Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson is the author of the Walt Longmire mysteries: The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man’s Moccasins.

From an "interrogation" at Johnson's website:

Who is Walt based on? Henry? Vic?

I agree with Wallace Stegner that the greatest fraud perpetrated on the reading public is the statement at the beginning of each novel that states that this is a work of fiction and that any similarity to persons living or dead… What a crock. I'm always looking for traits, turns of phrase, anything that might help me inform my characters; it's all grist for the mill.

Walt is special because he's the voice of the book, the head that you have to be inside for hundreds of pages; so, he better be honest and be real. I think that the reading public is pretty smart; they can tell if you're on thin ice. I try and keep Walt close and, while I wouldn't say he was me, I'd say he was closer, on a whole, than any of the other characters. He's who I'd like to be in about ten years, but I'm off to an awfully slow start… I assembled him, to a certain extent, from a lot of my experiences and from a lot of the individuals that I worked with in law enforcement. I basically tried to engender a sheriff that embodied all the best qualities of police work that I could think of: compassion, intelligence, dogged determination, and strong sense of right and wrong.

Henry is a composite character who I developed from two very close friends, one a Lakota Sioux the other a Cree. They're both pretty incredible guys with great senses of humor and a kind of wistful spirituality that gives me an ability to explore areas that Walt might otherwise leave untouched. I think a lot of writers make the same mistake with Indians that they do with cops, forgetting that they're people.

Vic? Where do I start? I needed an urban voice in The Cold Dish , and I was interested in making her a different kind of character than what you might assume to live in Absaroka County, Wyoming. I needed somebody who was savvy and smart and being kind of sexy wasn't a necessarily a bad thing…

Why did you make Walt's deputy a woman?

Sexual tension. Even with the difference in age and background, I thought it might be more interesting if they had this unrequited relationship, the potential of something happening even if it never did. I also needed a female voice to balance out the weight of the masculine narrative. I've always thought, like Walt, that life is infinitely more interesting with women around.
Read more of the Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Kindness Goes Unpunished.

My Book, The Movie: The Cold Dish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Robert B. Reich

Robert B. Reich is professor of public policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life.

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

Q: What exactly is Supercapitalism?

A: It’s a turbo-charged, Web-based system in which anyone can buy almost anything anywhere on the planet. It’s powered by consumers and investors who search for great deals around the world with the click of a computer mouse. As a result, companies are in more intense competition than ever to attract and keep customers and shareholders.

Q: So it’s good, right?

A: Well, consumers and investors have never had it so good. Just look at how plentiful our choices have become over the past few decades. There used to be only three big auto companies, one telephone company, three tv channels, and one or two local savings banks, for example. And many products have become cheaper in real terms, with lots of innovations. Medical technology has made huge advances, and the average life span has increased dramatically. Look also at how the stock market has soared — the Dow went from 600 in 1980 to over 1300 today.

Q: Any downsides to supercapitalism?

A: You bet. Inequality hasn’t been this wide in 80 years. Jobs are far less stable, and the median wage is below where it was in 1980, adjusted for inflation. Main Streets are disappearing. And our planet’s environment is endangered.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeff Gordinier

Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World, was interviewed by

One exchange from the Q & A:

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

Yes, I am one of the countless dorks who went to Morocco and made a point of bothering poor Paul Bowles at his apartment in Tangiers. This was in 1988. He was ill, coughing, and he stayed in bed, under the covers, while I sat in a nearby chair and peppered Mr. Bowles (the author of The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, and some of the most chilling short stories in the English language) with absurdly collegiate questions about "the creative process." He was a gracious, old-world gentleman, but, yes, it dawned on me at some point that I was annoying him, and I decided to leave. He thought that was a good idea. In his courtly way he told me that if I wanted to learn something, I should travel deeper into Morocco instead of sitting in an apartment in Tangiers chatting with a bedridden old man. I took his advice.
Read the full Q & A.

Check out Gordinier's list of "Five Books That Will Make You Question the Wisdom of Ever Falling in Love — Probably While You Throw Yourself Headlong into It Anyway."

Learn more about X Saves the World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dan Elish

Dan Elish writes novels for adults, fiction and non-fiction for young people, and musicals. His most recent novels are (for adults) The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld and (for middle-graders) The Attack of the Frozen Woodchucks.

From a Q & A at The Longstockings:

Daphne: What inspired you to write Attack of the Frozen Woodchucks?

Dan: I started my career writing slightly over the top, Roald Dahlesque children's novels but had gotten away from writing that kind of book for a number of years. Fortunately, an editor at Harper Collins, Jill Santopolo, read one of my early books, The Worldwide Dessert Contest, and suggested that I try and come up with some sort of new zany novel. For some reason I thought of a deeply stupid inside joke I had with my brother during my college years. Don't ask me why, but we often referred to the sundry frozen woodchucks we kept in our freezers. I remembered that and got thinking about how I could use those woodchucks in a longer story. To my utter amazement, I guess I succeeded.

Lisa: Do any of the children in your life ever find their way into your stories? If so, how do they feel about that?

Dan: It wasn't intentional but most people simple assume that two and a half year old Imogene in The Attack of the Frozen Woodchucks is based on my daughter, Cassie. I suppose they're right. In the book, Imogene is a mechanical genius who rigs her stroller with motors and invents a Gameboy that can move objects through space. In real life, Cassie hasn't rigged her bike or scooter with an engine (she's almost five now) but she can sing most of the score of Singing in the Rain.

I haven't asked Cassie how she feels to be immortalized in my book, but I don't think she'd mind.
Read the full interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Isabel Fonseca

Isabel Fonseca is the author of the nonfiction Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, and a new novel, Attachment.

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

Q. Your last book, Bury Me Standing, was an acclaimed nonfiction book about Gypsies. What made you want to delve into the world of fiction writing?

A. Like all writers, I write in order to explore and understand something that bothers me, or intrigues me, and like many writers, I think of my writing, whether it is fiction or non-fiction or journalism as one continuous, if continuously interrupted, investigation. I may be making a suit in nonfiction and an evening gown in fiction, and so naturally I will be cutting from a different cloth. But non-fiction involves most of the same writerly and imaginative skills as a novel, just as in fiction you also have to do justice to the truth of things. But of course you do have wonderful freedom in fiction, and more of the work is done while you sleep, by your subconscious. Importantly, whatever the form, I do think it has one voice - mine.

Q. ATTACHMENT takes us into the life of a health columnist, Jean Hubbard, enjoying a sabbatical on a remote tropical island with her husband Mark, when her life is suddenly thrown off kilter by the arrival of a love letter addressed to Mark. Where did the initial idea for ATTACHMENT come from?

A. The arrival of a letter – the violent precipitant: something that comes at us from the outside and forces us to look within – is maybe not that unusual a fictional device. What is unusual is that Jean, the main character, chooses to answer the letter, as if she were her husband. Trying to understand him, and the affair he is apparently having, she puts herself ‘in his shoes.’ And takes a walk down a sometimes treacherous path. In this novel, I wanted to explore the idea of personal identity, which of course evolves over time at different speeds and in unexpected directions, particularly within the context of marriage. Identity: we hear a lot about its theft. Can it be borrowed? Tried on? Can we be cross-dressers of identity – this least negotiable yet surprisingly hazy department of the self? How well do you really know the people you love? I can’t tell you how this question first arrived in my mind, but I had a nagging need to answer it . . . or to try to. How far does empathy take us, even with the best faith in the world? In the course of a long marriage, where exactly does the self end and the other begin? Probably like any person in a longlived relationship, I was curious to explore the murky penumbra of the shared self, and to think about what it means to each participant: how similar is our experience of common events? How does the difference shape each of us?

What, in trying to learn about the person closest to you, might you discover about yourself? Because along with personal identity come questions of personal responsibility, which I also think a lot about in this book. Who is responsible for my happiness? Jean, looking for something else, comes face to face with this conundrum. Thinking about how unlikely it is that we – any of us – should develop with anything like synchronicity, the question of difference is increasingly pressing, even if love itself is not in question.

And with difference, the notion of trust – which is not a passive thing. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion – which I saw again recently. I was surprised to find it echoed so closely both the atmosphere and themes of my novel.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 25, 2008

Robert Schlesinger

From a Q & A with Robert Schlesinger about his new book, White House Ghosts.

Q: What inspired this book?

A: My father, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., was a member of the Judson Welliver Society of former presidential speechwriters. He brought me as a guest to many of their dinner meetings where current and former speechwriters would trade stories of their White House experiences. After enjoying a half-dozen or more of these evenings over the years, the thought popped into my head: "Someone should write these stories down." Little did I realize the project would become so much more than a collection of stories, that it would grow to include tens of thousands of pages of archival documents, scores of hours of interviews, and secondary source materials, providing a unique glimpse of the modern presidents.

Q: How important are speechwriters to the success or failure of a presidency?

A: No modern president can be successful without an appreciation of the importance of communication and public education. And no president has the time to write his or her own speeches. The best presidents have a strong sense of when and how to communicate with the public -- and know how to use speechwriters to best achieve that goal.
Read the full Q & A.

Visit the White House Ghosts website.

The Page 99 Test: White House Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nam Le

Nam Le is the author of the forthcoming short story collection, The Boat.

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

Q: How did you go from working as a lawyer in Australia to attending the Iowa Writers Workshop? Did you always know you wanted to write?

A: Most of my life I’ve wanted to write poetry. I guess that goes for a lot of fiction writers. Through high school and university that’s basically all I concentrated on – I even persuaded my honors advisor to accept my (non-creative) thesis in verse – in rhyming couplets. We figured out a formula where a line of iambic tetrameter equalled something like 20 prose words; the poem ended up a thousand-line long critical treatise on W.H. Auden. After university I joined a law firm, then took a year off to go traveling, living off a bank loan facilitated by the firm’s letter of guarantee – which seemed, at the time, simultaneously carte blanche and soul-sucking contract. I had a year before having to return and pay off my debt. Of course, as soon as I set aside my suit and tie, I realized I never wanted to put such things on again. The solution was to write a novel. I sat down one afternoon in a cafĂ© in Quito and planned out a novel. Then, over the next couple of years, I wrote it. It was 700 pages and a spectacular, multi-dimensional failure. By then I’d started at the Iowa program and, in between trying to salvage the novel, I wrote the first versions of most of the stories in The Boat.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Judith Heimann

Judith Heimann is the author of The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II.

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

Q: You spent a decade piecing together the events in The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II from hundreds of different sources. How did you first learn of this little-known but harrowing episode of World War II?

JH: In 1992 I was sitting in the War Memorial Library in Canberra, Australia, going through the papers of Tom Harrisson. I was writing a book about him because he had led a little-known special operations unit behind enemy lines in Borneo in the middle of WWII. One of the documents I came across was a letter addressed to Major Harrisson that was written in the rounded Palmer Method handwriting taught in American schools in the 1940s. The letter was signed by nine U.S. airmen—some army, some navy, with their ranks and serial numbers—who were being hidden in the jungles of Borneo by natives. I knew then that there was a story here that had to be uncovered and told.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sandra Ruttan

Damien Seaman interviewed Sandra Ruttan, author of What Burns Within, for Pulp Pusher.

Their first two exchanges:

DAMIEN SEAMAN: Why is ‘What Burns Within’ full of unpleasant female characters?

SANDRA RUTTAN: I didn’t really think about it to that extreme. Maybe you picked up on that because you’re a man. Part of it could be that I have a lot more friends who are guys than women. When I was assaulted as a teenager it was by a group of girls around my age.

There is this image of the fairer sex touted around, with the implied question ‘how can girls commit such vicious crimes?’ In Nova Scotia recently one girl was beaten by a couple of others so badly she had to run for help. With apparently no provocation. In British Columbia a girl was beaten to death by other girls. Women can be nasty!

I don’t find the character of Ashlyn unpleasant, though. In reality I think she’s very balanced and a strong, likable character. When it comes to Lori, I also think that there are some women in male-dominated professions who feel they are going to be discriminated against and so take things into their own hands.

Women feel that pressure. We’re charged more than men for products like shampoos, and even in Canada women are still paid less for doing the same job. On the other side, how many men do you see working in daycare, or even as teachers? We like to think we don’t have a sexist bone in our bodies but we all do.

And then as a woman I’m not pro affirmative action for the fire department. I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman. I care that they – and my (now) ex-husband – have the very best person backing them up. If that means it’s a man then so be it.

DS: The book’s characters discuss issues such as rape and affirmative action. Did you use this as a way of working through some of your beliefs in your fiction?

SR: Your own perspectives are going to colour what you write. A lot of women have it emblazoned on the brain that they’re not good enough to do something. I wanted to take karate lessons as a kid but my mother said that was something for boys. If I had gone on to join the fire department or police force then you could have thrown the blame right onto my mother.

Society pressures us in ways we often don’t realise; people are constantly told that they can’t do things. I’m not saying it’s right, but the seed gets sown early. When I was a teacher working with young children parents asked me the most amazing things. In one case, the parents asked if they should force their left-handed child to learn to write right-handed by breaking his arm and putting it in a cast. Makes you realise most people still believe it’s better to fit in than challenge the norm.

I also think people in the police and fire departments are well aware of the issues they have to deal with; naturally they’re going to talk about them a lot. Many women fire fighters who are exceptionally skilled at the job put pressure on themselves to be better, to keep on proving themselves all the time.
Read the full interview.

The Page 69 Test: What Burns Within.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 21, 2008

Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga was born in India and raised partly in Australia. He attended Columbia and Oxford universities. A former correspondent for Time magazine, he has also been published in the Financial Times. The White Tiger is his recently-released debut novel.

A couple of questions from a Q & A at the publisher's website:

Who are some of your literary influences? Do you identify yourself particularly as an Indian writer?

It might make more sense to speak of influences on this book, rather than on me. The influences on The White Tiger are three black American writers of the post-World War II era (in order), Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright. The odd thing is that I haven't read any of them for years and years -- I read Ellison's Invisible Man in 1995 or 1996, and have never returned to it -- but now that the book is done, I can see how deeply it's indebted to them. As a writer, I don't feel tied to any one identity; I'm happy to draw influences from wherever they come.

Could you describe your process as a writer? Was the transition from journalism to fiction difficult?

A first draft of The White Tiger was written in 2005, and then put aside. I had given up on the book. Then, for reasons I don't fully understand myself, in December 2006, when I'd just returned to India after a long time abroad, I opened the draft and began rewriting it entirely. I wrote all day long for the next month, and by early January 2007, I could see that I had a novel on my hands.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The White Tiger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Elizabeth Zelvin

Lonnie Cruse interviewed author Elizabeth Zelvin about her new novel, Death Will Get You Sober. Their opening exchanges:

LC: Please tell us about your upcoming book. What inspired you to write this book?

LZ: Death Will Get You Sober is about a guy, my protagonist Bruce, who wakes up in detox on the Bowery on Christmas Day and realizes he’s got to do something drastic about his life. The formula he finds is “Don’t drink, go to meetings, and investigate a murder.” That’s an AA saying—except for the part about the murder. The other thread is the healing of the friendship between Bruce and his two sidekicks: his best friend Jimmy, who got sober 15 years before he did, and Jimmy’s girlfriend Barbara, the codependent addictions counselor. I started with a great title and a desire to pay tribute to the courage and honesty of people who recover from alcoholism. Not drinking is just the beginning.

LC: Please tell us about your day job. How does it figure into your writing? And how difficult is it for you to work full time and write as well?

LZ: I used to direct an alcohol program on the Bowery, but I left that job, which was my last actual day job, in 1999. Now I have two careers about which everybody says, “Don’t quit your day job!”: online therapy and mystery writing. Besides my author website at, I have an online therapy website at, where I “see” clients from all over the world via chat and email. So my schedule is completely flexible. The challenge is deciding what to put in that high-energy time slot at the beginning of the day. Whatever I do first thing in the morning gets my best. Sometimes it’s clients, sometimes it’s the writing. Sometimes I have to go out and run around the Central Park reservoir, because if I postpone it till the afternoon I may not do it—just like the writing. Lately I haven’t been working on a novel—I’m a little ahead there—but working for hours and hours on promotion for Death Will Get You Sober, especially my book tour around the United States in May and June and my virtual tour in April, which involves lots of guest blogs and interviews.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Death Will Get You Sober.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid was born and grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. He attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School, worked for several years as a management consultant in New York and as a freelance journalist in Lahore, and now lives mainly in London.

His first novel, Moth Smoke, was published in 2000; his second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, was released in the U.S. in 2007. It was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize.

Anna Metcalfe interviewed Hamid for the Financial Times.

A few exchanges from the Q & A:

Who are your literary heroes?

The south Asian writer Saadat Hasan Manto, Nabokov and Borges.

* * *

Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

Natalie Portman. She's not a man, she's not Pakistani and she's younger than me. But films are supposed to be different from books.

* * *

What was the first novel you read?

Charlotte's Web. It contains the most sophisticated yet gentle treatment of death I've ever read.

Read the full interview.

Read an excerpt from The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and visit Mohsin Hamid's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 18, 2008

Peter Carey

Jon Weiner interviewed Peter Carey for Dissent Magazine.

The introduction and first exchange from the interview:

Peter Carey has won two Booker prizes: the first for Oscar and Lucinda, which was made into a movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett; the second for The True History of the Kelly Gang, which sold two-million copies worldwide. In 1990, he moved from Australia to New York and wrote My Life as a Fake and Theft. Now he has published his tenth novel, His Illegal Self, which tells the story of Che, the seven-year-old son of wanted SDS radicals. Dissent contributor Jon Wiener ("The Weatherman Temptation," Spring 2007) spoke with him in Los Angeles.

Jon Wiener: In His Illegal Self, the year is 1972 and the characters are set in motion by the Weather Underground. I’m reluctant to talk about the plot because one of the pleasures of the book, especially at the beginning, is figuring out the plot—told mostly from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy. Could you explain what you want people to know about it?

Peter Carey: This is the number one issue for me at the moment. I spent two years building this book, which really depends on withholding information. It delivers a whole series of surprises and thrills for the reader, I hope, which was not easy to achieve. But we live in a culture where people confuse “story” and “art,” and where reviewers are called upon by their editors to report the story. So while they are praising this book, they are sort of destroying it—by giving away all these things.

You’ve given me this chance, and now I’m faced with the same problem they have. I can talk about the story at the beginning. You have this little boy, the child of two Harvard SDS radicals, both underground and wanted by the FBI. The grandmother has custody of the child—she’s a wealthy Park Avenue woman. She doesn’t tell him anything about his parents, and keeps him away from the TV and the news, but he has an informant—downstairs in apartment 5D, a 15-year-old private school radical. He tells the kid,“Your parents are great Americans.”
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mark Sarvas

At Publishers Weekly, Willona M. Sloan interviewed author Mark Sarvas.

The preface and first two exchanges:

Mark Sarvas’s debut, Harry, Revised, tells the sordid, comedic tale of Harry Rent, a recent widower who seeks to remake himself as a modern day hero in the image of the Count of Monte Cristo as he courts a comely, young diner waitress. Sarvas is also the founder of the popular litblog, The Elegant Variation, and his literary criticism has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Three Penny Review and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What’s up with the Count of Monte Cristo? Why did you choose that character to be a person for Harry to emulate?

It’s a real touchstone for me. A few years ago, I wrote a screenplay, in fact, that was a modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, so I think that’s always been in my head.

Did anything ever happen with the screenplay?

No, it almost got picked up at Universal. It got very close, but it didn’t go all the way. The other thing about The Count of Monte Cristo is that one of the themes in Harry is the theme of reinvention, and that’s such an obvious fit that it seemed too good to not follow.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Daniel Kalla

From January Magazine's Author Snapshot: Daniel Kalla:

What inspires you?

My family. My work. My work-outs. Reading. Writing. Walking. The world in general. Essentially, anyone and anything can inspire me, but inspiration is a fickle and elusive state. I don’t do well at all when I’m actively looking for it.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a “big” book. I use the term because it has a large cast and covers over a hundred years from the turn of the 20th century to the present. It’s my first non-thriller. I’m trying to capture a bit of an “epic” feel. Hospital tells story of a fictional West Coast Mayo Clinic, the Alfredson, which is careening toward a major crisis along with theI’m working on a “big” book. I use the term because it has a large cast and covers characters who live and work inside it. The story centers around two families -- the Alfredsons who funded and still control the place, and the McGraths who have always been its medical leaders -- and their often-times adversarial and destructive relationship.
Read the complete sanpshot.

Visit Daniel Kalla's website. His new book is Cold Plague.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A. M. Homes

On behalf of The Elegant Variation, Darcy Cosper and Janelle Brown interviewed A. M. Homes about her memoir The Mistress’s Daughter and "the line between fiction and autobiography – and why the crossing over of the two should neither be assumed by readers, or abused by writers."

From the Q & A:

How conscious were you of the parent/child relationship as a theme in your work?

When I'm writing fiction I am really am making things up. It's about being a good storyteller. But I know that there are pieces within the stories that come from my life, in terms of larger themes and ideas. Looking at authors I admire a lot – Roth or DeLillo or Dostoevsky – writers do tend to work with the same things again and again. You keep writing them until you solve for X – like it's an algebra question.

So how conscious were you of these themes as an autobiographical exploration of your adoption?

I'm not so convinced that you can look at those themes in my work and tie them all to the memoir. The memoir is a fragment of my life, it's about a specific incident and time. The fact of my being adopted permeates my life but it's just a slice of it, like a pathology slice. I'm not as invested in that notion as others might be.

I think we've really lost track of what fiction is. There are an enormous number of writers doing fiction that is based on their lives in an overt way. But there is fiction that is truly fiction and about the imagination, and overall in our culture – especially with reality television and politicians that mispeak – this has become blurry in a way that's inexcusable. There’s no way we should be not knowing the difference between something that's made up and something that's not.
Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2008

Salman Rushdie

From Mukund Padmanabhan's interview with Salman Rushdie in The Hindu:

Like many of your other novels, The Enchantress of Florence has a clear historical context and works in fantasy, fable and magic. But this one has a long, six-page bibliography at the end of it. Has this got something to do with the nature of the novel — do you regard it as more ‘historical’ or ‘factual’ than the others? Or is it simply because more research went into it?

Both, I think. Without any question, this is the most researched book I have ever done. A surprising amount of the material arises out of historical fact. So I thought it was fair to acknowledge all the books from which I learnt and which I drew on. And then if people want to explore it further, the bibliography gives them an opportunity to do so.

It’s not unusual for historical novels to have a bibliography. I’ve already noticed that people seem very surprised by it, but I don’t think I’ve done anything abnormal.

Absolutely not. Perhaps, it’s just because you’ve written so many novels that have a historical context. But this one also has a long bibliography.

The others deal with a more contemporary history. This time it goes much further back than I’ve ever gone. And it required years and years of reading, in a way that nothing else I have written has. So, the bibliography was just a way of acknowledging all the people from whom I have learnt.

You characterise Emperor Akbar as a man plagued with doubt, a man who is constantly debating issues in his head. Is this something that came through from the history texts you read? Or is this is a fictional characterisation?

Well, it’s a development of the character of the historical Akbar. He was very philosophically interested, very interested in inter-faith debate. He was somebody who believed in trying to create a synthesis of different belief systems.

As for the internal agony, this is something that is really very largely my invention. I wanted to show him as a person in whom ideas of the modern were being born. At one point, he is described as someone who is not content with being but is always trying to become. So there is a kind of internal moral dialogue, which may or may not have been there, although he was clearly a highly intelligent man. But entering into his internal world imaginatively was for me one of the great pleasures of the book.
Read the full interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 13, 2008

James Gustave Speth

James Gustave Speth is Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University and author, most recently, of The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.

From a Q & A with Speth at The Bridge at the End of the World website:

Q: What is the main premise you examine in The Bridge at the Edge of the World?

A: My point of departure in this book is the momentous environmental challenge we face. But today's environmental reality is linked powerfully with other realities, including growing social inequality and neglect and the erosion of democratic governance and popular control. I have tried to show in the book how these three seemingly separate areas of public concern come together and how we as citizens must now mobilize our spiritual and political resources for transformative change on all three fronts.

Q: Why is there such an urgent need for a new approach on the environment?

A: Something is badly wrong. Here’s the paradox: The environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to deteriorate. The mounting threats reported in the book point to an environmental tragedy of unprecedented proportions. Most of us with environmental concerns have worked within the system, but the system has not delivered. Time once called me the “ultimate insider,” but the mainstream environmental community as a whole has been “ultimate insiders.” But it is time for the environmental community--indeed, everyone--to step outside the system and develop a deeper critique of what is going on.

We all live lives powerfully shaped by a complex system that rewards as well as destroys. That system is now giving rise to an undesirable reality--environmentally, socially and politically. If we want to transform that system for the better, we should stop being predictable and become agents of change.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blake Morrison

Anna Metcalfe of the Financial Times interviewed Yorkshire-born writer, poet and journalist Blake Morrison, author of the acclaimed memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?.

One exchange from the Q & A:

What book changed your life?

Wilfred Owen’s Collected Poems. As a teenager I sat up reading them late at night in a tearful, morbid way. They showed me that writing could move people.

Read the full Q & A.

About And When Did You Last See Your Father?, from the publisher:
Soon to be a major motion picture, directed by Anand Tucker and starring Colin Firth and Jim Broadbent

And when did you last see your father? Was it last weekend or last Christmas? Was it before or after he exhaled his last breath? And was it him really, or was it a version of him, shaped by your own expectations and disappointments?

Blake Morrison's subject is universal: the life and death of a parent, a father at once beloved and exasperating, charming and infuriating, domineering and terribly vulnerable. In reading about Dr. Arthur Morrison, we come to ask ourselves the same searching questions that Blake Morrison poses: Can we ever see our parents as themselves, or are they forever defined through a child's eyes? What are the secrets of their lives, and why do they spare us that knowledge? And when they die, what do they take with them that cannot be recovered or inherited?
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bill Emmott

On behalf of Publishers Weekly, Parul Sehgal put a few questions to Bill Emmott, former editor-in-chief of the Economist and author of Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade.

The opening exchanges:

Given its slower growth, how seriously can Japan compete with India and China?

I think Japan will be a less ambitious rival. While China and India think that their destiny is to lead the world, Japan will be a rival [because of] fear of the others and out of a need to play the balance of power game to protect itself and its interests. Japan has a long history as an isolationist country that comes out of its shell when it feels threatened.

What realities temper India and China’s ambitions?

China faces the awkward dilemma of wanting to keep a low profile and remain nonconfrontational while needing resources and opportunities to invest their capital—thus they are inevitably hitting controversies as with their investments in Sudan and Spielberg’s resignation from the Beijing Olympics. Now, India feels a certain manifest destiny; it feels threatened by China and wants to be taken seriously—however, it doesn’t have the global range of China and is at a much earlier stage of development. Still, their elite are so well-educated and sophisticated that they want to leapfrog and be taken seriously today, now.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Emma Anderson

Emma Anderson is Assistant Professor of North American Religious History, University of Ottawa, and author of The Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert (Harvard University Press, 2007).

The political scientist Ray Taras, whose scholarship includes many publications on ethnic conflict and belonging, interviewed Anderson about The Betrayal of Faith:

Taras: Paul Le Jeune is a bogey man today. His Relations have been used to serve authorial purposes radically different from his own. Are all the revisionist interpretations of the historical records he compiled plausible?

Anderson: I’m going to address each of your statements in order. First, it was not my intention to present Paul Le Jeune as a “bogey man.” To do so would simply be to continue the “black hats/white hats” historiography which has so dogged study of aboriginal-European religious encounter. Demonizing historical figures doesn’t help us to understand them. Colonial Catholic missionaries were neither the larger-than-life saints of their hagiographers, nor were they the soulless, insidious hegemony of their detractors. They were individuals whose historical circumstances and strong beliefs in the importance of their mission often caused them to overlook or underestimate the value of the native cultures in which they were immersed.

Paul Le Jeune is a complex figure whose teenage conversion to Catholicism during the French wars of religion represented the strongest possible repudiation of his Protestant family. Like Pastedechouan, the young Native American who is at the center of my book, Le Jeune had thus experienced dramatic religious transformation which redefined his identity and his relationship to his family and community. I believe that the intensity of the two men’s relationship during the last four years of Pastedechouan’s life was rooted in their shared experience of dramatic conversion. Just as Pastedechouan’s life was arguably transformed by his relationship with the older and irascible Jesuit, so Le Jeune’s experiences in New France were fatefully shaped by his relationship with the younger Pastedechouan, whom he wished both to exploit for his linguistic abilities and whom he longed to bring back into the Catholic fold.

Secondly, I want to address your comment “His Relations have been used to serve authorial purposes radically different from his own.” What are you suggesting? That analysis of historical sources should only serve its original authors’ presumed purposes (assuming that these purposes are, in fact, transparent)? What would this mean in practice? That only (presumably seventeenth century?) Jesuit historians intent on using Le Jeune’s Relations for religious, publicity and fund raising purposes could do so?

As a historian and religionist, I take it as a given that texts from the past often serve to illuminate more than their authors ever intended. Paul Le Jeune’s Relations are a particularly good case in point. In the opening chapters of his Relation for 1634, in which Le Jeune recounts his grueling six month-long hunting journey with Pastedechouan’s family, the Jesuit Superior sets forth a strong thesis: that his failure to convert Pastedechouan’s familial band was the result of a pre-planned collusion between Pastedechouan and his oldest brother Carigonan, a shaman, who jointly opposed his Christian mission. Careful reading of Le Jeune’s own record, however, contradicts his surface narrative: the missionary elsewhere records that Carigonan, supposedly his implacable foe, had repeatedly sought Le Jeune`s religious intervention in curing him of a lingering illness. Critically and carefully probing the depths of missionary writings, then, can illuminate aboriginal experiences as well as deepening our understanding of Le Jeune’s own perceptions.

Taras: You explain on page 49 that all-night torture sessions of prisoners carried out by both Innu and Mohawk were an affirmation of key cultural values shared by these antagonistic groups. Torture was understood as a mark of respect for the victim. Elsewhere you seem to regard physical privations (as in the winter trip of the protagonists made in 1633-34) as less severe than psychological traumas. Can you elaborate on why you are more concerned with psychological than corporal scars?

Anderson: I’m not sure that the pain explored in this book can be separated into neat categories of “physical suffering” and “psychological suffering” in quite the way in which you suggest, or that the amount of attention given to each can be neatly tallied. As you point out, suffering is a prominent theme in this book, be it the abstract analysis of the religious and sociological rationale behind indigenous post-war practices that you mention, or in its examination of the experiences of the young man who is the primary subject of this book.

Take, for instance, my presentation of Pastedechouan’s death. By any measure, to die alone of starvation and exposure would represent a terrifying ordeal. In the pages devoted to Pastedechouan’s death, I try to evoke what such an experience would likely have been like – the panic, the attempts to re-establish contact with potential rescuers, the attempt to construct shelter and create fire – and to chart the physiological symptoms of death from exposure – first pain, then numbness, then the illusion of warmth and the overwhelming desire to sleep. After evoking Pastedechouan’s likely actions and somatic experiences, however, I also address his likely state of mind. How would Pastedechouan have interpreted his apparent abandonment by his human kin? by the Innu pantheon? by the Christian God? How would he have interpreted the world which awaited him after death? How would these musings have inflected his experiences during his last hours? My assumption in posing these questions is that the two forms of suffering cannot be separated, as “physical” experiences are always inflected by psychological perceptions, and vice versa.

Another brief example from the book makes the same point. In Chapter Four, Paul Le Jeune’s experiences on the winter hunt are examined. In this case, too, physical and psychological torment are prominent, and, arguably, inescapably intertwined. In the middle of his winter with Pastedechouan’s kin, Le Jeune falls seriously ill, displaying a range of symptoms from vomiting to dizzy spells. Le Jeune’s own analysis of his sickness combines prosaic causations (the dried meat did not agree with his stomach) to a much more complex religious explanation in which he contrasts his spiritual health in a time of dearth to his spiritual sickness in a time of plenty. My analysis of Le Jeune’s ailment explores its physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions, as well as exploring how his ill-health was explained by the Innu community in which he was embedded.

There is one sense, however, in which I am, as you suggest “more concerned with psychological than corporal scars.” If I were forced at gunpoint to admit a distinction between physical and psychological suffering, and to indicate which is the more painful, I would indeed hold that psychological suffering is the more severe, simply because one’s psychological outlook regarding the meaning or meaninglessness of one’s physical suffering seems to affect how this suffering is perceived and experienced (for good or for ill). For example, Pastedechouan`s documented obsession with hellfire in the last years of his life would doubtless have sharpened rather than blunted the agony (both physical and psychological) of his final hours.

Taras: Is it accurate to say that your book juxtaposes an exclusivistic uncompromising French conception of identity with an inclusionary ecumenical Innu approach?

Anderson: It’s not quite that simple. You are correct in pointing out that identity is a major theme of this work, which focuses both upon the essentially comparative nature of collective and individual identity, and the dangers of the loss of a firm sense of personal identity. Just to set the context, the late 16th and early 17th centuries witnessed major new internal and external threats to the traditional sense of identity of both North American indigenous groups (with the advent of Europeans in their midst) and European Catholics (with the splitting of their church), threats which decisively shaped how these two groups regarded one another and themselves. While native people typically sought to incorporate French newcomers using traditional rubrics of fictive kinship and adoption, Catholic missionaries prayed that the transfusion of “New World” converts into their church would compensate for the ongoing Protestant hemorrhage. Both European Catholics and aboriginal peoples, then, used diplomacy, “conversion,” and force to ensure group cohesion and to incorporate outsiders into their respective groups, thus maintaining and extending their respective communal identities. Indeed, the central story of the book is how French Recollet missionaries sought, Pygmalion-like, to reshape a young native boy in their own image.

Though each group thus faced congruent challenges, they evolved different perceptions of alternative truth claims and different strategies for engaging them. Seventeenth century Innu spirituality was demonstrably characterized by relativism and empiricism. By contrast, early modern Catholicism insisted on its status as the sole acceptable truth and condemned the competing belief systems of Protestants or traditional indigenous religions as false, even demonic. In the initial decades of Catholic missionization of New France, missionaries thus sought to frame conversion to Christianity as a step which involved native peoples’ total renunciation of their religious and cultural heritage. In many cases, it was these exclusivistic tendencies within French Catholicism that hardened opposition to it amongst Pastedechouan’s people, rather than the actual theological contents of Christianity “itself.”

Taras: The battle of wills you describe between the two protagonists, Le Jeune and Pastedechouan, at Notre-Dame-des-Anges in 1632-33 involves a lot of speculative psychology on your part. If personal engagement is, as you say on page 234, an important part of the power of Pastedechouan's story, then does it follow that detachment from it leads to a more flawed interpretation?

Anderson: I feel that disciplined empathic engagement with the historical figures one is researching is one of the most valuable, yet least discussed, tools which historians and religionists have available to them. In trying to interpret the actions of people in the long distant past, this sort of tuning in to the subtleties of their behavior in the context of what we know of the rest of their story and their larger historical context is, in my opinion, invaluable.

Taras: Do you believe that in the seventeenth century European fur traders did less harm to the autonomy of Canada's First Nations than French Catholic missionaries? You underscore the religious nature of Pastedechouan's linguistic skills (French and Latin). In what way is that worse than the commercial nature of fur traders' language abilities?

Anderson: Your questions require a careful and nuanced answer which first of all distinguishes between the goals of different European groups, their demographic size, and their success in achieving their goals. As I outline in Chapter One of my book, the goals of fur traders were frankly exploitative of native groups. Traders wanted to get as many furs as they could wrangle from aboriginal peoples with the smallest outlay of their own resources. Their presence, historically, caused native over-exploitation of natural resources and encouraged aboriginal dependency on European goods, both of which had insalubrious results for native autonomy. At the same time, we must recognize that European traders sought to uphold traditional aboriginal life-ways, opposing fellow Europeans, like Champlain and Catholic religious orders, who sought to sedentify and Christianize communities of migratory hunter-gatherers. Recognition (and exploitation) of aboriginal people’s expert knowledge of their natural environment was, quite simply, in these traders’ best interest. The experience of the Innu people in the 1620s and 30s shows us that even large-scale trading with Europeans did not imperil native values or destabilize their internal economic practices. In fact, as I demonstrate in the book, the Innu were able to create a “dual track system” of values: continuing to retain their traditional communalism within their society, whilst evolving different “rules of engagement” when trading with the French. All of this suggests to me that trade relationships with Europeans, while challenging, did not profoundly imperil the survival of traditional native identity or ways of living, at least initially.

The advent of the missionaries, however, presented a totally different set of challenges. Seventeenth-century Catholic missionaries such as the Recollets and Jesuits sought nothing less than the complete religious, cultural, political, and economic re-orientation of aboriginal life around European-style agriculture and Roman Catholicism. While in Pastedechouan’s period the missionary presence was small enough that Catholics were unable to realize their ambitious plans for the cultural and religious “reformation” of aboriginal societies, within a few generations they had succeeded in fragmenting many native communities into Christian and traditionalist factions. In the case of the Wendat (Huron) this fatal weakening of community cohesion was a major factor in the eventual dramatic 1650 dispersion of the Wendat people from their traditional lands.

So while their engagement with missionaries and traders presented very different challenges, I would argue that missionary demands were ultimately more destructive of aboriginal cultures. The foregoing analysis, however, looks only at the conscious intent of these European agents. At the microbiological level, of course, traders and missionaries wreaked identical (if unintentional) havoc, as both economic and religious agents spread diseases to which native people had no immunity.

On your second question: I made the point I did about the religious context of Pastedechouan’s language acquisition in the interpretive context of his refusal to aid the invading Huguenot Kirke brothers in 1629. In mastering these European languages under the tutelage of the Recollets, Pastedechouan would also have imbibed their distinctive interpretations of Protestantism as a dangerous heresy, leading to his refusal to aid their agenda.

Taras: Have you read William Vollman's Fathers and Crows? What is it about the Jesuit Relations that has spawned contemporary works of creative nonfiction and fiction alike?

Anderson: I haven’t yet read it, but am familiar with other fiction works based on the Jesuit Relations, such as Brian Moore’s Black Robe.

I think that what attracts fiction-writers as well as historians and religionists to the Jesuit Relations is their unparalleled richness of narrative, detailed evocations of personal encounters, including conversations, and the strong sense that they provide of the individual personalities of their writers. More abstractly, I believe that the seventeenth-century encounter between native peoples and Europeans is of such popular interest because of the profound similarities between that period and our own. Like the early 21st century, the early 17th century was a period of unprecedented inter-cultural contact which was both fascinating and unsettling for all participants. Dizzying technological and conceptual changes then, as now, seemed to threaten traditional definitions of individual and collective identity. I think that, perusing the Jesuit Relations, many readers feel a sense of identification with the historical actors’ (both European and indigenous) cultural dislocation in our own time of globalization.

Taras: Do you hold out any hope for the survival of nomadic ways of life anywhere?

Anderson: Pastedechouan’s people, the Innu, have been successful in some parts of Canada to holding to a semi-nomadic way of life, though one which in some ways reverses the primordial patterns of their seventeenth century ancestors. Whereas the Innu of Pastedechouan’s day were largely sedentary in the summer, using these milder months to congregate in large groups by rivers, and breaking up only into smaller kin-based groups in the mid-fall, contemporary Innu people reverse the pattern: living in settlements during the winter and living in mobile bands in the summer months. So yes, it is possible, though often difficult. Aboriginal people wishing to follow the ways of their ancestors face a range of rigid hunting and fishing laws formulated around the need to restrict commercial activities or to regulate sport-hunting.
Read about The Betrayal of Faith at the Harvard University Press website. Learn more about Emma Anderson's teaching, research, and other publications at her faculty webpage.

The Page 69 Test: The Betrayal of Faith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ray Banks

In the Winter 2008 issue of Spinetingler Magazine, Sandra Ruttan interviews Ray Banks. A couple of exchanges from the Q & A:

Sandra: Now, as a lapsed Catholic, where does all the fascination with the dark side of humanity come from?

Ray: Kind of answered your own question there. But I'm not all that interested in the darkness, to be honest. I'm more interested in people who think of themselves as morally sound, but who make unfortunate moral decisions.

Sandra: Although it seems to me from what I’ve read of your work that your interests take you to the criminal side of the equation. Not about the cop faced with a moral dilemma on the job, or the real average Joe who gets caught up in a mess. Why is that?

Ray: Cops don't interest me at all, unless you're talking Wambaugh's or Willeford's cops or the beat cops in Will Beall's stuff, where they're actual people instead of sad sack ciphers listening to jazz and mulling over cold case files. The problem I see with the police as characters is that, because of their profession, they're one stage removed from the actual drama in most crime novels. When you're reading a police procedural, you're being fed information about the central crime through this filter of the investigating officer. As the detective understands the crime, you're supposed to understand it in the same way. There's really no room for interpretation in that; you're not really being asked to make up your own mind. And when the bad guy's caught, that's it. Order comes out of chaos, and the mystery is solved.

But it strikes me that the most interesting thing has already happened by the time the police get on the scene. Now whether you want to call Cal Innes and Alan Slater criminals or not is another matter. Personally, I class them as closer to the average Joe, albeit an average Joe who's marginalized and closer to the gutter than Mr Two-Point-Four-Kids. They're not professional criminals, though they have committed crimes, so I suppose they're somewhere in between. And what's fascinating to me isn't the mystery to be solved – there's never a question as to who did what in my books, and that "what" is very rarely murder, too – but how people get themselves into a position where crime is the only logical outcome, especially if they're actively trying to avoid it. To do that, I think you have to throw away the filter, get right in there and have a good poke around. And hopefully somewhere in the muck is the blood and bones and guts that Harry Crews talks about.

That's what I'm shooting for anyway. Everything else – the puzzle-solving, the politics – is kind of ephemeral.
Read the full interview.

More from Ray Banks:
More from Sandra Ruttan:
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 7, 2008

Elizabeth Becka

ITW contributing editor Keith Raffel interviewed forensic scientist Elizabeth Becka about her latest novel, Unknown Means. The opening passages from their dialogue:

Keith Raffel: Elizabeth, you said you spent the happiest five years of your life working in the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office in Cleveland. What's wrong with you?

Elizabeth Becka: I don't know. I've asked myself that over the years and never really gotten an answer, so I stopped asking.

KR: What have you taken from your job there and put into Unknown Means?

EB: The irritating, boring, tedious parts of having a civil service job. How nothing is as easy and fast as it looks on TV.
KR: Can you give us a sneak preview of Unknown Means?

EB: Evelyn suffers from sleep deprivation as one murder follows on the heels of another. On top of that, she can't even figure out how the killer is getting to his victims (who live in very high-security buildings), much less who he is.
KR: Evelyn James's personal life as a single mother is an important element of Unknown Means, isn't it?

EB: I want to show her personal life, because the forensic scientists on TV don't seem to have one. Real CSIs have lives outside of work. It's not a job that stops at 5 pm every day. Many a dinner out or party have been cut short because the pager goes off.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Unknown Means.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Karen Miller

Karen Miller is the author of the bestselling fantasy duology Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, the currently releasing fantasy trilogy Godspeaker (Volume 1: Empress), and the bestselling tie-in novel Stargate SG-1: Alliances.

She recently responded to a few questions posed by Chris, the Book Swede, including:

The magic system in Godspeaker is quite different to the Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology and religion also plays a much larger part – was this a conscious move away, and what risks were involved?

Not conscious insofar as I made up this story to deliberately get away from the world of Lur. It's just the story that wanted to be told next. So I guess the differences grow out of that. These are brand new people, in a brand new environment. I did work hard to make sure I wasn't repeating myself, because that is a danger, always, when you're writing. Also, I did want to have a bit of a play with some religious themes, in this trilogy, and that wasn't the focus of the first two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books. So yes, the religious themes in this trilogy are definitely a conscious decision. And I guess the magic grows directly out of that.

I feel there are huge risks in this story, and in this trilogy. For a start, Mijak is such a hugely different world from a lot of mainstream fantasy, and what I've done before. And it's not a pretty or comfortable world, either. It's dark and violent and confronting. But that's the way the story went, so I did have to take a deep breath and follow it. Hekat's a confronting character, too. The world of Mijak isn't as user friendly as the world of Lur, and so that's a huge risk in terms of upsetting readers. I knew it when I was writing it, and frankly I've scared myself stupid with this. Even though early feedback has been good, I'm still terrified. I tend to live my writing life in a perpetual state of terror -- I'm always convinced I haven't done a good enough job.

There's more lightness and warmth in bks 2 and 3 of this trilogy, with the new characters coming in. But that doesn't alter the fact that bk 1 is pretty damned full-on! *g* And there are moments all the way through the trilogy that aren't for the faint-hearted or the squeamish.

But I think that if you're not risking something, if you're not challenging yourself, as a writer, then ultimately you're short-changing readers. And I guess I also wanted to show that I can sing in more than one key.

Read the full Q & A.

Visit Karen Miller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Lee Child

Ali Karim, on behalf of The Rap Sheet, interviewed Lee Child about his latest book and other subjects.

Part of the Q & A:

AK: In Nothing to Lose, you offer readers a neo-Western set-up. So, are you a fan of the movies of Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa?

LC: Not really, I’m pretty oblivious to Westerns as a genre. I think the point is that Westerns are rooted to periods of history way back, like the medieval chivalric sagas which I am very familiar with due to my readings in English Literature (King Arthur, Robin Hood, etc.). But you can trace it back even further, as the theme is the basic human story--the idea of the nameless loner with no past and no future who just exists in the present. It is a basic human paradigm which has always been popular.

AK: And you have a great barroom brawl in this new book. Do you find the action scenes fun to write, in contrast to the more serious issues addressed in your subtext?

LC: It’s actually all the same to me when I’m writing it, as it is important for the book that one scene is as important and as well-written as the next. But when you have important issues to explore, you don’t want the hero to be a pious, sanctimonious protagonist, so the violence in the barroom brawl helps flesh him out. This is not some “good-two-shoes,” this is a guy [Jack Reacher], who will do whatever it takes, in whatever arena.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 4, 2008

Richard Price

James Mustich interviewed Richard Price, author of seven novels including the newly released Lush Life, for Barnes & Noble.

One exchange from the interview:

JM: After your first four books [Editor's note: Ladies' Man and The Breaks followed The Wanderers and Bloodbrothers], you took a hiatus from fiction and did mostly screenplays, before coming back with Clockers. You've often talked about how exhilarating it was to discover, through screenwriting, a way to write that wasn't autobiographical.

RP: Right. Writing screenplays sort of forced me to leave my autobiography. I was a hired pen, and they weren't interested in my story. They want you to write about Paul Newman being a pool hustler, say, which means you've got to go out and learn about this stuff, and you've got to write about it in such a way that it looks like you know what you're talking about. You've got to go out and learn about the world, as opposed to sit at home and sort of look in a mirror and write what you see. At first, it was a very intimidating proposition, but I found out I could do it, and it opened up the whole world to me.

But I also discovered that you still have to find the story. When you're writing novels, and it's your call what to write about -- not "This is what the market wants right now in terms of big-ticket screenplays" -- you still have to find a subject that rings a bell, that in some way intersects with the things that you care about. It might not be you. I mean, it might be cops and robbers. I'm neither a cop nor a robber, but there's something in that environment that attracts me -- that's connected to The Wanderers and stuff like that. What I got from doing the screenplays is that somebody kicked me off the diving board, and I found out that I could swim, and I've never stopped swimming since.

That's the reason I stopped writing novels to go into screenplays: I was so tied in to feeling like I could only write about what I personally knew that I ran out of things to write about. The screenplays got me past that, but the problem now is that every time I start a new book, it's daunting. So with this new book, which is set on the Lower East Side, as with Clockers , it was very intimidating to me to try to encompass the material, just know it well enough to fashion a fictional story from it.

But I always feel like the best work comes when you're a little scared of what you're about to do, because you don't think you can quite do it, and therefore you have to bring everything you have to pull it off. It's like the old saying, "terror keeps you slender." Scared is a good way to be.
Read the full interview.

Read Price's interview with Mark Athitakis of Washington City Paper.

See my 2006 post, "A novel for fans of HBO's The Wire."

--Marshal Zeringue