Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Richard North Patterson

Richard North Patterson's new book is Eclipse, "the spellbinding story of an American lawyer who takes on a nearly impossible case—the defense of an African freedom fighter against his corrupt government’s charge of murder."

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

You acknowledge in your afterword that ECLIPSE is based loosely upon the life and death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nigeria’s courageous human rights and environmental activist who was hung by the country’s brutal dictator fifteen years ago. For those of us who don’t remember that story, please tell us a bit about him and why he remains an important figure.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a gifted novelist who created a force unique to Nigeria: a mass nonviolent movement among his ethnic group, the Ogoni, to fight the environmental and human rights abuses caused by the alliance between the oil industry and Nigeria’s corrupt autocracy. While the extraction of oil from the Niger delta enriched the government and the oil companies, it left the delta’s people more impoverished and their lands and water despoiled. Saro-Wiwa’s defiance ultimately led to his execution in 1994 by the country’s kleptocratic dictator, General Suni Abacha, after a trial based on dubious charges that Saro-Wiwa had instigated the death of several Ogoni chiefs. A tragic coda is that although Saro-Wiwa was widely admired in the West, the oil-dependent democracies that profess their devotion to human rights did little to save him.

The tragedy of Saro-Wiwa is piercingly salient today. In the years since his death, the industrialized nations have become more desperate for oil to preserve their own power and wealth. Central to my story is that the oil-rich Niger delta is ever more despoiled, and the protest movement of Saro-Wiwa has been replaced by predatory militia who steal oil and siphon it to the black market, while spreading violence throughout the region and maintaining corrupt but shadowy alliances with the government. And our addiction to oil wholly marginalizes any concern we have with the injustices Saro-Wiwa sacrificed his life to fight.

Finally, the courtroom drama that climaxes Eclipse is based on the show trial in which Saro-Wiwa was condemned—a Kafkaesque perversion of the forms of justice.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Simon Lewis

Simon Lewis was born in Wales and grew up in Scotland.

He studied Art at Goldmiths College in London, then worked as a travel writer, researching the Rough Guide to China, Beijing, and Shanghai as well as writing for newspapers and magazines.

His second novel, Bad Traffic, is a crime thriller about people smugglers.

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

1. In Bad Traffic, Inspector Jian arrives on English shores unable to speak the language or understand many of the English customs. How were you able to create his experience?

The first time I worked for Rough Guides, I was sent to the northeast region of China, and told to write a guide to it. I didn't speak any Chinese at the time so I spent several months bewildered, befuddled and alienated. This experience was very helpful in imagining Jian's reactions when he's in a similar situation.

Later, when I started learning Chinese in London, my first teachers were illegal immigrants - I taught them English in return for Chinese lessons - and they gave me many insights into the kind of things Chinese people notice about England - public kissing, no bars on the windows, neat gardens, and so on.

And after that, I lived in China for a few years, and when I came home I noticed things that I had take for granted but which now seemed bizarre - like, all the pet dogs being taken for walks and how the streets are so deserted.

I tried to use all these experiences to see through Jian's eyes, and, in the process, make the familiar strange.

2. What inspired you to write a fictional story about human trafficking?

The book began life as a response to two real crimes...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Bad Traffic.

Visit Simon Lewis' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 29, 2008

Reed Farrel Coleman

Reed Farrel Coleman, Brooklyn born and raised, is the former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. He has written ten novels in three series including two under his pen name Tony Spinosa, including the recently released The Fourth Victim.

From ITW contributing editor Karen Harper's interview with Coleman about The Fourth Victim:

The Fourth Victim features Joe Serpe, a disgraced NYPD detective turned truck driver. In what ways is your real-life bio reflected in this character's interests or endeavors?

Although I've never been a law enforcement officer, disgraced or otherwise, I did deliver home heating oil on Long Island for seven years. What I noticed was that deliverymen are invisible. Or as I like to put it, people know more about their mailbox than their mailman. This seemed like an interesting concept to explore, especially from the point of view of a former narcotics detective. As a deliveryman, I was privy to all sorts of things people would normally never let a stranger be witness to: drug use, violence, people in all manner of undress. It was amazing. And time in the truck alone gave me a lot of valuable space to think about my work.

How does having Joe be a former detective and one who was disgraced set him up as a compelling main character as opposed to having him a currently successful detective?

It's more the reason for Joe's disgrace that makes him compelling. His ex-partner, best friend, and godfather to his son developed a coke habit. Out of loyalty, Joe hid the problem until it got so his partner began doing more than taking product to feed his habit. Just as Joe was about to turn his partner in, he was arrested and forced to testify against his partner in open court. When that happened, Joe lost everything. Now he uses his job as an oil deliveryman to try and redeem himself by solving crimes either no one cares about or no one wants any part of. The journey back to grace is far more compelling than grace itself.
Read the complete interview.

Read Jim Winter's Q & A with Coleman at The Rap Sheet.

Learn more about the author at Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

My Book, the Movie: Reed Farrel Coleman's Moe Prager Mystery Series.

The Page 99 Test: The Fourth Victim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Joan Wickersham

For the Yale Alumni Magazine, Ben Yagoda interviewed Joan Wickersham about her acclaimed memoir, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order. Part of the Q & A:

Y: When did you first decide that you were going to write about your father's death?

W: I knew it pretty fast. At first I thought I would write a novel. But the result was flat, neat, "lyrical," dull. I kept putting it aside and trying to write something else. But this experience was like a tree blocking the road. When I tried to work on something else, a character in that book would commit suicide. It became an obsession, like a puzzle that I couldn't stop trying to figure out. I had to find a way that was true to the chaos of the experience, but didn't end up being a chaotic book.

Y: A device that seemed to help you deal with the problem was structuring the book according to an index, where "Suicide" is the only heading and all the chapters are subheadings -- for example, "Suicide, psychiatry as an indirect means of addressing."

W: Right. At one point, many of the individual pieces were right, but there didn't seem to be enough trajectory to pull readers through. An index is so formal that it gives you almost a numb feeling. And numbness was a big part of the whole experience.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Joan Wickersham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 27, 2008

David Farland

David Farland has published over forty fantasy and science fiction novels for both adults and younger readers, including The Wyrmling Horde, the seventh volume in the Runelords series.

From his Q & A with Willamette Week:

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place?

William Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?

Gosh, I don’t want to fight anyone that I can think of. I’ll just crush them with my prose.

Name a book that you think is highly overrated. Be honest:

The Grapes of Wrath.
Read the complete exchange.

Read an excerpt from The Wyrmling Horde, and learn more about the book and author at David Farland's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wyrmling Horde.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 26, 2008

Eric Roston

Eric Roston is a science writer in Washington, DC, and author of The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat.

From Roston's Q & A with Jennifer Ouellette at Cocktail Party Physics:

Jen-Luc: What possessed you to write a book about carbon?

Eric: The short answer is that I wanted to read a book about carbon, but nobody else had written one.

Jen-Luc: Okay, so what's the long answer?

Eric: Alfred Hitchcock movies all have what he referred to as a "MacGuffin": the thing the characters in the movie are after, whether it be microfilm, uranium in wine bottles, or papers. It never matters to the audience. It only matters to the characters. The news media treat carbon like it's a MacGuffin. It's the reason we have to reduce our industrial emissions, or the gee-whiz supermaterial that convinces us to drop another $200 for a carbon-fiber tennis racket, or the "carbs" we avoid (or embrace) in food.

But carbon isn't a MacGuffin. It's the central structural element of all life and civilization, and as such, the quickest path to learn the most about virtually everything larger than an atom and smaller than a planet.

Jen-Luc: What makes the topic particularly timely? Not just why this book, but why now?

Eric: At the end of 2003, carbon-dioxide induced global warming was bleeding into the private sector. The Atkins "low-carb" diet was careening towards its spectacular blowout. Oil (read hydrocarbons) prices began their steady ascent, after the Iraq invasion. And Lance Armstrong rode to victory in Paris in the Tour de France year after year on a $6500 carbon-fiber Trek bike. Everywhere I looked, people were talking about carbon, but in stovepipes, completely removed from each other. I wanted to start a project that would tease out the connective tissue between all these stories. We think of these as far-flung topics, but you can build a singular narrative, "carbon-based," that unifies and explains vast swaths of our experience. Looking at what carbon is, how it does that crazy thing it does, and how it gets around, allows you to talk about energy, climate, personal health, materials, and much else all in one conversation.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Steven Rinella

Steven Rinella is the author of The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine and a correspondent for Outside magazine. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, American Heritage, The New York Times, Field and Stream, Men's Journal, and

His new book is American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.

From a Q & A with the Sierra Club:

1. Where did your hunting/fishing/food philosophy come from? Who taught you?

My dad taught me to hunt and fish, but I can't really say that my philosophy came from him. He had me when he was over 50 years old, and he was raised during the Depression by his grandmother. He scrounged chunks of coal that fell off trains by the railyard; one time he got picked up by the cops for stealing rags and selling them to a scrap dealer. When the yellow perch were in shallow water he'd camp on the piers and sell perch.

We weren't poor like that when I was a kid, but my dad still had that impulse to get as much as game as possible whenever and however it happened. I did a lot of illegal things as a little kid with no idea whatsoever that I was breaking laws. Running seines over bluegill beds, spearfishing in freshwater, catching snapping turtles out of season, potting squirrels out of season. I don't resent my dad for being the way he was, but I had to figure out conservation ethics on my own, and it took longer than if I had a more informed mentor.

2. What do you think is different between your father's outdoor experiences and your own? What has changed?

My answer to #1 spilled over into this arena.... but I think a lot has changed over the last two generations. (I consider my father and me to be separated by a "missing" generation, since he was the age of my friend's grandfathers). Some of the changes are good, some are bad.

Hunters used to be more focused on food; in general, they had a much more sincere appreciation for the good meat that you can get through hunting and fishing. A lot of hunters nowadays are like spoiled brats in that way. They want horns and trophies, but the value of the food is lost on them. I think that's why we see this ongoing trend of making venison jerky and "snacky sticks." People are afraid of the meat, or feel inconvenienced by it, and the tendency is to add a bunch of sugar and turn it into candy that you pass around at work. Something about the beautiful value of creating meals for one's family is missing within that paradigm. The good changes have to do with conservation.

We're much more aware of what it takes to have stable populations of wildlife now. I think of salmon management in Alaska. We now know that it's possible to have too many salmon return to a river during the spawning season; if you limit the returning fish, you get a better recruitment of healthier individuals heading into the ocean. That level of knowledge allows us to be adept conservationists, and I believe that most hunters and fishermen have a greater respect for the written law than they used to. Maybe not ethical law, but written law....
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Floyd Skloot

Floyd Skloot is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, and novelist whose work has appeared in such distinguished magazines as The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Poetry, American Scholar, Georgia Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, Boulevard, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Creative Nonfiction, and Shenandoah.

His many books include The Snow's Music: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, September 2008) and the memoir, The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life (University of Nebraska Press, September 2008).

From his Q & A with Willamette Week:

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place and why?

Prose: Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, Walker Percy. Poetry: Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, T.S. Eliot, W.D. Snodgrass, Anne Sexton, Thomas Kinsella.

Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?

Marianne Moore: one of the few writers smaller than me, and if I surprised her I might win.

Name a book that you think is highly overrated. Be honest.

The Magic Mountain.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Floyd Skloot's website.

Writers Read: Floyd Skloot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Laura Joh Rowland

From a Q & A at the website of Laura Joh Rowland:

Why do you write mysteries?

The answer is, a combination of heritage, love, and circumstance. My father was a big mystery fan. He loved Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Mickey Spillane, Ross McDonald, and other great, classic detective writers. And I'm a real chip off the old block. I started out reading Nancy Drew, then progressed to my father's favorites and the many other authors who fill the mystery racks at libraries.

This is where love comes in: I loved those books, and still do. The usual advice to beginning authors is "Write what you know." I would add, "Write what you love." What I love in particular about mysteries is that good always triumphs over evil; the truth will always be discovered; justice will be served. I also love the way the mystery genre lets me explore the dark side of life, and the extremes of human behavior. Murder is the ultimate crime, and it involves plenty of action, adventure, and emotion, in addition to the intellectual challenge of figuring out whodunit.

By a stroke of luck, heritage and love intersected with fortunate circumstance. This circumstance was the radical change that the mystery novel underwent during the late 20th century. The field opened up to include a diverse array of detectives, settings, and time periods. Lucky for me, there was even room for a samurai detective in 17th century Japan.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Fire Kimono, volume 13 of Rowland's Sano Ichiro series, is now available.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 22, 2008

Alex Beam

Alex Beam is an award-winning columnist for the Boston Globe. His writing has also appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, the New York Times and many other magazines. He is the author of A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books, Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital, and of two novels.

From a brief Q & A at the New York Times book blog:

Whose books are generally shelved around yours in bookstores? How does it feel to be sitting between them?

My local bookstore, the delightful New England Mobile Book Fair, shelves books by publisher, alphabetically by title. (!) So my last book, “Gracefully Insane,” sits between the “The Gospel According to RFK,” a collection of speeches, and “A Great and Godly Adventure,” a book about Thanksgiving.

Unlike the world at large, my local library has not given up on my youthful novels, which are braced by Will Beall’s “L.A. Rex,” a gritty police tale from South Central, and by a historical novel of Amelia Bean’s, “A Time for Outrage.”
Read the rest of the Q & A.

Visit Alex Beam's column archive at the Boston Globe.

My Book, The Movie: Alex Beam's Gracefully Insane.

The Page 69 Test: Gracefully Insane.

The Page 99 Test: A Great Idea at the Time.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brian Raftery

Salon's Sarah Hepola interviewed Brian Raftery about his new book, Don't Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life, which "delves into the tangled history of the art form (and yes, it is an art form), from its rocky start in 1970s Japan to its embrace by everyone from trendy indie rock bands to Midwestern bridal parties."

Two exchanges from the Q & A:

Where did karaoke come from?

It started with a guy in Japan in the early '70s named Daisuke Inoue, who was a musician and not a very good one. But he was very good at what I would call being a middleman. He noticed that in bars there would be a musician playing and people singing along. If you were to streamline this process -- add more songs by having a machine, charging a flat rate -- there was money to be made.

He invented something called the Juke-8. It looks like a little speaker box with an eight-track machine. He would hire musicians and get people to write out these lyric books, and he leased these out. He hired these hostesses to walk into the bar and kind of discover the machine. Then they would hand the microphone over to these drunken Japanese businessmen.

It spread through parts of Asia in the '70s and came to America in the early '80s. Bar owners in New York and Orlando were hustling people to sing, but it didn't catch on at first, for a lot of cultural reasons.

* * *

So why was karaoke popular in Japan but proved such a hard sell in America?

You would think the reverse would be true, right? America is an exhibitionist culture. But in Japan, a certain part of that country's history is discipline and an attention to form. People practiced and honed one song, which they could sing perfectly, and it was almost like a piano recital. Also, even though it wasn't an extroverted culture, Japan always had these private rooms for performance [known as k-boxes].

But our country had this clear mark between professionals and amateurs: If you had a contract, and you were touring, you were a professional; otherwise, you were a wannabe. Americans aren't always forgiving to wannabes, and people were aghast at the idea of watching non-professionals sing. Part of the American culture is: Don't look like a fool. Don't be a chump.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson is the author of the national bestsellers Everything Bad Is Good for You and Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, as well as Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software and Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate.

From a Q & A at his publisher's website about The Invention of Air, his latest book:

Why did you decide to write a book about Joseph Priestley, who is today such a relatively little-known figure?

What's the fun in writing about someone everyone already knows about? I think there's something exciting about taking historical figures who should be better know, and telling their story in a way that hopefully shows their importance to modern readers. That's exactly what I tried to do with John Snow in The Ghost Map—take a relatively obscure event and make the case for why it was one of the turning points in modern civilization. There's a comparable argument here with Priestley: not only was he a brilliant and influential scientist and intellectual, but he's a missing link between some of the most famous names in American history, a kind of "lost" founding father.

What connection did he have to America's Founders? How did he get to know Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson intimately?

Priestley got to know Franklin first, because of course Franklin lived in London for many years of his life. (In fact, had the conflict that led to the Revolutionary War not broken out, it's entirely likely that Franklin would have remained in London for the rest of his life.) They were both part of an informal club of scientists and political thinkers—Franklin dubbed it the "Club of Honest Whigs"—that met that the London Coffeehouse once every two weeks. He met Adams during the 1780s when he was Ambassador to England, and they had a somewhat volatile relationship the next decade after Priestley emigrated to America. Priestley didn't meet Jefferson until he moved to America, but the two men had a wonderful correspondence in the final years of Priestley's life.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Steven Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 19, 2008

George Saunders

From an interview with George Saunders by Adam Smith in St. John's University Humanities Review:

Smith: You’ve been labeled as both satirist and social critic and in your novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil has been compared to Orwell’s Animal Farm. How do you feel about the process of being labeled by critics, readers and such?

Saunders: I like it, since it means that critics and readers are reading the stories. I think the trick is to keep reinventing yourself so that whatever labels are used are already out of date. I suppose being labeled could be limiting (if you started changing what you were doing in order to stay within your label) but I think as long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously, not much worry of that.

Smith: In that novella, there is a scene where Phil, brainless at that point, makes his first Outer Horner nationalistic speech to which fellow Outer Hornerite Melvin says, “He just comes right out and says it.” Do you feel that this is your job as a writer, to just come out and say it?

Saunders: Yes, even if you’re not sure it’s true. Dylan said something along these lines, like some things he writes, he knows are true, some he knows are false, and some he doesn’t know whether they’re true or false. I like this idea that one consciousness holds all kinds of things (attitudes, beliefs, fears, etc.) and none of them completely define who we are. It’s the pattern of variance that makes an individual. So writing is one way to sound one’s own pattern of variance, if you will.

Smith: You’ve talked about politics as inevitably creeping into any writer’s work in a politically charged time. Do you ever find yourself holding back from something that may be taken as a blatant outing of your political views? Do your publisher or editors make any comments on the politics of your work?

Saunders: I think just simple aesthetics would argue...[read on].
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 18, 2008

T.A. Pratt

From an interview on Amberkatze's Book Blog with T. A. Pratt, author of the Marla Mason series:

Amber - Welcome to Amberkatze's Book Blog! I have been following your Marla Mason series and love it! To start things off could you tell my readers a little about the series?

T. A. - The series follows the adventures of Marla Mason, chief sorcerer of the East Coast city of Felport, whose job is perhaps best described as a cross between mob boss and superhero. She protects her city from assorted supernatural dangers --including but not limited to dogs from hell, nightmare kings, and the god of death -- and, in exchange, gets to make a nice living off various business interests,
legal and otherwise. She's also in charge of keeping the 99.99% of the citizens who don't believe in magic deceived about the real nature of the world.

Amber - Dead Reign is the third book in the series has just been released. What does Marla get up to this time?

T. A. - The essential premise is "Marla vs. Death." One of Marla's most valuable tools is her dagger of office, a mystical blade passed down from chief sorcerer to chief sorcerer over the years, a weapon capable of cutting through anything from steel to concrete to ghosts. Unbeknownst to Marla, the blade once belonged to the god of Death himself -- it was the Grim Reaper's scythe, Sammael's terrible sword -- and now... Death wants it back. He comes to Felport and rather rudely demands Marla return it. Marla refuses. Death attempts to force her to comply... and things get very messy very fast.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Reign.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jeffrey Frank

Jeffrey Frank's novels include The Columnist, Bad Publicity, and Trudy Hopedale.

Back when Bad Publicity was published, David S. Hirschman interviewed Frank for Part of their dialogue:

What was your inspiration for Bad Publicity? Did you gather a lot of information for it while you were working in Washington in the '80s?

I wasn't even aware I was collecting it at the time, but I was constantly uncomfortable living and working in Washington. I was very happy working at the Washington Post, but the city itself was increasingly giving me the creeps, and I really wanted to find some way to get it down. How do you get down the fact that you go to a dinner with Washington people and you always leave feeling somewhat unclean? I was just trying to capture this odd place that was increasingly out of touch with the world, but increasingly doing mischief on the rest of the world and the rest of the country. It's a kind of toxic biosphere, but it's only since I left Washington that I really got a sense of how.

In the book you really skewer the Washington culture. How do your friends in Washington feel about that?

Most of my friends kind of like the portrayal I think, and they know I'm not writing about them. It's just a bizarre culture. In a way, it's hard to write about because it's got a sort of cliché built into everything about it. In that way, Washington lends itself to the genre novel, and it's sometimes hard to write about it in a fresh way.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Jeffrey Frank's website.

Writers Read: Jeffrey Frank.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rachael King

Rachael King's debut novel The Sound of Butterflies, which was among the top three bestselling New Zealand fiction titles in her native country for 12 weeks when it was published in July 2006, was released in the U.S. by William Morrow in 2007.

From her Q & A with Willamette Week:

What are your favorite themes to write about?

I am fascinated by obsessive collectors and their reasons for their obsessions.

The most beautiful word in the English language is:

Mesmerise. In American it would be mesmerize, but I don’t think that’s quite as lovely.

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place?

I find both the large scale and attention to character detail of Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda illuminating.
Read the complete interview.

Read an excerpt from The Sound of Butterflies, and learn more about the novel and its author at Rachael King's website and her blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Sound of Butterflies.

My Book, The Movie: The Sound of Butterflies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 15, 2008

Inger Ash Wolfe

Inger Ash Wolfe is the author of the acclaimed “debut” crime-fiction novel, The Calling. Actually, Wolfe is a pseudonym and The Calling is not the author's first novel.

In January Magazine Ali Karim explores the story behind the author and novel in an interview with Ms. Wolfe. And gets to the heart of the matter:

Thematically I found similarities between The Calling and the works of Thomas Harris, as you delve into the psyche of a serial killer and why he is hunting down the terminally ill. Would you care to comment, and are you familiar with Harris’ work?

I’ve read Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, both of which are great books (there’s a scene in Red Dragon, when the villain reappears and we see his yellow eyes glowing, that made me drop the book in terror). I’m not sure Hannibal Lecter and Simon Mallick have much in common, though. Lecter is a true psychopath: he has no empathy, feels no remorse, he is “morally empty” as a psychologist would put it. Mallick believes in goodness and thinks he’s acting on its behalf. He is driven by grief. He’s not a psychopath as much as he’s had a psychotic break. A slender difference, but one all the same.
Read more of the Q & A.

From Linda L. Richards' review: "The Calling is extraordinary. This sounds like hyperbole, but I will risk it: I have never read a book peopled by characters this vivid and with voices this strong."

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Joanne Rendell

Joanne Rendell was born and raised in the UK. After completing a PhD in English Literature, she moved to the States to be with her husband, a professor at NYU. Her debut novel is The Professors' Wives' Club.

Two exchanges from her interview with Carrie at Words to Mouth:

Carrie: What inspired you to write The Professors’ Wives’ Club?

Joanne: I am a professor’s wife, so I definitely wrote what I know. But the specific idea came up when I was out with a friend, another professor’s wife. We were gossiping about other professors’ wives who we knew and it struck me then what interesting characters professors’ wives would make. These women – and of course, there are professors husbands and partners too – are in an interesting position. They are often deeply connected in the university world. They live in faculty housing, take their kids to university childcare, and work out at the university gym. However, when it comes to university decisions, they have little power. I liked the idea, in particular, of pitching these seemingly powerless women, against a dean who in his little kingdom of the university has so much power.

* * *

Carrie: You have a PhD in literature, but you decided not to stay in academia. What is it like being a novelist instead?

Joanne: It’s great. Creating my own fictional worlds is proving just as fun, perhaps more fun, than studying and analyzing the fictional worlds created by other people. I’m glad I decided not to stay in academia. Being a writer instead of a professor means no faculty meetings, no teaching prep, no tenure worries, no never-ending reading lists, and no hours fretting over a lost citation. However, I do acknowledge the rich foundation that my academic studies gave me for my current writing life. It taught me how to read books with a keen and studious eye. It taught me the power of words and the tools of research. It gave me great training for executing projects and working for hours on my own with only my laptop and a steaming cup of tea for company!

Plus, I can still enjoy the best parts of the academic world through my husband. Together we are faculty fellows in residence in one of NYU’s dorms which means we have a lot of interactions with students and I get to organize and attend all kinds of interesting discussions and events. Oh, and there’s also the not-so-small fact that the intriguing and gossip-ridden world of academia has given me great fodder for my novels!
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Professors' Wives' Club.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Neil Harris

From an interview with Neil Harris, author of The Chicagoan: A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age:

Question: The Chicagoan first appeared in June 1926. Can you set the context for us? What was Chicago like in the mid-1920s?

Answer: The image of Chicago that was forged in the 1920s would last for decades. It is still quite familiar. Chicago was “stormy, husky, and brawling,” as Carl Sandburg once wrote. It was also at the peak of its economic power—the stockyards butchered twenty million animals annually; millions of bushels of grain were milled, stored, and moved through the city; stench from the stockyards and smoke from the steel mills and oil refineries hung in the air. The population grew by about 25% in the 1920s, an increase of 680,000 people. New apartment buildings and bungalows collared the city.

The skyscraper was born in Chicago and by the ’20s the city had plenty of them. It also had an opulent opera house, the world’s largest fountain, the world’s largest building, and the world’s largest hotel. Fine museums and great universities were established. But Chicago was also notable for its slums and squalor, its violent labor and racial conflicts.

Of course, this was the era of Prohibition and Chicago’s most famous resident—the world’s greatest gangster—was Al Capone. Chicago was the capital of racketeering and vice and, under the leadership of political boss and mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, the city administration was flamboyantly corrupt.

So despite dashes of culture, Chicago was widely perceived as a place of raw commerce and crime—brawny, philistine, vulgar, and violent.
Read the complete interview.

See a gallery of covers and illustrations from the magazine and sample pages in PDF (7mb) from the book.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

Jane Kamensky is a professor of American history and chair of the History Department at Brandeis University. Her publications include The Exchange Artist and Governing the Tongue, among other books.

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University, where she is the chair of the History and Literature Program. Her books include The Name of War and A Is for American. Her most recent book, New York Burning, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

They are the co-authors of a new novel, Blindspot.

From Cynthia Crossen's interview with the authors in the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: What made Boston in 1764 a good setting for a historical novel?

Ms. Kamensky: As practicing historians, that period is our research home, the center of gravity of our nonfiction work. I occasionally sign a check 1808 instead of 2008. The people of that place and time are very different from us, yet their politics are enough like ours that we get them.

I think some readers may be surprised that not all the colonists wanted freedom from England.

