Friday, March 30, 2007

Laura Lippman

Duane Swierczynski recently interviewed Laura Lippman for Philadelphia City Paper.

Here's the introduction to the interview and their first exchange:

Two years ago, novelist Laura Lippman was laughing and joking around with friends on the way to the Washington Nationals' Opening Day game. Then they drove past Wheaton Plaza, a shopping mall in a D.C. suburb, and everybody suddenly stopped talking.

Over 30 years ago, two young girls, Sheila and Katherine Lyon, walked to the Wheaton Plaza and never returned home.

"We were in our early teens when the Lyon sisters disappeared," says Lippman. "I think it was the first crime that felt real to us."

Lippman, formerly a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, has spent a career making crime feel real to readers, both in her award-winning Tess Monaghan series, and lately, in a run of scorching stand-alone novels. Lippman's latest, the time-hopping What the Dead Know, draws inspiration from the true-life mystery of the Lyon sisters, but takes us to the places few journalists dare to venture: inside the heads of the victims, their families, and ultimately, the perpetrators.

(Full disclosure: Lippman has graciously lent blurbs to my books, and even interviewed me once for her Web site. I figured turnabout was fair play.)

City Paper: You claim to have a notoriously bad memory, yet you really seem to nail 1975 as well as 1983 and 1989, from music to style ...

Laura Lippman: I'm not sure if my memory is poor, or if I'm just a lot more honest about its limitations. I've noticed that when you argue with someone over memory, the other person becomes very vehement, because you're basically challenging the whole narrative of his or her life. At any rate, I spent about a month at the Enoch Pratt, our central library, reading newspapers and magazines from 1975. Seventeen was particularly helpful. I was better on 1983 and 1989 because I used to keep pretty decent journals.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Richard Hawke interviewed Richard Hawke about his debut suspense novel, Speak of the Devil.

The interview opens: The opening scene of Speak of the Devil is one of the best openers we've read. We never will watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade the same way again. Did you have this plot in mind from the start, or did it evolve as you started writing?

Richard Hawke: I'll tell you how this whole thing got rolling. I was frustrated with the half-dozen false starts I'd made. I was feeling very constricted in the way I was writing, way too controlling. So just to let off steam, I scribbled down a sentence about a gunman taking aim at Mother Goose. I can't explain where the image came from, and for the next several days the sentence sat there in my notebook as a joke sentence. Finally I came to my senses and realized that the joke sentence qualified as "an inspiration." Then began the real work. Who was doing the shooting? Why was he aiming at Mother Goose? And who was the witness to the shooting who was reporting it to the reader? Omniscient or a first-person narrator? Initially, I envisioned a father with his children or an uncle with his nieces....

But when I realized that I'd want my protagonist to chase after the gunman and surely a father or uncle wouldn't leave the kids crying on a crazed sidewalk like that, I ditched the kids. And once I put the scene into a first-person narrator's voice, the guy was so clearly a New York City detective that I quite honestly had no more choice in the matter. And so, with those kernels in place (the shooting, the detective), I settled in to do the grunt work: devising the plot.
Read the entire interview.

Check out -- The Page 99 Test: Richard Hawke's Cold Day in Hell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Robert Crais

Ali Karim recently interviewed Robert Crais for The Rap Sheet. Crais' most recent novel The Watchman puts Joe Pike, formerly the sidekick in Crais's novels featuring Elvis Cole, at the center of the story.

Part of the Karim-Crais exchange:

AK: Crime-fiction sidekicks such as Pike, Hawk, Dennis Lehane’s Bubba Rogowski, Harlan Coben’s Win [Windsor Horne Lockwood III], et al. have a certain appeal to readers, and morally, they often allow the hero not to be tarnished when there’s a bad guy to kill. So, what’s your take on sidekicks and their morality in crime fiction?

RC: I had a publisher back in the old days, who dubbed Joe Pike as a sociopath. I guess they did that for commercial reasons, but I resented it then and I still don’t believe it today. I think Joe Pike is a very moral guy (from his point of view), ethical, with his own code. He just sees the world differently from you and I. He’s not a slave to what we call the law, so I don’t really think of Joe doing Elvis Cole’s dirty work, I think he functions within his own code and his own universe, and there is a very rigid standard to Joe Pike’s universe, which others have to respect.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Robert Morgan

Linda Stankard interviewed Robert Morgan about his novel, Brave Enemies.

The interview opens:

Rape, murder, disguise, deception — the opening pages of Robert Morgan's new novel, Brave Enemies, have all the elements of a modern-day thriller. But this gripping story actually takes place during the American Revolution, an era when neighbor suspected neighbor and the "wrong" sympathies, whether actual or perceived, could deliver your neck to a noose in short order.

Running for her life from dire circumstances at home, 16-year-old Josie Summers cuts her hair, dresses in men's clothing and leaves behind the small world of her family farm in the Carolinas. Rushing headlong into a wider world with grave dangers, Josie eventually finds herself in the midst of the crucial Battle of Cowpens.

"I first heard about the Battle of Cowpens from my father," Morgan says, explaining how the initial seed for the novel was planted years before it grew to fruition. "He was a great storyteller, and I was, of course, intensely interested in the Revolutionary battles fought in the South, being a North Carolina native. And this battle, one in which a smaller, less equipped force defeats a larger one, was fascinating in technical terms."

Read the entire article-interview.

Read the Page 99 Test: Brave Enemies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kevin Brockmeier

Alyson Rudd recently interviewed Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of The Dead, for the Times (London).

The opening exchanges:

RUDD: You were brave to bind the plot of The Brief History of the Dead so closely around Coca-Cola’s marketing ambitions. Why did you opt for a real company?

BROCKMEIER: I considered inventing a company, but nothing sounded anything other than needlessly artificial and, frankly, silly. I needed a device such as Coca-Cola to set the plot in motion, but my worry was aesthetic: I had to find a product name that wouldn’t ruin the atmosphere of the prose. Coke is so widely known that the word almost reads as a generic noun. Simply enough, it seemed to cause fewer aesthetic problems than anything else.

Has there been feedback from Coca-Cola?

As far as I know, there has been none at all from Coca-Cola. The feedback from readers, has been pretty consistent. Everywhere I go, people ask me this, and I tell them that there have been some pretty elaborate disclaimers on the copyright page, and I can only presume that my publishers know what they are doing.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dara Horn

The Elegant Variation interviewed Dara Horn, author of The World to Come, last year.

The first question and answer:

1) Time Magazine called your novel - which has drawn favorable comparisons to Nicole Krauss' The History of Love - "a "deeply satisfying literary mystery."Given that one of the interminable debates out there has to do with the eternal conflict between the "genre" and the "literary," what experiences can you share about having successfully melded the two? How much - if at all - did you weigh the question of "literary" versus "mystery"? Or do you think everyone is fussing over nothing?

DH: I think the divide between "literary" and "genre" fiction is rather arbitrary. Crime and Punishment is a thriller, and there are plenty of books that are called "literary" simply because they don't have a conventional plot. But the genres are useful in describing a book, which is how you get people to read it. When I published my first novel, I was living in an apartment on the 31st floor, and I had trouble describing what my book was about in the elevator, even though it was a long ride. At some point I said to myself, "I wish I had just written a book about an art heist." So I wrote my second book about an art heist, and I certainly owe that external structure of the book to "genre" fiction. But I really saw the art heist or mystery plot as a way of bringing the reader along into a particular story, into a world of art and literature that might not be familiar, and into an exploration of other ideas - about who owns a work of art, for instance, or what's authentic and what's fake or forged, or whether art or literature can offer people some kind of redemption, or why we trust people at all.

Read the entire interview.

Visit Dara Horn's website and read the first chapter of The World to Come.

Read -- The Page 99 Test: Dara Horn's "The World to Come"

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mohsin Hamid

From the Harcourt interview with Mohsin Hamid on The Reluctant Fundamentalist (March 2007):

Q: The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a monologue about a Pakistani’s experiences in America at the time of the 9/11 attacks. What made you choose this format, which has the Pakistani narrating the tale to an American whose voice is never actually heard?

A: The form the novel, with the narrator and his audience both acting as characters, allowed me to mirror the mutual suspicion with which America and Pakistan (or the Muslim world) look at one another. The Pakistani narrator wonders: is this just a normal guy or is he a killer out to get me? The American man who is his audience wonders the same. And this allows the novel to inhabit an interior emotional world much like the exterior political world in which it will be read. The form of the novel is an invitation, which if the reader accepts, will in turn implicate the reader, because the reader will be called upon to judge the novel’s outcome and shape its ending.
Read the entire interview.

Read an excerpt from The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and visit Mohsin Hamid's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 23, 2007

Kate Bernheimer

Kate Bernheimer is the author of The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold and The Complete Tales of Merry Gold.

Here is part of an interview with her at Fiction Collective Two:

What led you to explore the rich world of folk and fairy tales in your writing? Do you have a personal connection to German, Russian, and Yiddish folklore?

I'm glad you find the world of fairy tales to be a rich world. Thank you for saying that. So often, I find that this immense, strange body of literature is subtly, or not-so-subtly, misunderstood and maligned. This is not to say I think everyone must love fairy tales, but at least ought to consider them, and as works of art. A few years ago a writer in a widely read and prestigious magazine asked "Is it possible that we have actually come to the end of fairy tales as an available, rather than an archival, entertainment?" The rest of the article, though praising of traditional fairytales, seemed, to me, to come to the conclusion that indeed we had. I believe that we haven't. I suppose that for my work to be considered "archival" rather than "available" could be considered a compliment. To think of myself as an Archivist, instead of as a Novelist or Editor, would be great fun, actually.

A number of events conspired to bring me here, to fairy tales. As a young child, I loved my fairy tale dolls-particularly the Madame Alexander Cinderella "before transformation" doll that I shared with my older sister. We had a pair of dolls, one Cinderella in a pink sparkling gown and one a Cinderella in a drab green dress. We messed up the fancy Cinderella's hair-cut it ragged, ripped the tulle of the gown-and fought over the two dolls, both of us wanting both of these dirty creatures to call our own. I recently read, in a New York Times article entitled "Love the Riches, Lose the Rags," about how girl-children now only identify with Cinderella as the ballroom-dress version; that's a strange twist, and sadly unsurprising in our wealth-obsessed culture. It couldn't be further from some of the beautiful early Cinderella variants, which celebrated the strength of the disenfranchised, the poor. Anyway, I grew up watching Disney movies in my grandfather's theatre basement; he had a movie projector and we four kids would sit on his old leather couch with popcorn, terrified and elated. In the books, the printed versions, I have been drawn as long as I can remember to fairy tales because of the abstract and elegant earthiness of them, their saturation with the natural world and their constant excursions toward rapture. Existentially, I am fascinated by their obsession with isolation, and how this isolation is reflected in them artistically. When I began work on my first novel, I began-at first on a whim and then with an imperative-to read fairy tale scholarship, by writers such as Max Luthi, Maria Tatar, Jack Zipes, Donald Haase, Cristina Bacchilega, and many others. What I discovered was an exciting intellectual dialogue, a conversation about literature, politics, art, philosophy, books, and it began to enter my work: somehow, it gave me form. In the cultural heritage of my biological family (which includes Latvian and German people), there is a close connection to Russian, German, and Yiddish fairy tales. Their syntax provides me with rapture, and makes me think.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sandra Parshall

Sandra Parshall is the author of The Heat of the Moon and the just-released Disturbing the Dead.

Read the Page 69 Test results for Disturbing the Dead.

Julia Buckley interviewed Parsahll last August. Part of their conversation:

You got your start in journalism writing obituaries. Did you ever wonder, as a future mystery writer, whether any of those deaths were really accidental? Or, as P.D. James has famously said, “Did Humpty Dumpty fall or was he pushed?”

Oh, sure. I’ve always suspected the worst of people. But the boring truth is that the great majority of deaths are either natural or purely accidental. Murder fascinates people not only because it’s the worst thing anyone can do to another person but because it’s out of the ordinary – even now, when our society seems so violent.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Alan Furst

Alan Furst put his latest novel, The Foreign Correspondent, to the Page 99 Test. The results will be posted in a week or so.

Meanwhile, Furst fans may look in on his BookPage interview with Jay MacDonald from last summer. It opens:

Alan Furst admits he's "not entirely clear" on how he came to be the pre-eminent American writer of World War II spy novels. Beginning with Night Soldiers in 1988, the former journalist has written nine critically acclaimed espionage novels, including his latest, The Foreign Correspondent.

As the grandson of Jewish immigrants growing up in Manhattan, the only spy novels Furst read were by Eric Ambler and Ian Fleming, escapist fare with little grounding in reality. Then, on a 1983 travel story assignment for Esquire, he visited the Soviet Union, his ancestral home, for the first time.

"It was an enormous epiphany for me," Furst says by phone from his apartment in Paris. "I was back where I'd come from and there wasn't any question about that." Furst was frustrated that the Russians dictated when and where he could travel, all with the goal of converting his American dollars into rubles. "I had no desire to go to Moscow; the Russians made you go. If you wanted to go to the Danube, they wouldn't let you go there. My whole life turned on them being such jerks about it."

Read on.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 19, 2007

Kevin Shay

Kevin Shay co-edited Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, an anthology of humor from McSweeney’s. His short humor pieces have appeared in print and online in McSweeney’s, eCompany Now, Salon, Modern Humorist, and the anthology 101 Damnations. Two of his one-act plays were performed in San Francisco in 2003 and 2004 as part of the Bruno’s Island New Plays Festival.

Kevin Guilfoile called The End as I Know It, Shay's first novel, a "terrifically funny debut."

From a Q & A at the author's site:

Randall Knight is a children’s puppeteer and performer who’s on a cross-country tour trying to get his friends, family and even his ex-girlfriend to come to terms with what he believes is the end of civil society: Y2K. It’s safe to say that Randall is obsessed with Y2K. Where did you get the inspiration for this character? Did you experience Y2K fear in the same way that Randall does in the novel?

I went through a brief but intense period of paranoia about Y2K in around the same timeframe as the first part of the novel, late summer and fall of 1998. I never embraced Y2K to Randall’s extent, or ran around trying to warn people about it, but I did have an “awakening” along the lines of his, beginning with a scary article in Wired. I eventually managed to get over my fears in somewhat the same way as Randall does, mostly by staying offline and keeping busy.

As for the character himself, I had a vague, unrelated idea for a story about a guy who travels around replacing the Gideon Bibles in motel rooms with something else. There’s that line in “Rocky Raccoon” about Gideon’s Bible. And there was a beloved music teacher and puppeteer at my elementary school who had a puppet named Rocky Raccoon. So that was the genesis of Randall’s profession.

Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Steve Hockensmith

Bob Tinsley of The Short of It interviewed Steve Hockensmith, author the "Holmes on the Range" mystery series, in 2005.

Part of their exchange:

TSOI: What do you think about the conventional wisdom that humor doesn't sell?

SH: It depends on the market you're looking at. When it comes to novels, the CW seems to be right. I asked a similar question of Bill Fitzhugh once, and his answer was, "You bet your ass humor's a tough sell, but you gotta write what you gotta write. If you enjoy writing humor, if you think you're good at it, then don't give up." On the other hand, I once got a ding letter from an agent who told me, "You're not funny, and if your name's not Hiaasen or Westlake you've got no business trying to be funny." In other words, give up. I think HOLMES ON THE RANGE dances around this particular minefield because it's not meant to be a comedy-mystery -- it's a mystery that, as an added bonus, just happens to be funny. At least that's how I see it.

When it comes to genre short fiction -- and here's one of the many reasons to love genre short fiction -- the conventional wisdom doesn't apply at all. You'll find humorous stories in EQMM [Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine] and AHMM [Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine] (and Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov's) all the time, and folks like James Powell and Ron Goulart have been selling humorous short fiction for years. Which isn't to say selling a (supposedly) funny story is going to be easy. Writers who want to take a stab at humor should keep in mind that (A) not all editors have the same sense of humor, (B) not all editors have your sense of humor and (C) not all editors have any sense of humor. But, as a wise man once said, if you enjoy writing humor, if you think you're good at it, then don't give up. I don't recall offhand where that quote's from, but I think it's good advice.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Allen Wyler

Adam Woog of the Seattle Times interviewed Allen Wyler about his second novel, Dead Head.

The opening exchanges:

Q: You grew up in Madison Park and went to Seattle Prep and the UW. How'd you go from English lit major to neurosurgeon?

A: I wanted to go into medicine, but I also loved reading. My only shot at literature was in college. So I majored in English lit, but I ended up getting my degree in what was called basic medical sciences.

Q: You had a career at the U Dub, in Memphis and elsewhere, but you're no longer a practicing surgeon, correct?

A: That's right. In 2001, I started working for (Northstar) part time. I was interested in devoting more time to my writing, so it worked out. All through my professional life I'd worked in a hospital as a practicing doctor, so it was quite a shift.

Q: When you announced to your wife that you wanted to write, she burst into laughter.

A: Yeah, for her it came right out of the blue. I'd published over 200 medical articles, but I came home one day and said, "Look, I'm going to try to write a novel," and she thought that was the funniest thing she'd ever heard. Of course, what I wrote then won't see the light of day.

Read the entire interview.

Read Wyler's take on the Page 69 Test applied to Dead Head, and visit Wyler's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Peter Spiegelman

Peter Spiegelman is the author of three John March novels; the most recent is Red Cat.

Here is part of a Q & A about the novel:

Q: John's family and their fractured relationships have been part of your previous novels but never as prominently as in Red Cat. What made you want to explore those relationships, especially that of John and his brother David, in so much more depth?

A: I subscribe to Wordsworth's assertion, that "the child is the father of the man." Children are stamped indelibly by their families, in ways that influence the relationships they forge, and the expectations they have of the world. Certainly that's the case with the March children, and I was interested, in Red Cat, in examining some of the emotional baggage John and his siblings carry around (there's quite a bit).

Exploring March's family and his dealings with them (and in particular with David), also let me explore aspects of March himself that I hadn't touched on before. Red Cat is very much a book about relationships—between siblings, between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between one's present and one's past—and March and his family are at the center of many of these.
Read the entire Q & A.

Spiegelman put Red Cat to the Page 99 test.

I reviewed the novel for Spot-on.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2007

S. Haggard and M. Noland

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland are the authors of Famine in North Korea.

Here are the first two exchanges from a recent Q & A about the book:

Q: You estimate that up to a million people died in the great famine of the mid-1990s. The numbers are staggering; how could the government have allowed this to transpire?

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland: Famine is commonly thought of as occurring when there is not enough food to go around, and shortages do play a role. But as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who contributed a foreword to the book, has observed, distribution matters. The official explanation for the famine is that North Korea experienced devastating floods in the mid-1990s. The famine was, in effect, a natural disaster. However, food supplies had begun dwindling and mortality rates creeping up before the floods. The rigidly authoritarian regime made little effort to offset declining harvests either by purchasing grain in the world market or appealing for humanitarian assistance, and when push came to shove, the residents of the capitol, Pyongyang, received privileged access, while some provinces were cut off from grain supplies from the state-run public distribution system altogether, and were later denied aid when it began to arrive. The government was centrally culpable in this disaster.

Q: A theme of the book is the difficulty the humanitarian community has in dealing with such a hard state. How does the North Korean government get away with this?

SH & MN: The North Korean government holds its population hostage to the humanitarian values of the international community. The World Food Program and other relief groups had to negotiate for entry, even as people were starving, and more than a decade later, they remain tightly constrained in their access and activities.

Effectiveness was also impeded by the shifting political winds in the donor countries, which behaved generously when they felt aid could be useful in supporting diplomatic negotiations, while restricting aid at other times in response to North Korean provocations. Similar problems of coordinating how to engage North Korea persist to this day, with China and South Korea pushing for greater and less conditional support, while Japan and the United States take a harder line.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Jonathan Santlofer

Diane Keaton and artist-novelist Jonathan Santlofer had a conversation about their work in 1998, reproduced in Interview. It opened:

DIANE KEATON: My God, Jonathan, you've done so much work since I was here last.

JONATHAN SANTLOFER: Well, you should come by more often.

DK: And the work keeps changing and evolving unexpectedly.

JS: Well, I hope so. I mean, you don't want to play the same part over and over again, do you?

DK: I'm sure many people think I've done nothing but play the same part over and over and over again.

JS: I think most people don't like actors to take on different roles, and it's pretty much the same for visual artists.
Read on for more of the Keaton-Santlofer conversation.

Read the results of the Page 99 Test for Santlofer's Anatomy of Fear.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Joshua Ferris

Dave Weich of interviewed Joshua Ferris about his debut novel, Then We Came to the End. Much of the interview seems to depend on some familiarity with the novel (which is geting rave reviews), but this interesting bit doesn't:

Endings can be tough, but you pull it off. There's a sweetness to the way Then We Came to the End closes, without it becoming maudlin or even what you could call happy. Characters drift out of the scene one by one. That felt realistic.

In your own reading experience, what endings come to mind as the most successful?

Ferris: The best ending to any book, in my opinion, is Lolita. After having killed Quilty, Humbert is driving on the other side of the road, having completely eschewed all law, moral, traffic, whatever it may be. And I think he's standing on a hill when he overhears the choir of children's voices.

He says that the real tragedy of the story was not his loss of Lolita but the loss of Lolita's voice from that choir. It's a completely stunning, flattening moment in which the morality of the book, a book that for a long time was accused of great immorality, shines through in absolute terms.

I'm also a big fan of the recent book by John Haskell, American Purgatorio. I think it ends wonderfully, in a mystical and touching way. I was particularly impressed by that too.
Read the entire interview.

(Note: the passage to which Ferris refers is: "...and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord."

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2007

Jonathan Santlofer

Steven Torres interviewed Jonathan Santlofer not so long ago.

Background information for the following exchange: Santlofer is a highly respected artist as well as the author of four novels.

[Torres:] Having read The Death Artist, I feel like I've been introduced to some part of the living art world. Have I? Certainly not the murder part, but do I now know something about the way the art world works? Was there something specific you wanted to say about the Universe you've inhabited for so long and so successfully?

Yes. It's all true. ALL OF IT. Except for the murders. I never lie about art. In "The Death Artist" I wanted to give the reader a real picture of the contemporary art world, which is hilarious, snobby, brilliant, glamorous, and horrendous all at once. Everything I write about it is true, much of it based on actual experience and literal conversations I've had over the years. I am always being asked "Was that true?" in regard to something outrageous I've written about the art world, and the answer is always YES.

It's a small world where practically everyone knows of everyone else and everyone is fighting for the same things. The art world can be ruthless. I always say the worst equipped people for the art world are artists--sensitive people who are about to get really beaten up in a very tough world. Of course I have many artist friends who I love; people who have dedicated their lives to making art and not making money, and I wanted that in the book too. The art world gives "The Death Artist" an exotic setting that not too many people know about, so I'm glad you came away feeling as if you know it better. Of course it's just a setting. I wanted the book to be a real page turner, scary and thrilling, too, and I hope it does that as well.

Read the entire interview.

Read the results of the Page 99 Test for Anatomy of Fear.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Robert Fate

J.B. Thompson recently interviewed Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark and Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues.

The opening exchange:

JB: So, here we are at last! First, let me congratulate you on BABY SHARK and BEAUMONT BLUES – these are fantastic books.

You've written poetry, short stories, magazine articles, journals, stage plays, and TV and Motion Picture scripts, and if I may quote, you've said "it was a long, scenic road to novels." Can you share a little of that journey with us?

BOB: For you, JB, anything. Let's see. I have made up stories as long as I can remember. My older sister encouraged my imagination by taking me to two double features on most Saturdays as I was growing up. Writing plays and skits started early, too, and seemed a natural thing to do. Acting was a part of that, too. I was in so many school plays I am amazed that my peers didn't rise up and put a stop to it – enough of him, already. So, I have always been a writer – and it has taken different forms. Here's an example. A friend of mine became head writer for a soap opera – and that's not an easy feat, let me tell you. Anyway, he called me in L.A. and asked if I would come to New York and write scripts with him. I requested a week to watch the show (since I had never seen a soap) and called him back. "It's all middle," I said. "No beginning. No ending. All middle." Anyway, I did it. And I gained a lot of respect for the writers of soaps during the time I did it, too. Just like anything else, it's all work, work, work. I guess my point is that each time an opportunity to write something has presented itself, I have seriously tried to meet the challenge. You know, learn the form and write. And then, finally, came the novel – a format that had always frightened me. My good friend, Bruce Cook, told me to stop whining and get busy. Uh huh, well, it still scares me, but as usual I will stick with it until I learn how to do it.
Read the entire interview.

Bob Fate applied the Page 69 Test to Baby Shark. The test results will be reported in the coming week.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 9, 2007

Thomas Perry

One of my favorite thriller writers, Thomas Perry, gave an interview to Robert Birnbaum in 2003. It opens:

Robert Birnbaum: You’ve written how many Jane Whitefield books?

Thomas Perry: Five.

RB: I must confess I lost interest in series, and so I probably have read only three of them. Why did you stop writing the Whitefield series?

TP: Because you were losing interest in the series. (both laugh) Writing the series is fun. It’s a situation that almost feels like having a job. A real, legitimate, honest job, because you know when you are sitting around thinking of some idea or something — what you are going to do with it? And you know when you are finished with this book— then you have a million wonderful things that you are thinking that you know that you can’t possibly fit into this plot, you’re going to have another chance at it. When you are writing stand-alone novels, if you know something great about a character and it just doesn’t fit in because it doesn’t allow the pages to keep turning, you know that you are never in your life going to be able to tell people. It’s over. It’s the wasted by-product of thinking of a book. And so it’s fun to do a series, but it’s [too] comfortable. I don’t think being comfortable is necessarily the thing that’s going to make you a better writer. And I think that’s the most important thing that a writer does — is try to get better. So at a certain point, with a series, your main character is a fully developed, free-standing human being and she’s not going to change a whole lot. At that point what you are writing about is not necessarily the development of her character. It’s about putting her into different situations so that you can show her off. So that’s what you find yourself doing—and I’ve noticed this with other people who have written series, your villains get better and better and better. And more frightening. And your major character is exactly the same. That is probably something you shouldn’t do. What I am doing in the case of Jane Whitfield is giving her a chance to have a little vacation from me and maybe get a little bit older. So that when she comes back she is more — let’s say that there will be developments to report about her and her family and about everything. I was just in Western New York and in the Buffalo area. One of the things that has happened is that the Allegheny Senecas and the Seneca Nation have managed to open a casino in what used to the Niagara Falls Convention Center. That was an issue with Senecas, and it’s a big deal, and it will be interesting to see if there will be changes to report because of that.
Read the entire interview.

Thomas Perry applied the Page 99 Test to his latest novel, Nightlife. The test results will be reported in the coming week.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Stephen Hinshaw

The OUP blog conducted a Q & A with Stephen Hinshaw, author of The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change, and a Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.

One part of the interview:

OUP: In your book you claim that public attitudes towards mental illness are more negative now than they were a century ago, what is this assertion based on? How can you measure public attitudes?

Hinshaw: There are several ways to measure attitudes and beliefs. The most common - questionnaires of "explicit" attitudes - continue to reveal that severe mental illness is feared and stigmatized, even more than during the 1950s, which is a paradox, because there is so much more knowledge and openness today. It may well be that mental illness continues to bring up associations with violence, danger, threat, and incompetence, as well as personal weakness. But such questionnaires are susceptible to 'trying to look good' and may reveal only the tip of the iceberg regarding actual levels of stigma.

Newer research deals with "implicit" attitudes, those expressed quickly and unconsciously. Implicit measures of racial bias show that it exists strongly, even in people who fail to admit prejudice on traditional questionnaires. These kinds of measures are just beginning to be applied to mental disorder.

Still other ways of assessing prejudice, discrimination, and stigma are also quite revealing. In behavioral research, it's actual social interactions that are key -- and these reveal that if a person expects to be interacting with someone with mental illness, distancing and even punitive behavior result. This is especially the case when mental illness is branded as completely genetic. Some thought that putting mental illness into the medical model (replacing earlier beliefs that mental illness resulted from evil spirits ... or, more recently, from bad parenting) would eliminate stigma. Yet simplistic, all-or-none biogenetic attributions may make mental illness seem hopeless, permanent, and even subhuman.

Read the entire Q & A.

Hinshaw put The Mark of Shame to the Page 69 Test.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Sara Miles

David Ian Miller interviewed Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Two of their exchanges:

One of the questions you raised in the book is "Why would any thinking person become a Christian?" First, I'm going to ask you why you even felt the need to pose that question. I don't think someone would ask the same question of a Jew or a Buddhist or a Hindu or a pagan.

There are a lot of secular people who are raised to doubt any knowledge that can't be proved through a scientific paradigm. That's why I asked that question in the book. But one could ask that same question for other religions as well.

Now I'll ask you for the answer to the question, "Why would any thinking person become a Christian now?"

I'm not going to give the answer for why anybody else should be a Christian, but I will say why I became a Christian. I believe the story of Christianity is true. It is true beyond facts and literalism, and it's true beyond logic. As a journalist, it was surprising for me to use a different set of tools -- the eyes of faith -- to understand the world. Belief turned out to be the least important part of faith. For me, the most interesting part of faith has been doubt, not knowing, being willing to look at the universe with a different perspective.
Read the entire interview.

Miles put Take This Bread to the Page 99 Test.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 5, 2007

Stuart Dybek

Last year Stuart Dybek was interviewed by The first two exchanges:

When you do readings, how do you choose what you'll read?

The choice of what I read is sometimes planned out depending on what I know about the audience and sometimes instinctive based on the sense I get once I enter the auditorium and get a sense of who the audience might be. Or sometimes I've written something new that can be read in an half hour or so and want to give it a try.

Have any of the characters in you stories have had impact on your real life relationships? Meaning that, if somebody recognizes themselves in one of your stories, how has that impacted his relationship with you?

Despite the fact that I'm writing fiction and have taken the liberties that fiction allows for, people have at different times recognized themselves in some of the characters. Mostly the reaction has been favorable. I had one old friend who appeared in a story called "The Long Thoughts," who would give the book that story appeared in to people as gifts so that they could read about him. There was an instance however when a dear friend who saw himself in one of my stories -- a version of a story that he told to me -- was offended not by his portrayal but that I would use a story he'd told to me in private. I should add that the story he told to me was fantastical and I changed it further and made still more fantastical. Still, he treated it not as my stealing something but as a broken confidence.

Read the rest of the interview.

Dybek put his novel-in stories I Sailed with Magellan to the Page 99 Test.

--Marshal Zeringue

Allison Burnett

Why did Allison Burnett take a break from his career as a successful screenwriter to write an acclaimed novel? He explained it all to JC Parrish in an interview last year:

I began in Manhattan as a playwright, then I wrote short stories and, eventually, a couple of unpublished novels. On top of writing 35 hours a week, I also worked 35 hours a week as a legal proofreader and as an SAT tutor. By the time I was 30, I had EARNED only a hundred bucks as a writer and I was ready to drop. I began to write screenplays largely as a response to this exhaustion and misery. I suspected that it might be the quickest way to liberate myself from the nightmarish grind that my life had become. I decided to move to Los Angeles. Soon, I was making a decent living as a screenwriter, and not long after, I was making a really good living, and for a while that was more than enough. Then I turned 40. I was being hired by the studios, but I had seen my scripts either made into failed movies (Autumn in New York) or, much more frequently, into no movies at all. They languished on studio shelves. The only film of which I was proud was Red Meat, but that was only because I had directed it myself. Who knew if I’d ever get another chance to direct. Also, a Writers Guild strike was looming, or so many of us thought. It was time take decisive action to reclaim the impulse and aspirations that had made me want to write in the first place. I decided to write a novel.
Read the rest of the interview.

Help Allison cast the lead in his next movie and learn more about his latest novel, The House Beautiful.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Gregg Easterbrook

In a brief interview with Lynn Green, Gregg Easterbrook talked about "the revenge of the credit card" and other aspects of "How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" (the subtitle of his latest book, The Progress Paradox).

The first exchanges from the interview:

A key point in your book is that money definitely cannot buy happiness. So why is it that we Americans are still obsessed with it?

Everyone needs a certain amount of money. Beyond that, we pursue money because we know how to obtain it. We don't necessarily know how to obtain happiness.

Should we really expect to "be happy"? Isn't that a self-indulgent goal?

Aristotle called happiness "the highest good." The Framers of American democracy advocated "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Neither Aristotle nor the Framers were known for self-indulgence. All believed that happiness is a legitimate goal in life; perhaps, one of the reasons we are here.

Read on.

See how the Page 69 Test worked for The Progress Paradox.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Ian Rankin

There's a nice little interview with Ian Rankin over at the blog "Murderati." It includes this exchange:

EE: ...okay, how about--what best selling book do you wish you'd written?

IR: There are many books I wish I'd written, everything from Catch-22 to The Black Dahlia, The Big Sleep to Name of the Rose to A Clockwork Orange...

Click here to read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Scott E. Page

Scott E. Page's new book is The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.

From the publisher:

In this landmark book, Scott Page redefines the way we understand ourselves in relation to one another. The Difference is about how we think in groups--and how our collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts. Why can teams of people find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the very qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity--not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities.
Part of a Q & A with Page:

What are the wider implications of your book?

America is a place that prizes ability. Diversity is seen as a second- or even third-order effect—multicolored sprinkles atop the cake if you will. My book shows in stark, clear logic that diversity produces benefits far greater than mere symbolism. In fact, collective diversity may contribute more to progress than individual ability. And yet, I think a lot of people don’t really believe deep down that diversity is beneficial, but they feel it’s the politically correct thing to say. This book shows that it’s logically correct as well.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Jon Clinch

Jon Clinch's Finn has just been released by Random House.

There's a Q & A (and other goodies) over at the official Finn site. It opens:

Question: What inspired you to write Finn?

Jon Clinch: Ever since I first read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I’ve been haunted by the image of that dead man in that floating house. It was just too creepy. And upon rereading the book more recently it seemed to me that the scene’s place in the novel (just where Huck and Jim’s story starts taking off) conspires with its anonymity (the corpse isn’t identified as Finn’s until the end of the book) to keep readers from giving it too much attention. No doubt plenty of people slide right past the details: the markings on the walls and the calico dresses, the black cloth masks and the child's speckled straw hat, the baby bottle and the wooden leg. There was an adventure getting started, after all, and this mysterious scene—populated as it was only by an unidentified corpse—was just one more picaresque detail.

I wondered how Finn had come to die surrounded by those mysterious artifacts. The conventional wisdom, that the floating house was a brothel, didn't satisfy. I preferred to believe that Mark Twain had left in that crowded room a set of clues—not just to Finn's death but to his otherwise unknowable life. In Finn, I set out to follow those clues wherever they led. And they set a course down some dark and unexpected waters.
Read more from the Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Jeffrey Cohen

Julia Buckley interviewed Jeff Cohen, author of As Dog Is My Witness.

Part of the interview:

I'm curious, because I've been introducing my sons to the joys of the Marx Brothers this summer, and you reference them a couple times in the book. Were they a big influence on you as a kid (or an adult)?

I first "met" the Marx Bros. when I was in high school. Late one night, when my father was asleep (he was a store owner, and got up at some ungodly hour), I happened across "Horse Feathers" and was cackling madly five minutes into the movie. My mother walked in, took a look, shook her head and said, "your father likes them, too," and then walked away. My life had changed.

Really I think all modern humor stems from Groucho in some way. But I'm a bit biased.

Yeah, but Harpo is sublime. The Marxes will be featured more prominently in my next book, actually.
Read the entire interview.

Check out the Page 69 Test results for As Dog Is My Witness.

--Marshal Zeringue