Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Peter Behrens

Last year Peter Behrens was interviewed for the CBC's Words at Large.

Part of the interview:

Why did you decide to become a writer?

When I was in grade 4, I remember standing in the kitchen with my sister Anne — who was in grade 5 — washing dishes. And Anne at one point turned to me and said "What do you like at school?" And I said "composition". And she said "Wait until you get to grade 5 — it gets really hard." And somehow, composition never did. So I just went on from there — it was just a ceaseless continuum from grade 4 composition to novel.

What books or authors have most influenced your life?

Some books you read when you're 14 that you couldn't bear to read as an adult because they aren't really very good books. But they worked as books do, they threw you into a world. They had that kind of magic and power. So I just remember reading, for example, Grapes of Wrath, when I was 14, and it was pitched perfectly for me then. I can't read it now. When I first read Joyce in my early 20s — not so much Ulysses but the stories in Dubliners — those were very powerful for me. And at a later stage, when I read the great Canadians of this golden age — particularly people like Alistair MacLeod — that was really important to me.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 30, 2007

Jacquelyn Mitchard

Jacquelyn Mitchard’s first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was named by USA Today as one of the ten most influential books of the past 25 years – second only to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Her new novel Still Summer is due out in early August.

Here are two questions and answers from her website:

Why such sad stories?

I don’t think they’re sad. They challenging. They’re about ordinary people under pressure of extraordinary circumstance. Those pressures reveal people. They reveal character in a way that a great vacation at the beach (unless there is a shark) doesn’t. So while I don’t think I will always write sad stories (in fact, ‘Still Summer’ is more harrowing than emotionally wrought) I write about what’s on my mind and heart – the connections between people, people thrust out of their comfort zones, pity, honor, love, terror (Did I just make that up?)

* * * *

What’s your all-time favorite novel?

‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ by Betty Smith. It’s always thought of as a middle-grade book; but it’s filled with truly gritty accounts of the immigrant experience, from death by alcoholism to the molestation of a child. How simply and elegant it is. It’s just simply amazing what she did. In fact, my daughter’s name is Francie Nolan.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cornelia Read

From a Q & A with Cornelia Read about her acclaimed debut novel, A Field of Darkness:

How did you get started with this novel?

I'd been laid off from a dotcom job in early 2001, and had spent months slogging through Craigslist job postings trying to find a new gig. One morning I ran across an announcement for a new crime fiction writing group here in Berkeley. I hadn't done fiction seriously in years, and had never tried my hand at the genre, but decided to go check it out when I realized how committed a mystery reader I'd become.

Our initial meeting was a week before 9/11. I volunteered to submit first, figuring I had two weeks to come up with a story.

So how did you decide on this story?

Driving home from that meeting, I started thinking about an unsolved double murder my husband's father told me about years ago, over lunch one day at their family farm... Decades earlier, the bodies of two girls were found in a neighbor's field. They'd last been seen alive with a pair of soldiers, walking along the New York State Fair's midway.

My father-in-law told me he'd been leasing that same field for several years, and had churned up a set of dog tags there one spring. Since I was working for a local paper at the time, he thought I might be interested in writing about it. I did fluffy feature things, mostly — how to make sushi, book reviews, Valentine's Day profiles of couples who'd found love through the personal ads. I had no idea how to tackle a crime story. I didn't have the confidence to pursue it.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Trinie Dalton

Last year Kevin Sampsell interviewed Trinie Dalton for PowellsBooks.blog. The introductory remarks and first exchange:

Trinie Dalton's Wide Eyed is one of the most inviting and interesting books of short fiction to be released this decade. Her stories alternate easily between funny and sad, dreamy and harshly realistic. She writes like someone who wants to be your friend, but as a reader, you're not sure if she scares you or not. Some of her stories display a style of living that seems like it's on full blast, like the narrator is even overwhelmed by the emotions of her surroundings. Dalton lives in Los Angeles and is also the co-editor of a peculiar book made up of notes that she confiscated from students (as a substitute teacher) entitled Dear New Girl or Whatever Your Name Is.

Kevin Sampsell: With all the music references in your stories, I imagine you as someone who wanted to be a rock star. Is that an accurate guess?

Trinie Dalton: I started going to shows at an early age. My dad used to take me to shows like Peter, Paul, and Mary, or Linda Ronstadt. So as a teen, I was obsessed with music and going to shows. Siouxsie, Love and Rockets, Dinosaur Jr., The Sugarcubes, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ween, that era. Some good bands and some suck ass ones. For my twelfth birthday, my mom let me take a limo to see The Pretenders and Iggy Pop! I played in a band awhile back, Unicornucopia ??? all the songs were about unicorns. It was folky, kind of predating all the freak folk stuff. Fake medieval, with a big paper mache unicorn, and I'd dress up like a maiden, play guitar and sing in harmony with two guys. But now, I'm a music journalist. I write for Arthur and the LA Weekly. I want to get better at writing about music. I'd like to write more songs some day. It's fun to play live.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Deborah Moggach

In 1999, at the time her Tulip Fever released in the U.K., Deborah Moggach sat for an interview with Patricia Deevy for the Sunday Independent.

The interview opens:

Deborah Moggach should be a poster girl for good mental health. At 51, she carries no less baggage than any of us - and a lot more than many - but here she is, at home on the edge of Hampstead Heath, blooming, beautiful and beloved.

"I've got a very strong - libido sounds sexy, but it isn't that; I've got a strong joy for living and I do bounce up," she says.

"And also - like most writers - I'm quite ruthless. I stand aside from things and I think I could write about that - while it's happening, practically. I couldn't write in the middle of my divorce and I couldn't write when Mel (her partner of 10 years) died for about two or three months at all. But within three months it was welling up again."

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 27, 2007

Amy Cohen

"Between the Lines" interviewed Amy Cohen, author of The Late Bloomer's Revolution.

The interview opens:

What’s A Late Bloomer?

It’s simple — a Late Bloomer is someone who discovers his or her strengths later than expected. I’m convinced that George Elliot was speaking to Late Bloomers when she said, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I love that idea, especially since I’ve discovered there are all kinds of Late Bloomers. Who knew? I only found out because every time I mention the book title someone says, “That’s me! I’m a Late Bloomer too!”

So people say, “I’m a LATE BLOOMER too!” Can you talk about that?

Apparently, everyone is a Late Bloomer in some way. It really is a revolution. One of my favorite stories is about a guy who worked in Hollywood throughout his twenties. An assistant on a TV show, he felt his life was going nowhere. Then one day he ordered the wrong lunch for the show’s star, who was furious. When the assistant found the tuna sandwich stuffed into his coffee mug he quit on the spot. He enrolled in law school and became a civil rights lawyer. I love that story because it manages to be both inspiring and dishy. Another woman had been a stay at home mother in her thirties. She had always wanted to be an interior decorator, but worried she was too late to start a new career. Now she owns her own company.

When I wrote the book I had no idea how many people would identify themselves as Late Bloomers — I thought it was just me. I met a woman at a party who said, “You wrote a book about Late Bloomers? I decided to have a child at forty-five and I got pregnant the first try!” Then there was a seventeen year old boy who told me he didn’t talk until he was three and now he’s going to Yale. Another man said that in high school, “I was the short, chubby kid who took forever to go through puberty. I didn’t get hair on my face until last week,” he laughed. “And I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty.”

I love hearing people’s Late Bloomer stories. It’s fantastic. They’re eager to share their stories and say, as I did, “Don’t get discouraged! There’s hope!”

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jeremi Suri

Jeremi Suri is a history professor at the University of Wisconsin. His publications include The Global Revolutions of 1968 and Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente.

His new book is Henry Kissinger and the American Century.

Here he responds to a few questions about Kissinger that I put to him:

Oliver Wendell Holmes reportedly said of FDR: he has "a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament." In your view, what class intellect and temperament did Kissinger the diplomat have?

Henry Kissinger is a first class intellect. He is broadly read and he has a penetrating mind. He has a remarkable talent for digesting, ordering, and critically evaluating mountains of material. He identifies core problems and mobilizes diverse ideas and concepts to offer coherent and practical solutions. This combination of big ideas and effective steps for action is what has long made Kissinger an attractive advisor for presidents. Kissinger does not, however, possess a first class temperament. He is self-centered, incredibly suspicious, and monumentally insecure. Part of this comes, as my book shows, from his experiences as a German-Jew in Weimar and American society. Part of this also comes from his personality. Kissinger is a man who learned to ingratiate the elites he had to please, but he has enormous trouble forming congenial bonds with others.

Many political scientists like to view international politics at three levels: the individual, the state, and international system. That is, do individuals have a decisive impact on international life?; or is the quality of the domestic regime (democratic or communist or fascist) or internal politics that which matters most in international life?; or is the distribution of global power more significant (i.e., rich and powerful countries have their way more often than poor countries)? I imagine historians aren't so enthralled with a such a reductive model, but what weight did Kissinger give to each of the levels, and is your view similar to his?

Kissinger believes that all three of these levels have important influence, but he gives primary place to the individual "statesman." The leader must understand the nature of various regimes and the distribution of global power, but he can shift these in various directions for his state's interests. In this sense, the great leader for Kissinger is someone with an acute understanding of the contemporary world, a vision of the future, and an ability to identify and exploit small opportunities for shifting power. As I show in my book, Kissinger defines the statesman in Romantic terms -- like Goethe or Nietzsche. He is an extraordinary figure -- a Bismarck or a Churchill -- who, in Bismarck words can “listen to the footsteps of God, get hold of the hem of His cloak, and walk with Him a few steps of the way.” The statesman for Kissinger is transformative in his insight and his connection to divine power. I share some of Kissinger's focus on the power of an effective statesman, but I also see a need for greater democratic and other institutional checks on the overweening power of a Kissinger-like leader.

Who is the statesman Kissinger most admired (Zhou Enlai? Bismarck? someone else?) and why?

Bismarck is Kissinger's model statesman. He brought a vision of German unification to fruition, and built a foundation for stability and peace in Central Europe. This came apart when Bismarck's boss, Kaiser Wilhelm II, fired the great statesman and embarked on misguided policies. The problem for Kissinger is that great statesman are very rare, and their achievements are often undone by inferior successors.

A question about Kissinger the scholar: is his first book, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-22 (1957), still considered an important work about that era in European politics or has it been superseded by other scholarship?

Kissinger's dissertation and first book, A World Restored, is still highly influential, especially among non-historians. Kissinger's picture of a conservative and stable post-Napoleonic settlement, and the personal roles of Metternich and Castlereagh, continues to influence how people view the Congress of Vienna and its aftermath. Scholars have complicated this picture, but Kissinger's simpler version remains important.

Harold Nicholson (I think it was) wrote that the best diplomats possessed Fingerspitzengefühl -- roughly, having a sure instinct for the job as if the important facts and issues were at one's fingertips. Does Kissinger possess Fingerspitzengefühl?

Kissinger definitely has Fingerspitzengefühl. He needed it throughout his career to survive, to ingratiate the right people, and to make a remarkable career for himself from a very modest background. During his time in the Nixon administration, he developed into a widely respected and effective international negotiator with men like Zhou Enlai, Le Duc Tho, and Anatoly Dobrynin. They all had more experience in this realm than Kissinger, Yet, Kissinger quickly learned to match their wit, their patience, and their determination at the negotiating table. That is a testament to his ability to sense and master his environment.

What are you working on now?

I am starting another big book that will examine why powerful states intervene in places far away, where they have limited interests, in ways that are doomed to failure. I will take this history back to the Greeks and forward to the present. I will argue that regime-type and personality are not determinative. Dominance in the international system brings inherent perils -- hubris, overstretch of resources, and popular resentment. Dominance also breeds a combination of domestic sensitivity and foreign callousness that encourages a search for brutal but cheap responses to crises. An international system with one dominant power, in this sense, is unstable and prone to warfare. I hope my book will offer a warning to American policy-makers about the dangers of our dominance in the world today.
Learn more about Henry Kissinger and the American Century, and read an excerpt, at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Kate Blackwell

Kate Blackwell talked to Powells.com Ink Q & A about her new story collection, You Won't Remember This.

One exchange from the interview:

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?

My mother, who was not a whimsical woman, used to say she wished she had a son so that she could name him Sydney Carton. I was impressed. When I was a teenager and read A Tale of Two Cities, I, too, developed a crush on Sydney. I sometimes imagined him, lean and passionate, in place of the boy whose arms were around me in a smelly car. But I was no Lucie and could not envision anyone transforming his character through love for me (I'm sure my mother could), so I gave him up. Still, if Sydney came along today, I wouldn't mind strolling with him along the Seine, arm in arm, talking in low voices of the film we just saw or the state of the world or the weather.
Blackwell was also invited to "[r]ecommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise." Read about her response.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Judith Cutler

From Even Tan Gee's interview with Judith Cutler for Crime Time:

Who's your literary muse?

Where do I start? When I was a child, I was very sickly. I didn't go to school till I was ten, so you can imagine how lonely and isolated I was. But there were always books at home, and the library was a constant oasis. In those days, remember, you weren't allowed to borrow fiction without borrowing non-fiction. (And, my God, you were silent while you were choosing it!) There was a big hoo-ha when I wanted to read adult books when in theory I was too young. But I'd already read everything, fiction and non-fiction, in the junior section. God knows how racist and sexist some of the stuff was - Arthur Ransome, and so on. In the Adult Section I got on to the great classics of crime fiction. (I gather this still happens today: there's a great up-take of Agatha Christie by teenagers whose parents are happy that there's no sex or violence. OK, racism, sexism - but no sex or violence...) What they make of the class attitudes, I don't know. I was horrified when I re-read a wonderful Ngaio Marsh the other day - how could she be so snobbish? I also fell in love with all Georgette Heyer's handsome heroes at about that time: I wasn't keen on Heyer's crime fiction but loved (still love) the historical fiction - pace, characterisation, humour. But there was more "literary" stuff as well: Richardson, Fielding, Austen, Eliot, Hardy, James, Lawrence... And I ended up reading English at university, though I'd say that was one of the worst mistakes I ever made. It gave me fifteen years of writer's block. Yes, honestly.

When I was still in my teens, you see, I had started to get published. I won, among other things, the Critical Quarterly short story prize. So I must have been quite good. I even had an agent approach me, though it was thirty years before I gave his agency a novel that was publishable Thank you, Murray Pollinger, for being so patient and so loyal to me. But I lost it completely when I was an undergraduate. Since my style was by then heavily influenced by the late Henry James novels, perhaps it's fortunate.

So, a ragbag of influences in the past. But a major one more recently. Sara Paretsky. What magic. A tough investigator with a private life, inner-city poverty - yes! I wanted to write like Sara Paretsky. I wish I could say I'd managed it....

Read the entire interview.

Visit Judith Cutler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Anne Fadiman

Jill Owens interviewed Anne Fadiman, author, most recently, of At Large and At Small, a collection of essays on ice cream, butterflies, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, among other topics.

Part of the interview:

Jill: I love the line in the introduction that "a blend of narcissism and curiosity" may be the most well-suited kind of personality for the familiar essay.

Fadiman: The narcissism allows me to write the parts of the essay that are about myself, and the curiosity allows me to write the parts of the essay that are about the actual subject. I get tired of writing just about myself. I don't think that I'm interesting enough. I don't think that my life has been interesting enough. I don't think that I would wish to read a book that was only about me. And I certainly wouldn't want to write a book which was only about me, which would take a hell of a lot longer than reading that book. But if I can also make use of my curiosity, then I can write or think about my own life for awhile, and then just set it aside, and take up a book, and read about the history of coffee, or ice cream, or moving, or mail, or being a night owl, and learn about other people's intersections with whatever that topic is. Then my curiosity is satisfied, and I can go back to being a narcissist again.

Jill: It's the best of both worlds. In terms of research, then, these were all subjects that you already were interested in reading more about?

Fadiman: All but one, I would say. The one exception is a piece about flags. It's called "A Piece of Cotton," which is a phrase used about a flag that I explain in the long historical section of the middle of the piece. I had never been particularly interested in the American flag, and knew absolutely nothing about it, except that it was sewn by Betsy Ross, which doesn't turn out to be quite as true as we think. The whole Betsy Ross story is one of a number of flag myths that I found out were actually myths.

I started thinking about flags after 9/11. We'd just moved into an old farmhouse in western Massachusetts, and we inherited a flagpole and an old flag. We'd never flown a flag before, but after 9/11, we flew it at half-staff. I started being curious about how the connotations of the flag had changed over time, and I thought that this was something I'd really like to read about. If it hadn't been for 9/11, and if it hadn't been for the accident of our having that flag and flagpole, that's not a subject that I ever would have thought about writing about. But it was consoling for me, to be working on that shortly after 9/11. It gave me a focus in those early jittery and scattered days.

Everything else in the book is about something I've been interested in for a long time, so I was particularly appreciative to have the excuse to learn more about it, and in many cases, to read or reread books that were already on my shelves, and to mark up my books. I always buy them used, so sometimes they already have other people's markings on them. When I was getting ready to write the essay on Coleridge and Charles Lamb, it just was with a feeling of glee, the way another person might feel before starting a meal that consisted only of his favorite foods, one after another. I would think, I get to spend two weeks with nothing but reading by and about Charles Lamb! What could be better?

And then, you really feel pleased at the end, because if it's a subject you're already interested in and know something about, you're so much more expert two weeks later than you are at the beginning. It's like seeing an acquaintance turn into a friend, and seeing that acquaintance turn into a friend after an intense period. It's like being stuck in an elevator for three days, or going on a camping trip, or having that kind of all-night conversation that we used to have in college and that we don't have time for now.

But I can have an all-night conversation with Coleridge or Charles Lamb if I want; I can stay up all night with those guys and do nothing but think about them. So I feel that the relationship is much more intense and intimate after the period of research. I love that period. I never think of it as, Oh, God, now I have to get out my books and take notes. I cannot wait; I look at my calendar and I know that that's coming up, and I can start researching an essay. I can't wait for that period. I hate starting to write it, but I love starting to research it.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 23, 2007

Anthony Doerr

From Lisa Albers's April 2007 Blogcritics interview of Anthony Doerr:

LA: Your stories are often set in unconventional locales — the Alaskan tundra; Lamu, Kenya and Liberia, West Africa; rural Montana and Idaho; Lithuania; an island in the Caribbean — not what one might expect from an Ohioan. One of your characters moves from Ohio to the East Coast to become a shipbuilder, a romantic venture that cannot be supported. Many of your characters move from one place to another that is very much unlike the first. What are your characters seeking, and what do they find? Why this emphasis on the journey, the extremes in setting?

AD: I think movement is a kind of narrative I’m preoccupied with. I like stories that establish two places and string a character out between them: Huck Finn, Madame Bovary, Disgrace. Pynchon’s new novel seems to be about movement more than anything else; places and times serve as poles, and characters serve as vehicles shuttling between them. (By “places,” I suppose this can be as figurative as it can be literal.) All of my favorite stories, I think, involve some kind of duality — that’s where tension comes from, and conflict. A character is in one place but wants to be elsewhere. A character is trapped somehow, and works to free him or herself. So these are the kinds of stories I try to write.

Even in my new book, which is non-fiction, I tried to build the narrative around the central idea of displacement: being an American in Rome, being a parent of brand new twins, living in an ancient city that is struggling to modernize. Storytelling itself is, maybe, the act of moving from one place to another, or leaving one place and returning to it once more, but changed somehow.

But, again, unfortunately, it’s hard to know exactly why I make certain decisions in my work. I’m sure the same must be true for your own work? Often structural decisions, in particular, are instinctual: you just try and try different ideas out until something feels interesting, and then you try pursuing it for a while.

Maybe the simple answer to your question is that I love to travel; I get stir crazy if I’m in one place for very long.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Robert Frank

Robert H. Frank is the H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics, Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, and author of two new books: Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class (University of California Press, 2007) and The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas (Basic Books, 2007).

BusinessWeek.com reporter Francesca Di Meglio interviewed Frank this spring.

A couple of exchanges from the Q & A:

Why should people learn the basics of economics?

Economics is all about how you make the most of your opportunities. It's always a question of trying to figure out how to achieve a decent balance between competing aims that you hold. If you understand economic principles, you're going to end up getting much more out of your possibilities than you could if you didn't understand them.

How do you think professors can make economics more accessible?

The key is to embed the ideas in simple narratives that have a story line that makes sense. We didn't really evolve doing equations and graphs. That came very late in our history as a species. For most of our evolutionary history, the way things got transmitted from one person to another was through stories. We were storytellers by inclination.

If you can wrap a story around an idea, it seems to slide into the brain without any effort. If you translate the idea into equations and graphs, you can still get into the average student's brain, but it just takes a lot more work, and they seem to lose all appreciation of the charm of the idea. Then they don't talk about the idea with one another, which is one of the main ways ideas get reinforced in your mind.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pat Barker

Rosie Blau of the Financial Times interviewed Pat Barker about her new book, Life Class.

Part of the article reporting their conversation:

Life Class returns to the subject Barker is best known for: the first world war. Her Regeneration trilogy was a bestseller - she won the Booker prize in 1995 for the final volume, The Ghost Road. The books were based around the wartime experiences of the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and the neurologist who treated them for shellshock, William Rivers.

Barker’s novels have covered many subjects: working-class poverty, war in Bosnia and Afghanistan, child psychology. But this book will inevitably be seen as a return to her “home territory”. So how does she feel about that? She pauses. “Rotten, really, in lots of ways, I think it’s a bit of a caricature. I’ve not thought about it [the first world war] all that much in the intervening years.”

Read the entire article.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mark Oppenheimer

Last year Shmuel Rosner interviewed Mark Oppenheimer for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

One exchange from the interview:

Dear Mark,

Now here's a tricky question: you must have heard of the Bar-Mitzvah oral sex legend, recently mentioned in an
Atlantic Monthly story by Caitlin Flanagan. "The story [a mother] told me about a Bar Mitzvah dinner dance on the North Shore of Chicago where the girls serviced all the boys on the chartered bus from the temple to the reception hall was so preposterous that I burst out laughing,|" wrote Flanagan. But maybe this was something to be taken more seriously. The mother who told Flanagan the story definitely thought so and started crying. "It was as though I had taken lightly the news that a pedophile had moved into my friend's neighborhood," Flanagan wrote. "It was as though I had laughed about a leukemia cluster or a lethal stretch of freeway. I apologized profusely; I told her I hadn't known." And there are more signs that this is becoming a serious problem. The leader of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffee, included the subject of teenage oral sex as one of the main themes of his biennial speech. People are talking about this story as if it is a real, yet in your book you merely discard it as an urban legend. Did this really happen? And if so, how did it come about? Best, Rosner

Dear Shmuel,

Well, now you're getting into a minor obsession of mine, which is urban legends. In general, when a story has no evidence to back it up - when it's always "a friend of a friend told me" - it's best to discount it as false. Some urban legends are true; for example, it is true that there was a Bar Mitzvah boy whose party featured a bust of his head made out of chopped liver. His name was Mark Moskowitz, he was from suburban Philadelphia, and the story was reported in an article in Philadelphia Magazine in the 1970s (I tracked it down for my book, and I was totally surprised to find out it was true). But a bunch of 12-year-old girls servicing boys in the bathroom at a bar mitzvah? This just defies common sense.

Now, that's not to say that children aren't having oral sex at young ages. There's good sociological evidence that they are. But I think they're less likely to do that at a bar or bat mitzvah (think of all the parents walking around), and I think they're very unlikely to do it en masse.

But above all, I discount the story simply because there's no good evidence that it's true. Urban legends can be so widely repeated that they take on the statusof fact, but that doesn't make them so. There's a Hollywood actress who's widely rumored to be a hermaphrodite - biologically male or intersexed. I have known doctors who believe this story and even use it in their lectures. Yet there is not one shred of evidence that it is true - no reputable article in the popular or scholarly press, no admission from the actress herself or any of her doctors (it would be highly unethical to come from her doctors, of course). The only evidence people will point to is that her children are adopted, as if that's conclusive. Yet I have known dozens of people who believe it is unquestionably true. Human nature is very odd...

So am I concerned about youngsters have oral sex at too young an age? Of course. But do I think it's a feature of the modern bar or bat mitzvah? There's no good evidence that it is. However, I do think the persistence of the urban legend points to an anxiety that's very real, and that should be listened to. Parents rightly sense that these parties are sexualizing their children too soon. There's too much suggestive dancing, too many girls in too much makeup and too many slinky dresses, too many boys who believe their manhood depends on making out with a girl, whether or not they are emotionally ready for that kind of intimacy. I think some parents may sublimate their very real worries into these oral sex horror stories - somehow that may be easier for them than to deal with the more subtle ways that they are letting their children grow up too soon.

Yours, as ever,

Read the entire interview.

Mark Oppenheimer is the coordinator of the Yale Journalism Initiative, and the author of two books: Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture and Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Linda Greenlaw

Linda Greenlaw is a former swordfishing captain who was celebrated in The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger's best selling book about a fishing disaster. Greenlaw wrote a memoir, The Hungry Ocean, followed by The Lobster Chronicles and All Fishermen Are Liars. Her first novel, Slipknot, is a murder mystery set in a Maine fishing village.

Bob Minzesheimer interviewed Greenlaw for USA Today. One exchange:

Is fiction easier than non-fiction?

No. That's what I thought, but it's harder. It's totally different to look at a blank screen. For the first time, I needed an outline. I was 100 pages into it, and I had a dead body and didn't know who did it or why.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Jonathan Stroud

Emma Madden interviewed Jonathan Stroud last year for Write Away!.

One exchange from the interview:

Arrogance and vanity, although amusing, are the negative traits of most of your magicians (and djinnis). Is there any significance to those characteristics?

Well, I think the books are really about power and the imbalance of power. A lot of fantasy books show characters wielding power, of one sort or another. Traditionally heroes seem to be able to wield it fairly easily. In children’s fiction particularly, you have heroic magicians, like Gandalf, who are tremendously virtuous. I wanted to experiment, so that the humans with power would not be virtuous and so that I could explore the down side of having power up your sleeve. Nathaniel is the key character. He is quite idealistic in Book 1, but as he grows up the corruption around him accentuates his natural arrogance and vanity and these qualities become more extreme. The parallel in the real world is that no matter who you are there is the danger of the powerful becoming the elite. I don’t want any of these points to become didactic. It’s just a question of having issues floating around under the surface, which the readers can pick up on if they choose.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

James Lee Burke

In October 2004 Anthony Rainone interviewed James Lee Burke for January Magazine.

One exchange from the Q & A:

Why do you set your books in Montana and Louisiana? Why are those locales important to you?

They're both great places to write about, because their story -- the microcosm -- really reflects a much larger population, really reflects national issues. As Dave Robicheaux says, wars are fought in places nobody cares about. And the national issues that are probably most critical, most important, the war over them is being waged in places like Montana and Louisiana. And those issues are resources, energies and extracted industries. That's what it's all about. From Iraq to Afghanistan to the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico, that's what it's all about -- energy. There's no question about the flag we're operating under today -- it's energy. A massive need for it. You see, in Montana, extracted industries are trying to get into wilderness areas. That's the big issue. They're trying to drill right now on the edges of Glacier National Park. If they get in there, say good-bye to it, man, it's gone. No matter what they say, it's gone. It's like the discovery of gold by [General George Armstrong] Custer's expedition of 1873. The dye was cast as soon as gold was discovered on Indian lands.

Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Tin Roof Blowdown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bob Morris

Last year Julia Buckley interviewed Bob Morris, author of Bermuda Schwartz and other mystery novels.

The opening exchange:

Dave Barry called you “funny as hell.” This is a pretty amazing compliment, coming as it does from a Pulitzer-winning humorist. Do you know Mr. Barry?

Dave and I go way, way back. We first met when I was a newspaper columnist for the Orlando Sentinel and was sent out on the road to cover the 1988 presidential campaign. Dave and I were the only humor columnists covering the caucuses, primaries and conventions, which was odd because those things are just totally laughable. While all the serious journalists were listening to speeches, Dave and I would be doing things like getting drunk with Kitty Dukakis or crashing parties for high-rollers or staging mock political protests. At the Democratic Convention in Atlanta in 1992, we put up signs all over the press headquarters notifying all these serious political reporters about a demonstration by a group called “People with Boxes on their Heads.” This group consisted of me, Dave and Eric Lacetus, from the Seattle Times. We put boxes on our heads, stood in the official protest area and dozens of serious journalists showed up to ask us questions like, “What does this protest symbolize?” And we’d answer: “It symbolizes that we are people with boxes on our heads.” We made it on CNN and some of the major newspapers, and when the serious reporters found out they’d been scammed they tried to act indignant, but it was way too late for that.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Alafair Burke

New Mystery Reader Magazine interviewed Alafair Burke, author of the successful legal series featuring DA Samantha Kincaid and Dead Connection, a new novel introducing New York City Detective Ellie Hatcher.

The first two questions and answers from the interview:

Congratulations on your new title! This latest is quite the departure from your previous legal thrillers; so why don't you tell us a bit about your new character and where she comes from?

Dead Connection introduces NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher. Ellie has been a detective for only a year when a more seasoned but controversial and publicity-hungry detective in the homicide squad taps her to help him track down a killer. The killer is using an online dating service to target young women. Ellie fits the profile of the victims, and she herself is haunted by thoughts of a serial killer who she believes killed her detective father where she grew up in Wichita, Kansas.

Ellie is a very different character from Samantha Kincaid, the protagonist from my first three novels. Although both excel at their jobs in fields dominated by men, Ellie shoulders more responsibility in her life as a woman outside of work. She has a second job taking care of her family -- long distance in the case of her mother, still living in Wichita, Kansas, and on the couch of her living room in the case of her mooching older brother, Jess. She also has more at stake in her cases.

With your background being in criminal law, it was no doubt a familiar world in which you created your legal series; so how fun and/or difficult was it to create a story from this new perspective of investigation?

I’m still writing from experience, but from a different perspective. For two years while I was a prosecutor, I worked directly out of a police precinct, going on ride-alongs with cops, leading in-service trainings, and teaming up on pre-indictment investigations. I learned more about policing in my first month at that precinct than I’d learned my entire time at the D.A.’s Office. There’s no question it’s helping me write about policing with authenticity. It’s been a fun change for me.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Connection.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pia Z. Ehrhardt

In May 2003, Claire Zulkey interviewed Pia Z. Ehrhardt, who has since published Famous Fathers & Other Stories.

One Q & A from the interview:

What's the key to writing a good sex scene?

Are you saying I do? Or that I need to keep trying? Trying is okay. I work hard to get the Vaseline off the lens and look at it flat, like a video camera might. Where's the arm, where are the legs, what do they kiss on each other that isn't a cliché? The fingers? What are they doing? This process doesn't sound very sexy, does it? Oh, hell, I'll admit it: there's not a lot of love in my sex scenes. Anger helps me write them.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 99 Test: Famous Fathers & Other Stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Peter Heather

Peter Heather, author of The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Roman and the Barbarians, fielded a few questions at the OUP blog, including:

OUP: Have you always been interested in Roman history? What inspired you to write this book about the fall of Rome, rather than tackle an easier Roman period?

Peter Heather: My interest in Roman history is all my mother’s fault. She was a frustrated historian, I think, and we were always going to Roman forts and villas, of which there are plenty in Britain. She’d visited Pompeii when young, but we never left Britain when I was a kid; my parents both found ‘abroad’ rather threatening I think.

The whole point of the fall of Rome is that it is difficult and therefore interesting. Trundling one more time through Caesar, Augustus, or Caligula would hold no pleasure for me. Fundamentally, I like complicated puzzles, where the answer slowly emerges from lots of interlocking lines of inquiry, and the late Roman period entirely suits that mentality.

OUP: Why is there so much controversy over the fall of Rome? Why don’t we know what happened?

Heather: There’s a huge amount of controversy because, in a sense, there’s just the right amount of surviving information to stimulate it. The fourth and fifth centuries are very well documented in relative terms for Ancient History both in terms of texts and - now - archeology, so there’s lots to get your teeth into, but not so well documented that final answers can be read off from the sources. Add to that the fact that its such an iconic event in European history. For classicists, who’ve dominated European educational thinking from the Renaissance until very recently, it was a huge disaster: the end of the ancient world of philosophy and rationality. In the era of nationalism, from the nineteenth century, on the other hand, Rome’s fall seemed to give birth to the direct ancestors of modern nation states and this could only be a good thing. What we’ve got, therefore, is an explosive cocktail of vested interests quarreling over a very big event.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Martin Cruz Smith

Anna Metcalfe interviewed Martin Cruz Smith for the Financial Times. The author is best known for his series of crime novels featuring the fictional Russian investigator Arkady Renko. The first book in the series, Gorky Park (1981), sold more than a million copies and won a Golden Dagger Award from the British Crime Writers’ Association.

A couple of the questions and answers:

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

Roy Blount Jr’s Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South.

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Michael Connelly

Ali Karim conducted a wide-ranging interview with Michael Connelly for The Rap Sheet.

While much of the interview is understandably about Harry Bosch and The Overlook, I especially enjoyed this back-and-forth about The Lincoln Lawyer, whose principal character, I was delighted to learn, will resurface in another book:

AK: I loved protagonist Mickey Haller and The Lincoln Lawyer. Where did that legal thriller come from?

MC: It was a long time coming. First of all, I love the legal thriller as a subgenre and had been looking for years for something that could become a story that could get me into that field. There are some great big titans of publishing involved in legal thrillers, so I wanted something that would be unique and be mine. It sort of fell into my lap, when I met a real “Lincoln lawyer” at a baseball game in Los Angeles. He told me how he operates as an attorney, and before the conversation was over I knew that this was my way in. It, however, took me a few years before I had the confidence to give it a go, as I was not so confident in that world as I am, say, with that of the LAPD and Harry Bosch.

I needed to do a huge amount of research and spend time with lawyers, sitting in courtrooms and so forth ... When it finally came time to write the book, it came very quickly, as (a) I had been researching it for so long, and (b) I was excited by this new character -- a clean slate. Whereas, say, with Harry Bosch I’m dragging around 12 books of back story, with Mickey Haller -- he was brand new with no baggage. When I go with a new character, I can usually write much faster, so in that particular year I squeezed out two books -- the Haller book, as well as a Bosch novel [The Closers].

AK: I heard you’re doing a follow-up to The Lincoln Lawyer. True?

MC: Yes -- but it’s not really a follow-up, it’s a Haller book and even Bosch makes a small appearance. But at this stage I haven’t a title.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ken MacLeod

Ken MacLeod, whose new book The Execution Channel is now out from Tor Books, was interviewed by Andrew Leonard for Salon back in 1999.

Here's the introduction to the interview:

Ken MacLeod is the greatest living Trotskyist libertarian cyberpunk science-fiction humorist. It's a safe claim to make, because he is undoubtedly the only such creature. The 44-year-old Scot and former computer programmer imagines futures full of both socialist unions and libertarian enclaves, warring with each other and within themselves. You don't often find communist mercenaries working for capitalist insurance companies in science fiction. In Ken MacLeod's future, such political incongruities are a joyous fact of life. Add your regular cyberpunk ingredients -- machine consciousness, post-human trickery, cool gadgets and lots of good drugs and rock 'n' roll -- and you have a heady, rollicking brew.

MacLeod's political fiction is no pose. He's a former Communist Party member who has won two Prometheus awards for best libertarian science fiction novel. After his American editor told me that MacLeod was a regular "trenchant" contributor to Internet-based discussion groups, I decided to do some cyberspace stalking. Where does he hang out? The bulk of his contributions are in the Usenet newsgroup "rec.arts.sf.written." No surprise there -- r.a.s.w. is one of the oldest watering holes on the Net -- quite a few authors congregate there with their fans, critics and peers. But his next most favored spot is "alt.politics.socialism.trotsky" -- and after that, a little down the list, "talk.politics.libertarianism." One of MacLeod's hobbies, it seems, when he's between books, is plunging into the Internet fray to argue about what Marx and Engels really intended, and to engage in the endless hair-splitting dear to libertarians.

Working out a left-wing theory of libertarianism might strike some observers as a headlong dive into a thicket of ultra-thorny contradictions. Can't be done, you might think. And certainly, there are no ultimate answers contained in the four-book arc -- "The Star Fraction," "The Stone Canal," "The Cassini Division" and "The Sky Road" -- that MacLeod has constructed since 1995. But MacLeod's keen intelligence and sharp sense of humor make the journey more than worthwhile -- and definitely beg the question: Who is this guy? Where did these politics come from? MacLeod agreed to answer some of these questions via e-mail.
Read the interview.

Discover more about The Execution Channel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Jerry Stahl

Jerry Stahl, author of Love Without and other books, answered a few questions for Powells.com Ink Q & A, including:

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?

For better or worse, I already wrote it. The title was Permanent Midnight. Maybe the subtitle would be If I wrote this now it would read a little differently...

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?

I'm going with Eve. It seems like she was up for anything.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?

I had the great good fortune to work at McDonald's at the ripe age of 38. Good times.

Read the entire interview.

Check out Stahl's list of "five top narco-reads."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Min Jin Lee

Min Jin Lee is the author of Free Food for Millionaires.

From an interview posted on her website:

Q: You’ve chosen to write this book showing many points of view. Is there a reason why?

More than anything, I wanted to try to write novels in the style of the ones I loved. I have always loved 19th century literature from England and Europe, and early 20th century literature from America. The books I re-read for pleasure almost always employ an omniscient narrator — either a fictive person who knows everyone’s thoughts and how the story will be told or the author himself who knows how the story ends and why. There is a godlike quality to omniscience, and it is that I am vainly approaching in story telling.

Also, I think I loved Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Thackeray, Flaubert, George Eliot, Balzac, Edith Wharton, Maughm, Dickens, the Brontes ... because they reveal marginal characters as well as the central characters. I don’t know if this is important to me, because of my own background where I have felt both marginal and central in different spaces. Obviously, none of those books featured anyone biographically like me. I wonder if George Eliot could have telescoped that someone of my background would be so inspired by her. Well, come to think of it, George Eliot could have probably anticipated anything — she was that intelligent, but in the cosmic joke of my life — among other things, that I am fortunate enough to write fiction and to write in a language that is not my first—I have learned that pretty much anything can happen. I always feel that sense of amusement in Balzac who I admire deeply for his social intelligence. He knew everything about human behavior. It’s very difficult to share what you learn and speculate only through one point of view. The omniscient point of view lends itself to far greater flexibility and spaciousness.

I feel profoundly fortunate that I have been able to finish this book and to get it published. It took twelve years for my first novel’s publication, but it could have been longer. It could easily have been never, and waiting and working can teach you a lot about chance — especially in a city where I am surrounded by many, many talented writers. I’ve been told that this book might have been finished faster if I wrote it from one or two characters’ viewpoints. I don’t know. Middlemarch, perhaps my favorite novel of all time, is about a village and its people. It has central characters, but the book would not work as a masterpiece unless it had so many strands to truly express the character of a community. I was also this affected by Sinclair Lewis’ book Main Street when I was in high school — a beautiful and important American book which I think should be picked up again. On a minor note, I am tickled by the fanciful nature of a Russian novelist including a brief line from the point of view of a dog or a horse. Too much of this may not work, but sometimes, don’t you want to know what your dog thinks about you? Just a scrap? When you write something for a long time, you have to humor yourself because there is really no other payment in sight. I think it was lucky that in my first twelve years as a fiction writer, I had the wish to learn a curious technique and to be nourished by the learning along the way.

Perhaps I am taking this space to explain the merits of an omniscient narration because though it is an unpopular way of storytelling for modern writers, it can reveal how everyone in the room is thinking about the issues and each other and themselves rather than what they are actually doing and saying. Even the people of the finest character don’t speak truthfully or act honestly all the time. It is in fiction where all the dimensions of personality and behavior might possibly be witnessed. I wanted to have a go at taking it all down.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2007

Thomas Perry

In 2003 Bookreporter.com interviewed Thomas Perry. What he said then about his "predatory characters" certainly applies to the villains of his novels published since then:

BRC: You often shed the spotlight on the predatory characters like Roy Prescott of PURSUIT and the unforgettable Edgar-winning BUTCHER'S BOY. DEAD AIM has nearly a dozen such characters including Parish, the supporting staff of the Self-Defense School, and several unsavory students. What intrigues you most about those types of characters?

TP: The characters you refer to as predatory and unsavory are useful. They're the ones who make a novel into a thriller. They're active, and most of the common virtues, the signs of a good person, are not. Reading a novel in which all characters illustrate patience, hard work, chastity, and delayed gratification could be a pretty dull experience. What intrigues me most about these "bad" characters is that they're not like us. Their actions aren't restrained or modified by the possibility of guilt or remorse. They think only of expediency, and so their actions have a certain elegance and decisiveness. They're disruptive and scary, what nightmares are made of. But at the same time, the commonplace statement about them is true: every character is the hero of his own story. Each has a justification for his actions that is convincing to him. It's fun to give these people voices.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Silence.

The Page 99 Test: Nightlife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Irvine Welsh

Anna Metcalfe interviewed Irvine Welsh, author of the 1993 novel Trainspotting and eight other books, for the Financial Times.

A couple of the questions and answers:

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

Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant – when he writes about smearing vegetable dye in his father’s underpants.

* * *

What book changed your life?

Moby Dick showed me the power of literature when I was still young.

Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tom Zoellner

Tom Zoellner has worked as a contributing editor for Men's Health magazine and as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He is also the co-author of An Ordinary Man (Viking, 2006), the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the 1994 Rwandan genocide were portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda, and the author of The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.

From a BookBrowse interview with Zoellner:

Q: Why are diamonds such a big deal in America?

A: It’s now a $25 billion dollar business. Seven out of every ten American women own at least one. But as it turns out, the idea of a diamond as a popular luxury item is fairly new in this country. A magazine advertising campaign sponsored by De Beers created the consumer desire just a few years before World War II. They sought to make diamonds not just rare, but essential for every man seeking to get married. Famous painters such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali were commissioned to create landscapes next to advertising text that had a strange fixation on death, of all things. But De Beers tried to plant this subtle idea that diamonds are a kind of shield against mortality. "Diamonds are the most imperishable record a man may leave of his personal life," said one of the ads. That’s part of the source for the famous slogan they eventually cooked up in 1948: "A Diamond Is Forever." A phony "tradition" was also established: a groom must spend two months’ salary on his wife’s stone. But this was not a global standard. British men were viewed as more stingy and were told to save one month’s pay. The Japanese, seen as more obedient, were told three.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 6, 2007

Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards is a prolific crime novelist and story writer -- and a lawyer. His books and stories include three Lake District mysteries featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind: The Coffin Trail, The Cipher Garden, and The Arsenic Labyrinth.

Part of a Q & A with Foyles Bookshop’s crime newsletter Soho Noir:

What led you to a life of Crime?

A youthful devotion to Agatha Christie and to baffling mysteries.

The picturesque landscape of the Lake District contrasts greatly with the somewhat disturbing nature of the crimes featured. Did this opposition between beauty and brutality configure in the descision to set some of your novels there?

Yes, Sherlock Holmes and W.H. Auden pointed out the drama in the contrast between tranquil setting and violent crime – and they were dead right.

Read the entire Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: The Arsenic Labyrinth.

Visit Martin Edwards's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ben Tanzer

What To Wear During An Orange Alert? recently interviewed Ben Tanzer, author of Lucky Man.

One exchange:

OA: Who are some of your biggest literary influences?

BT: This is such a good and tricky question, how do you separate influence from inspiration? I will leave that up to someone else to answer, what I will say, is that Jim Carroll and the Basketball Diaries was one of my first great inspirations and remains one of my long time inspirations. He was writing about a world I couldn't believe existed and he wrote it in such an evocative fashion. It killed me, really killed me. Another book in that vein was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, and to ever write anything that wowed me like that would be very cool. There are influences though for sure, Raymond Carver and his ability to create this very clear and fully realized world all his own, Alice Munro for sure, I see both of them sneaking into my short stories, Elizabeth Crane as well, and Junot Diaz. Lynda Barry's novel Crummy made me want to read like few other books and I read all the time, and most recently Don De Grazia's novel American Skin and Haistyles of the Dammed by Joe Meno made be believe I could and had to write a novel on the one hand, but also that I can't set the bar high enough. Similarly, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Jimmy Corrigan - Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, and Scalawag by Steve Lafler, all of which are graphic novels, are books that make me think anything is possible if you can just picture it. Finally, and this is not meant to be snarky, but the songs and writing of Bruce Springsteen and The Ramones are touchstones of mine when I write for sure - keep it simple, keep it clean, and tell a story, loudly if necessary.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Matt Richtel

Sara Peyton interviewed Matt Richtel, author of Hooked, for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

A couple of their exchanges:

Q: Tell us a little bit about "Hooked." Did you write the story you wanted to read?

A: In a nutshell, the story is a fast-paced mystery about Nat Idle, a medical journalist who narrowly survives a cafe explosion. The note warning him to leave the cafe before it explodes appears to be written in the hand of his deceased ex-girlfriend. He goes on a frantic hunt to discover what is going on. I definitely wrote the story I wanted to read. I've always liked stories -- whether books, movies, etc. -- that save key information or twists until the end.

Q: Did your characters surprise you? If so, which ones?

A: Yeah, they did. But I'm loath to say more because I don't want to give away the forces of good and evil in the book. I'll just say that I expected one of the main characters to wind up as a force for good. But the narrative demanded something different -- maybe something different than I would have idealized or romanticized. How's that for cryptic?
Read the entire interview.

The Page 99 Test: Hooked.

--Marshal Zeringue