Ms. Lepore: As a historian, I'm often frustrated that the story of the American Revolution seems so overdetermined. There's this sense that it was inevitable and headlong, when as a scholar, you know it was halting, confused, and there was a lot of chance involved.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Paul Krugman

Andrew Leonard of Salon interviewed Paul Krugman, Princeton economist, New York Times columnist, the 2008 Nobel Prize winner in economics, and author of the recently re-released The Return of Depression Economics.

One exchange from the interview:

In 1999, when the first version of "The Return of Depression Economics" was published, the title seemed provocative and its thesis was cavalierly dismissed by conservative economists. But today, fear rules the markets, John Maynard Keynes is back in fashion, and the stars of Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan are fading. What's it been like to live through this, while, in effect, live-blogging the transition via the New York Times? Is republishing (and revising) the book a big "I told you so" to your critics?

First of all, it apparently isn't that obvious that we're experiencing depression economics. Some economists, including some of the prominent econo-bloggers, are still insisting, despite everything that's going on, that there's no such thing as a liquidity trap and that the Fed can easily get the economy moving again. But anyway, yes, there's a part of me that's enjoying the vindication -- and there's probably a bit of "told ya so" in the book. On the other hand, this is really, really scary. I lead a pretty sheltered life financially, yet even so I have friends who've lost their jobs and/or much of their retirement savings, so this isn't abstract.

The one thing I guess I can say is that, right now, I'm doing the job the Times originally envisioned me doing, instead of the more political role I felt I had to take during the Bush years.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Annie Barrows

For, Danielle Marshall interviewed Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and other works. Part of the interview:

Danielle: I did a little research and found you had written several books under a pen name, Ann Fiery, in addition to your well-known children's books, the Ivy and Bean Series and The Magic Half. I couldn't help but think, "This is a woman with a wide variety of interests!" There was opera, divination, urban legends...

Barrows: This was my theory when I first began writing: anything I wanted to know about that I didn't already know about, I would propose a book on it. That would be how I would indulge myself as a writer. I didn't know anything about opera. You could not find anybody more musically ignorant than I. But I thought, "I want to know about opera, and what's more, I really want to buy a lot of operas and I can't afford it, so I'll propose this book!" It was great. At that particular stage in my life, I was having baby number two, so for that whole first year of my second kid's life, I just sat around listening to operas and writing the stories of the operas. What a great project.

Danielle: It's the opposite of the old adage, "Write what you know."

Barrows: I never really thought much of that theory.

Danielle: Because then that second book comes along, and what do you write about?

Barrows: Exactly. You run out of stuff you know. I personally don't really know that many things. I also think if you're not learning anything, where's the joy?

Danielle: Speaking of joy, I consider The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to be the most downright joyful and pithy novel I've ever read. Pithy. That's the only word I can think of to accurately describe it.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Annie Barrows' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Giancarlo De Cataldo

For The Rap Sheet, “Michael Gregorio” (the joint pseudonym used by husband and wife Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio) interviewed Giancarlo De Cataldo, who "is many things, most notably a criminal court judge who works in Rome and ... the author of several novels that have topped the Italian bestseller lists" and the editor of Crimini, an anthology of short Italian crime stories.

Part of the interview:

MG: Which British or American thriller writers do you admire? And which of their books would you like to have written?

GDC: I admire a lot of people. The classic Conan Doyle, the contemporary Ellroy, and many other “old masters” such as [Dashiell] Hammett, [Raymond] Chandler, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, Lawrence Block. I admire James Lee Burke, Ed McBain, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard (who taught me how to thread “cool” elements into a dark story), the great Derek Raymond, David Peace (his Red Riding Quartet is absolutely terrific!), Robert Wilson (A Small Death in Lisbon and The Blind Man of Seville). I am a very keen reader, you know! And recently I have discovered Ian Rankin. He and I share a sense of atmosphere, I think. I recently read a novel of his (The Naming of the Dead) which has an amazing political and social plot, and takes place during the G8 meeting in Scotland in 2005. We have the same “take” on the mob underworld and their shady connections with the secret services and the corrupt side of power politics. That’s what I mean when I speak about great contemporary crime writing. You can find something similar in Italy in Massimo Carlotto’s books. And I vote for Inspector John Rebus as one of the most powerful fictional characters of the last 30 years!

MG: Which Italian crime story should every British or American reader be sure to read?

GDC: Apart from the Italian classics--Gadda’s Il pasticciaccio and Sciascia’s works--I strongly recommend Massimo Carlotto (Arrivederci amore ciao, Il corriere colombiano, Nessuna cortesia all’uscita), Carlo Lucarelli’s trilogy featuring Dr. De Luca of the Fascist Police, and, of course, Andrea Camilleri, regardless of your contrary opinion, Michael!
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 8, 2008

William Conescu

William Conescu is the author of Being Written.

From Conescu's Author Snapshot at January Magazine:

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?

“Was it difficult writing in the second person?”

Being Written alternates between third person chapters that show the perspectives of characters who aren’t aware they’re in a novel and second person chapters that show Daniel’s perception of being written into the book.

Was it difficult writing in the second person?

No, it was a lot of fun. The second person can give a sense of a character talking to himself, and it can work well for a character who has an unusual mindset or is in a strange situation. It was difficult writing about Daniel before it occurred to me to try the second person. Originally, I wrote his sections in the third person, but something was missing. Using the second person allowed me distinguish Daniel from the other characters and helped me show his unique perspective on how the universe works.
Read the complete snapshot.

Browse inside Being Written, and learn more about the book and author at William Conescu's website.

William Conescu was born in New York and raised in New Orleans. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at North Carolina State University. His short stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New Letters, Green Mountains Review, and other publications. Being Written is his first novel.

The Page 99 Test: Being Written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kirsten Menger-Anderson

From an interview at Lit Scribbler with Kirsten Menger-Anderson, author of Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain:

This is such a unique conceit for a story collection. How did it come about and evolve?

The book began as a single story, “Reading Grandpa’s Head.” I had been reading about phrenology; I was fascinated by the belief that we could determine personality from the shape of our heads alone. That got the whole thing going. I started to read medical histories, particularly the work of Jan Bondeson (A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities), and I kept getting excited by the medicine of by-gone eras. I wrote piece after piece. All set in different time periods, all concerning different medical techniques. The idea of the family came later, though once that was in place, it helped guide me to new times and new sciences.

The book is peopled with characters who largely don’t understand their own impulses—which rings very true to me. And the book’s succession of doctors and healers, espousing theories that to us seem crack-pot, is the perfect vehicle for that theme. Because although the science has improved, we humans are every bit the mystery we’ve always been.

We are mysterious creatures. We’re still struggling to understand how we work. When I wrote the pieces, I was thinking about truth—or accepted truth—and how that is defined by our times and our technologies. We might find Dr. Jan Steenwycks’s efforts to determine a patient truly dead (garlic, probes, etc) amusing, but we still struggle with that mystery today. I was reading an article about a new heart transplant procedure for infants. To preserve the heart, which can be damaged if left too long in a corpse, the surgeons were removing the transplant organ from dead infants before the time proscribed by the 2005 “dead donor rule” (which suggests that doctors wait between 2-5 minutes before declaring death). Note the year: 2005. And we’re still debating.
Read the complete interview.

Read an excerpt from Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain, and learn more about the author and her work at Kirsten Menger-Anderson's website and the "Regarding Dr. Olaf" blog.

The Page 69 Test: Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb’s third and latest novel is The Hour I First Believed. From his Q & A with Kevin Howell for Publishers Weekly:

PW: Tell us about Oprah choosing your first two novels for her book club.

WL: I’ll tell ya, she called me up in December 1996 but I’ll always be honored that she called me four years earlier. One day in 1992 my son handed me the phone and a woman said, “This is Oprah Winfrey calling. You owe me two nights sleep because I couldn’t put your book down.” She was very funny and told me that she liked to call and thank authors when she read a book she liked. This was a big deal for me because after my first book, She’s Come Undone, was published, I used to send my kids to the mall and offer 25 cents to the first one who could find my book on the shelf. It was dismaying when 25 minutes later, they’d come out saying, “We can’t find it, but can we still get the 25 cents?”

Years later, I picked up the phone again and Oprah told me that she’d chosen She’s Come Undone as the fourth book for her Book Club. She said that if the popularity of her Book Club keeps going the way its been going, I needed to call my publisher that night—a Friday, after hours— so they could start printing more copies. I got hold of them and on Saturday morning they contacted their paper supplier and started printing. Oprah announced the selection the following week if memory serves. It was a wild rollercoaster ride.

In the summer of 1998, I Know This Much is True was about to be released and I was doing an interview in a hotel room. Oprah called and said, “Guess what? You’re going to be our Summer Book Club Pick.” I knew from the first time that it needed to be a well-kept secret before she announced it so I said, “Oh, that’s nice, ma’am. Can I call you back in 15 minutes after I finish this interview?” She laughed and said she’d call me back in 20 minutes. I finished the interview and walked the reporter to the elevator, and returned to find that I'd locked myself out of room. I raced downstairs to get another key and sat by the telephone waiting for her to call back, which she did about 45 minutes to an hour later. I couldn’t believe that lightning had struck twice.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 5, 2008

Leslie T. Chang

From the BookBrowse Q & A with Leslie T. Chang, author of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China:

There's been a lot written in recent years on the sweatshop conditions inside Chinese factories. Yet in Factory Girls, you describe a job on the assembly line in terms of adventure, opportunity, even liberation. Doesn't this contradict the reality of factory life?

Certainly conditions in the factories are tough. Most of the young women I got to know while researching this book worked thirteen hours a day, seven days a week when they first started out. Their wages were often late; many had no idea how much they would be paid from month to month, because the factory charged fees for all sorts of things over which they had no control. But you have to remember that the world looks very different when you're coming from a Chinese farming village. What we think of as miserable living conditions—bad food, tedious labor, living twelve or fifteen to a room—are a given to these workers. Their response is usually not to complain or protest, as a typical American might, but to look for any slight advantage that would lead to an improvement in their situations. I think that's the reason you see a lot less protest in these factories than you might expect. These workers are constantly calculating what is in their own best interest. Usually they decide that talking a boss into giving them a raise or jumping to a different job is a better option than challenging the factory directly.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rachel Resnick

From a Q & A with Rachel Resnick, author of Love Junkie:

How do you know if you’re a love junkie?

You can tell if you’re a love junkie if you meet someone new, and instead of a spark, you get the whole meteor shower. It’s like you’re shooting up that skin-tingling, electric feeling of love, right into your heart. And “love” wakes you up. Now this could maybe be a sign of chemistry between two people—if you’re healthy. But love junkies aren’t healthy. You’re a love junkie if you have a core of neediness and dependency that’s waiting to grasp onto someone. You want someone to rescue you, take care of you—the way your parents should have (and probably didn’t). You have a big gaping hole that the wind howls through, and that distorts our perceptions of the world and especially of the destructive lovers we choose.

For years I thought I was unlucky in love. I also thought I was extra-passionate. I didn’t realize I was using these super-intense relationships to avoid unresolved pain, anger and grief from my past. Some people have to get hit upside the head to wake up. I am one of those people. One thing that woke me up was a friend’s response. I called to complain about another relationship ending after months of agonizing e-mailing, clinging, hanging-on, fighting and apologizing. I told her, half-joking, “Maybe there’s something wrong with me.” I expected her to say, Don’t be silly. You’re great. He wasn’t the right guy. Instead she said bluntly: “Maybe there is something wrong with you.” I was mad as hell, but I couldn’t get her words out of my head. Those words eventually prompted me to go to my first twelve-step meeting for people who have addictive problems with love, sex, relationships and fantasy.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sheila Connolly

From Julia Buckley's interview with Sheila Connolly, author of One Bad Apple:

Your book One Bad Apple, [now out] from Berkley Prime Crime. In it a woman takes on a “crumbling colonial house and an orchard,” which become the backdrop of the mystery. Is the setting based on personal experience?

In more ways than one. My husband and I spent fifteen years working on an abused Victorian, and I don’t think there was any part of the house that we didn’t repair or restore. Our current Victorian is less needy, but there’s always something going wrong. I’ve never worked on a colonial, but the house in One Bad Apple is very real-—it was built by my seventh great-grandfather, in western Massachusetts, and I’ve been able to stay there more than once. The house remained in the family for over two hundred years, and somehow that suggested to me a way to link a sense of belonging in a community, and the changes that any community must make if it’s going to survive.

My brother owned an orchard for years, until he and his wife both developed back problems from the endless pruning. Do you discuss some of the realities of orchard life in One Bad Apple?

Absolutely. Apples trees require a lot of work. In fact, in the second book of the series, Rotten to the Core (July 2009), I tackle the question of organic purity vs. chemical spraying. Consumers want perfect, large, shiny apples, but you don’t get that in nature.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Nicholas Drayson

From the BookBrowse Q & A with Nicholas Drayson about his novel, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa:

Would you describe yourself as a birder?

I'd describe myself as more of a naturalist—I like nature as a whole and in all its parts. I get just as much pleasure in watching a wasp hunting for spiders, a family of baboons, or the colors of the New England fall as I do in seeing a bird that I have never encountered before. The great thing about birds, though, is that they are easy to see and study. There are lots of them, they can be found nearly everywhere, most of them fly around happily in the daylight, and they make such great noises.

What made you decide to write this book?

Ten years ago I finished my Ph.D. and married the world's most beautiful Antarctic lexicographer, Bernadette Hince. Bernadette had just accepted a job as publications editor in an international agroforestry research center in Kenya, and we moved from Australia to Nairobi. I had done a lot of nature writing in Australia but, having no job and no work permit in Kenya, I decided to bite the literary bullet and write a novel. This situation also allowed me to spend a lot of time looking at Kenya's spectacular wildlife—including its birds. When we left Kenya a year and a half later, I took with me a manuscript (Confessing a Murder, Norton, 2002) and experiences that I knew would one day turn into another book.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 1, 2008

John Hollander

John Hollander is Sterling Professor of English Emeritus at Yale University. His books include A Draft of Light: Poems (2008) and Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse (2001).

From Paul Devlin's 2003 with Hollander in the St. John's University Humanities Review:

Paul Devlin: I know that artistic creation is never a mechanical process, but I was just wondering about when writing a poem, do you first have the idea for the "philosophical" content of the poem, and then fit the content into a verse form, or do you ever want to experiment with a verse form, and find ideas to fill it?

John Hollander: I’m not sure what " ‘philosophical’ content" might be; in any case, there are scores of things that you might say a poem is "about"—just for a start: an old story, a new one, something heard, something seen, something realized . . .and in all of these cases, some meaning to be discovered; an in all these cases, the "story" could be of persons, places, things—and the things themselves could be natural or crafted objects, or even structures or pieces of language itself . . . etc. Thinking about any of these could constitute the "start" or "origin" of a poem, often long before it begins to take shape. But that shape (size, scale, relation of sub-units to whole, aspects of its language, diction, syntax, relation of both of these to linear structure, the linear and strophic structures themselves—whether in or adapting a recognizable "verse form" or evolving a new one) can be among the "somethings" that a poem starts with. If I am in the midst of a sequence of poems with some evident relation to each other, with a formal or rhetorical bond among them, I may know what shape and what size the next one will be—perhaps just the way you know, in a stanzaic poem, something about he size and shape of each successive stanza. Sometimes the desire to do something with a particular size or shape may precede other points of departure. But in all cases, the poetic nature of what is finally done depends on a mutual interpretation of the "form" with what you call the "content" (a distinction often made, but which I don’t like to use).
Read the complete Q & A.

Read about Hollander's five best milestones among poetry anthologies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gillian Slovo

Gillian Slovo is the daughter of anti-apartheid campaigners Ruth First and Joe Slovo – her mother was murdered in 1982. Slovo’s novel Red Dust, a courtroom drama that explores the meanings and effects of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was made into a film directed by Tom Hooper and starring Hilary Swank and Chiwetel Ejiofor. A later novel, Ice Road, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

From her Q & A with Anna Metcalfe in the Financial Times:

What music helps you write?

During Ice Road, I listened to Shostakovich. It perfectly fitted what I was writing. I was writing about Leningrad so I listened to the Leningrad Symphony.

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

There are many. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. It’s incredibly wise and beautiful.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It’s an enormous privilege to be able to inhabit a world you’ve partly created.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue