugh. But that’s okay.” And a month later, swear to God, The Wheelman sold to St. Martin’s. It’s almost as if I had to admit it out loud: I was in it for the long haul.

Q: Your novels are violent, wacky, and fiendishly plotted. What drew you to writing noir/crime fiction, and why?

DS: As a teenager, I read a lot of horror, and during the late 1980s/ early 1990s some of my favorite writers were writing crime and noir, too. The two novels that really turned me on to crime fiction were Joe Lansdale’s Cold in July, an excellent Gold-Medal style thriller (though I had no idea what Gold Medal was at the time) and Robert Ferrigno’s The Horse Latitudes. That led me to Jim Thompson and James M. Cain and David Goodis … and before I knew it, I was living in Noirville, and loving it.

I think the fascination with horror and crime and noir comes from the same place: I’m fascinated by characters experiencing the worst days of their lives. With crime and noir, however, the characters often bring it on themselves.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jim Shepard

John Kenyon of Things I'd Rather Be Doing interviewed Jim Shepard, author of the recently-released short story collection, Like You’d Understand, Anyway,

One exchange from their Q & A:

Your short stories seem almost like challenges to yourself, with you inhabiting the heads of a staggeringly disparate cast of characters. The acknowledgment pages of your collections, meanwhile, look like the citation section from a thick academic book. Do you do research on topics that interest you and then decide to write stories based on that information, or do you conceive of the story and then do research to help with the writing?

I think they are challenges to myself -- that's a nice way of putting it -- nearly always in terms of stretching the capacities of my empathetic imagination. A story narrated by John Ashcroft began with my fulminating about yet another one of his inconceivably bad decisions as attorney general, for example, and then asking myself, ‘How does he do something like that, and live with himself?’ And then asking myself the question more seriously, and deciding that I would read all about him and try to find out. As for research, I read on subjects that interest me, first. Sometimes that sets off something that begins to feel like a story -- almost always because of some mysterious or elusive emotional resonance that I begin to register (as opposed to because I feel like the elements in front of me would make a good story.) Once I've begun to feel that what I've been reading might generate a story, my reading changes, and I begin to do more focused research.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Philomena Keet

Philomena Keet is a British anthropologist whose PhD is on Tokyo Street fashion. Her new book, with photographer Yuri Manabe, is The Tokyo Look Book: Stylish to Spectacular, Goth to Gyaru, Sidewalk to Catwalk.

From a Q & A at the publisher's website:

Q: Are there social, economic or cultural factors unique to Tokyo or Japan that have nurtured the fashion scene?

PK: In Japan of course there is no one 'fashion scene' and the social, cultural and economic factors that draw someone to gothic lolita and a conservative look are very different. Much has been written about the importance of the group in Japanese society and embarrassment about standing out, but whilst gyaru groups can be very rigidly defined with 'interviews' to join etc., for other styles like the fashionistas often in FRUiTS, its hard to make out any recognizable 'group' at all.

One of the characteristics of fashion itself is its ambiguous nature in anchoring the individual into some kind of group as well as representing a desire for individuality. Hence, the gothic lolita who looks like she is standing out and rebelling against society is actually dressing in a recognized style with thousands of adherents, but at the same time within any seeming group there are always people striving to stand out, be the most fashionable or extreme.

Economic factors may have contributed to the 'second-hand' clothing boom, which are now sold everywhere from supermarket-like chains to exclusive and vintage boutiques. But on the other hand, people buy Louis Vuitton bags regardless of whether it's a recession or they earn very little.

Culturally, there may be something in the Japanese ability to have fun with clothes and enjoy them for what they are rather than perceiving them as some meaningless frivolity which detracts from the 'inner self'. There is a lot of importance placed on 'surfaces' in Japan: masking one's inner feelings can be positively valued for example.
Read the full Q & A.

Learn more about the book and its creators at The Tokyo Look Book website, blog, and MySpace page.

The Page 99 Test: The Tokyo Look Book.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2007

Christopher Goffard

If I had not already read Christopher Goffard's debut novel Snitch Jacket, Sarah Weinman's recent Los Angeles Times review would have nudged me to put it atop my To Read list. "Snitch Jacket is a wonder of sentences that sing," Weinman writes, adding that "the story is artfully told, with shifts between action and first-person narration that are almost seamless." Her bottom line: "we can't help looking forward to what comes next from this talented writer's mind and pen."

Goffard graciously replied to a few questions I put to him (via email) last month:

Zeringue: Publishers Weekly's rave review of Snitch Jacket concluded: "Goffard's prose shimmers with intelligence and humor, and he has a keen ear for telling detail. Fans of such cultish neo-noir scribes such as Charlie Huston and Duane Swierczynski will be richly rewarded." I certainly agree with the first sentence. And while the second sentence is technically accurate -- I'm a big fan of those two writers and I felt richly rewarded by your book -- they aren't the first two authors that came to my mind in that context. Which two writers would you plug into that sentence?

Goffard: It's funny to hear the names of the writers my work is drawing comparisons to, most of whom -- Charlie Huston and Duane Swierczynski, John Ridley and James Crumley -- I'd actually never read, though I'm starting to read and enjoy some of them now. I think if your reading tastes incline to James Ellroy or DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little or the work of Harry Crews, you'll enjoy a book like Snitch Jacket.

Zeringue: Someone tagged Snitch Jacket as "literary noir," which seems accurate enough to me. Of novels of the last few years, the so-called literary novel that I thought of when reading Snitch Jacket was Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics. (She gets a lot of her pop from active verbs while your adjectives sizzle, and you both have suspiciously unreliable narrators.) As for the noir cousins that came to mind, I give you John Ridley's pulp fiction: like you, he has pathetic losers at the center of the story. Of course, these connections are highly idiosyncratic, and I would be surprised if anyone else thought of your book as Pessl crossed with Ridley. Do you have your own equation -- [literary novel] crossed with [noir novel] -- for Snitch Jacket?

Goffard: I have to admit, the terms "literary noir" or "literary crime novel" embarass me a little bit, because a writer who goes around saying "I've written literature here," as opposed to "I've written a book," is exhibiting some serious hubris and is asking for a beat-down. I think the tags are useful only insofar as they alert readers to what's in store -- that Snitch Jacket's not what a lot of people now consider a crime book, the kind with two-sentence paragraphs and two-page chapters that you read at the beach while you're slathering lotion on your kids and trying to keep them from running into the water. I mean, you'll have to pay a little bit of attention. Because the publishing industry loves pigeonholes and encourages these ersatz distinctions, I think some readers are caught off-balance. Genre folks say, "Gee, this isn't the pace I'm used to," and readers of so-called literary books say, "Gee, what are all these lowlifes doing in a book with pretty sentences?" I'm encouraged by books like George Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Gerald Kersh's Night and the City and Chesterton's Father Brown stories, which have crime trappings but transcend them in wild and unexpected ways.

Zeringue: Were you conscious of any connections between your own vocation as a newspaper reporter and that of your protagonist, Benny Bunt, the snitch? That is, you and your fictional creation are both paid to shine light into activities that others would prefer to keep hidden. Of course, that's not to equate your motives or profession with Benny's activities....

Goffard: Well, there's a book by Janet Malcolm called The Journalist and the Murderer which begins: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness." Now, I think that vastly overstates the case. I think you can do the job ethically and without damaging the subjects whose trust you happen to win. But there's an element of salesmanship in the profession that sometimes borders on the smarmy, on a used-car pitch, and it's uncomfortable to see when it happens. But I came to think of Benny as a broader metaphor for writers in general, that dangerous breed who listen very closely to the people around them, coax out all kinds of heart-meat stuff, and then use the material to hustle out a living.
Read more about Snitch Jacket, and learn about what Goffard was reading in late August 2007.

The Page 99 Test: Snitch Jacket.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 2, 2007

David Kirby

David Kirby is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University.

His recent books include The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press) and an essay collection entitled Ultra-Talk: Johnny Cash, The Mafia, Shakespeare, Drum Music, St. Teresa Of Avila, And 17 Other Colossal Topics Of Conversation (University of Georgia Press).

His previous books include the poetry collections The Ha-Ha and The House of Blue Light. His poems have been published in Best American Poetry 2000 and 2001 and in Pushcart Prize XXV. He is a recipient of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and a Guggenheim fellowship among other honors.

The House on Boulevard St. was a 2007 National Book Award Poetry Finalist. Craig Morgan Teicher interviewed Kirby about the collection and his poetry. Part of their dialogue:

CMT: Let’s talk about the book. You call these poems “memory poems”: they’re conversational, far reaching, witty, referencing all kinds of things, from Dante to whatever happens to be going on at the moment. How did you start writing this kind of poem?

DK: I used to write what I called “2 by 4 look-out-the-window-poems”: you look out the window and see something and give your thoughts on it. That amused me for a while, but I knew I wanted to change. Meanwhile I’d grown up on a farm in south Louisiana, and my mother, who was born in 1902, was an old school farm girl in a rough part of the world. There were actually people on her family farm who had been born into slavery and were emancipated. There were voodoo elements and conjure people in the woods, people who could talk the warts off your hands for a nickel and that kind of thing. My mother was always a great story teller, and she passed on a love of stories to me. In addition to writing these “2 by 4” poems, I liked to tell stories and my wife, the poet Barbara Hamby, said, “you should turn these stories into nonfiction essays.” I kept thinking about that, then one day a light bulb ignited. I said, “ooh, why not combine the two, cut out the middle genre, nonfiction, and make the stories directly into poems.” Then I ran out of stories, and I realized I could either hold up liquor stores and have more stories or do something else. That’s when the poems became more braided, referring to high and pop culture and something I had for lunch.

Read the full interview, and learn more about the book.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 1, 2007

J.M. Hayes

J.M. "Mike" Hayes is the author of The Grey Pilgrim (2000), Mad Dog & Englishman (2000), Prairie Gothic (2003), Plains Crazy (2004), and Broken Heartland (2007).

Betty Webb recently interviewed Hayes for WebbsBlog. Their opening exchanges:

BETTY: Tell me a little about your new book. I hear it's another “Englishman” mystery.

MIKE HAYES: Sheriff English and his oddball, born-again Cheyenne brother are back for the fourth Mad Dog & Englishman mystery. Think Joel and Ethan Coen working with Garrison Keeler to make The Silence of the Lambs and you'll have the tone of the series. It's set in an imaginary Kansas county where English has been getting re-elected by small margins for years. Sheriff English is also known as Englishman. His half-brother, Harvey Edward Maddox, starred on the local football team where he earned the Mad Dog nickname. Since the glory days of his youth, Mad Dog has evolved into the local oddball — hippie, black power advocate, leader of the grape boycott, and now, a born-again Cheyenne. The boys' mother claimed to be half Cheyenne and half wildcat, though her Indian portion turned out to include Sans Arc, Mexican Cowboy, and Buffalo Soldier portions, as well as Cheyenne. After deciding he was a natural-born shaman, Mad Dog officially changed his name, and stuck the sheriff with his nickname. Once you've got a Mad Dog you've got to have an Englishman.

BETTY: Sounds like fun, and more than a little weird. How’d you come up with the idea for the series?

MIKE: I came up with the idea for Mad Dog & Englishman after the peaceful village where my father was born, Arlington, Kansas, went through the trauma of its first murder. My imaginary Buffalo Springs, Kansas is considerably less idyllic, but I thought it was interesting to consider how a community, in which things like murder never happen, reacts when one does, and how an under-funded and ill-prepared law enforcement agency goes about investigating such a horrific crime. For my own purposes, I thought it would be even more interesting if the sheriff's brother was the most logical suspect, and also happened to be determined to solve the case himself, though using Cheyenne Shamanism instead of police procedures. Then, to keep things moving, I decided to confine the book to one frantic twenty-four hour period. I wasn't expecting to write a sequel, as you'll discover in Prairie Gothic, Plains Crazy, and now Broken Heartland, when you watch me juggle a pair of characters who inconveniently share a name, but I've stuck with the formula in each of those books. Nothing ever happens in Buffalo Springs, but when it does, expect a Murphy's Law squared kind of day. With this addition to the series, that's four days, one each in summer, winter, spring, and fall, when all hell has broken loose in Benteen County, Kansas, and Sheriff English — an honest cop without much help or modern investigative equipment — sets out to find the villain and save the town while his brother, Mad Dog, gets in the way, draws suspicion, and otherwise complicates the sheriff's efforts to bring the guilty to justice.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Broken Heartland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Marcus Sakey

In July 2007 John Kenyon of Things I'd Rather Be Doing interviewed Marcus Sakey, author of The Blade Itself and the forthcoming At the City's Edge.

Here are some of Kenyon's introductory remarks and two of the exchanges from the interview:

The Blade Itself is a taut, edgy thriller that lives up to the considerable hype, and marks Sakey as a new voice to watch in the world of crime fiction. It is the story of Danny, a southside hood who runs with Evan, a gun-happy thug. A botched burglary at a pawn shop sends the two in separate directions: Danny cleans up and goes straight while Evan heads to prison. Of course, nothing good lasts forever, and Danny has a hard time fitting a newly released Evan back into his life.

There is plenty of action here, but Sakey also salts his tale with considerable food for thought, riffing on second chances and the penal system in particular. The author spent 10 years in advertising and marketing before taking the plunge as a novelist, so he had to do significant research to promise verisimilitude in his story. He writes on his web site that he “shadowed homicide detectives, learned to pick a deadbolt in sixty seconds and drank plenty of Jameson.” But this is no term paper; he weaves this newly gleaned information into the story seamlessly.

Sakey's next book is another stand-alone, At the City’s Edge, about “a discharged soldier who returns from Iraq to find a similar war raging in his South Side neighborhood.” Set in Chicago, like The Blade Itself, it is due in 2008.

TIRBD: It seems to be a somewhat risky move to start a career writing stand-alones in the mystery/thriller genre rather than to initiate a series, but you've managed to succeed. Did you give any thought to this when starting out, or was this simply the book you needed to write?

MS: I'll tell you a secret: you give everything thought when you're writing a novel. It takes a year, and it's on your mind the whole time, which means that you have months and months to not only identify all the stupid mistakes you're making, but also to flagellate yourself raw for them.

I worried about a lot of things, including not writing a series. However, at the end of the day, I didn't see a way to be faithful to the characters I had created and the story I was trying to tell, and yet also make it a series. So I took them through the worst experience of their life, punished them for old mistakes, tried to give them a brighter future, and then said goodbye.

The style works well for me, though. After a year of living with a group of characters, I tend to want a little relief, to move into someone new. So for now, I'm planning to continue writing stand-alones.
* * * * * *

You did some significant research for The Blade Itself; did you do similar work to prepare for writing your next book, At the City's Edge, which deals with a soldier returning from Iraq?

Research is one of the most rewarding parts of writing thrillers. You get to experience a life that is a hundred miles from your everyday, from the daily life of most people. I've ridden with the police numerous times. I've toured the morgue and learned how an autopsy was performed. I've taught myself to pick a lock.

For At the City's Edge, I had two main areas of research: the common soldier's experience, and the life and structure of metropolitan street gangs. Both were fascinating. I interviewed soldiers, spoke to cops in Chicago, LA, and New York, read numerous memoirs, kept up with daily blogs, even borrowed a bulletproof vest and spent a couple of days shadowing Gang Intelligence units. I love doing that stuff; my wife, not so much.
Read the full interview.

At the City's Edge is due out in January 2008.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Porochista Khakpour

Lance Reynald interviewed Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects, for Reynald's Rap.

One exchange from the interview:

LR: Your book is infused with a strong sense of New World identity and dichotomy and your characters journey through those things in the aftermath of September 2001. On tour, have you found readers aligned with the experiences of your characters?

PK: The book tour was very confusing. Whereas I imagined a lot of men in their late 30s through 60s as my readers, they mostly ended up to be 20-something girls with artsy glasses and nice tattoos who’d give me these big long hugs after the reading. Lovely, you know? Or, in the case of a few places, homeless-seeming 70+ year-olds – there were a lot of them – but I think they might just go to every reading? Not sure. Once in a while, I’d get some normal bright human who’d thank me profusely for writing this book, because of some personal connection they had whether it was knowing an Iranian-American, being one, being in New York during 9/11, growing up in LA, etc. In one case, an LA editor and blogger called my novel the first great Iranian-American novel, with my being sort of the first of the hyphenates for my people (note to self: The Hyphenates, excellent title for a multi-culti thriller.) I felt very fancy for a day or so.

Read the full interview.

The Page 99 Test: Sons and Other Flammable Objects.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

George Pelecanos

Rob Lord interviewed George Pelecanos, author of The Night Gardner and other terrific novels, for the Fall 2007 issue of Spinetingler Magazine.

The opening exchanges of the interview:

Rob: As a student at the University of Maryland you took a class covering hard-boiled detective fiction. Can you tell us about your experience in this class and how it set you on the path to write crime fiction?

George: The class, taught by Mr. Charles Mish, had a very simple format: we read paperback novels and discussed them. Mr. Mish was bearish, very smart, and a regular guy. I could relate to someone like that, a combination of the physical and the intellectual, over the standard professorial type. Because of his manner and enthusiasm, I got jacked up on reading for the first time in my life. He considered crime fiction to be as valid a form of literature as any other type of novel, and from what I heard, he was ostracized for this within the English department. I wrote him a letter before he died, telling him about the impending publication of my first novel, thanking him, in effect. This was a case of one teacher changing someone’s life.

Rob: What drew you to the crime genre?

George: The crime novel spoke to my world. By that I mean, it described the lives and struggles of everyday, working class people. It was written for readers, not academics. It was populist literature. And when it was written with ambition and care, it had the possibility of permanence.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2007

Donald Westlake

Donald E. Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, has written 23 novels featuring the anti-hero Parker. "The Parker novels suddenly stopped after the sixteenth, in 1974, then resumed, with equal lack of explanation, more than 20 years later," writes Marcel Berlins in his interview with Westlake for the London Times. "The missing years have long puzzled fans."

Westlake explains the gap:

“I didn't know the reason then, but I know now. I didn't want to stop writing about him. I tried the next book three different times, but they all ground down. Now I see what happened. When I first came to New York, no one in my family had ever been involved in any of the arts at all. I didn't know anyone in the publishing world, I hadn't been to any of the right schools. I was a barbarian at the gates. The first Parker novel begins with him walking into New York and creating an identity for himself; saying, goddam it, here I am. That was me. That was 1961. But by 1974 I was successful, making a living, I'd sold movie rights for my books, I had a bit of a reputation, and it was very hard to keep that ‘outsider' muscle.”
Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue