Monday, March 31, 2008

Steve Hockensmith

Yesterday, we let Steve Hockensmith grill fellow mystery scribe Bill Crider. Today, it’s Bill’s turn to do the asking.

Steve Hockensmith first broke into the mystery field as a regular contributor to both Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen magazines. Holmes on the Range, his first novel about cowboys (and wannabe detectives) Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, was nominated for the Edgar, Shamus, Dilys and Anthony Awards. He’s written two sequels since then, the second of which -- The Black Dove -- was released in February. You can learn more about him at

Crider: You wrote short stories before you started writing novels. Which form do you prefer, and why?

Hockensmith: Short stories win, hands down. I love the instant gratification. You whip up an idea and then, bam -- two weeks later you’ve got a completed story. (I know “two weeks later” doesn’t really qualify as “instant gratification,” but compared to a novel that’s pretty damned fast.) And because short stories are so...well, short, you can do a lot of them. Which means you can experiment and take chances you can’t necessarily take with a book. I’m a really, really, really slow writer, and at this point in my life I can’t afford to blow months and months on a project that might not pan out. But with a short story, there’s not the same investment of time, so there’s less risk when you try something new and wacky.

With novels, I find that I love having written them, I love planning to write them, I even love writing certain parts of them. But 11 months on one project (and that’s about how long my current book’s going to take)? It drives me a little nuts.

Crider: We all know that the western is dead. So what led you to write stories about Big Red and Old Red, stories that are, let’s face it, westerns? And when you decided to write a novel, why these characters and not someone else?

Hockensmith: Why Westerns? In a word, stupidity. You see, in the beginning I had no idea I was writing Westerns. To me, the Big Red/Old Red stories were -- and are -- mysteries first and foremost. They just happened to be set in the Old West. I love Westerns, but I never set out to do them myself. It was an accident.

If I’d been smarter and really thought the premise through, I never would’ve tried writing books about these guys. I mean, really -- fair-play puzzle mysteries starring cowboys who worship Sherlock Holmes? Chuh? It’s so retro and off-the-wall and uncommercial it’s ridiculous.

Thank God I didn’t think it through, though, because by some miracle it’s all worked out dandy. I wrote the first book about Big Red and Old Red because I’d done a couple short stories with them and I knew they were fun. I wanted to try to sell a mystery series, so I plugged them in and gave it a crack. Simple as that. Sometimes it pays to be dense.

Crider: Okay, now that you’ve answered that, I notice that the cover for The Black Dove is quite a bit different from the covers of the first two books in the series. Obviously that’s deliberate. What happened? And along with that, the setting of the book isn’t as “western” as the settings for the first two, which, I suppose edges The Black Dove closer to the “history mystery” category than the first two. Was that a deliberate choice? Will Big Red and Old Red get back to the Old West, or will they stay in the big city?

Hockensmith: Short answer: The cover change was a marketing thing, the setting change was a story thing. In other words, one was motivated by a need to sell more books, the other was just me following my gut as a writer. That both approaches brought us to the same place -- a book with a slightly grittier, urban feel -- was a happy coincidence.

And now the slightly longer answer: There was a feeling at St. Martin’s Minotaur that the first two books (and particularly the second one) didn’t do quite as well as they should’ve and perhaps weren’t served well by their colorful covers. Me, I liked the covers fine, but wow...they really do look like Westerns, don’t they? So Minotaur, God bless ’em, put a lot of time and energy into coming up with a new approach. Et voila: the cover for The Black Dove, which is far more somber and subdued. I think it’s great. We’ll see if the book-buying public agrees.

As for the settings, I decided early on I wanted this to be a “walk the earth”-style series, at least in the beginning. There was just so much kooky stuff going on in the 1890s it seemed silly to tie the guys down to one place. So for now, at least, they’ll keep bouncing around: Book #4 takes place in San Marcos, Texas, and book #5’ll be in Chicago. After that, only time (and a new contract from Minotaur) will tell....

Crider: You asked me, and I’ll ask you: Do you have any other kinds of novels in mind? Do you long to break away from Big and Old and do a hot, “edgy” thriller with two-page chapters, serial killers, FBI profilers, and a female protagonist?

Hockensmith: I definitely want to do a non-Big Red/Old Red novel sooner or later. And I’ve got about a dozen ideas I’ve been kicking around for years now. The hard part’s going to be picking one to commit to. At the moment, novel writing is my job, which is both a dream come true and a burden.

Hooray -- I never have to go into an office or punch a time clock!

And boooo -- if my books don’t sell, my kids don’t eat.

Oh, don’t worry. They won’t starve. Their mom makes more money than I do. I guess it’s more like, if my books don’t sell, my kids eat Ramen noodles and I become a stock boy at Safeway.

So that leaves me writhing on the horns of the art-vs.-commerce dilemma. I’ve got ideas aplenty...but are they commercial ideas? Do I follow my muse or do I crank out that “edgy” thriller? I want to listen to my heart, but my brain keeps whispering, “Don’t be a schmuck.”

I guess all I can say for now is “Stay tuned”....

Crider: You write a lot of short stories for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. How do you balance the writing of the stories with the writing of the novels? What I mean is, do you work on a novel and a story simultaneously, or do you work on one thing at a time?

Hockensmith: I do not multi-task. For me, writing a novel is such a monumentally overwhelming undertaking I can barely work up the energy to brush my teeth and bathe until the damned thing’s done. So I have to squeeze in short stories between books. And sadly, that’s gotten harder and harder to do.

I used to be in AHMM two or three times a year, but I haven’t even sent them anything since 2006 because I’ve been so busy with the books. I even had to quit writing “Reel Crime,” the TV/movie column I used to do for them. It’s kind of frustrating.

The book I’m working on now will probably be finished in July or August, depending on the amount of revising I have to do. That’ll give me a window of maybe six weeks before I need to get started on the next one. Given how slowly I write, that’ll be enough time to finish something like 2.65 short stories, when I’d really love to be writing eight or nine a year.

So there really is no balance. The novels come first because they pay the bills. (Well, about half the bills.) The short stories I sneak in when I can. And if I ever try to (God help me!) do two books in a year, I’ll probably have to give up short fiction altogether. Which would be, as the old saying goes, like, a total bummer.

Crider: You’ve done a lot of nonfiction writing, too, especially about movies. Do you find that as satisfying as writing fiction? Do you plan to keep doing it?

Hockensmith: Same answer as above. I enjoy doing nonfiction -- I started out as a journalist -- but I just don’t have time for it anymore.

I will say, though, fiction’s more fun. Writing a good short story’s like painting a beautiful picture, whereas writing a good feature article’s like building a sturdy chair...that’ll be sat on once. Journalism is disposable. Storytelling at least feels timeless.

And one thing I definitely don’t miss about entertainment journalism is dealing with the studios and networks. Oy vey, how it used to drive me nuts trying to get past the publicists. If I never have to kiss another flack’s ass, I’ll die a happy man.

Crider: Since you asked me about movies [in yesterday’s Q&A], let me return the favor. When Hollywood comes calling, who will you demand to star as Big Red and Old Red? You can pick anyone, ever, but you have to pick redheads. And keep in mind that Hollywood’s two great redheads, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl, have already made Slightly Scarlet.

Hockensmith: Hmmmm...redheads, eh? Well, I don’t think Lucille Ball would take kindly to being cast as either “Big Red” or “Old Red.” And who else does that leave us with? Kenneth Tobey? Carrot Top? Woody Woodpecker?

I just cheated and checked a website devoted to famous redheads. (Google strikes again!) And since I see that two of my favorite character actors of all time -- Darren McGavin and Jack Warden -- were supposedly redheads, I’ll go with them. Just don’t ask me who’d play who....
Read an excerpt from The Black Dove, and visit Big Red's blog to learn more about Steve Hockensmith and his writing.

Hockensmith's previous novels include Holmes on the Range and On the Wrong Track. Holmes on the Range, the first novel featuring Big Red and Old Red, was a finalist for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Shamus and the Dilys Award.

The Page 69 Test: On the Wrong Track.

My Book, The Movie: Holmes on the Range.

The Page 99 Test: The Black Dove.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bill Crider

Rather than link to a profile elsewhere, we’ve got something special on tap today: The first of a two-part Q&A done exclusively for Author Interviews. In part one, Steve Hockensmith (of the “Holmes on the Range” mystery series) interviews Bill Crider (of the Dan Rhodes mystery series) about Crider’s new book, Of All Sad Words. In part two (which we’ll be posting tomorrow), Crider questions Hockensmith about his new book, The Black Dove.

Since introducing Sheriff Dan Rhodes 22 years ago in the Anthony-winning mystery Too Late to Die, Bill Crider has brought the small-town lawman back in 14 more novels. He’s also written a number of other mysteries, thrillers and even children’s books, and his short fiction has been nominated for several awards (including both the Edgar and Anthony last year). You can learn more about him and his writing at

Hockensmith: Of All Sad Words was my first Dan Rhodes experience, yet it was easy to slip into his world. It seems really well delineated -- and highly populated. There must have been a dozen or more characters that I assume are recurring regulars, and I also noticed a lot of references to earlier novels and even a crossover with one of your other series. Is that one of the things that keeps a series fun for you: the world building, I-am-God aspect? Or does that get to be a burden eventually? I'm just working on the fourth book in my series now, and already I have a tough time keeping the continuity straight.

Crider: At about the time I was working on the fourth book in the Dan Rhodes series, someone said, "You do have a 'bible,' I hope." I was so naive that I thought she was talking about the Old and New Testaments. But she meant a notebook full of things like characters, descriptions, even a map of Blacklin County. It had never occurred to me that I'd need something like that, mainly because I never dreamed the series would go beyond four books, much less that it would reach fifteen, with more to come. Even if I'd known what I was doing, it's doubtful that I'd have been able to create a bible because my mind just doesn't work in an organized fashion. (Some would say that it doesn't work at all, but they're only a slight majority, and I prefer to ignore them.)

But to sort of answer your question, I do enjoy bringing the characters back from earlier books and referring to events from them. In fact, the major crime in Murder Among the Owls, which came out last year, is something that's referred to fleetingly in the very first Rhodes book from more than twenty years ago. I've brought back a character named Rapper three or four times, and each time I've maimed him in a new way. Sooner or later, he's going to stay out of Blacklin County.

Hockensmith: With a series, how locked-in do you feel stylistically? Would you say all the Dan Rhodes novels are similar in terms of structure, mood, viewpoint, etc.? Or have you mixed it up a bit?

Crider: All the Rhodes books are pretty much of a piece. In a way, they seem to me like one really long book, a sort of history of Clearview, Texas, and Blacklin County, with murder. (The fact that they might not seem that way to anyone else doesn't bother me at all.) So the style is consistent throughout. I don't feel locked in, because I like that style, which I think of as clear, clean, and readable. (The fact that it might not seem that way to anyone else doesn't bother me at all.) As you mention in the next question, I can obviously write in different styles when I want to. The Truman Smith books (and I really liked doing those) are first-person private-eye novels, and a good bit different, I think. My short stories are all over the place stylistically.

Hockensmith: One of the charms of Of All Sad Words, it seems to me, is its relaxed pace and quirky down-home setting. Not that nothing happens or it's set in Mayberry RFD. But it's not trying to be a hard-charging, "edgy," urban thriller, either. Which is good, because Lord knows there are plenty of hard-charging, "edgy," urban thrillers out there. But I gotta wonder: Do you ever feel the pressure to be hard-charging and edgy and urban? I know you've done books more in that style -- Blood Marks, for example. Why not more?

Crider: I did several books in the Blood Marks style, the others being published under the name Jack MacLane, who is now chained up in a basement somewhere. If he ever gets to a computer, maybe there'll be some other books in that style, but I think they have him on Prozac. The closest I've come to that kind of thing lately, and even this one's different, is in "Cranked," my Edgar-nominated short story, which I hope will become the basis for a novel. A proposal is making the rounds (editors looking for a great book, take note).

Hockensmith: From your blog it's obvious you have a deep love for genre fiction, and you've written just about every kind there is. But the mystery genre's what you've worked in most. Is there a reason for that? Something unique to the genre that particularly suits you? And how about science fiction? Anyone who visits your blog knows you're a fan (of the old school stuff, anyway). Did you ever try your hand at it?

Crider: The mystery is where my heart is. I've been a mystery fan for far long than I've been a professional writer, and I did hundreds of book reviews and articles for mystery fanzines without ever being paid a cent for them, just because I love mysteries. But some of my writing heroes are guys who wrote in a lot of different genres. Harry Whittington did many westerns and backwoods books. Donald Hamilton wrote westerns. So do Loren Estleman, Elmore Leonard, Bill Pronzini, and Ed Gorman. Even James Lee Burke wrote a western. I like reading westerns, so I wrote a few. As well as lots of other things, mainly because writing them was a heck of a lot of fun. But I always come back to mysteries.

I love SF, and I read a ton of it when I was a kid. I still read it, though not as heavily. Instead, I just buy old SF digests on eBay. But to get to your question, as a teenager I really wanted to be an SF writer. I wrote a couple of unpublished and long-lost stories, and then I got sidetracked into getting a few college degrees. By the time I graduated, I was too much of a mystery fan to go back to SF, I guess. (I even wrote my doctoral dissertation on private-eye fiction.) I did write a series of kids' books that are SF, including Mike Gonzo and the UFO Terror, which won the Golden Duck Award as best juvenile SF novel. And I've done several SF short stories.

I'm not sure what the appeal of mysteries is for me. I've often wondered but never come up with an answer. I like and read all kinds, the tough guy stuff and the cozies. Maybe it's the plotting. I became an English teacher because I loved stories, and to me, that meant tales with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Mysteries never let me down in that regard. I'm probably not the only one who feels that way.

Hockensmith: You were in academia for a lot of years even as you were writing genre fiction. Did those two things always coexist peacefully side by side? And I'm not just thinking of deadline pressures here. Everyone assumes academics look down their noses on genre, so I'm guessing you ran into a fair amount of that yourself. Did it bother you? Or was it easy to shrug off?

Crider: Big-time academics would laugh if you said I spent my career as a teacher in academia. They most likely don't think of community colleges and small liberal arts universities in rural Texas as academia. [Crider taught English courses at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and was later dean of the English Department at Alvin Community College.] People who'd look down their noses at genre fiction would most certainly look down their noses at my academic credentials. But that doesn't bother me. Teaching was a great career for me. I loved being in the classroom (most of the time, anyway) and on the campus.

Besides, I'm introverted when it comes to talking about my writing. I'm the world's worst self-promoter. As far as I was concerned, my writing and my teaching were entirely separate, and I never talked about it to anyone on the campus unless somebody asked a direct question. Most of my students probably never knew I wrote novels, and the same goes for the faculty. That was fine by me.

Hockensmith: Is there a kind of novel you've always dreamed of writing but could never quite get a handle on? Or do you feel like -- with a few dozen books under your belt now -- you've accomplished everything you set your sights on as a writer? I mean, other than being as big as Stephen King, of course, which we'd all like!

Crider: Because I'm such an introvert, I don't even want to be as big as Stephen King. I'm perfectly happy with my (very) modest success, since I never thought I'd ever sell so much as one book, much less dozens. I've written mysteries, horror, westerns, and books for kids. I wanted to do all those things, and I did, so that makes me happy. I don't have a posse following me about at conventions, and having one of my books crack the bestseller lists is no more likely than my being the winning contestant on American Idol, but those things don't really matter to me. Not that I'm so content that I don't want to do a few more things. I'd love to sell that book based on "Cranked." I'd love to write another Truman Smith book or two. All I need is an editor who'd love to buy them, not that I'm hinting.

Hockensmith: Alright, most of these questions have been way too earnest. So here’s the curveball to end things on. If you could cast anyone -- ever -- as Dan Rhodes in an adaptation of Of All Sad Words, who would it be...keeping in mind that the production in question will be a MUSICAL?

Crider: My first thought was Elvis, but I think I'd actually prefer Dean Martin. He was great in westerns, and he did laid-back so well that I think he could play Dan Rhodes perfectly. I can't quite picture Rhodes singing "That's Amore," but Dean went through a C&W phase that would be just right.
Tomorrow: the tables are turned....

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder and Murder Among the OWLS as well as an excellent write-up about Dan Rhodes on the big screen at "My Book, The Movie."

The Page 69 Test: Of All Sad Words.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Deon Meyer

Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal interviewed Deon Meyer about his new book, Devil's Peak.

Their opening exchanges:

The Wall Street Journal: Did you intend this book as a piece of social criticism?

Deon Meyer: Not at all. I intended the book as a crime thriller and whatever happens a long the way is fine with me. It's not entertaining in a lighthearted sense of the word, but I attempted to make it as enthralling as possible. I wanted it to be a good read. But my books aren't a true reflection of South African society because the books are concerned with crime and people touched by crime.

WSJ: You paint a culture deeply divided by corruption and violence. Is the country more violent than it was a decade ago?

Mr. Meyer: No, I don't think so. But the origins and reasons for violence have changed. It used to be much more political. Now it is almost purely criminal. I did a book tour with Michael Connelly in the U.S. a few years ago. In a wonderful bookstore in Houston he read a chapter from "The Lincoln Lawyer" about crime statistics in Los Angeles. I found myself thinking, thank goodness I don't live in L.A.

Michael's books about crime in Los Angeles are not mirrors of a very violent and criminal society. I have two very good crime author friends in Scotland, and if you read their books you'd think Glasgow and Edinburgh are bad places to go. But they aren't. Crime fiction is about crime, about bad things that happens in society.

Read the full Q & A.

Learn more about Devil's Peak.

Visit Deon Meyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 28, 2008

Vladimir Nabokov

The good people at Nabokv-L, the Vladimir Nabokov listserv, have made available a 1962 Nabokov interview from the (not yet International) Herald Tribune.

One paragraph from the interview:

Mr. Nabokov, a scion of old Russia's nobility, keeps au courant with new Russia's literature, and doesn't think much of it. Even of the young poet Evgeni Evtushenko, recently lionized on a visit to England, Nabokov says: "I've seen his work. Quite second-rate. He's a good Communist." As for Soviet fiction: "There are no good novels. Everything is either political or melodramatic, very tame and conservative in style, dealing in generalities, and with tired old characterizations that go back as far as Dickens. Even novels that supposedly represent tendencies that oppose the regime, and are smuggled out of Russia, are often smuggled with official connivance. Russian authorities today think they need a loyal opposition. People outside keep trying to find in the work of youngish Soviet writers something that would reveal a certain thawing of the political ice block. But the thaw is very slight, indeed, and always controlled by the State."
Read the entire article.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hillary Jordan

Morning Edition's Lynn Neary interviewed Hillary Jordan, author of the acclaimed debut novel, Mudbound.

Part of the essay accompanying the interview:

Jordan says Mudbound was inspired by her mother's family stories of the year they spent on an isolated farm without running water or electricity. Eventually, it grew into a larger story with darker themes. But the first character she wrote about, Laura, was based on her own grandmother.

"I started out writing what I thought was going to be a short story in the voice of Laura," Jordan says, "and as the story grew, I just found myself wanting to hear from other people. As the story got larger, as it embraced these other themes, these larger themes about war and about Jim Crow, I wanted to hear from those people."

There is no omniscient narrator in this story. Instead, it is told from the perspective of six characters — black and white, male and female. Finding the voices and making them sound authentic was difficult, Jordan says.

"I had a number of well-meaning friends say things to me like, 'even Faulkner did not write about black people in the first person,'" she says. "But ultimately I just decided that it was so important to let my black characters address the ugliness of Jim Crow themselves, in their own voices."

Listen to the interview.

The Page 69 Test: Mudbound.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

C.J. Lyons

C.J. Lyons is a physician trained in Pediatric Emergency Medicine and a debut medical suspense novelist.

From the Q & A at her website:

Q: How did a nice pediatrician like you turn to writing crime fiction?

CJ: When I was younger I wrote science fiction and fantasy. But then came my internship. The hardest year of any doctor’s life. Except for the twelve interns in my class, things were about to get a whole lot tougher than your usual no sleep, stress filled year.

One of us was murdered. Murdered in a way that shows that real life is much, much worse than anything a writer can dream up in the safety of their imagination. And his death changed everything.

One of the ways I coped was by writing. I wrote my first suspense novel. But I realized when I compared it to my previous work that I really had just found another way to say the same thing.

All of my writing is about ordinary people caught up in events, about unsung heroes, and most importantly about finding the courage to get involved and make a difference.

I realized that I write for the same reason I went into pediatrics and then peds ER medicine: I wanted to change the world, to protect the little guys from the bullies and unfairness and bad things that life throws our way. Which is why, in my fictional world, no one is immune to danger.

But the nice thing about writing, unlike real life, is that I can give the good guys a chance to win.
Read the full interview.

The Page 99 Test: Lifelines.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Charles Cumming

Last August, I posted an entry at the Page 69 Test for Charles Cumming's A Spy By Nature.

Ali Karim recently caught up with the author and asked him a few questions, including:

AK: Who have you read that you consider influential not only in your own work, but in the espionage-fiction genre generally?

CC: This might sound strange coming from a spy novelist, but the books which have most inspired me are [John] Updike’s Rabbit novels, late Philip Roth, Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter, and everything by Martin Amis up to London Fields. Aside from those, Le Carré is obviously the single biggest influence on my work. If you accept that there are two strands in spy fiction, an escapist strand and a non-escapist strand, then Le Carré is the godfather of the latter. Like Ambler, [John] Buchan, and Greene before him, he has used the world of espionage as a platform for examining issues of morality and conscience, human weakness and personal ambition. That’s definitely what I’ve set out to do. All of us in the present generation--Fesperman, Daniel Silva, Henry Porter--are indebted to what Le Carré has achieved. By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that serious themes are not touched on in the escapist tradition, just that they are not touched on for very long. [For] Ian Fleming and Ludlum, for example, excitement is everything; what you might loosely call emotional or psychological content is sacrificed to the demands of the story.
Read the full conversation at The Rap Sheet.

Read an excerpt from A Spy By Nature.

Charles Cumming's other books include The Hidden Man and The Spanish Game.

The film rights to A Spy By Nature have been bought by Kudos, producers of the acclaimed BBC series Spooks (MI-5 in the U.S.).

The Page 69 Test: A Spy By Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 24, 2008

Samantha Hunt

Samantha Hunt is the author of the acclaimed first novel The Seas, and her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and McSweeneys and on This American Life. Her new book is The Invention of Everything Else.

From Hunt's Q & A at

Who are your favorite characters in history? Have any of them influenced your writing?

Nikola Tesla! He influenced my writing so much that I wrote a whole novel about him. I borrow much from the world of science for my fiction. The non-fiction of science often seems like the most wonderfully unreal thing to me. I wrote a suite of stories based on astronauts: John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin. I've also been influenced by the biologist Rupert Sheldrake. He said, "Scientific theories come from the dream realm." His experiments investigate phenomena that we most often dismiss as coincidence, such as how we know when someone is staring at us; why, when we think of a long lost friend, they often call; and how pets know when their masters are about to return home. Something in his theories resonates with my fiction.
Read the full interview.

Visit Samantha Hunt's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Invention of Everything Else.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 23, 2008

James Morrow

James Morrow interviewed James Morrow about his new book, The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

Among the exchanges:

Q: Your new novel, The Philosopher’s Apprentice, has an intriguing title. Who is the philosopher and who is the apprentice?

A: The philosopher is Mason Ambrose, a graduate student at a thinly disguised Boston University who believes he has teased an ethical system out of Darwin’s theory of evolution. During his dissertation defense, Mason crashes and burns, but he still makes a favorable impression on one member of the audience: the emissary of a reclusive biologist named Edwina Sabacthani. The next thing Mason knows, he’s been hired to fly to a remote tropical island and teach his “morality curriculum” to Edwina’s beautiful adolescent daughter Londa — the apprentice of the title — who is evidently an amnesiac with a severely defective conscience.

Q: Does Mason succeed in giving Londa a moral compass?

A: He succeeds all too well. It turns out that Londa’s psyche is really a tabula rasa, a blank slate, and so she ends up taking Mason’s morality curriculum — lessons drawn from Plato, Epicurus, Stoicism, Kant, and the Gospels — rather more seriously than anyone intended. The poor young woman never figures out that she isn’t supposed to really believe the Sermon on the Mount. And so, when she ventures forth from her tropical utopia, she can’t help trying to remake our fallen world in her own morally charged image. Naturally this is a recipe for disaster.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Minette Walters

Minette Walters is the author of eleven novels, two novellas, and a number of short stories. Her work, which has been published in more than thirty-five countries, has received several major awards, including two Gold Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association in Great Britain and the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Her latest book is The Chameleon's Shadow.

Anna Metcalfe interviewed Walters for the Financial Times. A couple of questions from the Q & A:

What book changed your life?

A bound volume of The Strand magazines, left to me by my grandfather. In them I discovered Sherlock Holmes and, aged eight, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

* * * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s the most perfect novel ever written.

Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 21, 2008

Eric Alterman

Jamie Malanowski, managing editor of Playboy and author of The Coup, interviewed Eric Alterman.

Here's Malanowski's introduction and the opening exchanges from the interview:

Columnist and historian Eric Alterman—author of an article in our Forum section in May called “Why We Loathe Liberals”—has written a new book entitled Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, which came out this week. Here’s an interview I did with him that appeared on

PLAYBOY: Okay, Eric—why are we liberals?

ALTERMAN: Depends on what you mean by “we,” Kimosabe. On the one hand, those of us who already know we’re liberals are liberals because we believe in the Enlightenment. We having open minds and allowing the truth take us anywhere it leads us, irrespective of what is allegedly commanded by God, the Dialectic of History, the Fatherland, George Bush’s sense of filial outrage, or whatever. We believe in giving everybody a fair shot at success, prosperity, self-fulfillment, etc, and if necessary, using the power of the government to make sure that everybody gets that chance, regardless of the circumstances of his or her birth.

For everybody else it means, you’re probably already a liberal. You just don’t know it, yet because the word has been so demonized by right-wing lunatics and a compliant, spineless media. But if you look at what you, in all likelihood, believe about protecting the environment, taxing the wealthy, keeping corporations under control, providing health care to everybody, supporting smart science, and only invading countries that actually mean you harm, well then, by today’s standards, you’re a liberal.

PLAYBOY: Why don’t conservatives like liberals?

ALTERMAN: I think they do. Liberals have been the best friends conservatives have had until lately. They spent so much time fighting amongst themselves and failing to tend to their natural constituencies and thereby allowing conservatives to pick them off with arguments contrary to their won values and self interest.

Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Libby Fischer Hellmann

From a Q & A with Libby Fischer Hellmann about her new novel, Easy Innocence:

How did you happen to write a story and plot like Easy Innocence?

Some books come from a vision. Others from personal experience. Easy Innocence came to me out of fear. My daughter was starting high school, I was recently separated, and I doubted my ability to be the single mother of a teenage girl. A hazing incident at a nearby high school had just occurred—it made the national media—and several teenagers ended up in the ER. I started to wonder what would have happened if a girl had been killed instead.

As a single parent how did the research and findings on teen prostitution affect you?

It was sobering. Not so much the fact that teen prostitution exists—I knew that. But the fact that girls from seemingly stable middle-class families were hooking for money to buy designer clothes, toys, and gadgets—that was a shock. I started to wonder what that said about the lengths girls go to in order to be accepted by their peers, as well the values we're teaching our daughters.

Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Marcus du Sautoy

In September 2007, Wikinews interviewed Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and author of Symmetry: A Journey Into the Patterns of Nature (Finding Moonshine, UK title) and The Music of the Primes.

Two questions from the interview:

As a mathematician you are dedicating yourself not only to research but also to popularization. Why?

I think being a scientist is about making discoveries but it is also as much about communication. I mean discoveries really cannot be said to exist, I think, unless you communicate them to other people. So, for example this conference is about communicating to our peers but I think that communication can go to a much broader audience. It brings the mathematics alive much more, if you can communicate it to more people. But also, you know, I became a mathematician because people, the generation above me, made the effort to excite the general public about mathematics and I thought that was what I wanted to be when I grow up, so my hope is as well that my popularization will encourage the next generation of mathematicians but also to encourage politicians to recognize that maths is an important part of our society and needs to be funded.

* * * * *
And what about your last book Finding Moonshine?

This is a slightly more challenging writing project for me, because it combine both historical story on symmetry with a personal story of what I do as a mathematician. It is divided into twelve chapters each one a month in a year of me being a mathematician. As I tried to combine what I do - I think people find deeply mysterious what a mathematician does all day - so I tried to give people a little bit of access to the world that I live in. But you are seeing also some historical story, a bit like The Music of the Primes but looking at symmetry instead.

Read the full interview.

The Page 69 Test: Symmetry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

David Jack Bell

From a Q & A with David Jack Bell at Dark Scribe Magazine:

Dark Scribe Magazine: To start off with, tell us a little something about The Condemned.

David Jack Bell: The Condemned is an urban horror story that takes place in a decaying, dying city. My protagonist, Jett Dormer, works in the city collecting abandoned cars that are then turned into scrap metal to fuel the nation’s war effort. When his work partner and best friend is killed on the job, Jett has to live with the guilt and decide whether or not to go back into the city and recover his partner’s body. It’s a story about the choice between the obligations we owe to our friends and family versus the obligations we owe to society as a whole.

Dark Scribe: Where did the inspiration for The Condemned come from?

David Jack Bell: A couple of places, really. I read a newspaper article about Philadelphia’s efforts to remove abandoned cars from the city streets. The abandoned cars struck me as a great metaphor for our abandonment of inner cities. Then, I lived through the 2001 riots in Cincinnati, where I was living at the time. I lived in the city, and we were under curfew and lockdown. The streets were empty and quiet, and we couldn’t leave our apartment. Meanwhile, the people out in the suburbs were partying like it was 1999. I couldn’t stop thinking about that contrast.

Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nicholson Baker

Haverford College grads Nicholson Baker '80 and Greg Kannerstein '63 discussed Baker's new book, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization.

Two questions from the Q & A:

GK: I've seen comments already by other writers that "Human Smoke" will be controversial. Ron Rosenbaum, author of "Imagining Hitler," said "it will be the most controversial book of the year." Do you have any predictions about what will be the most controversial aspects of "Human Smoke"?

NB: The main controversy is simply the age old question of how to respond to violent regimes. If you resist, how do you resist? The way the west resisted, guided by Churchill, was to build airplanes. The way the Quakers were advising was a different one. If we take their concern seriously, a controversy is likely to ensue.

* * *

GK: You seem both fascinated and appalled by Winston Churchill. In your afterword, you say Churchill was "wrong." Was Churchill one of the great villains of the saga you present or is there room for some ambivalence in your mind about his role?

NB: I cut out the part about how Churchill was wrong in the final printed edition of the book (it's in the galley) because that's too simple a conclusion. Churchill was an immensely complicated man, with great qualities - but in the years through which I followed him, he seemed to be in a kind of manic high that was fueled by the widening carnage of the war in which he was materially participating.

He wanted the war to widen. He was shockingly unconcerned about the suffering of civilians - Yugoslavian civilians, Polish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, even British civilians. He predicted, ahead of time, that British men would be roused to action by aerial bombing, and he wanted the German attack to come, so that the reality of the war would be brought home to those who weren't near any war zone. That's a very dangerous way to proceed - it releases massive antipathies. It's also, I think, simply the wrong thing to do. I believe I'm being fair to Churchill as he acted during one period of his long and amazing life.

Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seth Harwood

In September 2007, Nathan Cain at Independent Crime interviewed Seth Harwood, author of Jack Wakes Up.

One question from the Q & A:

Talk about Jack a little bit. Where did he come from?

Have you ever seen The Transporter? It's a bad movie right? But here was this guy (Jason Statham) who I had only seen in this serious movie (Guy Ritchie's Snatch) where he was a funny character gets into this movie and kicks the shit out of hundreds and hundreds of guys. To me that seemed utterly ridiculous, and I was like ‘What would happen if a guy who was just a normal actor was in this movie and did huge amounts of ass kicking. What would happen to his life is he was suddenly perceived as this big ass kicker, and he wasn’t doing acting anymore and he had to deal with people on the street.

Read the full interview.

Read an excerpt from Jack Wakes Up at Spinetingler Magazine, and learn more about the book and its author at Seth Harwood's website, his blog, and his MySpace page.

The Page 99 Test: Jack Wakes Up.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Asne Seierstad

The Norwegian writer Åsne Seierstad covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for various publications. Her bestselling account of an Afghan family’s struggles, The Bookseller of Kabul, was published in 2003, followed by her A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal in 2005. Her latest book, The Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya, is out now in the U.K. and will be released in the U.S. later this year.

Anna Metcalfe asked her some questions for the Financial Times:

A few of their exchanges:

Which author would you most like to review the work of?

The Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski.

* * *

What was the first novel you read?

The Scarlet Pimpernel.

* * *

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

Osama bin Laden.

Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 14, 2008

Catherine Sampson

For The China Beat, Nicole E. Barnes interviewed Catherine Sampson, former BBC journalist and (London) Times correspondent, as well as the author of four mystery novels.

Their opening exchange:

NB: What was the most intriguing, amusing, inspiring, or eye-opening story that you covered in China?

CS: I worked as a journalist in Beijing for The Times of London between 1988 and 1993. Both the most inspiring and then the most awful was 1989. The student demonstrations went on for 6 weeks and drew in all sorts of other people. It was an exhilarating time, a gutsy, good-natured, hopeful, time. It all came to a horrible end on June 4th, and the next few years in China were bleak ones. I haven't worked as a journalist here since 1994, and it's June 4th that stays with me, the political intrigue that surrounded it, and the myriad stories of bravery and tragedy. I think we're wrong if we believe people have forgotten about 1989 in the excitement of economic activity that has swept the country.
Read the full Q & A.

Check out Sampson's list: Top 10: Asian crime fiction.

Visit Catherine Sampson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Linda L. Richards

At Shots Magazine, Ali Karim interviewed Linda L. Richards about her latest novel, Death Was The Other Woman.

A few questions from the interview:

Ali: Death Was The Other Woman is a remarkable PI thriller set in 1930’s Los Angeles, so why this period?

Linda: Thanks for thinking it’s remarkable, Ali! That means a lot.

It had to be that period. I never considered any other. It’s 1931, so it’s just at the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the Depression which creates a breeding ground for crime. On the one hand you’ve got the organized crime types getting fat running illegal booze – and all the stuff that goes with that – and you’ve got the hungry types who are turning to crime just because nothing else is working and their kids are crying with hunger.

Ali : Had you read much of the US golden age? And what PI fiction struck a resonance from the period?

Linda: I’ve read piles of it. I adore the stuff. Can’t get enough. You probably figured that. You might also have figured that Hammett’s work resonated especially. Though I find Chandler to be an elegant stylist, as well.

Ali: And Kitty Pangborn is such a wonderful character, the kind of woman I’d like to date……so how did you dream her up?

Linda: Wonderful. But I blush! Thank you.

But to answer your question, reading a lot of the most classic of the classic fiction of the type we now think of as noir you come across a lot of damaged, self-medicating men. I mean, they’re hitting the sauce first thing in the morning and forced to drive everywhere because they’re too drunk to walk. And in a bout of reading a whole lot of Hammet and Chandler, it occurred to me that it was simply not possible for most of these classic fictional PIs to be successfully doing the work they’re being hired to do. How could they, seriously? It seemed to me that they could probably barely find their way home, let alone the missing persons and errant husbands they get hired to locate.

At the same time, quite often there is a woman in the office, quietly doing her boss’s back up work: typing, answering the phones and so on. She’s always attractive, but never treated as a sexual object by her boss. Rather, she’s treated with a sort of uniform respect. And as I read and read and read some more, it struck me that – probably unbeknownst even to Hammett and Chandler themselves – these women were quite possibly running around after their boss, making sure the work got done so that their paychecks wouldn’t bounce: simple as that. And still I read and read until I saw the outlines of these women – and then one woman in particular. And I could see her hands even in the places where Hammett and Chandler had not placed them. Fixing this, repairing that and occasionally even running softly behind her boss, cleaning up his messes because, after all: times are hard. People are in breadlines. Even hard-working men can’t find the work they need in order to buy milk for their babies. And being a gumshoes’ secretary may not be the best job, but it is a job, at least, and thus must be protected.

So dreaming Kitty up was easy, in a sense. I don’t feel as though I had much at all to do with it. I could see who she was, plain as day. And from the way she acted, I could extrapolate her back story.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Death Was the Other Woman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Peter Spiegelman

Jochem Van Der Steen, at Sons of Spade, interviewed Peter Spiegelman, author of (so far) three John March novels.

The opening exchanges from the interview:

Q: What makes John March different from other fictional private eyes?

March is the black-sheep son of a prominent New York banking family. He walked away from the family business to become a small-town cop in upstate New York, and eventually a private investigator back in NYC. March’s cases are set in the world of finance (or have that world as a backdrop in some way), and March’s background makes him a sort of outside insider to that world. He knows his way around Wall Street, but he’s got a healthy skepticism about what goes on there—a vital critical distance.

Another thing I’ve tried to create in March is a character who is in retreat from life. Rather than taking refuge in drink, drugs, etc., March has made his life very small, very spare. He’s stripped it down to things he can control. His life consists of his work and his running. It’s somewhat monk-like—simple, disciplined, and with little in the way of emotional entanglements. He’s much more comfortable examining other people’s lives than his own. Needless to say, his retreat from life is imperfect, and his control over things is mostly illusory.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

I have no particular problem with sidekicks per se, as long as they’re fully-realized characters—people I care about, and who are important to the story. The cartoonish, two-dimensional variety that exist only to do the heavy-lifting the PI is too squeamish for don’t thrill me.
Read the full Q & A.

From from my 2007 review of Spiegelman's Red Cat:
No fan of the private detective novel should miss the “John March mysteries.” Author Peter Spiegelman just keeps getting better with each outing.

Spiegelman introduced John March, a Manhattan-based private eye, in Black Maps. In that book, March’s client was a wealthy investment banker threatened by blackmail. March survived that case and reappeared in Death's Little Helpers for a more challenging assignment - and with a new girlfriend. Now March is back in Red Cat, this time with his unbeloved brother David as the client in what sets up as another extortion scheme. The girlfriend is gone, replaced with a part-time lover whose needs are more compatible with March’s.

The melancholy March fits right in with his noirish New York. “Everyone was in a bad mood,” opens Black Maps. “It was a palpable thing in midtown, pungent as the bus exhaust on the cold evening air and as loud as the traffic.” The air in the first sentence of Death’s Little Helpers is just as toxic: “'As a husband, he was a lying, selfish prick,' Nina Sachs said, and lit yet another cigarette.” No carcinogens pollute the atmosphere in the first lines of Red Cat, and it’s just as well: the tension in the air between John and David March is enough to cause cancer.
Read the entire review.

The Page 99 Test: Red Cat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Laura Lippman

Cathy Frisinger of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram interviewed Laura Lippman about her new novel, Another Thing To Fall.

Two exchanges from the interview:

Another Thing To Fall is centered on a TV series that's being filmed in Baltimore. You have a pretty close connection to that world. Tell me about it.

I'm married to the executive producer of The Wire [David Simon]. I think one thing that's almost universally true about writers is that we're all really sick when it comes to covetousness about material. We're not envious about money, but we're really jealous about writing material. I have some material that's not unique, but is pretty unusual -- to know what TV production is like from the point of view of the boss. Most writers know what TV is like from the point of view of the young writer, but I have a really good omniscient view. A person who was really helpful to me is Laura Schweigman [Simon's assistant], who was able to fill me in on how the office is organized.

Were you with David when he did

No. We started dating in the summer of 2000. But we knew each other at The Sun. And I've been with him for the entire duration of The Wire. I was on vacation with him when he got a call from his agent who said, "If you can get me three scripts and a "bible" by Labor Day we might be able to get this on the air." We turned around.

Read the full Q & A.

Read Lippman's February 2008 Q & A with Declan Burke.

Visit Laura Lippman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Another Thing To Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 10, 2008

Deanna Raybourn

Deanna Raybourn is the author of the Lady Julia Grey series, including Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary.

Last year she gave an interview to Barnes & Noble. One question was, "What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?" Here's part of Raybourn's answer:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Mariana, Forever Amber, Lonesome Dove, The King Must Die, I Capture the Castle -- wildly different books, but all have such perfectly rendered voices. Mockingbird and Lonesome Dove speak to my Southern roots. There are truths there that resonate with anyone raised in the South. Mariana and I Capture the Castle manage to be both funny and heart-wrenching. There is a timelessness about them both. And they would say different things to a twenty-year old reader than a forty-year old reader. I love that. Forever Amber is larger than life. I read it twenty years ago, and I can still see so many of the scenes perfectly in my mind's eye. And The King Must Die is just glorious. Mary Renault did a superb job of grounding mythology in such a way that it becomes entirely believable. Her powers of description were unrivaled. That's really what ties all of these books together: a sense of place and a unique voice. There is an immediacy about great writing that puts you in the heart of the scene, and all of these books do that.
Read the full interview.

Learn more about Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary at the publisher's website.

Visit Deanna Raybourn's website, Blog A Go-Go.

My Book, The Movie: Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kelly Simmons

Kelly Simmons is a former journalist and advertising creative director specializing in marketing to women. Her debut novel Standing Still is just out from Atria.

From a Q & A about the book:

Q. Standing Still has some dark underpinnings—kidnapping,extortion, domestic abuse, mental illness. Do you have any personal experiences that inspired the plot?

A. My original inspiration was the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping. The horror of it lingered in my subconscious even after Elizabeth was found, and I couldn’t help wondering about all the ways it might have happened differently. So that was all floating around in the obsessed part of my brain. And in the foreground, was my desire to write a story about a fearful woman in a frightening situation, because like my main character, Claire (and an estimated 6 million other adults in the U.S.) I’ve suffered from panic disorder most of my life, as have members of my family. Growing up in the “The House of Fear”gave me lots of fodder to develop Claire’s psyche. (And I think, honestly, part of me wanted to pretend to be brave the way she did.) People with panic disorder have had only Tony Soprano as a media role model---I figured it could change that!
Read the rest of the Q & A.

Visit Kelly Simmon's website and her blog.

The Page 69 Test: Standing Still.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Robert Bryce

Robert Bryce's first book, Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, received rave reviews and was named one of the best non-fiction books of 2002 by Publishers Weekly. His second book, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate, was published 2004.

Reason Magazine senior editor Brian Doherty, author of This is Burning Man and Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, recently interviewed Bryce. The opening exchanges of the interview:

reason: While “energy independence” has soared to fresh public prominence in this era of soaring gas prices and Mideast wars, it’s not a new idea, is it?

Robert Bryce: The first president to promote the idea was [Richard] Nixon in the wake of the oil embargo in 1973. In his State of the Union address in 1974, Nixon said that he was aiming for energy independence by the end of the decade. He hoped that by 1980 the U.S. would not be importing any oil. And every president since Nixon, in one way or another, has espoused a similar idea. But if you look back at the data, the U.S. was a net crude oil importer [as early as] 1913 and ever since we’ve been a net crude importer with a handful of years [as exceptions]. It’s remarkable how much the rhetoric about “energy independence” has had no connection with reality.

reason: What do its proponents think we can get out of energy independence?

Bryce: The main talking points for those who promote energy independence are, one, that if we were just more tech-savvy we can develop lots of new jobs, and that would be great—we can build windmills, solar panels, whatever nifty new whizbang tech is going to replace oil, and that will stimulate the economy.

Second, they love biofuels. We can just grow the fuels we need to replace imported oil and it will be great for farmers and the rural economy. Third, [energy independence proponents] conflate oil and terrorism. Those arguments really came to the fore since the 9/11 attacks. We buy imported oil, some of our suppliers are Islamic petro-states, some Islamic petro-states send some dollars to support radical Islam, therefore oil equals terrorism and “energy independence” is anti-terror.

The idea is that if we could isolate the oil-exporting countries that in theory support terror we’d cut off its lifeline. The connections of Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 terror attacks are real, I’m not denying that. But you cannot, given the complexity and enormous size and interconnectedness of the global crude oil market, separate one actor from another.

S. Fred Singer [of the Science and Environmental Policy Project] came up with the best analogy. He described the global oil market like a big bathtub. All the oil production is dumped into one bathtub and all consumers have straws sucking oil out. [For all economic purposes] it’s like we’re all sucking from the same common pool. To say you are not gonna buy Saudi oil, or Algerian oil—it’s crazy. For example, the U.S. hasn’t purchased a dime of Iranian oil—except for a small amount in the early ‘90s, but for the most part no Iranian oil since 1979. And that hasn’t stopped Iran from supporting Hezbollah.

Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ellen Litman

Ellen Litman is the author of The Last Chicken in America -- "Twelve linked, wryly humorous stories about an unforgettable cast of Russian-Jewish immigrants trying to assimilate in a new world."

Arsen Kashkashian interviewed her about the book.

Two questions from the interview:

KBC: The immigrants in The Last Chicken in America seem rather isolated and lonely. Do you think this is a result of their Russian culture? Or is it just the plight of immigrants coming to an American society that has turned inward, obsessed with television and computers? Or are these just the characters that interest you?

EL: I think that what happens – or at least what happened in my case – is, the world shrinks a little. The people in the book immigrate (often from big cities), and their choices, by necessity, are suddenly confined to this relatively small immigrant community. Some fit in, others don’t. Some find it comforting, others suffocating. For me it felt very lonely, and I spent a long time wanting desperately to break into the larger world and not knowing how. So I guess, my characters inherited that sense of isolation.

KBC: Many of the stories involve Masha, a college-age girl, new to the United States? How much does she share with your own background? Was coming from Moscow in the 1990s as difficult as it seems in the stories?

EL: I was a few years older than Masha when we came to the US in 1992. I had finished two years of college by then – in computers, naturally – and later transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, and then spent 6+ years working in IT, before turning to writing. So there are definitely some similarities. But yeah, the first few years were pretty hard, especially for my parents. They’d left so much behind, and now they had to start over somehow, and they were just learning English at the time. Plus they had me and my younger sister to worry about. Plus my grandmother, who was very sick. There was so much uncertainty. We were all struggling in our own ways, and we didn’t always know how to help one another.
Read the full interview.

Visit Ellen Litman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue