Monday, April 30, 2007

Robert J. Sawyer

Ernest Lilley recently interviewed Robert J. Sawyer about his new novel, Rollback, for SFRevu.

One exchange from the interview:

SFRevu: Long ago I interviewed you and we talked about character creation. You proclaimed that your characters did what you told them to, and there was no monkey business about telling their story involved. Moreover, anyone who thought their characters were speaking to them and begging to get their stories out seriously needed to get help. As I was dating a fantasy writer of exactly that ilk at the time, proudly playing said interview did not have the desired result. Have you softened over the intervening years?

Rob: Not in the least. Reviewers often say I write realistic characters -- and they often express surprise at finding such things in hard science-fiction books. But what that means is that I've got a decent enough grasp of psychology (which is what I studied as a sideline while I was doing my broadcasting degree). Actually, when I was studying psych, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we were just coming off the B.F. Skinner era, in which the human brain was treated as an unknowable black box, governed by inputs and outputs; I don't think the word "consciousness" was ever mentioned once in the psych courses I took. But I knew that was the wrong approach then -- and it's probably why so many of my novels, including Fossil Hunter, Factoring Humanity, and Mindscan, are about how the mind does work. If you think, as I do, that the human mind is comprehensible and mostly predictable, you understand what you're setting your characters up to do. When a writer is surprised by what a character does, it means the writer has been sloppy in designing the character.
Read the entire interview.

Rollback at "My Book, The Movie."

The Page 69 Test: Rollback.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 29, 2007

John Gribbin

Penguin conducted a Q & A with John Gribbin, a Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex who is best known for his book In Search of Schrodinger's Cat.

Part of the interview:

John, The Fellowship: The Story of a Revolution is your 100th book. 100 is a fantastic achievement. How do you feel about it?

I don't actually keep count, and when it was pointed out, I was particularly pleased that it should by chance be one of the books I'm most proud of. I'm not exactly ashamed of any of them, but you only get to a hundred by writing a lot of more ephemeral books (like The Little Book of Science, which was great fun but not one for posterity). The Fellowship, I hope, is not one of those. I don't really regard the number as an achievement - I used to be a journalist, and my friends on newspapers have written at least as many words as me in the past 30 years, it's just that their words don't get stuck between hard covers and put on bookshelves.

How did you originally start out as a science writer?

When I was a PhD student in Cambridge, and desperate for money to buy such luxuries as food. I started doing short items for New Scientist, and one thing led to another. I spent five years on the staff of the science journal Nature, and wrote my first couple of books during that time. But books only really took over from journalism in the mid-1980s.

Are there books that you have particularly enjoyed writing, or that you think have been the most significant in your output?

I have the fondest memories of In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, which was the first book I wrote for myself, without a contract before starting. It was turned down by eight publishers (including Penguin) before becoming my breakthrough title, and is still in print after 21 years. I enjoyed The Little Book of Science in a different way, as a chance to present science in an offbeat fashion. But like most writers, I usually think my current project is the best and most significant.

Read the entire Q & A.

See--The "Page 69 Test": The Fellowship.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Debby Applegate

Debby Applegate is the author of The Most Famous Man in America, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

From a Q & A with Applegate:

Q: Was the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher really “the most famous man in America”? What made him so famous and why has he been forgotten?

A: One nineteenth century observer answered the question this way: "Abraham Lincoln emancipated men's bodies; Henry Ward Beecher emancipated their minds. The one delivered them from injustice; the other, from superstition.” Beecher, son of the last great Puritan minister, shocked and enthralled America by shedding his father’s Old-Testament style fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a New-Testament based gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. He added to his infamy by mixing religion and politics, throwing himself into the antislavery crusade and preaching on behalf of the Republican Party. And he became one of the nation's most charismatic and profitable entertainers, lecturing to audiences across the country on the hot topics of the day.

Then, in 1870 at the peak of his fame, Beecher’s close friend and occasional ghost-writer, the journalist Theodore Tilton accused the pastor of seducing his wife Elizabeth. The ensuing public scandal created more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War, and culminated in a six-month civil trial and media circus. When, after 8 days of deliberation the jury deadlocked, the case was dismissed. Beecher continued to preach until his death in 1887, but over time his reputation dimmed and by the mid-twentieth century he was dismissed as a sentimental buffoon and lecherous hypocrite. Nowadays he is remembered primarily as the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the blockbuster Uncle Tom's Cabin. My aim is to restore him to his rightful place in history, without whitewashing his sins.

Read the entire Q & A.

Forthcoming at the Page 99 Test: The Most Famous Man in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 27, 2007

Daria Snadowsky

Daria Snadowsky's debut YA novel is Anatomy of a Boyfriend.

Girl Scene Magazine's interview with Snadowsky included the following:

What inspired you to write Anatomy of a Boyfriend?

Love. One of the things I've always resented is that all of the words associated with romantic love are so pejorative. When we like a boy, people call us "obsessed," or "infatuated," or "nuts," or "addicted." These are really negative words considering love is such a positive thing. So I wanted to write a story about an ordinary girl who experiences all these feelings for the first time, and she thinks she's acting crazily, when in reality she's just going through the most natural experience in the world. I'm not advocating waiting by the phone for a guy to call or daydreaming about guys during class--I'm just saying that these behaviors are totally normal and completely human, and even the brainiest, most rational girls are not above them. According to the emails I've received so far, readers are really identifying with Dominique's state of mind and feel a lot better about their own romantic experiences as a result.

Who has had the greatest impact on your writing career?

The author Judy Blume has always been my biggest inspiration, which is why I dedicated Anatomy of a Boyfriend to her. Judy Blume's style of writing about teenagers' emotions is sensitive, honest and non-judgmental, and that candor is something I tried very hard to instill in my book.

I actually mailed Judy Blume a mostly-edited version of the book nearly a year ago. I wasn't expecting her to read it since she's so busy, but she did! She emailed me that she enjoyed it so much she had trouble putting it down! Talk about a dream come true!
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Patricia Vigderman

From an interview with Patricia Vigderman about her book, The Memory Palace of Isabella Stewart Gardner:

What kind of research did this book require of you? And how long did it take to finish, beginning from the first time you had the idea to explore Isabella Gardner’s life and her collection?

The book has an associative structure, and that’s also the way I do research: one thing leads to the next. The beginning, of course, was the museum itself, a strange and beautiful place that I found very appealing and also frustrating. Isabella Gardner’s will required that nothing could be altered, no object moved or painting rehung, so its unchangeable idiosyncracies can make it seem frozen in time, as if she had no flexibility in imagining the future. Then when I began reading different biographies of her I noticed how much they, too, were products of their own time. So I began looking for things from her time, to lead me back into her world, to women’s place in it, and to a developing curiosity about the art and civic development in post-Civil War Boston. I was also lucky to have access to the Harvard University libraries, and I found myself hunting down documents and books that no one had looked at for decades—a guidebook to Japan from the 1880s, a collection of unpublished letters, memoirs of energetic but now forgotten women. So, my research was both serendipitous and purposeful, and I let it go on for several years, not knowing exactly how it was all going to fit together.

The Memory Palace doesn’t quite fit into any particular category. Described as “equal parts biography, memoir, philosophy, and detective story,” it crosses genre boundaries to make an entirely unique book. Could you talk about how you came to this blended form?

Indeed, the real labor was finding the form for the book — how to shape the material to reflect the way it had entered and affected my writing life. I would say that the book is personal in that it is my voice that carries the research. It’s not about me, but I wanted very much to share my pleasure with readers—my pleasure not just in the art, but in creating my own nineteenth-century world, my own relationship with the historical characters I was discovering. I realized early on that what I had was a quest narrative: I was looking for Isabella. But in coming at her from many angles I was also creating an Isabella who suited my own purposes. In a way, I was trying to find a biographical form that felt honest rather than authoritative.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory Palace of Isabella Stewart Gardner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 26, 2007

David Armitage

Some time ago, David Armitage, Professor of History at Harvard University and author of The Declaration of Independence: A Global History -- the current feature in the Page 69 Test series -- talked to the Harvard Gazette about his work.

Part of the interview covered one of his earlier books:

Armitage, a graduate of Cambridge University, gained wide recognition in his field for his 2000 opus The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, which won the History Today book prize. The book aims to put British history into its widest intellectual context, taking into its sweep ideological notions from ancient Rome as well as neighboring empire-builders such as Spain.

At its heart, the work ponders why Britain's empire building lagged behind that of other European nations. Armitage's approach pointed to ideas, rather than military might or wealth, as delaying Britain's foray into conquest.

"One reason that struck me ... was the importance of classical models of history, which show that for example the Roman Empire led to corruption and decline," he says. When Britons overcame those fears of empire and expansion, they became an imperial power.

One of the book's most groundbreaking concepts, Armitage says, was how it combined imperial history with domestic British history, helping to launch an intellectual movement that is now very important. "Why did there seem to be two different histories?" he says, noting that historians had previously dealt with either state and nation or expansion and empire. "I believed that it was essential to break down that entirely artificial barrier between those two histories."
Read the entire interview.

Learn more about Armitage's The Declaration of Independence: A Global History, and see how the Page 69 Test fared with the book.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Andrew Bacevich

A year ago, Tomdispatch interviewed Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism (2005).

The interview opens:

Tomdispatch: In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, you said the revolt of the retired generals against Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld represented the beginning of a search for a scapegoat for the Iraq War. I wondered whether you also considered it a preemptive strike against the Bush administration's future Iran policy.

Andrew Bacevich: The answer is yes. It's both really. Certainly, it's become incontrovertible that the Iraq War is not going to end happily. Even if we manage to extricate ourselves and some sort of stable Iraq emerges from the present chaos, arguing that the war lived up to the expectations of the Bush administration is going to be very difficult. My own sense is that the officer corps -- and this probably reflects my personal experience to a great degree -- is fixated on Vietnam and still believes the military was hung out to dry there. The officer corps came out of the Vietnam War determined never to repeat that experience and some officers are now angry to discover that the Army is once again stuck in a quagmire. So we are in the early stages of a long argument about who is to be blamed for the Iraq debacle. I think, to some degree, the revolt of the generals reflects an effort on the part of senior military officers to weigh in, to lay out the military's case. And the military's case is: We're not at fault. They are; and, more specifically, he is -- with Rumsfeld being the stand-in for [Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara.

Having said that, with all the speculation about Bush administration interest in expanding the Global War on Terror to include Iran, I suspect the officer corps, already seeing the military badly overstretched, doesn't want to have any part of such a war. Going public with attacks on Rumsfeld is one way of trying to slow whatever momentum there is toward an Iran war.

I must say, I don't really think we're on a track to have a war with Iran any time soon -- maybe I'm too optimistic here [he laughs] -- but I suspect even the civilian hawks understand that the United States is already overcommitted, that to expand the war on terror to a new theater, the Iranian theater, would in all likelihood have the most dire consequences, globally and in Iraq.

Read the entire interview.

See-- The Page 99 Test: The New American Militarism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dani Shapiro

Some time back, Barnes & Noble interviewed Dani Shapiro, author of a bestselling memoir and five acclaimed novels including Black & White, new this month from Knopf.

Part of the Q & A:

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?

When I was in graduate school, I took a course in 19th Century literature that changed my life as a writer. I had a gifted professor who taught me to read very differently than I had before. Until then, I had read novels as a reader, with a somewhat academic bent. But in this course, the professor (whose name was Ilja Wachs, and to whom I eventually dedicated my second novel) taught us to read as writers. It was as if a light bulb had gone off in my head. For the first time, I began to understand that metaphor, similie, foreshadowing and such were part of the creative process -- that the writer wasn't necessarily maneuvering and making decisions as much as following unconscious motivations. The book I was reading at the time the light bulb went off was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I read it three or four times, and it also led me to read about 19th Century French history in order to understand the political and social factors that might have been influencing Flaubert -- since writers cannot help but be affected by the times in which they live.
Read the entire interview and visit Dani Shapiro's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 20, 2007

L.C. and R.L. Hayden

Earlier this year Julia Buckley interviewed the writers L.C. and R.L. Hayden. Part of the exchange:

L. C., you’ve written many books, and the latest is called Why Casey Had to Die. That’s a catchy title. Why DID Casey have to die? Is it because he came to bat and struck out?

Cute! I like your answer — so much more original than mine. I’m taking the fifth in here. The answer to that is an integral part of the story and the answer is revealed at the very end. All I can say is, read and find out.

How did you get started in the mystery-writing biz?
Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed doing. I feel life is a mystery, so I’m fascinated with the concept of mysteries. Naturally, when it came time to write the novel, I chose the mystery genre — haven’t regretted it at all. But before I wrote mysteries, I freelanced for magazines. There’s an interesting story as to how that came about.

While in college, I had two term papers to do. One was for a professor who was known for his strict rules. I spent all my time doing the paper for him. I finished the paper four days before it was due. It was then that I remembered I had another term paper to write. I grabbed my finished paper, along with its note cards and bibliography cards. I dashed off to the library. I began by re-reading the paper. I found two typing errors (days before computers, sigh.) I made a mental note to retype those two pages.

I set everything to the side and began the research for the second paper. At 2:00 AM when the library closed, I grabbed everything and headed home. The next morning I reached for the finished term paper so I could retype those two pages. It was then I remembered I had set the paper to the side and left it there. I ran to the library, but it was gone: the paper, the outline, the thesis statement, the note cards, the bibliography cards. Everything. Just like that. Gone.

I knew if I approached the professor and told him what happened, he’d say “Tough luck. Paper is due Friday.” I had no choice but to redo it. Somehow in the next three days I redid the entire paper and finished the other paper.

When I got the papers back, on the paper I had to redo I got a C and it only had one comment: And you want to be a writer -- ha! On the other term paper, I got an A+ with the comment that this was publishable if I took off the footnotes and revised it. I went to the professor and he showed me the ins and outs of magazine writing. That was my first published work -- and I got to be a writer -- ha!
Read the entire interview.

Read the Page 69 Test: Why Casey Had to Die.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Noria Jablonski

Daedalus Howell interviewed Noria Jablonski, author of Human Oddities, for the San Francisco Chronicle. The resulting article opens:

Writers are drawn to their craft for a variety of reasons -- some have a story that must be told, others do it for a buck. For Petaluma's Noria Jablonski, it was a nagging feeling.

"I had been teaching high school English in San Francisco for three years and I realized that I was a hypocrite. I was helping these students find their voices and tell their stories, but I had never done that for myself," reflects Jablonski, whose first collection of short stories, "Human Oddities," ($15) was released in October by Shoemaker & Hoard Publishers, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group in Emeryville.

"I really hadn't had a chance to live my own life yet," says Jablonski, 35. "I had no ambitions to be a writer. I just wanted to teach. I knew that when I was 15 years old. ... And I did, I'm very goal-oriented."

When her goal became to be a writer, a determined Jablonski set her sights on graduate programs in writing. In her estimation, however, there was one stumbling block.

Read on to learn more about that "stumbling block."

The Page 69 Test: Human Oddities.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Simon Wood

T-Zero interviewed Simon Wood, author of Accidents Waiting To Happen.

Part of their conversation:

TZ: What authors inspired you to write in the thriller/mystery genre?

SW: There are so many teachers who have nurtured my imagination that it would take me forever to list them all, but here's a few: James M. Cain gave me a dark heart, Raymond Chandler showed me how a man of principles acts, Reginald Hill taught me it's the little things that hurt the most, Jack Higgins showed me how to lie and make it sound like the truth, Robert Crais taught me to have a sense of humor in times of trouble, Ross MacDonald told me a hero can't be bought, but rented, Walter Mosley showed me having a heart will cost me, and Barbara Vine showed me obsession has a price.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cait Murphy

Dave Studeman of The Hardball Times recently interviewed Cait Murphy, author of Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History.

The first exchange from the Q & A:

THT: Let's start our conversation with a "softball": What is your background and what started your fascination with 1908?

Murphy: I work as an assistant managing editor at Fortune magazine, think of it as general assignment editor. Prior to that, I was a social policy and then energy correspondent at the Economist in London; and then an editorial page editor at the Asian Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong. But I have been a baseball fan longer than I have been a business writer. I inherited a love of the game from my father, who grew up a couple of long fly balls from Wrigley Field (Gabby Hartnett was an upstairs neighbor). I grew up playing in our backyard and on various local teams, including one year as one of the first girls to play Little League. I also played in college, an energetic if not particularly skilled second baseman. I am a Mets fan.

Read the entire interview.

Visit Cait Murphy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2007

Megan Abbott

Steve Allan interviewed Megan Abbott at "Noir Writer."

The opening exchange:

NoirWriter: THE SONG IS YOU is set in Hollywood. Why is tinsel town such a great setting for noir novels?

Abbott: Part of it is tradition. So much classic noir is set in LA that, by setting stories there, you can kind of write your way into that world. But I think a lot of is thematic. The whole concept of Hollywood as a dream factory, as celluloid fantasy, as a glossy scrim concealing a darker reality—that’s pretty perfect for noir, for all its themes of deception and betrayal. There’s also the tradition of California as the end of the frontier, as the land of milk and honey, the promised land. That works both ways for noir. You have the idea of all these desperate souls coming to this place to see their dreams realized, only to discover the dream is a lie. At the same time, though, located at the end of the frontier, there is this nihilistic quality to Los Angeles and Hollywood—it’s a dropping-off point. An awful terminus, like you see in Nathanael West, Horace McCoy. And of course there’s the glamour of Hollywood too. The famous nightclubs, the movie star scandals. That stuff is just fun to write about.
Read the entire interview.

(Hat tip to "The Rap Sheet.")

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Charlie Williams

Roger Morris recently interviewed fellow novelist Charlie Williams, author of the “Mangel Trilogy”: Deadfolk, Fags and Lager, and King of the Road, for "The Rap Sheet."

Part of their dialogue:

RM: There’s a lot of humor in these books. But it’s pretty dark, jet-black, in fact. It’s the kind of stuff that as a well-brought up, PC-indoctrinated North Londoner, I find myself laughing out loud at and then feeling terribly guilty about. So thanks for that. But it is tremendously liberating, though I imagine it can provoke pretty strong \negative reactions, as much of the humor revolves around people dying violently and casually. None of these deaths ever seems to trouble Royston too much, and that’s part of what’s funny, I think. Do they ever trouble Charlie Williams?

CW: Am I ever troubled by a fictional character dying? It’s easy to say “no, of course I’m not.” These people don’t exist. But I have been troubled on one or two occasions. You get close to the characters and you might want a better outcome for them. But am I troubled by the violent deaths? Not if I can get a laugh out of it. Also, like I say, it’s usually Blake (or the flow of thoughts and creativity, or whatever you want to call it) who decides that someone dies (or accidentally kills them), so I don’t have to feel bad. Of course I feel bad if someone gets killed in real life, or even just hurt. Especially when it’s not even funny.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jennifer McMahon

Mia King recently interviewed Jennifer McMahon, author of Promise Not To Tell.

The opening exchange:

What was your inspiration for Promise Not To Tell?

I was living way back in the woods of Vermont with no running water, electricity or phone. It could get scary out there at night. Sounds play tricks. You tell yourself that what you hear is an owl, but some part of your brain is screaming, “No, it’s a serial killing clown blowing a slide whistle. Now run for your life, you idiot!”

Every day, I’d walk down the old railroad bed that bordered our property and if I went far enough, I’d pass a group of ruined buildings that locals call The Hippie Shacks. Built in the late 60’s/early 70’s they now stood abandoned, covered in moss, roofs collapsed. I’d imagine the hope that went into them; the promise of living simply, going back to the land. I wanted to write a story that captured both the creepiness of living way out in the woods and the sorrow of those abandoned buildings. I knew right away that it would be a ghost story. I just wasn’t sure how to get started or who my ghost would be.

Then, one day, I was driving by a vegetable farm down the road from us, and saw a dead crow hung up in the center of a field. I’d heard some farmers did this to keep other crows from pecking newly planted seeds out of the dirt, but I’d never seen in it practice. For days, weeks, that crow hung there, quietly rotting. When I sat down to start my story, I began with the image of the crow. Then, from nowhere, a hand began to stroke my dead bird. The dirty hand of a little girl. And I knew I had my ghost.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 13, 2007

John Banville/ Benjamin Black

At Newsweek's website: "John Banville Confronts Benjamin Black…. or how an alter ego explains things to a noted author."

The prefatory remarks to John Banville's interview with his crime-writing alter ego:

April 13, 2007 - I find him living — I was about to write holed up — in an anonymous apartment building just across the river from Temple Bar, that God’s little acre laughingly known as Dublin’s Latin Quarter, and such landmarks as the Clarence Hotel, owned by Bono. This is a version of modern-day, tigerish Ireland I would not have associated him with. The quay on which his apartment building stands is named Bachelor’s Walk, which conjures swaggering Regency rakes, and this is a bit better, though not quite it, either. Fog, coal grit, whiskey fumes and stale cigarette smoke, these are the atmospherics of Benjamin Black’s Dublin.

He buzzes me in through the front door and I climb three silent flights of stairs. The silence tells me this is a childless establishment. Children do not figure in BB’s world except as victims, rejects, pawns in an appalling power-game. But immediately I have to make an adjustment: BB is not Quirke, the troubled and troubling hero of BB’s first novel, “Christine Falls.” For all I know BB may be a pipe-smoking family man in carpet slippers and a Fair Isle jumper.

He is not.

The apartment is small, and would be neat except for the books crowding everywhere. The window of the room that is his study looks into a courtyard with grass and not quite authentic-looking trees. “When I came here the building was brand-new and I was one of the first tenants. In that apartment opposite” — he points — “there was a girl who used to wander about her room naked in the mornings. She must have thought there was no one living on this side. I’m surprised she didn’t spot my bloodshot eye at the window. Or maybe she was an exhibitionist and happy to be watched.”

We are, of course, coevals, BB and I. How to describe him? Nowhere near as big as Quirke, the bull-man whom no woman can resist. As he crosses between me and the window—he is rarely still, preferring I suppose to make a moving target—he seems to me peculiarly blurred. He is less himself than the shadow of someone else. Does this explain the unease I sense in him? He avoids my eye; I suspect he avoids everyone’s eye.
Read the entire article.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hailey Lind

From a Q & A with Hailey Lind, author of Shooting Gallery and Feint of Art:

Q: Why the interest in art fakes?

Hailey: I learned to paint by copying other artists, primarily classical artists. I then got interested in “ageing” my paintings so that they would look genuinely old. A visitor to my Berkeley studio once asked me if a little Vermeer I had painted was real (I told her if it were, I would have sold it and moved to the Bahamas years ago!) But I started thinking about the line between forging for profit and copying for fun; and about the temptations for starving artists to cross that line.
Read the entire Q & A.

See: The Page 69 Test: Shooting Gallery.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ronlyn Domingue

M.E. Wood interviewed Ronlyn Domingue, author of The Mercy of Thin Air.

The Q & A opens:

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you? When did you 'know' you were a writer? Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.

Ronlyn Domingue: My third grade teacher noticed I was a precocious reader and let me spend several hours each week reading and writing on my own. I started my first novel in that class, a mystery called Ghost Mountain. I knew at the age of eight I wanted to be a writer. It’s hard to judge one’s early work, but teachers and friends thought I had talent. Now, if I read something I wrote as a young person, I can see flickers of promise but most of it is just awful.

I hardly wrote fiction at all during my 20s. It wasn’t a practical thing to do. I knew the odds of getting published, much less what it would take to make a living as a fiction writer. During those years, I had what I call my “dead baby dreams.” In the dreams, I’d lose babies to abortion, stillbirth, or adoption. I felt very guilty about the fact I didn’t want these children. One morning, I woke up and realized those dead babies were my unwritten books. I broke the code and never had another dream like that.

From that point on, I became serious about my work. I took some fiction writing classes for fun, and then decided to get an MFA in creative writing. Although all of my past jobs involved writing in some way, I never called myself “a writer” until I got my first book deal.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Mercy of Thin Air.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Alison McGhee

Last February, Minneapolis Observer Quarterly interviewed Alison McGhee about her writing.

One question touched on her book Falling Boy, which has since been published:

What projects do you have planned for the future?

I’m currently re-writing Falling Boy, a novel that comes out next summer. That one began when the image of a teenage boy sitting in a wheelchair appeared to me. He looked at me with these flat dark eyes and said, “What the f---? You can’t write about me?” I didn’t want to write about him, but I had no choice. I’ve been working on that book for a year and a half now, and simultaneously revising three picture books.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 99 Test: Falling Boy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 9, 2007

Dan Gilgoff

Dan Gilgoff, author of The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America Are Winning the Culture War, was interviewed on "Fresh Air" last month.

One exchange from the interview:

NPR: A lot of people think that the Democratic victory in the House and the Senate in 2006 signalled that the Christian Right had lost power. Do you see it that way or do you see it differently?

DG: I would actually draw the exact opposite lesson. Everyone after the 2004 election talked about that election as being a "values election." A lot of it, for the Christian Right, was a response to the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. And the birth of the amendment to the Constitution to ban gay marriages, a real issue in the evangelical movement. But if you look at the exit polls for 2006, that was also a values election. Only the values this time were about Republican corruption in Congress. And in talking to the pollsters for the Democratic National Committee, for instance, when they saw the numbers shift in the two years leading up to the 2006 midterm elections -- they were tracking values and evangelical voters very closely -- when they saw those numbers start to break for them, it was basically after revelations that the former House speaker, Tom DeLay, and accusations and charges against him and corruption -- and after the Mark Foley scandal which occurred just a month or two before the 2006 elections. So in a way, the 2006 midterms and the shift of evangelical and religious votes were a testament to the power of values in churchgoers in elections. It's also important to point out that John Kerry's religious outreach in 2004 was abysmal. Particularly when compared to the machine that Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, was able to build for President Bush in his reelection in 2004. But John Kerry's religious outreach direction in 2004 spent the next couple of years founding a consulting firm that would help Democratic candidates reach out to evangelical and faith voters. She was signed up by so many of the successful campaigns in 2006, by the successful Democrats, whether it be the Ohio success if the Democrat for governor or the senate, or for Casey in Pennsylvania. So I think the Democrats applied a lot of the lessons of 2004 and the failure of religious outreach that year to 2006. In the places where this new consulting firm -- called "Common Good Strategies" run by Kerry's former outreach director -- was active, those were the states and the races where the Democrats saw the sharpest uptick in evangelical votes and in the votes of religious Americans. I think it's no mistake that right now each of the three Democratic frontrunners for president have serious religious outreach operations up and running at this early stage.

This snippet from the interview is drawn from the transcript at "The Scribe."

Listen to the interview at NPR.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 6, 2007

Holly Goddard Jones

Nancy Zafris, fiction editor of The Kenyon Review, interviewed Holly Goddard Jones, whose story “Life Expectancy” appears in the Winter 2007 issue of The Kenyon Review.

One exchange:

NZ: Tell me a little bit about that [a collection of your stories from graduate school].

HJ: There are nine stories at this point, though I may need to cut one for length. I tend to write long, and many of my stories cover spans of years. I like seriousness and sweep and — to one of my professor’s constant aggravation — exposition. When I talked about my “real” writing life, I was referring largely to my discovery that short fiction could be generous and soulful, in the manner of Andre Dubus, and not just a brief glimpse at some moment or idea. I think the collection reflects that interest. I wrote “Good Girl,” the Southern Review story, at the beginning of my second year in graduate school. It was a leap forward for me. I learned something about the writer I wanted to be in the process of getting that story down, and I can look back at it two years after completing the draft and think, Yeah, that’s not bad. That’s still me.

Read "Life Expectancy" at The Kenyon Review.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Kim Garcia

Angela Veronica Wong interviewed Kim Garcia, author of Madonna Magdalene, for Small Spiral Notebook.

The preface and their first exchange:

Kim Garcia’s first book of poetry, Madonna Magdalene, was called “a startling book of origins, a mature and passionate first book of poems” by Edward Hirsch. In Madonna Magdalene, Kim expands known Biblical and mythological narratives by using her personal experiences and gently but unequivocally questioning what is known. On a surprisingly kind November morning in Boston, Kim and I discussed poetics, politics, women and poetry, and of course, the process of writing Madonna Magdalene.

Angela Veronica Wong: Recently, I’ve been really interested in defining the “confessional” poetics. I’m not trying to label your poetry as “confessional,” but I do think that your poetry does explore, return to, and depend on the self. So I ‘m interested in how you see and understand “confessional poetry.”

Kim Garcia: It's hard to say where poetry is not confessional in a sense. If you're looking to the personal. Confession used to have a strongly religious meaning. You confessed your sins to another person. There was also the sense of confessing as witnessing or telling the truth. It was testimony. So the term changes with what people hang their meanings on. Most people are no longer talking to God like Milton or even to the capital “I” Imagination as the Romantics did.

The first poets who were called confessional—Lowell and that crowd–were hanging their meanings on psychotherapy—Freud and the talking cure. You're still “justifying God's ways to man,” or making some kind of narrative, but it's a different frame. Poets are not going to escape from the hard work of laying bare their particular moment with their particular meanings.

I don't think poetry should escape confessing. The term is meant to be a little snide, I think. A way of distancing yourself from vulnerability, or a way of putting that down.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Robert J. Sawyer

SCI FI Weekly interviewed Robert J. Sawyer about his new novel Rollback.

The interview opens:

One of the themes you frequently explore in your fiction is immortality. In Mindscan, a kind of immortality is conveyed via transferring the mind into a robot body, and in your latest, Rollback, immortality is achieved through medical means — a kind of cellular regeneration. Which of these possibilities do you think is more likely to be put into practice someday, and do you think either will be available within our lifetimes?

Sawyer: I say in Rollback that, by the time of the novel — 40 years from now — Vernor Vinge's technological singularity had still not come to pass. But I do think we will see enormous technological strides in the next 40 years, and they will far exceed those of the last 40, and that will include huge breakthroughs in both the areas you've mentioned. Absolutely, we'll make great progress in slowing down and conceivably rejuvenating our bodies. And I'm just as sure that we'll make a lot of progress in scanning human brains and being able to reproduce the fine structures of the brain—and therefore the mind that arises from that structure — at any level of resolution you care to name.

So, sure, both rollbacks and mindscans will be commercially available in our lifetimes (although only the former at Wal-Mart ...). Which of the two will be more popular depends on the prevailing psychology. Flesh and blood has a lot to be said for it, but it also means you can still go splat and die. Still, almost all people would immediately accept that a version of yourself that has been rejuvenated is still you; it's a bigger philosophical leap to recognize that a copy of you that exists when the original no longer does is also still you.
Read the entire interview.

Check out Sawyer's wish-list for the cast should Rollback be adapted for the big screen.

Visit Robert Sawyer's website and blog, and read an excerpt from Rollback.

--Marshal Zeringue

James Cañón

James Cañón, author of Tales from the Town of Widows, answered a few questions for Authortrek, including:

Which writers have influenced you the most?

Willa Cather, Machado de Assis, Gabriel García Márquez and Sherwood Anderson.

Where do you stand on the nature v. nurture debate? Were you born a writer, or were there factors in your environment that enabled you to become a writer?

I believe that within everyone lies a creative spirit that, when allowed, manifests itself in beautiful and fantastic ways. I don't come from a literary family - my brothers and I are the first ones to go to college - but I had an amazing childhood, surrounded by highly imaginative people. That sort of environment, together with the people that came into my life later on, played a major role in my becoming a writer.
Read the entire interview.

See the Page 69 Test: Tales from the Town of Widows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Cait Murphy

Cait Murphy, author of Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, answered a few questions about her book for Smithsonian Magazine.

The first exchange from the Q & A:

How did you come to write Crazy '08?

I've been a journalist for more than 20 years and wanted to try something longer form. I began scouting for ideas, considering subjects as different as ice and a famous 1928 tennis match. My father suggested I look into the 1908 season. I am a serious baseball fan, and have always been interested in the early game. When I began looking into the season, I realized that this was an idea combination of baseball and American history.
Read the entire Q & A.

Visit Cait Murphy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 2, 2007

Michael Prescott

A couple of years ago Michael Prescott answered ten questions from Nickie Fleming.

One of the ten:

Who's your own favourite crime writer? By the way, do you like other genres as well?

Two of my favorites are Michael Connelly and Jeffrey Deaver. There are some talented new writers out there, too, like Danielle Girard. Besides suspense fiction, I read a lot of classics and nonfiction, as well as historical novels. One of the best historicals I've read is Steven Pressfield's "Gates of Fire", an extraordinary recreation of the Battle of Thermopylae. "The Pillars of the Earth", by Ken Follett, is another outstanding historical novel. I read both of those books virtually nonstop, barely pausing even to eat. That's the way I hope my own books grab my readers. I want to keep them on the edge of their seat!
Read the entire Q & A.

Visit Michael Prescott's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Cathryn Jakobson Ramin

Helaine Olen interviewed Cathryn Jakobson Ramin about her new book Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife for Salon.

Here is the introduction to the interview and their first exchange:

Memory, as Oscar Wilde wrote, is the diary that we all carry about with us. Open one volume, and you recall a summer picnic from childhood. Open another and there's a grocery list from last week. But what happens when the journal pages get stuck together? Or, even worse, tear loose and vanish entirely?

Thanks to advances in medicine and ever-lengthening life expectancies, most of us will live to find out just how ephemeral memory can be, says Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of the new book "Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife." Beginning in our 40s or 50s, we may begin to misplace words -- not to mention our house keys -- with greater frequency. And for some, that forgetfulness will turn pathological, leading gradually down the path toward dementia: According to the Alzheimer's Association, adults who survive past the age of 85 currently have a 42 percent chance of suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Ramin, now 50, embarked on an investigation of the causes and possible cures for middle-aged absent-mindedness after she began having her own brushes with forgetfulness. "My mental calendar, once easily summoned, grew elusive and developed blank spots," she recalls. "Life became billowy, amorphous, as if someone had removed the support poles from my tent."

Determined to beat back the fog, Ramin turned into a human guinea pig, experimenting with everything from memory-enhancing tests to cutting-edge pharmaceuticals and sleep research. She altered her diet, cut back on multitasking, reduced her stress levels and visited experts who study how memories are formed and retained. Her conclusion: We can't stop time, but we can hinder its effects by taking better care of both our bodies and minds.

Salon sat down with Ramin in San Francisco, where she talked about the nature of memory, the curative powers of ballroom dancing, and why so many of us are scared to even say the word "Alzheimer's."

When did you realize you were losing your memory?

I noticed I'd started to forget things that I should have been able to remember. Once I went to a movie with my husband and five minutes out of the movie theater, I realized I did not know the name of the movie or the name of the main character. It was just gone, a blank.

Suddenly there were sinkholes, as if the information had just been sucked down the drain. And I started to notice a tremendous amount of what I called "content-less conversation." I would exchange information, decide on a plan and then it would be as if nobody remembered what had been said. People were relating these stories over and over to me.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue