Saturday, June 30, 2007

Meg Rosoff

Adrienne Wong interviewed Meg Rosoff for the Financial Times.

A few of the questions and answers:

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

My favourite writers - Molly Keane, Graham Greene, Wilfred Thesiger.

* * *

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

* * *

What novel would you give your child to introduce them to literature?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Read the entire Q & A.

Meg Rosoff wrote her first book, How I Live Now, at the age of 46; she had no previous literary experience, and had spent years in an unfulfilling career in advertising. A darkly poignant tale for young adults about love, adolescence and a third world war, the book won the 2004 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Her second book, Just in Case, just won the CILIP Carnegie Medal for 2007.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sophie Gee

Sophie Gee is the author of the forthcoming novel, The Scandal of the Season.

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

As an Assistant Professor of English at Princeton University, you specialize in a wide range of Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature. What made you want to write about these particular events and characters? What was it about "The Rape of the Lock" or Alexander Pope that intrigued you?

"The Rape of the Lock" probably marks the first moment in English literature when a writer gives a satirical, comic description of the habits and behavior of a privileged social world from which he himself feels excluded. I always think that Pope's poem gives us the feeling of an outsider looking in, noticing things and overhearing conversations that he ought not to be seeing. What we get in "The Rape of the Lock" is the beginning of English comedies of manners. The satirical attack on something from which the writer feels excluded is essentially the basis of all English comedy. So "The Rape of the Lock" is an instantly appealing poem from that point of view.

I discovered in Alexander Pope an unexpected, compelling protagonist. He begins as the underdog; he is the guy who comes from behind and wins the race. He's a sympathetic character: a cripple, a young man cursed by being a Catholic at a time of Catholic persecution in England, deeply ambitious, wanting to mix with the fashionable rich. We watch him taking on this world of power and money and very tight social circles as an outsider -- and we want him to pull it off. As readers of the book we begin as outsiders too, appropriately for a historical world that we don't yet know, but increasingly we are drawn further and further in with Alexander Pope, until the world seems very intimate and familiar.

Read the entire Q & A.

Also see Sophie Gee's interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mark Billingham

Ali Karim recently interviewed Mark Billingham for The Rap Sheet.

Here is the introduction to their conversation:

I first bumped into Mark Billingham way back in 1999, when he was a still-unpublished British crime writer standing in a lengthy queue outside London’s Murder One Bookstore, waiting for the release of Thomas Harris’ sequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal. I encountered him again a year later at the Dead-on-Deansgate conference, after his debut novel, Sleepyhead, was published. We shared a few beers, and I took some photos of the young Mr. Billingham before he went off to interview American writer George Pelecanos. After enjoying Sleepyhead, I was captivated by his follow-up, Scaredy Cat (2002), a sweaty novel about two serial killers working “in concert.” But of course, those slayers didn’t stand a chance, when pitted against Billingham’s series protagonist, Detective Tom Thorne, who would go on to win his creator a Sherlock Award at the Crimescene 2003 conference in London.

In the years since, Billingham has been juggling his composing of the Thorne series with his stand-up comedy work, his writing for television, his acting, and his efforts as one of the organizers of the annual Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. Not an easy set of responsibilities to handle, but he’s done it. And did I mention that he was once also a contributor to Shots, back when it was an in-print magazine, rather than the Web publication it is today? It was the dry-witted and insightful Billingham, in fact, who convinced me to join editor Mike Stotter at Shots (a memorable moment I captured on film). As his renown has risen, Billingham has himself become the subject of a Shots interview.

Anticipating this month’s paperback release in the UK of his sixth Thorne novel, Buried, and a hardcover version of that same book finally being due out in the States on July 3; and with his latest novel, Death Message, debuting in Britain on August 23, I tracked down this award-winning Birmingham-born writer for The Rap Sheet, and talked with him about his works-in-progress, his extracurricular activities, and his history as a humorist.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Craig Johnson

Kindness Goes Unpunished, Craig Johnson's third Walt Longmire Mystery, was published this spring.

Julia Buckley interviewed Johnson earlier this month. Part of their exchange:

Parts of your books also remind me of old westerns. Did you watch those as a kid (or an adult)? Were you ever influenced by people like Zane Gray or Louis L’Amour?

You can’t write about the west and not be influenced by those guys. I think it’s important to acknowledge the iconoclastic aspects of the genre you work in, taking advantage of a high-context relationship with the reader for all sorts of reasons, laughs, for one. I write contemporary novels, but they’re set in the west, so I better know about the west in a non-fiction and fictional sense. I’m probably more influenced by western writers like Walter Van Tilberg Clark, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, and Dorothy Johnson.
Read the entire interview.

See Johnson's website for another Q & A about the Walt Longmire series.

The Page 69 Test: Kindness Goes Unpunished.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson's new book -- his first for a general audience -- is Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives.

A few years ago, following the publication of Darwin's Cathedral, Andrew Brown interviewed Wilson for the Guardian.

From the interview:

"My decision to become a scientist was in part motivated by the fact that my father [Sloan Wilson, author of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit] was such a famous novelist that I couldn't do that. But he did give me a love of writing. So there was a strange combination of wanting to please him and wanting to do something different. I wanted to be a scientist, and first I had in mind the kind of white-coated brain surgeon. Then I discovered it was possible to be an ecologist. I sometimes think of myself as a novelist trapped inside the body of a scientist. As soon as there was a way to study human beings within my discipline I moved to that."
Read the entire article.

The Page 69 Test: Evolution for Everyone

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 25, 2007

John Rickards

From an interview with John Rickards at the Penguin website:

What was the first crime novel you ever read?

I'm buggered if I can remember. Probably one of the Holmes ones, although I don't know which. I read all of them when I was a kid. Or one of Poe's stories, as my gran had the collection of them all. My mum used to - and still does - have a load of crime books in the house, but they were too cosy - Christie, Martha Grimes - for my tastes even back then. But there was a big lull between the last one I read when I was young and the first I read as an adult who knew the differences between genres. That one would've been 'Red Dragon'. Very cool.

Who is your favourite crime writer?
Bloody hell, I've no idea. Chandler is certainly a strong contender. Lee Child, although he's more thrillery. Ken Bruen would be up there fighting for top slot. And Brian Michael Bendis, come to that. I tend to like a lot of different things from a lot of different writers. Chandler I love for the style of his prose, the quick one-liners and the wit. Child is very economical and pacey, not a word wasted and never a dull moment. Bruen's style is spare in the extreme and he does a character at war with themselves like no one else. And Bendis' grasp of dialogue and snap characterisation is brilliant.

I like a lot of people, basically. Each of those guys are ones who I've read more than a couple of, and that's rare for me. I tend not to be much of a repeat customer when it comes to reading.
Read the entire interview.

John Rickards is the author of the acclaimed psychological thrillers Winter's End, The Touch of Ghosts and The Darkness Inside.

The Page 69 Test: The Darkness Inside.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Paulette Jiles

In spring 2007 Barnes & Noble interviewed Paulette Jiles, author of Stormy Weather and Enemy Women.

One Q & A:

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

Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye gives a clear and cogent analysis of the various sorts of imaginative narratives, among them the quest story. It does not assign value to any one type of story. I came upon Frye's The Well-Tempered Critic in college and loved it. It has the same sort of descriptive brilliance as Anatomy. It was a relief from the contemporary insistence that only the novel of psychological exploration was of literary value.

[Other influential books: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway; All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy]

In the same interview, Jiles named her twelve favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves, whose Raven Black-- chosen as the best crime novel of 2006 by the judges of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger award -- was recently released in the U.S., was interviewed on the occasion of the release of another of her novels, Hidden Depths.

A couple of exchanges from the interview:

Are you influenced by real-life crimes when writing your books?

Not really. I don’t think the crimes are the most important factors in the stories. They provide stress and tension for the characters and allow me to explore relationships in a dramatic way. I’m not very good at writing plot, so the traditional detective novel works well for me. In a sense, the plot is already given – there’s a murder and a limited number of suspects. The established form gives me the freedom to write what really interests me.

Are there common traits you’d write into your characters who head up the police investigations in your books?

The central characters have to be sympathetic. You couldn’t expect a reader to stick with a series character who was tedious or irritating. And intelligent – they do after all have to come to the solution at the end of the book. So far, all my central characters come from small communities. I don’t think I’d be much good at writing about city people.

Read the entire interview, and visit Ann Cleeves's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 22, 2007

Shaena Lambert

Shaena Lambert is the author of a book of short stories, The Falling Woman, which was chosen by The Globe and Mail as a top book of the year and was short-listed for the Danuta Gleed Award.

Radiance, her first novel, is about an enigmatic Hiroshima survivor who comes to New York for surgery on her face and the complex relationship she has with her hosts.

From a Q & A with Lambert:

What inspired you to write Radiance? Is there a story about the writing of this book that begs to be told?

I wrote most of Radiance over a five-year period, from 2001 to 2006 – but the first inspiration may have come years earlier, when I had the job of unpacking a collection of "Hiroshima Artifacts" for an exhibition in Vancouver in 1986. As I unpacked these "artifacts" one by one – a blackened pocket watch with a stopped minute hand, a piece of concrete printed with shadows – my skin began to feel itchy and hot, as though these objects still held a radioactive residue that could leach into me, taint me. This sensation must have stayed with me for years, drawing me towards my subject matter.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, Lucy, I travelled to Hiroshima to visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum. I hoped that a journey to Ground Zero would help me find my way deeper into my material. Paradoxically, what I saw at the museum – similar to the artifacts I had unpacked years earlier but magnified tenfold – was so terrible, so overwhelming, that I ended up putting my draft away for several years. It was only after September 11th that I again felt moved to write about this subject. The material that had felt too hard to write, now felt like material I was once again compelled to explore.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 99 Test: Radiance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ron Carlson

Ron Carlson's new novel Five Skies is the subject of today's Page 69 Test.

Last year, Pia Z. Ehrhardt interviewed Carlson about his short story collection, A Kind of Flying, for Quick Fiction.

Part of the interview:

Pia Z. Ehrhardt: You tell consummate, full-throated stories in two pages, four pages, five pages. Many of your stories in A Kind of Flying are under ten pages long, and I‘m wondering if they started out much longer or if you have a kind of internal pacing, or tempo, that propels the piece as you’re writing it?

Ron Carlson: I start with a notion or event or image that is so provocative that I know it will have my attention long enough to drive me into the story until I can’t touch bottom. It will lead me out past what I know, which is where the next thing is always waiting. I mean this literally. But also, when I start a story I do not know or project or imagine the length. I also think that if you write stories for years, you do develop or sense a rhythm, and when I sensed that my stories were all rounding the corner at about four thousand words, I changed that rhythm.

PZE: It sounds from the forward to A Kind of Flying like you’ve written some of these stories, start to finish, in one continuous sitting. Do you stay put until most of your stories are finished? Do the shorter stories require more intense, more ruthless concentration, a quieter house, wife and kids on long, long errands? And if so, can you lose a story if you don’t mind it?

RC: When I go into a story, start writing, I keep it before me. I don’t write a story in a sitting — though I sometimes have — but I don’t let it out of my attention. I think all stories, long and short, require astonishing attention. The gift of attention is what every writer needs to bring to her work. Attention is the ruler of craft.

Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Five Skies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ron Currie, Jr.

Ron Currie, Jr.'s debut novel God Is Dead is out in July from Viking Penguin.

Listen to an interview with him at the publisher's website.

Also, Susan Henderson caught up with Currie at Litpark. Part of the interview:

Who are some of your favorite writers besides me? ; )

Good God, how much time do you have? Carver and Vonnegut stick to me over the long haul. David Foster Wallace and George Saunders are two of my favorite not-dead writers. Bernard Malamud. Junot Diaz. Kafka. Thomas Lynch, an undertaker who writes these beautiful essays, the kind of writing that makes you immediately feel like a better, smarter, more actualized human being the moment you read it. I went through my Kerouac phase and still enjoy some of his stuff. Hunter Thompson. Jeffrey Eugenides. Harlan Ellison (I don’t care what John Gardner said about the guy; he can be brilliant). And on and on…

Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: God Is Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Armistead Maupin

Robert Collins interviewed Armistead Maupin for the Financial Times.
A few of the questions and answers:

Favourite poem?

Lullaby by W.H. Auden.

What’s the last book you couldn’t finish?

Beloved by Toni Morrison - I can only ascribe it to my mental inferiority.

Read the entire Q & A.

Armistead Maupin is the author of nine novels, including the six-volume Tales of the City series, Maybe the Moon, The Night Listener and, most recently, Michael Tolliver Lives.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Patricia Smiley

Patricia Smiley's new novel, Short Change, releases in July.

In 2005, Jane Dentinger interviewed Smiley. Part of the Q & A:

Q: I know you started your love affair with mystery fiction early with Trixie Beldon. Who or what else has inspired you along the way?

A: As an avid reader and a devoted mystery fan, I went on to read classic authors such as Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler whose descriptions of L.A. still dazzle me. Later, I discovered Sue Grafton. Kinsey Millhone's sense of humor and her quirky but loveable sidekicks grabbed my attention. Another author who influenced my writing was Susan Isaacs. Her mystery novel After All These Years was an infectious blend of good writing, humor, and romance. Still, the dominant influence on my initial career was Elizabeth George. Over the course of nine years I was one of ten aspiring authors who met with her regularly to work on our manuscripts. During that time, I began to better understand not only the writing process but the writing life as well. While in George's group, I wrote FALSE PROFITS and COVER YOUR ASSETS plus half of my current Tucker Sinclair manuscript now scheduled for publication in 2007.
Read the entire interview.

Visit Patricia Smiley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2007

Declan Hughes

Kevin Burton Smith is a January Magazine contributor, a Mystery Scene columnist and the editor/creator of The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

His interview with Declan Hughes, author of The Wrong Kind of Blood and The Color of Blood, includes this exchange (following some of the interviewer's praise for Hughes' new novel) :

KBS: I wouldn't expect any job offers from the Irish Tourist Bureau or the Dublin Chamber of Commerce at any time soon, though, if I were you. Or the Vatican, for that matter. Did you take a deep breath (or a stiff drink) before submitting this one?

DH: It's weird, when I delivered the first draft, I was just so concerned with getting the damn thing finished that I'd as good as forgotten what it was about. But my editors had a fair idea of what was coming. It is pretty dark -- but that is in part a reflection of the kind of revelations that have filled the newspapers here in Ireland for the past 15 or 20 years.

What sort of revelations?

They're actually not dissimilar to those in the Boston diocese. There were areas of the country in which there was widespread clerical sexual abuse that was covered up by the church, which simply moved the perpetrators from parish to parish. Homes for "unmarried mothers" that were run like slave-labor camps. Things like that. The level of ignorance, shame and brutality that clung around the subject of sexuality in general, as a result of the church and its willing accomplices [was remarkable].

People were horrified -- but they were also relieved, after so many dark years of bullying and secrecy, to see the graves open, and the skeletons finally being hauled into the light. So if you're writing a crime series set in Ireland, you've got to deal with it.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cody Mcfadyen

Cody Mcfadyen is the author of Shadow Man and The Face of Death.

From a Q & A at his website:

What are the ingredients of a good book in your genre?

Answer: I think interesting characters are the key. Yes, I know, you could say that about all genres, but it’s the most basic truth. There are only so many story lines, serial killers and plot twists. In the end, in my opinion, what is going to drive a book is to have characters that resonate with the reader, that the reader truly cares about.

In my own writing, I feel like it’s important not to write about violence in a way that makes it palatable. I think you desensitize people to violence just as much this way as you do by graphic representation.
Read the entire Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: The Face of Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Joseph Margulies

Last year Ira Glass of This American Life interviewed Joseph Margulies, author of Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (Simon and Schuster 2006).

Part of the transcript from the broadcast:

Ira Glass: So here’s how a lawyer meets with his client, when his client is a prisoner at Guantanamo. There’s a little hut, with a metal table.

MARGULIES: He’s brought out of the box, and shackled to an I-bolt in the floor, uh, with his back to the door. He is forbidden to face the natural light.

Glass: Joe Margulies of the University of Chicago represents a few detainees at Guantanamo and he says that to understand that thing about the natural light, you have to understand that the detention facilities at Guantanamo were designed to be the perfect interrogation chambers. And so anything the prisoner wants, including sunlight, he’s only going to get with the permission of his interrogators, as a reward for cooperating. And anything can be used that way.

MARGULIES: Uh, mail. Another lawyer discovered when he first got there that his client, a middle-aged gentleman with five children who is a London businessman, was picked up in the Gambia, and he wasn’t getting any mail from his family. And he couldn’t understand it because he felt abandoned and alone from his five children. And the lawyer had the presence of mind to ask what was the matter was and he discovered that 16 letters were in the military’s possession (that) they had refused to deliver. And when they did finally deliver them, someone had actually taken the time to redact out the words from the children: “We miss you, Daddy. We love you, Daddy. We’re thinking of you.” That is apparently not right, because it disrupts the sense of isolation and despair that they are trying to cultivate."
Read more of the transcript or listen to the broadcast.

Learn more about Margulies's Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power and read an excerpt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 15, 2007

David Wellington

David Wellington, who applied the "page 69 test" to Monster Nation back in March, was interviewed last month at Murderati by Mike MacLean.

Part of the interview:

MM: What made you decide to serialize this work online rather than to take it to a publisher?

DW: A friend of mine, who is now my webmaster and chief online marketer, Alex Lencicki, had a website -- a blog to be exact. He came up with the idea of writing a web serial. I thought it might be an interesting experiment. I really wasn't thinking about publishing the story at all. I had an idea for a zombie book I wanted to try and he said it sounded great, so I asked him for six months to do research, to work up an outline, and so on. He said the web didn't work like that -- I would be starting the following monday. I had to write the book in real-time, basically, putting up a chapter every monday, wednesday and friday and doing all the research and editing in between posts. It was exhilarating -- and maddening.

MM: What other challenges did you face writing a serialized work?

DW: Well, I'd never done one before. There just weren't a lot of opportunities for serials before the web came along -- it was a lost art form, something Dickens and Conan Doyle used to do, a nineteenth century thing. I actually went back and read a lot of old pulp stuff trying to see how they worked. It's a very restrictive medium -- every chapter has to end in a cliffhanger, you can't expect people to remember subtle details when it'll be months between plot developments. Yet it also infused the book with a crazy anarchic energy I'd never seen in my writing before, and I think that's what really drew people to it.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Monster Nation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Emily Maguire

Emily Maguire's first novel, Taming the Beast, was nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize and received a Special Commendation in the Kathleen Mitchell Awards. Her latest novel, The Gospel According to Luke, "a witty contemporary morality tale bursting with lust, longing, and the meanings of life" is published in Australia by Brandl & Schlesinger and by Serpent's Tail in the UK.

From a Q & A with Maguire about Taming the Beast:

Q: Novelists throughout history have spoken about the ways in which their characters become real to them and take over their minds in a way. Did this happen to you? What was it like living with Sarah?

A: Sarah did take over for a time. I only wrote at night, but all day she was on my mind. I tried to really see the world through her eyes. Whenever I heard a song on the radio or read a novel I would think about what she would say about it. I had fun wondering what Sarah would think of the people I came across at work or on the bus.

I know it sounds odd to say I enjoyed living with Sarah — given how destructive and messed-up she is — but I really did. I'm nothing like her and I know if we were to meet in life we would not even be friends, but she lives her life with the kind of dumb-blind-thoughtless daring that I am only brave enough to express on paper. It was exciting and liberating to be inside her brain.
Read the entire Q & A; visit Emily Maguire's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Matt Haig

From BookBrowse: a conversation with Matt Haig, author of The Dead Fathers Club:

In The Dead Fathers Club, you have chosen to reimagine not merely a classic but arguably the classic work of English literature. Where does one get the daring to wrestle with a giant, and how did you go about making Shakespeare’s story into your own?

Well, I didn’t begin with a conscious desire to rewrite Hamlet. I began with the desire to tell a story about grief from a child’s perspective and I found myself gravitating increasingly toward these grand Shakespearean themes. And yes, it’s a massive risk, and I’m not the one to judge if I’ve pulled it off. But I think all writers feel the ghosts of literature breathing down their neck, so I figured it might as well be Shakespeare looking over my shoulder as anyone else.

In your opinion, how important is it to your readers’ enjoyment that they have read or reread Hamlet recently?

My intention was to write a story that connects with people emotionally and hopefully that connection works the same with or without an in-depth knowledge of Hamlet. After all, Shakespeare himself was the king of rewrites, and Hamlet itself echoes earlier vengeance stories.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Fathers Club.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Elizabeth McKenzie

Elizabeth McKenzie's debut novel, MacGregor Tells the World, releases today.

About the book, from the author's website:

An inventive and dazzling debut novel -- at once a mystery of identity, sly literary satire and coming of age story -- capturing a young man's impossible and heroic first love. Macgregor West, orphaned as a boy, is on quest to understand the mystery surrounding his mother’s untimely death. On a foggy San Francisco evening, guided by a stack of old envelopes, Mac finds himself at the mansion of cultural icon Charles Ware and encounters the writer’s beautiful and enigmatic daughter, Carolyn. Soon Mac is seduced into the world of the eccentric Ware family and a love affair with a woman whose murky history may be closely linked to his own.

MacGregor Tells the World is a poignant and hilarious ride through present day San Francisco, a city brimming with memorable characters who help Mac discover just what story is his to tell.
Here's part of a Q & A with the author:
Q: MacGregor Tells the World is very different from your first book (Stop That Girl), and reveals an impressive range. How did you come up with the premise for it? It’s so intricately conceived and layered.

I started with a confined idea — a young man enters a relationship over the course of one foggy summer in San Francisco — and discovers that the woman’s entanglement with her family and her past proves impenetrable. I also knew this guy — MacGregor West — would have unresolved issues about his own origins. So we’d have people from two different social worlds to start with; and then, I wanted the whole “canvas” of San Francisco covered, from the Mission to Pacific Heights, down the peninsula to the consumption-class burbs. even the leftover hippie vibe of Bolinas. I’m not saying this is War and Peace, but I had big ideas for it that excited me.
Read the entire Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: MacGregor Tells the World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ned Vizzini

Last year, Ned Vizzini was interviewed about his novel It's Kind of A Funny Story at Conversations with Famous Writers.

Part of the exchange:

The story was based on your own experience in a psychiatric ward. Why did you make Craig fifteen years old rather than a guy in his twenties?

I enjoy writing about high school because it's such a primal arena for human conflict. But there's another reason that I made Craig fifteen instead of 23, the age I was when I entered the hospital. It's because these days, fifteen-year-olds face the pressures that I faced at 23. Their academic environment has turned into a college-industrial complex with kids competing to get into the right preschool, let alone the right after-school internship.

The ability of Myspace to make instant, small-scale celebrities has led to many people expecting a fan base when they leave high school. If you slip, as Craig does, you can quickly fall into hopelessness, as if you'd lost a career in your 20s.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Kelley Armstrong

The CBC recently interviewed Kelley Armstrong, author of the Women of the Otherworld series.

Part of the Q & A:

How did you come up with the story for No Humans Involved?

Jaime Vegas, the "celebrity spiritualist" protagonist of No Humans Involved, has been an important part of the series' ensemble cast and I really wanted to give her a book of her own. I like to put my characters into situations where they'll have to give their skills a workout to solve the mystery or overcome the threat. For Jaime, who can contact the dead, the obvious answer was to have her haunted by ghosts she couldn't contact. Placing the story on the set of a TV special let me add a light subplot to a dark story.

What led you to create the Women of the Otherworld series?

The first book, Bitten, was written as a stand-alone novel. When the question of making it into a series came up, I gave it a lot of thought because, as much as I loved the stories and characters, I couldn't imagine writing a lengthy series about werewolves. I decided to instead create a linked series with changing narrators/protagonists. In the second book, Stolen, I introduced other supernatural characters, and spun off to one of them — a witch — for the next book.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: No Humans Involved.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Jim Tomlinson

Last year, Elizabeth Glixman interviewed Jim Tomlinson, author of the acclaimed short story collection Things Kept, Things Left Behind, for Eclectica magazine.

Here's the beginning of the interview:

EG After reading the opening paragraph of "First Husband, First Wife" from your short story collection Things Kept, Things Left Behind, I suspected I was in for a treat. I was right. The stories are well written and entertaining. You have a great ear for dialogue, a great eye for seeing detail, and an intelligence that recognizes the bottom line of why people act as they do. You tell the stories scenically; they are a joy to read. The characters, for the most part, are working class people with ordinary lives. How do you know about the frustrations of people like Jerry and Cheryl? Have you been to jail or know anyone who has? Have you dabbled in drugs? Have you been married more than once? Personal questions. This inquiring mind wants to know.

JT So that's the kind of interview it's going to be, going straight for the tabloid stuff? Let me order another beer and bum a cigarette from someone, and I'll be ready.

EG Yes, Jim. I want dirt.

JT Okay. My jail time has been limited to two brief stints. In first grade my class toured the local jail. This was in Sycamore, Illinois. The jailer put six of us in a cell. When the door clanked shut, I was completely terrified. Right then I vowed in my six-year-old heart to never do anything that would land me back there which, I suspect, was the intended outcome. My second stay in jail was longer, most of a day touring Blackburn Correctional Facility outside Lexington, Kentucky. I'd joined a Citizens Police Academy program as research for crime novel I was writing. At the end of the tour, I met two inmates, both of whom had been convicted of murder. Each told his story and answered questions, gave his perspective on the justice system, on prison life, on what hopes he held for the future. It was an eye-opening day.

My drug use? It's a matter of public record, the whole gamut from acid (acetylsalicylic) to pseudoephedrine. And there was that brief dependency on Nyquil. That's all ancient history, though. I swear.

Seriously, I know people who've done time in prison and some whose involvement with drugs went way beyond dabbling. I've been married twice, and, while I've never counted noses, I'd guess that's not at all unusual among my acquaintances. But really, your question is how do I know how to write about characters like Jerry and Cheryl, right?

I come from working class background, and that certainly shapes my outlook. My father carried mail for the post office, walking a daily route on the west side of Sycamore. He was a quiet man, but not much happened in town, on the surface or below, that he didn't know about. My mother left school in eighth grade to work in a Sycamore pencil factory. Later, she worked in the town library as assistant to the assistant librarian. She loved books — thick novels set in interesting times and far away places — James Michener's Hawaii, Edna Ferber's Giant, Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. My brother was the first person on either side of the family to graduate college, the University of Illinois. I was the third, two years behind him at Illinois. I've never felt far from where I started out.

As for my characters' frustrations; there are those, yes. My fiction is realistic, so their lives and prospects may seem grim at times. But there are also, I hope, times of amazing endurance, of humanity, and a few moments of great grace. At least that's what I aim for in the writing.

Read the entire interview.

Visit Jim Tomlinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 8, 2007

Esther Freud

Stanley Pignal interviewed the novelist Esther Freud (yes, yes, she has a couple of famous forebears) for the Financial Times.

A few of the questions and answers:

Which author would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Ian McEwan

* * * * *

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

Mother’s Milk
by Edward St. Aubyn.

* * * * *

What book changed your life?

Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys. It made me want to write, and believe that I could do it.

Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Susan Shirk

Susan Shirk is director of the University of California system-wide Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and professor of political science in the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego.

Her new book is China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise.

Here is the opening of a brief interview she did for the OUP blog.

OUP: China looks so successful. Why do you call it “fragile?”

Susan Shirk: When I tell my American friends I am writing a book about Chinese politics and foreign policy called “Fragile Superpower,” they ask “what do you mean, ‘fragile’?” When I tell my Chinese friends I am writing a book called “Fragile Superpower,” every one of them asks, “what do you mean, ‘superpower’?” No one questions “fragile.”

China’s leaders face a troubling paradox: The more modern and prosperous the country is, the more insecure and threatened they feel. Market reforms and economic opening have turned Chinese society on its head and created latent challenges to Communist Party rule.

Inequality has widened. People suspect that the rich have acquired their wealth through official connections and corruption. Protests by workers and farmers occur every day.

Popular nationalism helps build popular support for the Communist Party but could turn against the Party in a crisis. People now have much more information about news inside and outside the country through the Internet and the commercialized mass media. Preventing competition between Party politicians from becoming public is becoming increasingly difficult.

The People’s Republic is a brittle authoritarian regime that fears its own citizens and can only bend so far to accommodate the demands of foreign governments. China may be an emerging superpower, but it is a fragile one. And it is China’s internal fragility, not its economic or military strength that presents the greatest danger to us.

We need to understand the fears that motivate China’s leaders if we want to head off conflict with it.

Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Mary Sharratt

A few years ago (that is, before The Vanishing Point was published), Linda Rigel interviewed Mary Sharratt for Literary Mama.

Part of their discussion:

LR: [Y]our novels are historical. How did you choose the time and setting, and how do you approach research?

MS: Historical fiction is one of the most exciting things happening in today's writing scene. In recent years the historical novel has transcended the constraints of genre and hit the literary mainstream with cutting edge work by writers like Madison Smartt Bell (All Souls Rising), and even Philip Roth's alternate history, The Plot Against America. Historical fiction has also become a literary frontier, allowing innovative writers an opportunity to explore aspects of history that textbooks often ignore such as black history and women's history.

For The Real Minerva, I chose the form of a historical novel set in the 1920s to present three heroines struggling against the kind of overwhelming social strictures many contemporary women would have a hard time imagining. The Real Minerva poses a question: can you leave your past behind and become someone wholly different? What if you are a woman living on the fringes of society in a claustrophobic small town? I wanted to take the great Twenties myth of the Self-Made Man, a la The Great Gatsby, and recast it through a female lens. How would my three heroines attempt to re-invent themselves?

The 1920s were such a pivotal period in history, especially for women. The age of Victorian repressiveness was officially over. Women had won the right to vote. A new generation of women raised their hemlines, bobbed their hair, and earned their living outside the home. Yet despite living in the midst of a sexual revolution of sorts, birth control was extremely difficult to obtain, especially for unmarried and rural women. Unwed mothers and their illegitimate children were shunned by respectable society, as were women who had the temerity to run away from bad marriages, such as my character Cora.

In my first novel, Summit Avenue, I chose the period of 1911-1919 to document my heroine's journey from innocence and naiveté to self-knowledge. A young German immigrant, she falls profoundly in love with another woman. Living in this historical time period, however, she has no word or label to name her experience. Only the dark fairy tales she translates can help her make sense of her situation. Obviously this plot would not have worked in a contemporary setting.

One of the most compulsively pleasurable aspects of writing historical fiction is doing the research. For The Real Minerva, I started by reading two great novels of the period: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis. I also steeped myself in Willa Cather, whose novels illuminate the lives of midwestern women. Careful readers will see that some of the details in The Real Minerva reference the harsh realities presented in Cather's My Antonia, such as mean-spirited relatives wanting to drown a bastard baby in the rain barrel. In portraying rural life, I also drew on my mother's and grandmother's stories of farm life in the early twentieth century. My mother recounted in graphic detail how my grandmother used to butcher chickens and then wash them with Dreft soap.

For insights into popular culture of the day, I researched Emile Coue, the first self-improvement guru of the twentieth century and the man who coined the phrase, "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better." Old photographs helped shine some light on a lost era. The Minnesota Historical Society's photographic archive is a goldmine. A photo of a small town creamery and soda pop factory, housed in a former brewery, became the model for Laurence Hamilton's business. I also found great photographs of Twenties farm machinery and of migrant workers riding across the country on the top of boxcars.

A friend explained in great depth how to load and shoot a Winchester rifle. I also visited a lot of antique shops, because I like to see and touch exactly the sort of physical objects my characters would have around them.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 4, 2007

Nadine Gordimer

John Freeman recently interviewed Nadine Gordimer for the Independent.

Part of the resulting report:

"Graham Greene said, 'Wherever you live, whatever the form of violence is there, it becomes simply part of your life and the way you live'," says Gordimer. And so it has been with her and the gun. She was spooked to discover resonances between the Virginia Tech shooting and her 1998 novel The House Gun, in which a young man is driven to a crime of passion. What she omits is that in other fiction - Get a Life, in 2005 - she predicted something else. Last autumn, she was attacked in her home by three unarmed intruders, who robbed her of cash. "These men should have something better to do than to rob two old ladies," she said at the time.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ian Shapiro

Ian Shapiro's new book is Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror.

Here is part of a Q & A with the author about the book:

What is a policy of containment? What is it designed to do, and why do you think it so urgently needed?

Containment's main goal is to secure Americans and their democracy into the future. A secondary goal is to promote the spread of democracy around the world. Containment is a national security policy based on the recognition that resources are scarce, and that we can not and should not try to run the world. It emphasizes that war should be a strategy of last resort when America's vital interests are threatened. Adversaries should be contained if at all possible by measures short of war: economic sticks and carrots, diplomatic pressure, taking advantage of rifts among them, cooperation with allies, international institutions and-where feasible-relevant regional powers. We should aid the spread of democracy primarily by demonstrating its superiority on the ground. Where possible, we should also support indigenous democratic movements against dictatorships. Containment is urgently needed because the Bush Doctrine currently guiding American national security policy, while unsustainable in the long run, is damaging our national security interests right now.

Read more of the Q & A at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 1, 2007

Richard K. Morgan

Ali Karim interviewed Richard K. Morgan for The Rap Sheet about Morgan's new novel Black Man, coming to U.S. bookstores under the title Thirteen.

Part of their exchange:

Ali Karim: How did your British publishers take to the title to your latest book?

Richard Morgan: Fine, absolutely copacetic. In fact, it was partly my editor’s idea -- or, at least, he encouraged me in the choice, when we were discussing alternatives to my ... rather uninspired working title. He then went away and briefed an absolutely kick-ass cover for the book before I’d written more than the first few chapters. Which put me under a certain amount of unlooked-for performance pressure, actually. [Laughs]

AK: And what about your American publishers?

RM: Um, less fine. ... They were very uneasy about the title from the beginning, and in the end I told them it was fine to change it if it was going to make them that nervous. I really wasn’t that bothered one way or the other; Thirteen is a pretty solid thematic summary of the book in its own way, and Black Man wasn’t in any case the original title I had in mind -- though I do think it’s very powerful in a way that Thirteen maybe isn’t. In more general terms, I think it’s a shame Del Rey have to worry that the title of a novel alone will spark an instant negative response, rather than trust that people will read the book and then judge; but then again, they’re at the sharp end, culturally, and I’m not, so it seems reasonable to be guided by their sense of things. In Europe, the titles of my books are very rarely a direct translation of the original English, and I don’t get upset about that, so it seems a little churlish to start throwing fits about this. The content of Black Man hasn’t changed from one edition to the other, and obviously that’s what counts.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue