Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kathleen A. Bogle

Andy Guess interviewed Kathleen A. Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, for Inside Higher Ed.

A couple of exchanges from the interview:

Q: How much of your interviews reveal what students perceive about hookup culture — that is, what they hear from their friends and expect from popular culture — as opposed to what actually happens on campus? Are their responses reflecting personal experience, wishful thinking, or both?

A: I asked students about their general perceptions of college students, perceptions of their peer group and their own behavior. What I found is that students tend to overestimate what their peers are doing. In other words, students often perceive that others hook up more often and go farther sexually during hookup encounters. These misperceptions, in turn, affect their own behavior because students make decisions about their own lives based on what they believe is “normal” for college students. I hope that my book can help clear up these distorted perceptions so that students can make choices based what is really going on.

Q: Recent reports about the hookup culture and “friends with benefits” have been seen by some as a cause for alarm. How does your study differ from previous accounts?

A: I tried to take a more evenhanded approach than previous commentators have on this subject. Where others have focused primarily on the most extreme behavior, I found that hooking up represents a wide range of behavior. I tried to present a realistic view of the hookup culture by including the voices of those who participate in moderate degrees and those who do not participate at all. Although I agree that some of what is going on in the hookup culture is cause for alarm (or at least concern), it is unfair to characterize the entire system, much less “all college students,” by what we see on MTV’s coverage of spring break.

I also think that in comparing hooking up to dating, other commentators have shown the dating era through rose-tinted glasses. Research on dating indicates that it was less than ideal. So I tried to present my findings about hooking up in a more accurate historical context.

Read the entire interview.

Learn more about Hooking Up.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Michael Erard

Bob Garfield of NPR's "On the Media" interviewed Michael Erard, author of Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.

Part of their conversation:

BOB GARFIELD: And is [saying “um” or “uh”] a universal phenomenon? You mentioned English. Does it happen in other languages, and do people say "uh" in, I don't know, France?

MICHAEL ERARD: Every language gives a speaker a way to fill a pause with a sound. Sometimes it's that neutral vowel. In English it's "uh." In French it's "eu,” in Spanish it's "eh".

Other languages repurpose words that mean something else, so in Mandarin the word for "this” and “that" is the word that you fill pauses with. So if you listen to Mandarin speakers, they'll say nega-neka-nega. Or in Japanese, it's ano, which also means “this” or “that.”

BOB GARFIELD: What about the public's patience for vagaries of spoken language? Is there, in fact, an ebb and flow to the way we all handle other people's speech errors?

MICHAEL ERARD: We typically don't hear most of the “uhs” or the “ums” that other people say. There was one interesting study that was done where people are given a speech to listen to and about half of them, natively, listen to the content, and about half of them, natively, without any instruction, listen to the style.

When the content, for whatever reason, becomes extremely boring, people who listen for content start listening for style, and that's when they start to notice the “uhs” and the “ums.” So when people say to me, how do I reduce the “uhs” and “ums,” I say, that's easy; just be more interesting.

Read, or listen to, the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Caroline Tiger

Caroline Tiger, author of How to Behave: Sex and Dating, talked to Phillyist last year as Valentine's Day loomed.

The opening exchanges from the Q & A:

Where did the idea for this book come from?

My book on general etiquette, How To Behave: Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged, came out in 2003 and ever since, people have been coming to me for advice. I couldn't help but notice that many of their questions had to do with dating, relationships and sex. Maybe it's who I hang out with, I don't know. It makes sense when you think about it--none of the old dating rules apply anymore, so we're without guidelines. And dating puts you in such a vulnerable position, you're naturally more anxious that you're going to do the "wrong" thing. Stakes are high. So it seemed like the obvious pick for a sequel.

What kind of research can you do for this kind of book? Hang out at bars?

I didn't do much on-site anthropological research. It was more about asking people, pretty much everyone I met, what questions they wanted answered and what kinds of sticky situations they'd run into while dating and in relationships. I really tried to get down to those nitty-gritty universal scenarios that everyone experiences but that are hardly ever addressed, such as: pets in the bedroom while you're having relations--yay or nay? And what's expected from you the next morning should you host a one-night-stand?

Read the entire Q & A.

Find out what Caroline Tiger has been reading.

Visit Caroline Tiger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 28, 2008

Eli Gottlieb

Eli Gottlieb's The Boy Who Went Away won the prestigious Rome Prize, the 1998 McKitterick Prize from the British Society of Authors, and was a New York Times Notable book. His new novel is Now You See Him.'s Kate Ayers interviewed Gottlieb about the new book. Their opening exchanges: NOW YOU SEE HIM is a brilliant, sad and funny book. What was the inspiration for it?

Eli Gottlieb: They say that writers write the kind of books they'd like to read. In part I suppose I simply wanted to fill a gap in my own reading list. As to the origins of the book, it began with an image of two writers meeting at one of those art colonies of which America is so full. These places, in addition to being great for getting work done, are also hotbeds of erotic intrigue, filled with gossip, bitchery and exploding marriages. I brought the soaring star male writer and the coolly ambitious but unknown female writer together in one of these colonies, and watched what happened. I had been living abroad in Italy for several years, and I think my perceptions were energized by the fact of returning home. Everything, to the returning exile, seems fresh and new, and I tried to wire some of that energy into the novel.

BRC: Your character descriptions are so uniquely realistic. Do you observe people with an extraordinarily keen eye, gleaning quirks and traits from a compendium of different encounters, or do you just have a knack for building characters from scratch?

EG: I guess having been a self-conscious kid has its uses! All of the classical writers I've loved were in one way or another masters of observation, and I've tried to live up to their example. As for the construction of character, I tend to use a seed of reality based on someone I know or have observed, and then layer the personage outwards from there. For me, the novel as a literary form is mainly about character.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Now You See Him.

Read an excerpt from Now You See Him, and learn more about the book and author at Eli Gottlieb's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Timothy Brook

Timothy Brook's latest book is Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World.

The opening exchange of his interview with Essential Vermeer:

The Essential Vermeer: For many years, art historians pictured Vermeer as an isolated painter in a relatively small town, a painter who, in the security of perfectly arranged interiors, crafted perfect scenes of domestic intimacy. Is there anything wrong with this picture in your opinion?

Timothy Brook: The image of Vermeer passing his days in a small town painting quiet domestic interiors is how we see him as we peer back from our cosmopolitan whirl and wonder at the smallness and completeness of the world his paintings seem to reveal. That world feels familiar, and yet so unlike our own. This mixed sense of familiarity and loss is why we enjoy imagining the places he lived in and painted with nostalgic pleasure. But Vermeer’s real world extended outside the walls of his mother-in-law’s house. He may have lived in a provincial town, but that town was the home of merchants who actively engaged in global trade, and the fruits of their trade flowed past his eyes. A few of these foreign things came right into his house, and he put them in his paintings. The world he wanted to depict was the intimate domestic setting in which he passed some of his time, but the world in which he lived was quite as wide as our own, if less busy, and he was part of it.
Read the entire interview.

Learn more about Vermeer's Hat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tom Perrotta

Anna Metcalfe interviewed Tom Perrotta for the Financial Times. Perrotta's latest novel, The Abstinence Teacher, was published in October 2007 by St. Martin's Press.

A few exchanges from the interview:

What was the last book you couldn't finish?

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.

* * *

What book do you wish you'd written?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

* * *

What book changed your life?

The Lord of the Rings. I locked myself in the bathroom and read it for hours and hours when I was young.

Read the entire interview.

Learn more about The Abstinence Teacher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sandeep Jauhar

Erika Dreifus of Practicing Writing interviewed Sandeep Jauhar, author of Intern: A Doctor's Initiation.

Their opening exchange:

Erika Dreifus (ED): Fairly early in your memoir, you tell us that "journalism had always been a passion" of yours. You mention that you spent the summer before starting medical school on a science journalism fellowship sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. You also mention an internship you undertook -- while you were a full-time medical student -- with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Please tell us a little about your training and development as a writer--how these (and any other) experiences proved formative.

Sandeep Jauhar (SJ): In high school I always enjoyed writing. But like most budding writers, I didn't know how to parlay my interest into a career. When I went to Berkeley in 1985, I made a deliberate choice to focus on science and math. My writing interest lay dormant for many years until I came across a brochure advertising the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program. I applied and, much to my amazement, got the fellowship. I spent the summer of 1995 at the Washington, DC, bureau of Time magazine.

That experience convinced me that journalism and writing had to be a part of my career if I was going to feel fulfilled. Heeding the advice of journalism mentors, I landed a reporting internship at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during my second year in medical school. The internship taught me how to write 500-word news stories on deadline. These pieces and some longer feature articles became the portfolio I presented to The New York Times. Cornelia Dean, the science editor, gave me my first big break in 1998 by accepting a query for a 1200-word piece about the closing of a leprosy hospital in Louisiana. I eventually started writing essays about internship and residency for the science section of The Times. (My first essay required 3 or 4 complete rewrites! I remember Cornelia advising me to stop being "writerly" and just tell the story.) After a couple of years I moved on to 3000-word pieces for the Sunday Times Magazine.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Intern: A Doctor's Initiation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender is the author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, An Invisible Sign of My Own, and Willful Creatures. Her short fiction has been published in Granta, GQ, Harper's, Tin House, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, and elsewhere, and she has received two Pushcart prizes. She also teaches creative writing at USC.

Dave Weich interviewed her in 2005 for One exchange from their dialogue:

Dave: How has living in Los Angeles shaped your writing? You're not working in any kind of local tradition such as noir. And you're not writing stories or novels that would be readily adaptable as screenplays. You're also not writing stories set on Venice Beach; it's not that either. But I feel like there is a sensibility, something native to southern California?

Bender: It's hard to tell what part of the place is in me because I'm from there, but my current thought is this: People think L.A. is a very social city because of the wheeling and dealing, people making movies; everyone's so friendly — nuts but still smiley. They're not grim, toughened New Yorkers. And I think part of the reason that's true is because it can be very introverted in L.A.; you spend so much time in your car, often by yourself, that there's a lot of down-time. There's a lot of daydreaming space in L.A., and in that way I think that does help my work.

People on the subway in New York, you know how they don't look at each other? I think it's because they need a break from people — and they don't have a car. So you need to create your own little bubble. In L.A., you can be friendly all the time because you keep going back to your protective bubble. It takes a half-hour to get anywhere. How many half-hours in a day do I have? I have plenty of them, going from place to place. It's not like I'm doing my writing in that time, but it gives me that space-out time. It's protected.

Read the full interview.

The Page 99 Test: Willful Creatures.

--Marshal Zeringue

Richard Marinick

Richard Marinick is the author of Boyos and In for a Pound. Cameron Hughes interviewed him for January Magazine.

Here's part of Hughes's introduction and their first exchange:

It is my fear that Richard Marinick’s novels will be overshadowed by his past. You see, he was a prolific thief of armored cars. To put it in crime-fiction terms, he was the Parker of his thievery gang, the planner. But he was caught before anyone was killed by his gang and served 10 years in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk. Before getting into the robbery game, Marinick was a state trooper in Massachusetts. Now, at 56 years old, he proves that you can always turn your life around.
* * *

Cameron Hughes: What was an average day in prison like?

Richard Marinick: In the morning I’d usually rise around 6. Begin my day with morning prayers that I’d remain safe, avoid conflict and be able to see trouble coming, whether it be from inmates or the guards (who we referred to as “screws”). I’d then hit a small mat on the floor and crank out anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 crunches. That would take almost a half hour. At 7 [the guards] would make a “standing” count (head count), call chow shortly after. The count would “clear,” meaning we had “movement” outside of the blocks and we could go to the yard, gym, whatever, around seven-fifty. I’d hit the yard and run five miles. Afterwards, around 8:30, I’d report to work at the gym, sweep, mop, whatever, then work out for another two hours: weights, pull-ups, dips, heavy bag, speed bag, end with sit-ups. When I attended the Boston University prison education program, if I had a class in the morning, I’d cut the workout short, return to the gym in the afternoon. Other free time was spent -- average four to five hours daily -- working on homework assignments from the various classes I was enrolled in. Every day around four, weather permitting, I’d walk the yard with a friend, a mafia capo from Revere [Massachusetts] serving a murder and racketeering sentence. I was with this guy and his crew the entire time I was in Norfolk State Prison. Every day in the gym I trained with him/them, ate with them, walked the yard, et cetera. This guy was a good guy, I learned a lot from him. At night I never watched TV before 8 o’clock, ever. I’d watch until 10, unless something special was on; otherwise, lights out.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Chris Mooney

Chris Mooney is the critically acclaimed author of Deviant Ways, World Without End, and Remembering Sarah, which was nominated for the Barry Award and the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Last year he applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Missing.

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

What kind of research do you normally conduct for your books?

I did a ton of forensic research for The Missing, most of which had to be scrapped during revisions. It was too much technical stuff. You get to a point where you have to remind yourself that you're writing a story and not a handbook on forensics.

What I do now is write the book, and then when the forensics and police procedural stuff pops up, I pass the questions on to some of the experts I've met in the field. You can waste a lot of time researching things that never makes its way into the book. It's better to write a draft, then do some research. Forensics is changing all the time.

What I find more challenging is trying to maintain the balance between fiction and what really happens inside a crime lab. For example, in CSI, the lab technicians get DNA results in an hour. That doesn't happen in real life. And the people who work in the lab don't carry guns and interrogate suspects. I'm constantly reworking things in my books to try to make things as realistic as possible, but in the end, it's fiction.
Read the entire Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing.

My Book, The Movie: The Secret Friend.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 21, 2008

Amanda Eyre Ward

Amanda Eyre Ward is the author of How to Be Lost, Sleep Toward Heaven, and Forgive Me.

In Spring 2007 Uma Girish interviewed her for California Literary Review. Their opening exchange:

Would it be fair to say that themes like family, loss, and search for identity dominate your writing?

I think my concerns tend to shift and change with each book. I find myself first drawn to an idea, a story or a setting. I try to trust my instincts and not think too much about why I’m interested in women’s Death Row, for instance. From my obsessions characters emerge and then their stories. Theme is something I don’t think about on a conscious level. Certainly, in the final drafts of the book I want to clarify any messages I might be sending but I can’t begin with theme … for me, it’s something that takes care of itself as I listen to the characters.
Read the full interview.

The Page 99 Test: Forgive Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard, a former professional football player, is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture and Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University. He is author of Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle; King Football: Sport and Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies and Magazines, the Weekly and the Daily Press; and Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport (all from the University of North Carolina Press).

A few exchanges from a Q & A at Oriard's publisher's website:

Q: You are a former professional football player as well as a professor of American literature and culture. How does your unique background inform your history of the NFL and your inquiry into whether it is a brand or a sport?

A: As a former player, I have an intimate feel for the experience of playing pro football that has nothing to do with "entertainment" (my perspective, of course, is shaped by the fact that I was an offensive lineman, not a quarterback or wide receiver). As a professor of American literature and culture, I understand "sport" and "entertainment" (or "product" or "brand") in more than the visceral way I absorbed as a player. I know that football historically has engaged fans at a level much deeper and more profound than mere entertainment, and as I have watched NFL football become extraordinarily more commercial over the years since I've played, I could not help but wonder whether the game's appeal at this deeper level has been affected.
* * *
Q: What is "black style" and what role does it play in NFL games?

A: I assume that there is popular perception of a black style in football, most evident in the choreographed end zone celebrations by Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, and numerous other wide receivers and running backs. The NFL tries to legislate against "excessive celebration," but whether these antics are celebrations or taunting, whether they entertain fans or violate ideals of sportsmanship, whether they express an essential aspect of African-American culture or are simply self-promotion, is not self-evident.
* * *
Q: You dedicate a section of your book to "the racial state of the game." What is the racial state of football?

A: In thinking about "the racial state of the game," I am interested in how far we have come since the days of segregation, Jim Crow laws, and openly virulent racism, and also in how far we have to go. It still amazes me that I played games in college against Georgia Tech and the University of Texas before those schools had integrated their football teams. The most obvious measures of "the racial state of the game" are found in the increasing number of black quarterbacks, the more slowly increasing number of black head coaches, the still tiny number of African Americans in executive and ownership positions, and so on. But to me the more interesting aspects of "the racial state of the game" are the hints of how the dominance of black athletes in the NFL has affected our collective thinking about race -- as evident, for example, in responses to the "black style" mentioned above, and in the explanations periodically offered to account for black athletic success. The stereotypes of black "athleticism" and "naturally" talented black athletes are subtler than the older, officially discredited racism, but they are still pernicious. NFL football dramatizes a kind of "racial theater" in which fans, perhaps unconsciously more often than not, see their own and their country's racial attitudes play out.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 18, 2008

Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper is the author of six historical novels published under another name, the crime novels in the lighthearted Willow King series, and the grittier Trish Maguire novels.

From a Q & A at her British publisher's website:

What was your favourite childhood book?

The Load of Unicorn by Cynthia Harnett, a wonderful crime novel set in fifteenth-century London. The main character is Bendy (Benedict), the youngest son of a master scrivener, who goes to work for William Caxton, even though they know that Caxton's new printing press will destroy the family's business.

Which book has made you laugh?

There are far too many books that have made me laugh to list in one place. If I had to pick only one I think it would have to be Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales.

Which book has made you cry?

Virginia M. Axline's Dibs in Search of Self

Read the full Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: A Greater Evil/Evil is Done.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 17, 2008

James Collins

From Literature Chick, part of an interview with James Collins, author of Beginner's Greek:

Your book is a wonderful exploration of a young man's unrequited love. Would you consider the book a member of the new genre, male lit?

It’s funny, a couple of people have mentioned that they were struck by the fact that protagonist of a book like this was a man. It never occurred to me to think of that as being unusual, since it seemed to me that male heroes of love stories have always been very common. “Boy meets girl…boy loses girl…boy gets girl back” is the classic formula. So, no, I don't think of it as being part of a new genre, and, while I really like Nick Hornby, whose success started the "lad lit" trend, I actually hope my book has a bit more "lit" and a lot less "lad" than the typical one in that category.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Beginner's Greek.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Vince Flynn

Vince Flynn is the author of the national and New York Times bestselling political thrillers Term Limits, Transfer of Power, The Third Option, Separation of Power, Executive Power, Memorial Day, Consent to Kill, Act of Treason, and Protect and Defend.

Ali Karim asked him a few questions for The Rap Sheet, including:

AK: I very much enjoyed the 2005 film Syriana, which is full of geopolitical plottings. Have you seen the film, and what’s your take on the need for oil and the darker side of human nature?

VF: Syriana was a fascinating film. I agree that oil companies do not act on the principle of humanitarianism, so I think it was very fair for the director, writer, and producers to show the oil industry in that light. I thought it was very unfair, though, that they made a lack of economic opportunity the motivation for the terrorists. There are poor people all over the world and you don’t see them attacking civilians with suicide bombs. At some point, Hollywood needs to take a hard look at Islam’s cult of suicide.

AK: Some describe your work as right-wing and jingoistic, but I feel that oversimplifies your efforts, as I find a level of humanity under the smell of cordite. What’s your take on critics who dismiss your work as purely gung-ho right-wing action tales?

VF: My books make certain people uncomfortable. I wear that as a badge of honor.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kelly Oliver

From a Q & A with Kelly Oliver, author of Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media:

Q: What do you mean that women are weapons of war?

Kelly Oliver: I was inspired to write Women as Weapons of War when I noticed that the news media repeatedly describe women soldiers as weapons. For example, a New York Times columnist calls women soldiers "the most astoundingly modern weapon in the Western arsenal"; a Time magazine headline after news broke about female interrogators at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay Cuba read "female sexuality used as a weapon"; and the London Times describes Palestinian women suicide bombers as "secret weapons" and "human precision bombs." Even Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the U.S. soldier who was captured and rescued early in the Iraq invasion, was labeled a "human shield" and a weapon in the propaganda war. Media and public reactions to the more recent capture and release by the Iranian military of British Seaman Faye Turney displays some of the same tendencies. The British media accused Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of using Turney as a weapon in a propaganda war, at the same time that conservatives in Britain used this image of a mother prisoner of war to argue against women in the military.
Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg is the author of the story collection Instant Love and the novel The Kept Man. She has written for Jane, Salon, Nylon, Print, the San Francisco Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, and Time Out New York, and her fiction has appeared in Nerve, Pindeldyboz, Spork, and Bullfight Review.

From her interview with SmokeLong Quarterly:

You are the author of two books — INSTANT LOVE and THE KEPT MAN. Which form — the short-short, the short story, the novel—do you feel you have greater mastery of?

Well I don't think I have a mastery of either at this point in my life, but I would say I prefer to write short stories because they are more relaxing and instantly gratifying. I can do one quickly and easily, and then put it out in the world and hopefully give people a brief bit of pleasure in their day. I write fast, and that can mean something in the short story world, but no matter how quickly my fingers fly on the keyboard, novels will always be a huge time investment. And while there is a great pride at the end of the novel process, and then another hit of joy two years later when it is finally released, it is perhaps not as fulfilling. Talk to me after I write a couple more novels though, and I might feel differently.
The Page 69 Test: The Kept Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Andrew Lycett

Andrew Lycett is the author of Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes and other biographies.

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

Who's your favourite author?

John le Carré. He is brilliant at using the thriller format to tackle contemporary themes – political, social and personal. Like Conan Doyle, he has created a unique world, and has managed to retain his integrity while remaining consistently readable.

What's the first book you remember reading?

Living in Africa as a child, I had this rather incongruous passion for the very English adventures stories of Enid Blyton. More linked to the environment I lived in – and I really cannot remember which came first – I loved The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
Read the full Q & A.

"10 things you didn’t know about Arthur Conan Doyle."

The Page 69 Test: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jeffrey Eugenides

Anna Metcalfe interviewed Jeffrey Eugenides for the Financial Times.

Three questions from the Q & A:

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

The Information by Martin Amis.

* * *

What book changed your life?

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It made me want to be a writer.

* * *

Which literary character most resembles you?

Levin in Anna Karenina. He, too, is preoccupied with religious transcendence and clumsy in love.

Read the full Q & A.

Jeffrey Eugenides is a professor of creative writing at Princeton University. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published in 1993. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his second book, Middlesex, in 2002.

Eugenides' latest work, My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, is an edited collection of love stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bill Cameron

In July 2006 Julia Buckley interviewed Bill Cameron, author of Lost Dog.

One exchange from their Q & A:

Your first novel is called Lost Dog. Is there an interesting story behind the book? How did you come up with your story? Your protagonist?

In a way, Lost Dog came about by accident. I’ve read mystery and suspense most of my life, and written since grade school, but for several years I struggled to translate my love of mystery and my love of writing into actual words on the page. I had ideas, but they always seemed to fizzle out. So I signed up for a mystery writing class offered at Portland State University, hoping for guidance and maybe a little inspiration.

The class, led by a writer named Gordon DeMarco, was wonderful. He had a playful, engaging teaching style and encouraged us to experiment. Our first assignment, a kind of warm-up exercise, was to write a scene with an elephant in it. I fumbled around a bit and ended up writing about a guy wandering around a park at dawn looking for a toy elephant his niece had lost. As it turned out, he doesn't find the elephant; he finds a dead body. Gordon really enjoyed the fact that I failed to write a scene with an elephant in it, but succeeded in writing a scene without an elephant in it. He enjoyed the mood of the piece, and I found myself infected by his enthusiasm for what I’d written. That scene, with the missing elephant transformed into a missing plush dog, became the basis for the first chapter of Lost Dog.

Like the novel, the main character, Peter, grew slowly over time. He’s something of an archetypical Portland outsider — not a native Oregonian, but someone who has made Portland his home. He drinks lots of coffee, forgoes an umbrella, and walks everywhere. He loves the city, but he doesn’t always understand it. And like the character of the city, he can be reserved and introspective, but at times he lets his passions loose, often to his detriment.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Lost Dog.

My Book, The Movie: Lost Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dan Fesperman

Ali Karim interviewed Dan Fesperman, author of the acclaimed The Prisoner of Guantánamo and the forthcoming The Amatuer Spy and other books, for The Rap Sheet.

One exchange from the interview:

AK: I recall when we last spoke that you had visited Guantánamo Bay, which gave your last book [The Prisoner of Guantánamo] such an authentic feel. Did you visit Jordan on behalf of The Amateur Spy?

DF: I did, and in fact I have over the years spent a lot of time in Jordan, visiting six or seven times before. And so, in preparation for The Amateur Spy, I went back to Jordan to get myself back up-to-date, in terms of the state of play in politics [and] social aspects. Jordan’s an interesting place, in that it’s a very progressive monarchy which has a parliament that doesn’t have any real power, but it is allowed to vent the opinions of the street. A lot of people consider the regime benign, [and think] that you can say anything you want, but it’s not quite like that. [Yet] it’s very unlike Syria and Saudi Arabia and places that are more repressive toward their people.
Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Michelle Wildgen

Michelle Wildgen is senior editor of Tin House Magazine, an editor with Tin House Books, the author of the novel You’re Not You, and the editor of the anthology Food & Booze: A Tin House Literary Feast.

Jennifer Uhlich interviewed her for small spiral notebook, Spring 2006.

Their opening exchange:

JU: Let’s start with the writing of the novel. How long did it take? What sort of feedback did you seek out along the way? How was it expanding a short story? That, to me, seems like one of the hardest things to do — I always have a tendency to view stories that get good receptions as done deals, varnished and ready for display.

MW: I first wrote the story in graduate school, I think the very first semester. I kept returning to it and messing with it for a few months. This was around 2000, 2001. Then I let it sit till after I finished school. I knew it was time to try to write a novel, and I thought I might ease the way a bit if I worked with characters I already knew. I’d written nine or ten stories in school but this is the one in which I was aware that I was only catching the characters in a portion of their lives. Other stories, as you say, were over and done for me, but I thought there was more here.

The initial process of expanding it was really difficult, especially the first three months or so. I had spent years learning how to condense and cut cut cut. To try and relax and be expansive without chattering on about nothing was very hard, as was trying to find my footing in the opening pages, which changed countless times. It was a huge relief once the image and form of the story began to dissipate and I could see it more as the messy pieces of the beginning of a novel. I had a weeklong residency at Hall Farm in Vermont a few months after graduating and I trucked up there with my 60 pages, a plotline for the book, and a plan to come home in a week with a full draft of the novel. I didn’t realize that was totally crazy until I actually did it. A total skeleton draft, just terrible, but something to work with, which is everything.

Overall, from starting the novel to sending it out was about two years. But I’ve worked with and thought about these characters for close to 6 years now, come to think of it. Wow. I was afraid to turn away from the novel at any point because I had to know I could finish it. I was done with grad school, as I mentioned, which is not very well suited to novel writing anyway. But I knew some incredible writer/readers I had met there and at Bread Loaf and at Tin House, who helped me immensely. One read it twice, first the awful second draft and then again when I had made a big change in Kate’s plotline, a change that really solidified and pulled together the whole novel, actually. Thank God, because if he only had the image of that early draft in his head I’d still be embarrassed.

Read the full interview.

The Page 99 Test: You’re Not You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mark Gimenez

From an interview with Mark Gimenez at New Mystery Reader:

1. After the stunning success of your break-out legal thriller, Color of Law, how were you feeling when you set out to write your new novel, Abduction?

Pretty darn good. But actually, I was setting out to rewrite Abduction. I had already written the first draft, but I wasn't entirely happy with it; then my son came home from school with To Kill a Mockingbird in hand. Our discussions at the dinner table inspired Color of Law, so I set the Abduction manuscript aside and wrote Color. I had two fantastic editors on that book and learned a lot from their editing, so when I again picked up the Abduction manuscript, I was able to write the story I wanted to write.

2. While some of the major themes of your two novels - family, loyalty, justice, and redemption - remain central to both story lines, why the digression from the legal field in your second outing?

Because I don't want to write only legal thrillers. I want to write mystery/suspense/thrillers involving characters I and hopefully my readers will care about; some of those characters will be lawyers, some will not. That said, the main character of my third book is a judge in a small Texas town.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: The Abduction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 7, 2008

Kathleen George

From a Q & A with Kathleen George about her new novel, Afterimage:

How important is Pittsburgh to your novels?

KG. Oh, integral! It's the mood and the ethos — a gritty, cheerful working class city, full of ethnic neighborhoods and plenty of bridges. There are supposedly 446 of them, and if that's true, that's more than there are in Venice, Italy. I love putting my cops and criminals on the bridges, the parkway, in the parks.

Do your characters make the city the butt of their jokes?

KG. No. That happens more often from people who don't know the city. And it happened more often in the past. I can think of famous moments in film — the Preston Sturges Sullivan's Travels, the dark Requiem for a Heavyweight. Those films have outsider jokes about the city in its dirty days. But it's clean now, actually beautiful, and Pittsburghers love their city. After all, it was once again named the #1 livable city in America by Places Rated Almanac for 2007. It had been #1 in 1985 and remained the only city in America to make it to the top twenty every year. Besides, I think of our city as coming into its own lately. It will be featured in the film of Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Even the young boy, Shane, in Weeds, trying to save his family from disaster, says he's done research on the internet and he knows where they need to go to make everything right — Pittsburgh. And there's a new Kelsey Grammer comedy series called Back to You set here — the characters are news anchors.
Read the entire interview.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Kevin Wignall

From a Q & A with Kevin Wignall about his latest novel, Who is Conrad Hirst?:

Okay, what about comparisons with The Bourne Identity and the rest of the series?

I haven't read any Ludlum but I've seen the films. My publisher used it as a marketing device in the early stages, but I suspect they were aiming at people who'd seen the movies rather than those who'd read the books. The similarity is that identity naturally plays a part in both works, but they deal with it in different ways. Jason Bourne has no idea who he is and is trying to find out, Conrad Hirst is certain who he is but sees that identity being chipped away as events unfold. Added to that, Bourne is something of a superman, whereas Conrad is all too human. And I seem to remember that Bourne doesn't like killing people, whereas it's Conrad's default option. Having said that, I'd hope people who liked Bourne would also take something from this book.
Read the entire Q & A.

Kevin Wignall is the author of the novels, For the Dogs, People Die, Among the Dead, and Who is Conrad Hirst? as well as a number of acclaimed short stories.

The Page 69 Test: Who is Conrad Hirst?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Jim Crace

Angel Gurria-Quintana interviewed Jim Crace for the Financial Times.

Three questions from the Q & A:

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

Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman.

* * *

What book changed your life?

In Evil Hour, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, taught me you don't have to write realist fiction.

* * *

What book do you wish you'd written?

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

Read the full interview.

Jim Crace's debut novel Continent, won the Whitbread First Novel award in 1986. He was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Quarantine (1997). His latest book is The Pesthouse (2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Christopher Lane

Christopher Lane is a British-American literary critic and intellectual historian who is currently Herman and Beulah Pearce Miller Research Professor at Northwestern University, and the recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship to study psychopharmacology and ethics. He is the author of many essays and several books on psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and culture, including Hatred and Civility: The Antisocial Life in Victorian England.

Lane responded to a few questions about his new book, Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, which were put to him by the political scientist Cary Federman, author of The Body and the State: Habeas Corpus and American Jurisprudence and a professor in the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University:

Federman: Can you tell the readers of the Campaign for the American Reader a little about your new book, Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (Yale University Press)?

Lane: Shyness takes a provocative look at far-reaching, often very questionable changes to American psychiatry over the last thirty years. The book uses social anxiety disorder as a lens through which understand and assess these changes, to ask pointedly whether all of them were necessary and suitably precise.

My short answer is no, they weren’t. In 1980, social anxiety disorder and 111 other newly created mental disorders were added in a haphazard, unscientific fashion to psychiatry’s “bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short). My research uncovers why so many new disorders were established in the first place. It also considers what the effect has been on us, as a society, of having so many common behaviors redefined as disorders that need some kind of treatment (invariably drug-related).

The book is provocative, as quite a few reviews have noted, because it reprints confidential memos from drug company execs advising colleagues to withhold or tilt discussion of drug-related side effects — in effect, to mislead the public about them so they wouldn’t seem so severe. Shyness also reprints several highly embarrassing proposals, including for a disorder called “chronic complaint disorder” that was meant to present as mentally ill people who complain too much about the weather and worry about their taxes.

All this might sound incredible — almost science fiction — but the general sweep described in the book is actually part of a trend in American psychiatry and medicine that has lot of bearing on our everyday lives. The DSM is consulted daily across the country — indeed, around the world now, from courts and prisons to schools, health insurance companies, and among mental health professionals of every stripe. It’s a manual that encapsulates, almost in bullet points, what psychiatry defines as mentally normal and disordered behavior. I was lucky-enough to get unrestricted — actually, unprecedented — access to the papers at the American Psychiatric Association in Arlington, Virginia, which document in vivid, sometimes embarrassing detail how these disorders were created. It’s not a pretty picture, I should add, but it does make for interesting reading.

First, readers get to see experts making up a lot of things as they go along. They also witness psychiatrists squabbling over very dubious changes to the diagnostic manual, and how their opponents questioned what they were doing, unfortunately with little effect. Finally, they also see that more experts have since come forward, admitting the amount of hard science they were going on was minimal, at times painfully so. The net effect is that the DSM, a manual that has sold in the millions and is routinely touted today as a pristine scientific document that just gets better with each edition, is in fact full of the most amazing language, guesswork, and questionable judgments you could imagine.

Federman: Literature and madness have been joined since Plato. But your book, Shyness, is not an investigation into the works of Rabelais, de Sade, or Flaubert, authors of classic works of literature that explore madness's various meanings. Rather, you discuss Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Will Self's Dr. Mukti and Other Tales of Woe, both of which characterize mental illness as a problem to be solved by pharmaceutical companies. Is chemical dependency the new madness?

Lane: It’s true that I focus more on anxiety than madness in the book — and that’s partly because madness has received quite a lot of airtime, especially in studies on nineteenth-century psychiatry. By contrast, anxiety is a timely, engaging subject that neuropsychiatrists treat as if it’s completely explainable because they view it as arising almost exclusively from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Actually, anxiety is a complex phenomenon that varies greatly from one culture to the next, and certainly one age to the next. It also straddles psychology, biology, and society — the mind, brain, and environment, if you will — so it’s a mistake to reduce it to one of these areas, such as the brain, and to neglect other factors, such as the mind.

I wanted to focus on contemporary literature, in particular, because some of it and quite a lot of films not only engage with the complexities of our minds but also question the widespread changes in neuropsychiatry and ask if they’re sound, appropriate, and necessary. I view Jonathan Franzen, Will Self, Alan Lightman’s novel The Diagnosis, and Zach Braff’s film Garden State as very much part of a cultural backlash against psychiatry and, indeed, the overdiagnosis and overmedication of ourselves and our children. So I wouldn’t exactly say that these writers characterize mental illness as a problem to be solved by pharmaceutical companies. It’s more that they ask whether so much medication is necessary in our culture, what its side effects are, and what the overall emphasis on meds is doing to us in the long-term.

Federman: Toward the end of your book, you seem to despair over the loss of psychoanalysis as a serious method to relieve psychic pain. What would psychoanalysis do differently regarding mental illness that Big Pharma isn't already doing?

Lane: I think psychoanalysis has been unfairly characterized, even maligned, by neuropsychiatrists who, it’s clear, often haven’t read what Freud wrote about anxiety. He was actually very astute about it — not at all reductive or off-the-wall, but prescient about its widespread effects, while admitting that, as today, it’s often initially a “riddle” to us which, when cracked, says a lot about our personalities and interactions with others.

But my concern and argument in the book amount to more than this. The issue is also that recent multimillion dollar “awareness campaigns” for social anxiety disorder and, more recently, bipolar disorder reduce the most complex parts of us and our conflicts to one thing only: a need for more pills. I do lament that shift as a loss, yes, because it oversimplifies so much and presents pat answers that, for a great many people, aren’t by any means lasting solutions to their suffering and distress.

We used to have far-more robust and expansive ways of thinking about anxiety and a host of related topics mentioned in my book — idiosyncrasy, eccentricity, even reclusiveness. Nowadays, all such things fall under the banner of “mental disorder.” One of the other 112 new disorders in 1980 was the absurdly named and defined “avoidant personality disorder,” and psychiatrists actually debated whether a symptom of it should be the choice of using one’s car or public transportation to get to work. I wish I was joking! Meanwhile, our understanding of what is normal shrinks so dramatically that experts began to call road rage “intermittent explosive disorder” and media reported the news with wide-eyed wonder but almost no hint of skepticism or irony.

So, all the available evidence suggests that mental health professions have gone overboard — frankly even haywire — in their thinking and zeal for medication: leading psychiatrists are now seriously talking about including apathy, excessive shopping, and overuse of the internet in the next edition of the DSM, due out in 2012. Think about it: apathy might become a mental disorder!

I think a lot of people — not just me — for a long time have had serious doubts about psychiatry but couldn’t until now put their finger on what exactly had gone wrong and why things became so one-sided and oriented toward medication. Large numbers of people are also worried about diagnostic overkill and are wondering when someone’s going to apply the brakes. But, right now, the train seems almost unstoppable and the only entity capable of applying some brakes to it, the American Psychiatric Association, is in fact committed to its hurtling along even faster.

Federman: Up until the 1990s, novelists focused on some character's unconscious thoughts as a way to drive the story, perhaps to make a larger point about the human condition. Now, in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, for example, he describes a pill-popping mother searching for happiness through better chemistry. Has literature lost anything by the disappearance of the unconscious and its replacement by the identification of chemical imbalances in the brain that can be rectified by pills?

Lane: I’d say that literature has indeed lost a lot as a result of these changes in emphasis, but I wouldn’t say the unconscious has disappeared as a result — more that it may be shifting into a slightly different register or form. As one psychoanalyst (Elisabeth Roudinesco) that I quote in the book aptly puts it, despite all the apparent remedies for suffering now available as pills, people still find another outlet for their unhappiness. So it’s not as if the underlying malaise or problem has been solved. In The Corrections, Franzen has Enid Lambert illustrate that point exactly. She has to find another way to live without making her “personality optimizer” a new crutch or drug of choice.

These are doubtless major issues for our culture. They’re also key issues for writers, as Franzen has pointed out in one interview quoted in the book, because meds may be altering not only the way people behave but also how they see themselves, in forms we can’t exactly fathom or predict. For starters, meds may affect writers’ creativity, including dimming their imagination and altering their inspiration. As Franzen noted, they’re also starting to change how we think about narrative conflict and resolution. As he puts it in one interview, the “story becomes: the chemicals in my brain were bad; I fixed those chemicals. From a humanitarian standpoint, that’s great, but it makes for a less interesting world.” In another, more practical sense, that story is also going to have less dramatic appeal than one that dwells on far-reaching psychological or existential conflicts — what Franzen elsewhere rightly calls “the darkness of sorrows that have no easy cure.”

Federman: Your book has a lot of reproductions of advertisements from big pharmaceutical companies, which you include as a way to demonstrate their manipulative power over language. There is an irony here, in that the founder of public relations in the United States, Edward Bernays, was Sigmund Freud's nephew. Viewed this way, it seems inevitable that psychiatry and Madison Avenue would be bedfellows. Is it, then, inevitable that shyness would give way to Social Anxiety Disorder?

Lane: True, there’s irony in Bernays’ connection to Freud, but Bernays also used psychoanalytic interest in the unconscious to manipulate public opinion in ways that really would have horrified Freud had he lived to see that development: There’s no two ways about that.

I’d say there are greater ironies in the book. One is that Robert Spitzer, the man selected to head the major task force responsible for all these changes in psychiatry, began his career as a Reichian psychoanalyst. And not the early Reich who extended Freud’s radical point about our unconscious drives colliding with civilization, but the later crank who believed in measuring and capturing “orgone” energy, as well as the influence of extraterrestrials! What’s bizarre is that Spitzer in his twenties admired such work and told me that in 1952 he actually wrote to the elderly Reich, asking why his own results weren’t especially impressive. Reich told him the reason was probably due to fall-out from the recently dropped atomic bomb!

So, okay, not someone to take very seriously, which makes it puzzling that the younger Spitzer did for a while. But, all joking aside, I don’t agree that psychiatry and Madison Avenue inevitably would become bedfellows. I view that collusion — or “Faustian pact,” as I call it in the book — more as the result of specific and ultimately self-limiting choices among neuropsychiatrists, in their wanting to shunt aside virtually all major questions about consciousness and the mind while stipulating, over and again, until it becomes almost a mantra, that our “disorders” are due to faulty chemistry or wiring in the brain or some genetic or hormonal “malfunction” that the right expert and drug maker will know how to fix.

So, no, it’s by now means necessary or inevitable that shyness would give way to social anxiety disorder. That shift is due to a grave mistake — a fault in reasoning — that we should correct, not shrug off or even excuse away as scientifically justified. There’s no justification for it. Indeed, the man responsible for identifying social anxiety in its most recent guise, Isaac Marks, formerly of the University of London, strongly urged Spitzer and others not to define social anxiety as a separate disorder. But Spitzer and his crew wouldn’t listen to him. As Marks told me, they “arranged the consensus by leaving out the dissenters.” And that became a worrying trend across the board.

It’s certainly not a good sign when one of the world’s leading anxiety and phobia scholars is left out of the picture because what he says doesn’t match those whose ambitions for psychiatry are fixed in a different groove.
Read an excerpt from Shyness and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Christopher Lane's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Lori G. Armstrong

From an interview with Lori G. Armstrong at New Mystery Reader:

Your main character, PI Julie Collins, is refreshingly different from the squeaky clean, sober, smoke-free, celibate-unless-married, and politically correct versions of many PI's out there these days. What inspired you to go down this potentially risky road with a heroine who breaks every rule as opposed to the safer Mrs. Marple type?

I’d like to say I created Julie because I’m a rebel and I wanted the “bad girl with a heart of gold” story told accurately in the PI niche of the mystery world, and who better than a real bad girl like me to tell it? (Insert hysterical laughter) I didn’t intentionally set out to write Julie as the anti-Marple (zero offense to Marple fans) she just sort of blew onto the page in all her angry, chain-smoking, tequila swilling, cussing, sexual glory. I’ve always been drawn to stronger female characters, the mythic warrior goddesses, the iconic female PI’s, the pretty girls who hide discomfort from also having big brains behind smart-ass quips and foul language. Julie is a woman who gets knocked down, and gets back up. She is also a woman who won’t apologize for her opinions or her sexuality. She’s ballsy, and that makes some folks uncomfortable. Oddly enough, I find she makes more women readers uncomfortable than men readers. Someone once asked me if I’d hang out with Julie (after she finally believed I wasn’t actually Julie Collins in a suburban housewife/mother disguise) and I had to think about it, but the answer is yes, despite the fact Julie’s always getting into bar fights.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue