Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gillian Slovo

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

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

What music helps you write?

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

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

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

What does it mean to be a writer?

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Neal Stephenson

James Mustich, Editor-in-Chief of the Barnes & Noble Review, interviewed Neal Stephenson about his latest book, Anathem. A couple of their exchanges:

JM: I found the first 100 pages or so of Anathem a little difficult -- not unpleasant, but I was conscious of struggling to keep all the elements of your invented world straight in my mind as I was reading. Then everything seemed to snap into place and I was happily lost in the book.

NS: That's a remarkably universal remark -- almost everyone says, "The first hundred pages were heavy sledding, and then it started happening for me." It's interesting how consistent that response has been.

JM: The book takes place largely on the planet Arbre, a good part of it in Erasmus's "concent," or cloister, of Saunt Edhar. How complete were the worlds of Arbre and Edhar in your head? Did you have elaborate geographies and architectural plans and the like?

NS: No. Earlier in my writing career, I really wanted to write fantasy and science fiction novels. I actually wrote one that never got published that had an extremely elaborate, carefully thought-out map, as well as timelines and histories and cultures -- the whole bit. I enjoy making that kind of material up, and I've got a mind that's geared that way. I did it even back in the days when I had to do it all with a typewriter and 3-by-5 cards. So working today with computers and 3D graphics and all of the tools at one's disposal, I could see myself diving into such a project, and not emerging until ten years later, when I had complete topographic maps of the entire world, and all of that. But at this point in my life I know myself well enough to fear that outcome -- and to fear the twelve-volume series of enormous novels that would fall out of that kind of project. [LAUGHS] So I made up my mind almost immediately with this one that I would refrain from coming up with a really detailed geography for Arbre, and refrain from filling in those 3,700 years of history that followed the planet's "Terrible Events" with specific incidents and nations and wars and religions and all that.

The approach I just described is consistent with how the avout are going to see that world. To them, all of the detailed history is in a way boring and repetitive. They know it, they study it, they've got it written down in books. But it's all kind of beside the point to them. It's part of their expectation that the so-called Saeculum -- the world of non-book-reading, aliterate people -- is naturally going to have this kind of numbingly repetitive history, filled with the same mistakes being made over and over again, because, in the view of the avout, the Saecular people have no way to advance.

So I wanted to avoid the detailed history, and writing it from the point of view of the avout gave me the excuse to not have that history to hand. As a result, rather than beginning with a lengthy world-building process, I really just plunged in, and only rendered those parts of the geography and the history that were absolutely necessary to get the story told.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gordon Aalborg

From Julia Buckley's interview with Gordon Aalborg:

You are originally from Canada, but at least one book review refers to you as “an Australian author.” Do you feel more like a Canadian or an Australian?

A bit of both, since I have dual citizenship. I went to Australia in ’73 and stayed until 2000. There was a time I expected to stay in Australia forever, but--things change. As it is, I now find it handy that I can read, write and especially edit in Canadian, British, Australian, and New Zealand English, as well as what passes for English amongst you Americans with your strange spelling habits. :)

You started out in journalism, and you’ve written a wide variety of books—some as Gordon Aalborg, some as Victoria Gordon. Do you have a favorite genre?

I started out in journalism when I was twenty—-so long ago that journalism was still a respectable profession. :) My favorite genre as a writer is definitely mystery. Which isn’t to say I mightn’t yet try, say, Science Fiction, just to see how that goes. I grew up reading Westerns, Science Fiction, and animal stories—-only came to mysteries as a young adult with—-especially—-John D. MacDonald.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Gordon Aalborg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Karen Chance

Karen Chance is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Cassandra Palmer Series and other books and stories, including the recently released Midnight's Daughter.

About Midnight's Daughter, from the back cover:

Dorina Basarab is a dhampir—half-human, half-vampire. Subject to uncontrollable rages, most dhampirs live very short, very violent lives. So far, Dory has managed to maintain her sanity by unleashing her anger on those demons and vampires who deserve killing.

Now Dory’s vampire father has come back into her life. Her uncle Dracula (yes, the Dracula) infamous even among vampires for his cruelty and murderous ways, has escaped his prison. And her father wants Dory to work with the gorgeous master vampire Louis-Cesare to put him back there.

Vampires and dhampirs are mortal enemies, and Dory prefers to work alone. But Dracula is the only thing on earth that truly scares her, and when Dory has to go up against him, she’ll take all the help she can get…

From a Q & A with Karen Chance at Literary Escapism:
Dhampires haven’t played much of a role in vampire fiction lately; what made you feature this aspect of the vampire culture? What inspired you to give the dhampire a volatile temperament?

Actually, there are a lot of dhampirs around, just not in paranormal romance. But in fantasy, where my books are usually categorized, you find quote a few: Barb and J.C. Hendee’s long running series on the Noble Dead, Nancy Collins’s Stillborn, Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls, etc. But I believe my take on the subject is very different from anything else out there.

As for the second part of the question, I have to point out that “volatile temperament” doesn’t really sum it up. Dory is insane, at least part of the time. As for why she has these psychotic episodes, it grew out of trying to imagine what the result would be of a human body paired with the vampire killing instinct. I also thought that the challenge of writing someone like Dory would be interesting—and it was.

A lot of your vampires are recognizable characters from history (Kit Marlowe, the Tepes brothers), why did you include some of these figures in the Vampire Senate and will we meet any others? Do their histories (both in your novels and in reality) have a special meaning to you?

I included them because I’ve never been able to understand why books that feature vampires, especially older ones who have lived hundreds of years, don’t do more with their history. I love imagining where they’ve been, who they’ve met, what they’ve done—it just makes the character so much easier to write when you know the experiences that shaped them. And taking larger-than-life figures for some of the leading vampires gave them a fascinating back story with a lot of potential. So yes, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll meet more historical characters, both vampire and not, in upcoming novels. As far as choosing the characters, I tend to go more by the needs of the story line than by personal preference.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Karen Chance's website.

Writers Read: Karen Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Katherine Neville

At Poe's Deadly Daughters, Sandra Parshall interviewed Katherine Neville, author of The Eight and The Fire.

From the Q & A:

Q. Tell us about The Fire. Which characters from The Eight will reappear?

A. Cat, Solarin, Nim and Lily all appear in the modern part of The Fire. But now we see them from a different point of view--from the viewpoint of Alexandra, the daughter of Cat and Solarin, who has a very different part to play. And in the historic part, we also see Talleyrand and Mireille from the viewpoint of their son, Charlot, who is no longer a child prophet but now a grown man with an important role in the Game of his own.

Q. I’m sure all your fans are wondering the same thing: Why did you stop writing for so long? When did you start working on The Fire, and what inspired it?

A. Actually, I've never stopped writing. But as for why it takes so long to finish a book--I confess, I don't really write my books, my books write themselves--or at least decide when and how they want to be written. Or NOT written. For instance, I got the idea of how to do the sequel to The Eight more than a decade ago, but every time I tried to write it, some earthshaking event would happen--like September 11--to indicate that my book wasn't ready. It was only when I was halfway through writing The Fire that I realized WHY my book hadn't been ready to tell its story:

The Fire is set during the first week of April, in 2003. As it turns out, that was the very week that we entered Baghdad in the Iraq War. The Monglane Service--the chess set that I had invented in The Eight, which had once belonged to Charlemagne and Catherine the Great--had originally been created in the eighth century, in the then-brand-new city of Baghdad. In The Fire, that small detail was destined to play an integral role in the Game.
Read the complete interview.

Read an excerpt from The Fire, and learn more about the author and her work at Katherine Neville's website. View the video trailer for The Fire.

Katherine Neville is the author of The Eight, The Magic Circle (a USA Today bestseller), and A Calculated Risk (a New York Times Notable Book). The Eight has been translated into more than thirty languages. In a national poll in Spain by the noted journal El País, The Eight was voted one of the top ten books of all time.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Deborah Sharp

From Julia Buckley's interview with Deborah Sharp, author of Mama Does Time:

You were a reporter for USA Today, but you “quit the news biz to write mysteries.” Were you thinking that would be a step up in salary? :)

Ha! I never was very good at math.

Seriously, though, what made you want to write a mystery?

I think after 20 years in journalism, I just got tired of all the sad stories and tragedies affecting real people. I wanted to write fiction, and I wanted it to be light.

Your book, Mama Does Time, [is now on] on store shelves. You’ve described the series as “Agatha Christie meets My Name is Earl.” That means funny mysteries! Did you laugh while you were writing them?

That really is one of the best things about writing the series, getting a giggle every now and then. Not that writing still isn’t hard work, but I do chuckle when I type a line like, “Mama’s head swiveled like a one-eyed dog in a butcher shop.’’
Read the complete Q & A.

Listen to an excerpt from Mama Does Time, and learn more about the book and author at Deborah Sharp's website.

Like the main character in her "Mace Bauer Mysteries," Deborah Sharp's family roots were set in Florida long before Walt Disney and Miami Vice came to define the state. She is a former, longtime reporter for USA Today.

The Page 69 Test: Deborah Sharp's Mama Does Time.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 24, 2008

Malena Lott

From Malena Lott's Author Snapshot at January Magazine:

Please tell us about your most recent book.

Dating da Vinci is about a young widow searching for la vita allegro, joyful living, two years after her husband’s death. She seeks answers to his past and a way to build a wholly new life. She teaches English to immigrants and meets a handsome Italian immigrant named Leonardo da Vinci who becomes a catalyst in her renaissance. The book explores the theme of soul mates, second chances and everlasting love as she finishes her dissertation on “The Language of Love” and rebuilds her life.

* * *

What are you working on now?

A work of women’s fiction about three sisters invited by their estranged mother of 20 years to “walk in her shoes” by traveling the world to see where she's been the last two decades to decide if they want to reunite with her at the end of their journey. It’s like Eat, Pray Love meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Read the complete snapshot.

Visit Malena Lott's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mary Stanton

From a Q & A with Mary Stanton about her new novel, Defending Angels:

How did you get the idea for Defending Angels?

My agent challenged me to write a proposal for a ghost hunter series. I’m like a dog with a biscuit. If you offer me a treat, I’ll jump. But it ended up with angels in it, instead of ghosts. I’m not sure why.

* * * *

Did you encounter any unusual obstacles in writing Defending Angels?

I don’t do much research when I write fiction. And I decided in an excess of hubris that I could remember enough Milton and Dante to create the celestial universe all on my own. Boy, was I wrong! I had to go back and re-read Paradise Lost and The Inferno. And then, since I’m so past by college days, it isn’t funny, I had to Google cribs for the poetry because I didn’t get it when I read the works all by myself. Thank goodness for online lesson plans!
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Mary Stanton's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Janet Evanovich

From Janet Evanovich's interview with Jess Lourey at InkSpot:

JESS: Hallelujah! Back in your pre-published days, you wrote a few novels that would be categorized as literary, or mainstream, fiction. Ever think about dusting those off, revising them using your hard-won writing skills, and publishing them?

JANET: Nope. They wouldn't meet reader expectation in their present form and the editing would be so time consuming it wouldn't be cost effective.

JESS: And I certainly don't want to pull you away from creating more Stephanie Plum adventures! OK, Mark Twain once said, "I prefer having written to writing." (He also said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society," but that's beside the point). How about for you? Do you enjoy the act of writing, or is it still a challenge, albeit a grand one?

JANET: I prefer writing to having written. I love the process, the isolation, the unique world I go into every morning. Once the book is off my desk it belongs to someone else. The only really good part to having written is that someone sends me a check which allows me to go on writing.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 21, 2008

J.A. Konrath

J.A. Konrath, author of the terrific Lieutenant Jack Daniels thrillers, has a new standalone novel titled Afraid, published under the psuedonym Jack Kilborn, out now in the UK and coming in the spring to the US.

The Rap Sheet's Ali Karim quizzed Konrath about "why this Chicago-area author used a pseudonym for his new novel, what his fascination is with the horror genre and techno-thrillers, and how it happened that the British won the rights to publish Afraid so far ahead of the Americans." Part of their interview:

AK: Let me say that I was just knocked out by Afraid. So, can you tell us how you came to write this horrific techno-thriller?

JAK: Thanks for the kind words. I’m a huge horror fan, and the Lieutenant Jack Daniels thrillers I write in the U.S. under the name J.A. Konrath have a lot of horror elements in them. But those books also have their lighter moments, and I wanted to try a novel that was pure terror--no pulled punches. So I made a list of things people feared. There were some obvious ones, like fear of death, or the dark, or drowning, or enclosed spaces, or fire; but also some more specific fears, like your children getting hurt, trusting a caregiver, a spouse dying, being helpless.

Then I took those fears to the Nth degree.

My personal prediction is that one quarter of those who start reading Afraid won’t have the courage to finish it. I included something to scare just about everyone.[read on]
Visit J.A. Konrath's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 20, 2008

James Gustave Speth

James Gustave (“Gus”) Speth is dean of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and was a cofounder of both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute. His latest book is The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (Yale University Press).

Earlier this year he contributed an entry to Writers Read.

From his interview with Melinda Tuhus for E / The Environmental Magazine:

E: Could you explain your main position in writing this book?

Speth: The essence of socialism is public ownership of the means of production, and I don’t think that’s the answer to the problems I’m raising, but neither is capitalism. We need to move beyond today’s capitalism and find a non-socialist alternative. That’s the door I’m trying to open with this book. It grew out of a sense that we’re approaching a calamitous situation on the environmental front. How could we have this paradox in which the environmental community—which I’ve been part of my whole life—gets stronger and more sophisticated, better funded, more members—and the environment continues to go downhill?”

E: What is your message to today’s environmental community?

Speth: Mainstream environmentalism is very incremental, it’s very wonkish in the sense that it’s very technical. But the problem is, it’s like swimming upstream—we get stronger and we think we’re going to master the current and make headway against the current, but the truth is the current is getting stronger faster than we are. The economy is growing very rapidly. The issues have outgrown us and we’re not making headway, and my guess is we never will with the current approach. That is, you won’t succeed working within the system when you need to change the system. So my urging to the environmental community is to step outside the system, to develop a more stinging, more in-depth critique and to begin to do some things which the environmental community hasn’t been willing to take on so far.
Read the complete inteview.

Read more about Speth's teaching, research, and publications at his Yale faculty webpage and visit The Bridge at the End of the World website.

Writers Read: James Gustave Speth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

John Morgan Wilson

Spider Season, the 8th volume in John Morgan Wilson's Benjamin Justice Mystery Series, is coming soon from St. Martin's Minotaur.

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

Simple Justice launched your series and won the Edgar -- what’s it about?

Simple Justice revolves around the apparent gay-bashing murder of a young cokehead outside an L.A. nightspot, which draws the reluctant Justice out of seclusion in search of an elusive truth that only he seems able to perceive. He uncovers a murder plot with dark political overtones, but to solve the crime, he must first come to terms with his own dark past and his own demons. In this, Alexandra Templeton is the key, helping them forge an uneasy bond that sets up the series.

* * *
Is Benjamin Justice your alter ego?

We certainly have our differences, but Justice definitely reflects many of my own feelings, viewpoints, and experiences, albeit dramatized and transformed into fiction through my writer’s imagination. I doubt there’s been a mystery series hero or heroine written, particularly in the first person, as mine is, that does not deeply reflect the author. As Sue Grafton once said of her character, Kinsey Milhone: "She’s the younger, slimmer, more courageous version of me!" (Or words to that effect.) I would like to state for the record that, while Justice had a very violent and abusive father, my own father, now deceased, was a gentle, kind man, with whom I shared a loving relationship. Justice’s feelings toward his father in the novels more closely reflect the problems I had with my abusive stepfather, who is also deceased. That aspect of the character, by the way, was never planned or envisioned; it came out spontaneously in the writing of the first book, quite a surprise to me. The writing process is full of surprises like that. Books seem to take on their own reality, their own life force, when the writing is going well.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit John Morgan Wilson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

P.D. James

Lauren Mechling interviewed P.D. James for the Wall Street Journal.

A couple of their exchanges:

Your books have such intricate plots. Do you tinker with them as you go along?

The plotting is normally done before I begin writing, but the plot does change during the writing. Sometimes new ideas come and the characters behave rather differently from how I thought they'd behave. The plot becomes quite richer that way. I never really get the book I thought I would at the end.

Does technology get in the way of plotting murder mysteries? Everyone has cellphones now so people don't have to, say, drive through the rain to relay a message.

You're absolutely right. Cellphones have been a real problem to me. And DNA, of course. Everything has changed with cellphones and DNA. Now, for example, there could be a clue that A made a telephone call to B at a certain time, but he could have been on his cellphone in the next room. In the old days if he made it from a certain number at home, you'd know where he was.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ad Hudler

From a Q & A at the Random House website:

Ad Hudler sat down with his seventeen-year-old daughter, Haley, to discuss their lives and the characters from Man of the House.

Haley Hudler: Man of the House begins with Violet Menner’s entrance essay to Collier Academy.You say that I was your inspiration for Violet. That is the biggest understatement I’ve ever heard in my life. Dad, I know you fancy yourself a fiction writer, but I mean, come on. Violet is me, down to the “Oh, joy,” exact dialogue stolen from my preteen years. What was it like for you writing from my point of view? How did you have to change your writing style to do it?

Ad Hudler: Because I spend so much of my time with you, it really wasn’t that difficult. I have spent hundreds of hours driving teenage girls around in the van, so I’ve certainly got the dialect down. Honestly, Haley, I did have to dumb Violet down a little bit; you have a better vocabulary than most English teachers, but I didn’t think that would be believable to the average reader.

HH: Man of the House is set about ten years after its prequel, Househusband. In that time many important things happened to the Menner family. How did you fit all of this background history into the first few chapters of the book without making it seem contrived to those readers who didn’t read Househusband? [read on]
Read the full Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Man of the House, and learn more about the author and his work at Ad Hudler's website and blog.

Ad Hudler is the author of All This Belongs To Me, Southern Living, and the best-selling Househusband.

The Page 69 Test: Man of the House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Porter Shreve

From a Q & A with the writer Porter Shreve:

Generally speaking, do you think of your fiction as autobiographical?

My three novels have all been inspired by family stories. The Obituary Writer goes back to my grandfather’s unlikely friendship with a young widow he met while working at the Cincinnati Post; Drives Like a Dream began when I was wondering how my mother must have felt when all four of her kids moved away from DC, where she’d raised us with an all-for-one, one-for-all communal spirit; and When the White House Was Ours is based on my family’s alternative school. Invariably, I begin writing a story as it actually happened, then characters and situations I can never anticipate appear out of nowhere and take over. Often the secondary characters, like the hippies Tino, Cinnamon and Linc in When the White House Was Ours create trouble for the protagonist and the clash has a transformative effect, rendering him or her less familiar to me and in the process loosening my imagination so that by the end of the story there’s little relationship to autobiography, at least in factual terms, though its emotional core remains.

* * *

Your title is certainly political. How did you come up with When the White House Was Ours? Did you plan to publish the book during an election year?

I began thinking about the novel during the 2004 campaign season, and was probably so urgent to see George W. Bush retired to his Texas ranch that when it didn’t happen in November I plotted my own small, personal retaliation and titled a book I knew very little about When the White House Was Ours. Like The Obituary Writer, I had the title almost before I’d written a word, and the title took me back to the alternative school, which was something I’d always wanted to write about, and then to the years 1976 and 1977. I remember my whole family standing in the cold on inauguration day watching Jimmy, Rosalynn and Amy Carter walk along Constitution Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. At first I didn’t plan for When the White House Was Ours to come out in an election year, but as the story developed and began to resonate with the elections of 1976, 2000 and even 2008, I realized I was writing both a nostalgic and perhaps even a timely book. The title gave me a firm deadline, too, something we writer/procrastinators are always grateful for.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Porter Shreve's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve's latest book is Testimony.

Anna Metcalfe of the Financial Times put a few questions to the author, including:

Who are your literary heroes?

Shirley Hazzard. Her book The Transit of Venus is one of the finest novels written in the English language. I also like Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain and Alice McDermott.

What book changed your life?

In my junior year in high school I read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and discovered the power of novels.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 14, 2008

Michael Connelly

Nancy Gilson of the Columbus Dispatch interviewed Michael Connelly about his latest novel, The Brass Verdict.

Part of their dialogue:

Q: Is The Brass Verdict the first of more novels that will feature both Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch?

A: Most likely. I don't have anything planned, but obviously The Brass Verdict has set the stage for them to continue this awkward relationship. . . . On the pages where they're together, those were the pages I liked to write the most.

Q: Both Harry and Mickey age in your novels. How's that working out?

A: Maybe it was a foolish move, but at the time I didn't know I'd be writing about . . . (Harry Bosch) for years.

All the books are set in the year when they're published. . . . That's one of the things I do, so I have to live with it. . . . There's at least 15 years difference in their ages. Harry was born in 1950, . . . so he's 58 now. In The Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller was about 5 or 6 when his father died . . . about 1971-72.

Q: Will you ever kill off Harry?[read on]
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Scott Pratt

Scott Pratt's debut novel, the legal thriller An Innocent Client, has just been published. From his interview with Sandra Parshall for Poe's Deadly Daughters:

Q. Tell us about your first novel.

A. An Innocent Client is the story of Joe Dillard, a forty-year-old criminal defense attorney who is excellent at what he does, but has grown tired of the constant moral compromises he’s forced to make in the profession. On his fortieth birthday, he makes an off-hand wish for just one innocent client before he quits. Not long after that, he thinks he’s gotten his wish. A young girl is accused of stabbing a preacher to death in a motel. Dillard is hired to represent the girl, and he sincerely believes she’s innocent.

However, as the case unfolds, Dillard finds himself dealing with a dirty cop, a politically-astute district attorney, a drug-addled sister, a dying mother, a violent stalker, and a manipulative redhead who isn’t what she seems. Dillard is forced to make a series of gut-wrenching decisions along the way and ultimately is forced to confront his worst enemy – himself. I tried to keep the story suspenseful but fun, fast-moving but deeply evocative. There are several twists, a bunch of great characters, and what I think is a satisfying, plausible ending. Sounds like a bestseller, huh?

Q. I’ve heard that the legal thriller market isn’t easy to break into. What was your road to publication like? Easier than you expected or more difficult?

A. It was vastly more difficult than I expected. I knew going in that I could write, but I didn’t know how to structure a novel. I enlisted...[read on]
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Scott Pratt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ann Littlewood

From Julia Buckley's interview with Ann Littlewood, author of Night Kill:

You refer to your first mystery, Night Kill, as a zoo-dunnit, and you suggest that very few mysteries are set in zoos. With so many animal lovers in the world, why do you think this is not a more common setting?

I have a couple of theories. One is the association of zoos with children and possibly an assumption that only books for children would use this setting.

Another is that there just aren’t all that many zookeepers, period, and therefore not many who write fiction. Every zookeeper has a trove of fascinating stories, so let’s hope more of them decide to write! Another reason may be that people outside the profession think of zookeeping as rather sweet and undramatic, more appropriate for heartwarming anecdotes than for murder.

Trust me, it’s a dangerous profession, the relationships between keepers and animals are complex, and keepers share the same emotions and conflicts as the rest of humanity. And it's got all those great animals, so it’s a rich milieu for crime fiction. Night Kill is driven by grief and anger—I don’t think you’ll find it sentimental. In fact, I felt I had to go back and lighten it up a bit and add some humor.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Ann Littlewood's website and blog.

Writers Read: Ann Littlewood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jena Pincott

Jena Pincott has a background in biology and was a production assistant on science documentaries for PBS. She is a former senior editor at Random House, and is the author of Success: Advice for Achieving Your Goals from Remarkably Accomplished People and Healing: Advice for Recovering Your Strength and Spirit from the World's Most Famous Survivors. Her new book is Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?: Bodies, Behavior, and Brains--The Science Behind Sex, Love, and Attraction.

From her interview with Newsweek:

What surprised you most about our dating and mating habits?

I was really surprised by the importance of smell. It's almost taboo to talk about smell, yet it's so critical. Actually, smell was my inspiration for writing the book. I was single and I was dating this great guy. Everything was great about him. He had a good career and a sense of humor. But I hated the way he smelled. I'm a self-described science geek, so I decided to research why this guy's smell was so unappealing to me-even right out of the shower. No one else thought it was unappealing. Then I started to ask other questions about the science of attraction, and thought: this would make a fascinating topic for a book.

So what was the reason that he didn't smell right to you?

It probably had to do with pheromones, which are chemical signals that can influence how others react to you. They're found in sweat saliva and bodily fluids. It's possible that my date and I had very similar immune system genes, which are linked to pheromones found in his sweat, and we were possibly a genetic mismatch because our immune systems were too much alike.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Jena Pincott's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 10, 2008

Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of Prep, The Man of My Dreams, and American Wife.

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

What book changed your life?

Monkeys by Susan Minot, which I read when I was 15. It’s a book of short stories about a big New England family and it showed me that a writer could write about families and children and their lives without having to relate dramatic events such as going into outer space or to war.

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

Satirical talk show host Stephen Colbert’s book I Am America (And So Can You!).
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Martin Edwards

From The Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston's Pierce's interview of writer Martin Edwards:

Having written a bit about the Crippen case myself in The Rap Sheet, I was intrigued by what Edwards had in mind with Dancing for the Hangman. So, when I ran into this lawyer turned novelist at Bouchercon in Baltimore last month, I proposed sending him a few questions about the forthcoming book, its protagonist, and mysteries still surrounding the Crippen case. He said he’d be delighted to participate in that exchange, the results of which follow here.

J. Kingston Pierce: When did you first become interested in the strange case of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen?

Martin Edwards: After writing seven whodunits featuring the Liverpool lawyer, Harry Devlin, I wanted to try something very different. I had an idea which really excited me for a novel of psychological suspense, which became Take My Breath Away [2002]. The central character was a true-crime writer called Nic Gabriel, author of a book about the Crippen case. I’ve always had an interest in classic crimes, and the more I researched Crippen’s story, the more fascinated I became. My agent, Mandy Little, suggested I write a historical mystery about him, and it went on from there.

JKP: Was Dancing for the Hangman a novel you’d been thinking about writing for some years, but had resisted tackling until now? If so, what was it about the story that you found most challenging?

ME: I started the first version of the book about...[read on]
Read the complete interview.

Learn more about Dancing for the Hangman and the author at Martin Edwards' website and his blog, 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?'.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Thomas Sugrue

Thomas J. Sugrue is a historian at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is currently Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Professor of History and Sociology. Sugrue’s first book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, won the prestigious Bancroft Prize in American History, the President’s Book Award of the Social Science History Association, the Philip Taft Prize in Labor History, and the Urban History Association Prize for Best Book in North American Urban History. He is the author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North.

From a Q & A about Sweet Land of Liberty:

Q. What types of activities were Northern activists involved in?

A: During the 1930s and 1940s grassroots activists really saw the question of civil rights as a question of economic rights as much as anything else. Activists saw the questions of racial economic inequality or racial class as fundamentally intertwined, and promoted an agenda to improve wages and to push for trade unionization, as well as an agenda to end discrimination.I also discovered a remarkable history of grassroots black-led boycotts of separate and unequal schools in the North that really forced me to rethink the whole meaning of Brown v. Board of Education. There was also a really important and largely unknown Northern story of grassroots battles against segregated hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, swimming pools and amusement parks. This was a real eye-opener for me. Up until the 1950s, in many parts of the North, African Americans were systematically excluded from public accommodations. Many of the activists in the South, in the famous sit-ins in the early 1960s, were inspired by the activism of Northerners who, in the 1940s and 1950s, were engaged in civil disobedience to challenge segregation.

Q: The timeframe you cover in your book goes back to the 1920s and comes right up to the present. Why did you choose that scope?

A: The Northern story forces us to push the chronology of civil rights back and forward in time, and it makes us focus on many of the issues that were left unresolved in the so-called “classic” phase of the civil rights movement, including economic inequality, persistent segregation in where people live and in education and educational equality.

My book begins during the enormous migration of African Americans from the South to Northern cities, which changed the demography and the politics of the North in serious ways. During the 1920s and 1930s, in the midst of this migration, you have currents of nationalism and black self-determination and a very strong current of black anti-imperialism that’s really influential. You’ve got activists who are putting together trade unionism and the black freedom struggle and who are making arguments for black-white alliances. You also have the coming of the New Deal and the rights consciousness that it unleashed. This whole period is one of real ferment and of exploration and experimentation, and you can follow many of those currents through the struggles of the next several decades.

My story goes forward to the present because I resist the simplistic division of 20th-century America into the civil rights era and the so-called post-civil rights era, as if all the questions of the civil rights movement were solved and now we’re in a period that is qualitatively different. To cut off this story, as so many books do, circa 1968 would not do justice to the ongoing struggles for racial equality that build on previous generations of civil rights activism.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 7, 2008

Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

From his Q & A with Anna Metcalfe of the Financial Times:

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

I have never laughed out loud.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Life? Or Theater? by Charlotte Salomon; Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw; The Book of Calamities by Peter Trachtenberg.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nellie Hermann

Nellie Hermann attended Brown University, earning her B.A. in May of 2000. She received her M.F.A. from Columbia University.

In her acclaimed debut novel, The Cure for Grief, the protagonist "Ruby is the youngest child in the tightly knit Bronstein family, a sensitive, observant girl who looks up to her older brothers and is in awe of her stern but gentle father, a Holocaust survivor whose past and deep sense of morality inform the family's life."

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

Ruby is an immensely likeable and sympathetic character, and I think many young girls can relate to her feelings and occasional missteps. Are there any other young female characters in literature who were particularly memorable or meaningful for you?

Absolutely. Jean Stafford's book The Mountain Lion, with its character of Molly, was hugely influential, and in general is an incredible book that ought to be read more. Also Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I revisited. I also always loved Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird -- I haven't read that one in a long time, but I loved it so much as a young person that I'm pretty sure it is hardwired into my brain.

Summer camp plays an important role in Ruby's youth in giving her the space and freedom she needs to find herself. Did you attend summer camps and if so, do you have fond memories of them?

I did, and I do. I feel like as an adult there's something shameful or nerdy about nostalgia for summer camp, and as a result maybe it's not explored as much as it could be. But it is fertile ground indeed, a group of young people away from their homes and what defines them in their "normal" life. I was definitely lucky to go to good ones, I realize, but some of my best friends are still friends I made at camp. You get to know people, for good or ill, in an intimate way that really can't be duplicated.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read an excerpt from The Cure for Grief, and learn more about the author and her work at Nellie Hermann's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Cure for Grief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Adam Braver

Adam Braver is the author of the novel November 22, 1963, new from Tin House Books.

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

What prompts you to begin a work of fiction-- an image, a character, a line of dialogue? What prompted November 22, 1963?

Actually it can be all of the above. A story can start from some characteristic trait, an odd sentence I’ve heard somebody mutter, or sometimes the incongruence of a setting and a character. I am drawn to inherent ironies—not for comic or cynical purposes—but rather in ways that show the complexities and beauties of the world around me. The idea of black and white, good and bad, doesn’t interest me at all. As with most fiction writers, I like to come to the area in the middle, where, for example, good people find themselves faced with bad ideas or intentions—those conflicts reveal a greater meaning than just right and justice.

One thing I try to stay away from is a preconceived notion of what the work is about before I start writing. I haven’t had much success with that. It either becomes too didactic, or most commonly, I run out of steam very quickly. Instead, it really is a matter of finding that voice—whether it is through the character, a line of dialogue, etc. The rest usually—hopefully—will start to take shape through the unconscious, and then eventually seed itself into the conscious process.

November 22, 1963 took on a life of its own. As a fiction writer, I’m most interested in the quiet moments, what is going on off-stage, the private moments in the wings. With that in mind, I was tempted by wondering what Jackie Kennedy’s plane ride from Dallas must have felt like for her—not only dealing with the violence she’d just witnessed, but instinctively knowing that her perception of self must have been altered in a matter of moments. We always understand the assassination in terms of what it meant to the country and its sense of identity, but I really wondered about it at the most personal level (which perhaps in fact was a mirror for the country). In short, the book started off with a single story.

From there, I decided to keep going, thinking about others who had this connection to that day in Dallas, and how their perceptions of self also would have been altered in those few moments. About halfway through it occurred to me I wasn’t writing a book about the personal side of the tragedy (what brought me there in the first place), but rather a book about mythology, myth making, and memory. That discovery or recognition really gave me a much sharper focus.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Alice Sebold

Alice Sebold is the author of Lucky (1999), The Lovely Bones (2002) and The Almost Moon (2007).

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

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

Around age 10 or 11. I began by writing poems. When I showed them to a teacher, my mother was called to the school for a chat. The poems were thought to be too graphic and mature.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

I’ll Go to Bed at Noon by Gerard Woodward; What It Is by Lynda Barry; Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope; The Little Mariner by Odysseas Elytis; February House by Sherill Tippins.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 3, 2008

Robert Greer

At Crime Always Pays, Declan Burke interrogated Robert Greer, author of the recently released Blackbird, Farewell. Part of the Q & A:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE MALTESE FALCON. Its multi-layered entanglements, its expressed unseediness, its use of the classic femme fatale and Dashiell Hammett’s use of minor characters in ensemble form to produce effective darkness and greed which make this the very best of noir fiction in my judgment.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Since I am a westerner and own a working cattle ranch, I suspect that the character I most would have wanted to be would have been Shane, the ultimate dark cowboy hero.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Robert Greer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 2, 2008

James Reese

James Reese was born on eastern Long Island. He attended the University of Notre Dame and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he received an MA in Theatre. As an undergraduate, he had a play staged off-Broadway at the Actors Repertory Theatre. While living in New York, New Orleans, and Key West, Reese held various jobs in the nonprofit sector, working on behalf of the arts and the environment. He has also lived and traveled extensively in France. Presently, James Reese splits his time between Paris, France, and St. Petersburg, Florida, where he is pursuing a graduate degree in Linguistics and working on a fifth novel.

His new book is The Dracula Dossier.

From a Q & A at his website:

Who are some of your favorite writers?

My interest in the gothic began with Anne Rice, who remains one of my favorite writers. Reading backwards in the genre from Anne, I discovered many of the authors mentioned above: the Brontes, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew "Monk" Lewis. Lewis's novel, The Monk, is one of my all-time favorites, and anyone with an abiding interest in the gothic needs to read it. It's outrageous, in every sense of the word.

Of course, there are the early American gothics as well, beginning with Charles Brockden Brown and moving onto Hawthorne, Melville and Poe, all of whom I read over and over. Favorites? Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables and The Marble Faun, Melville's Redfern and, of course, "Billy Budd"; and most anything by Poe, including the marginalia, and his scathing reviews of his contemporaries. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is fun as well, and a bit of a departure for Poe.

If I had to choose two writers whose style I most admire, they'd be Marguerite Yourçenar and Isak Dinesen. Yourçenar was a Frenchwoman who lived out her life on an island off the coast of Maine, and was the first Frenchwoman—born in Belgium, actually—elected to the Academie Française. Her best known novel is Hadrian's Memoirs, in which she fictionalizes the life of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The several volumes of her own memoirs are exquisite, as is her short novel, Alexis. Dinesen wrote a handful of longish short stories that are dreamlike in tone, with prose polished to a sheen. Among them are "The Supper at Elsinore," "Babette's Feast" and the seven gothic tales of, yes, Seven Gothic Tales.

Others? The Irishman William Trevor. He can sum up a character's life in a one-line description of their house, or their clothing. He can be ghoulish, and creepy in the best Celtic tradition—see the short story "Attracta," wherein a soldier's widow receives her husband's head via post!—or the novel, Felicia's Journey; and then he can break your heart, as in The Story of Lucy Gault. …Three writers who demonstrate what it means to have a "voice" of one's own: Colette, Alice Adams and Grace Paley.

Finally, if I had to chose one work of non-fiction to read over and over again, it would be The Journals of John Cheever—sad, sometimes funny, full of insight into both writing and life, and beautifully written.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Dracula Dossier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Craig McDonald

At The Rap Sheet, Jim Winter interviewed Craig McDonald, whose “debut novel, Head Games, ... introduced the world to Hector Lassiter. Lassiter, a pulp writer and member of the Lost Generation, counts Ernest 'Hem' Hemingway and Orson Welles among his best friends and 'lives what he writes and writes what he lives.'”

The Q & A opens:

Jim Winter: You were nominated for an Edgar and an Anthony this year. You have to be floating to have made that kind of splash.

Craig McDonald: It’s the kind of thing you can’t think about or plan for. It’s also particularly wonderful to have nominations for those two awards, as the Edgar judges are fellow authors and the Anthonys are, at base, reader-chosen awards. Head Games was also a finalist for the Crimespree and Gumshoe awards and made several year’s-best lists, so it was a dizzying, gratifying reception for a fairly unusual debut novel. I’m still bowled over by it all.

JW: Hector Lassiter seems to be very much in the mold of James M. Cain and Jim Thompson. He even arrives on the scene bearing the all-too-common disdain for Mickey Spillane.

CM: Part of that is just depicting a writer’s natural competitiveness regarding sales figures and public standing; and in that sense, Spillane was kind of the Dan Brown of his day. It’s also emerging from book to book that Hector was one of those writers in Paris in the 1920s and had serious literary ambitions. The third novel (set largely in 1965) will give you more of a sense of Hector’s real literary range and standing as the 1960s are getting on.

JW: How much of Hector is you? And how much is Hector more a product of his times? [read on]
Read the complete interview.

Learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website and his Crimespace page.

The Page 69 Test: Head Games.

The Page 69 Test: Toros & Torsos.

--Marshal Zeringue