Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lara Vapnyar

From Lara Vapnyar's 2005 interview at The Bloomsbury Review:

The Bloomsbury Review: I will start with the perennial question. You came to this country when you were 23. I take it you didn’t speak English fluently, even if you studied it as a foreign language in school. They say that the cutoff age for a relatively effortless transition to another language is 15, but you, like Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov, began writing in a foreign language as an adult. Did you find the switch from Russian to English painful, or did it come to you as naturally as a set of new clothes or a new Internet provider?

Lara Vapnyar: I’ve never written anything in Russian, and never thought of becoming a writer. The switch from no writing to writing was so shocking that it canceled out the shock of writing in a foreign language.

TBR: You are pursuing a PhD in comparative literature. Even though you have not written fiction in Russian, how would you compare the two languages as the literary tool?

LV: I miss the flexibility of Russian, the way you can invent new words in Russian by adding different suffixes and prefixes.
Read more of the interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 30, 2009

Susan Marie Swanson

In 2008, author Cynthia Leitich Smith (of Cynsations) interviewed 2009 Caldecott Medal winner Susan Marie Swanson.

One exchange from the Q & A:

Would you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? How did you develop your skills?

I wrote as a child--poems, letters, scrapbook entries, a diary, stories--and during my college years I began to develop the strong sense of vocation that is with me still. I spent several years completing an MFA in poetry at University of Massachusetts Amherst in the late 1970s and early 80s, taking literature courses that had me reading writers from A.R. Ammons and Gwendolyn Brooks to Tarjei Vesaas and Virginia Woolf.

I spent many hours in workshops with a lively group of mentors and young writers. I remember going with friends to hear readings by Tomas Tranströmer, Maya Angelou, and Louise Glück. It was a rich, challenging time.

I read children's literature during those years and did some writing for children, but I didn't have any context for that work. That changed when I moved back to Minnesota. I began teaching with COMPAS Writers and Artists in the Schools in 1983, the same year that my first child was born. I was reading and writing with children in elementary schools, and I was reading and writing in the midst of family life. That set me on the path to writing for children.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jan Elizabeth Watson

From a Q & A with Jan Elizabeth Watson about her debut novel, Asta in the Wings:

What was the inspiration for Asta in the Wings?

A: At the time when I began writing Asta in the Wings I had been reading a lot of Victorian fairy tales. I found their moralizing overtones fascinating. And I was collecting old primers—school reading books—from various lawn sales and garage sales, and I wanted to incorporate the feeling of those as well, in a contemporary way. The first scene of Asta that popped into my head was the scene where Asta and her brother have that first conversation on Orion’s cot, pushing the can lid back and forth; I saw that very clearly in my mind, overheard their dialogue and wrote it down.

In Asta’s home life with her mother and brother, there is a strong theatrical life. Asta’s mother wanted to be a movie actress, as her mother was. Asta and her mother and brother reenact movies and plays. Were you ever involved in theater or acting?

A: I was always the writer, never the actress. However, I’ve always been fascinated with old movies and cinema history, and I wanted to channel this enthusiasm into the novel somehow. A few of my acquaintances have pointed out that I live my life as though I were a character in a movie or a novel, so maybe it wasn’t such a stretch for me to write a book in which the theatrical life and the day-to-day life are as one.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about Asta in the Wings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Philippe Grimbert

From a Q & A with Philippe Grimbert, author of Memory, at the publisher's website:

1. The story depicted in Memory so closely resembles your own -- why did you choose to call it a novel rather than a memoir?

I had no choice! My family history contained so many gaps that the novel (my favorite genre) was the only possible way of overcoming them. If I had been a historian, I would doubtless have chosen another way to explore this secret. And, paradoxically, creating a novel gave me an intimate sense of having re-established the truth of this personal, familial journey.

2. Constructing the narrative of a once-secret past seems to serve an important therapeutic function for the fictional Philippe. Was the process of writing this novel similarly therapeutic for you? How do you understand the relationship between writing and psychoanalysis?

The narrator of Memory does take a journey that one could describe as therapeutic, in so far as he exorcises the ghosts of the past in order to become a proper adult subject, released from a guilt that didn't belong to him but whose weight he was nonetheless carrying. For me personally, it was not the writing of the novel itself that was therapeutic, but the psychoanalytic journey that I undertook as part of my training. My own analysis gave me the opportunity to consign my family history to its proper place, which is probably what allowed me, many years later, to write it with the necessary detachment. My work as a psychoanalyst enriches my writing on a daily basis -- not by drawing on my patients' stories (which I would never allow myself to do), but rather because it familiarizes me with the complexities of the human psyche, and the conflicts and contradictions within all of us.
Read more of the Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Keith Lee Morris

Keith Lee Morris is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Clemson University. His short stories have been published in A Public Space, Southern Review, Ninth Letter, StoryQuarterly, New England Review, The Sun, and the Georgia Review, among other publications. The University of Nevada published his first two books: The Greyhound Gods (2003) and The Best Seats in the House (2004).

His latest novel is The Dart League King.

From his Q & A with Willamette Week:

What are your favorite themes to write about?

Love-hate relationships with small towns; the enduring qualities of friendship; parents’ fears for their children; early failures in life; and the possibility of redemption.

The most beautiful word in the English language is:

“And”—or at least it’s the most handy, which makes it the most beautiful to me.

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place and why? Or name an inspiring, amazing piece of work.

I always say As I Lay Dying, but I’m tired of saying As I Lay Dying, so I’m going to say War and Peace. Or maybe Crime and Punishment. Something big and Russian.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Dart League King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 26, 2009

David Francis

Curled Up with a Good Book contributing editor Michael Leonard interviewed David Francis about his new novel, Stray Dog Winter.

Their opening exchange:

Interviewer Michael Leonard: Stray Dog Winter is an unusual mix, tying in elements of the espionage thriller with one man’s journey toward self-discovery. What were the circumstances that led you to write such a dark, complex, and multi-dimensional novel?

David Francis: Back in Australia, I had an Aunt Ruth with whom no one in my family dared speak. Apparently she'd slept with various American soldiers under the cypress hedge when they'd visited the farm during the war. Aunt Ruth ended up in Kenya but returned to Australia in the late sixties. I saw her only once - she lay on a chaise and ordered me: “Boy, get me a gin and tonic.” I was six. My mother's umbrage was obvious but my father seemed secretly fascinated by his glamorous drinking sister-in-law. Decades later, having finished The Great Inland Sea, my first novel, I was in Paris on a fellowship from the Australian Literature Fund. There in my studio, I had a dream that my father had an affair with Aunt Ruth and that together they had a daughter.

The next morning I began writing long-hand about this boy called Darcy who lives outside Melbourne, Australia. An aunt he’s only seen in photos arrives from America with a young girl named Fin, his half-sister. The girl is dumped with Darcy's family unannounced. Scenes of these two children began to emerge, of them together and then separated when Fin gets sent off to boarding school. Re-united at university, they rekindle their unusual consanguinity, an interest in strange art and radical politics, and each other.

Then, unexpectedly, Fin receives a fellowship to paint the industrial landscapes of Soviet Moscow. I imagined Darcy traveling from Prague on a train to join her there (a trip I made in the early '80's), and the story of these characters in an alien winter unfolded, each chapter building on the last until their lust and proclivities revealed them in startling predicaments. I realized I had a suspense novel on my hands, emerging organically and unexpectedly, venturing where I'd never have dreamed of had I been a writer who structures a novel consciously. Stray Dog Winter became the story of what could have become of me had things gone differently when I found myself in Moscow, but I was luckier than Darcy Bright and my half-sister wasn't Fin.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit the Stray Dog Winter website.

The Page 69 Test: Stray Dog Winter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bob Smiley

From Geoff Shackelford's interview with Bob Smiley about the latter's recent book, Follow The Roar: Tailing Tiger for All 604 Holes of His Most Spectacular Season:

GEOFF: The idea for Follow The Roar really started with an email from an reader?

BOB: It really did. During the 2nd round of last year's Target (now Chevron) World Challenge, I decided to dive into Tiger's mob for the day and write about the experience. I'd seen Tiger play at Riviera a couple times, but never from start to finish. I stuck with him from the second he stepped out of his beige Buick Enclave until he signed his card for a tournament-record 62. The piece triggered a wave of response from golf fans who had braved crowds to see Tiger and loved reliving the experience or those who had never seen him in person and wished they'd been there. Buried in the emails was a woman who asked me whether I would be following Tiger the whole year. It was a ridiculous idea. Until I realized it was a brilliant idea.

GEOFF: And when did the book deal come into play?

BOB: Twenty-four hours before Tiger began his season. I was up early and starting to pack for the trip to the Buick Invitational in January when the news came through that HarperCollins had made an offer on my book proposal to help me do this. I would have gone to San Diego with or without a deal and chronicled the tournament. But the following week Tiger would be in Dubai, and that would have been a little tough without some outside help.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Bob Smiley's Fore Right blog.

The Page 99 Test: Follow the Roar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kit Reed

Kit Reed's many books include the soon-to-be-released Enclave.

From her November 2008 interview with SF Signal:

SFS: What themes do you address in your next book, Enclave (January 2009)?

KR: I don't really think about themes, I think about people and places and things and ideas, and let somebody else get back to tell me what the theme is. That's the critic's job. I remember being sort of shocked when my (teacher-type) college roommate started telling me about the "theme" of my first novel. I'm like, "WHAT? It's about these people..."

So the people in Enclave are Sarge, a crazy, idealistic ex-Marine who thinks he can improve the spoiled kids of the mega-rich by putting them into his tightly sealed, high-tech Academy; Cassie, who's always loved him; Killer Stade and Teddy the prince guy, two geeky kids trapped in the place; ancient Brother Benedictus, the last of his kind, and the nameless stranger who shows up mysteriously in a locked environment. And a cast of dozens enclosed in the Academy, the ragtag faculty, paramilitaries and the wild spawn of the privileged classes.

The place is Mount Clothos, a former Benedictine monastery on an isolated mountaintop on a remote island that doesn't show up on any map. For reasons.

The ideas. Well, er. There's the virus that attacks the island's server. There's the fact that kids are getting sick, and... There is, as well, the nature and function of discipline. What the um, THEMES are? Tell me when you've had a chance to read the novel :)
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about Enclave.

Visit Kit Reed's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 23, 2009

Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister is the co-author of 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14, and has taught literature and creative writing at the University of Washington.

From an interview about her debut novel at her publisher's website:

Q. What led you to write [The School of Essential Ingredients]?

In 1999, my family had just returned to Seattle after spending two years in northern Italy. I found that I missed the food and being around people who celebrated even the most simple meals. So, I took a cooking class. The first night, we killed crabs. I’m the kind of person who takes spiders outside when I find them in my house and it was a deeply unsettling experience. I had an image of a young mother, Claire, and I began wondering what effect it might have on her to kill something. In the end, her story wasn’t at all what I expected. And then I started thinking about all the different characters you could have in a class, and started wondering which foods would affect each one – revive a memory, create an epiphany, change the direction of a life – and that’s where the book came from.

Q. How are food and cooking connected to the way we live our whole lives, not just the time we spend in the kitchen or at the table?

The act of cooking provides us with an opportunity to slow down, to focus on our senses rather than the speed of our world. I think we all want that, miss that, in our everyday lives. The people I know who pay attention to those things simply seem to be happier and more fulfilled, in the kitchen and out of it.

My children were incredibly lucky, in that they were 7 and 10 when we moved to Italy and they learned that lesson early. They are both dedicated foodies and truly creative cooks. My son just went to college and he inherited my college blender. The funny thing is, he took it because he wanted to be able to make pesto – a far cry from the margaritas and protein shakes it made in the early 1980s.
Read the compete Q & A.

Visit Erica Bauermeister's website.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Essential Ingredients.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tim Dorsey

Tim Dorsey is a former editor at the Tampa Tribune and author of the novels Florida Roadkill, Hammerhead Ranch Motel, Orange Crush, Triggerfish Twist, The Stingray Shuffle, Cadillac Beach, Torpedo Juice, The Big Bamboo, and Hurricane Punch. His new novel is Nuclear Jellyfish.

He participated in a INK Q & A last year when Atomic Lobster, his tenth novel, was released. Part of the interview:

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

Yes. I tracked down the last home of Jack Kerouac in St. Petersburg and collected a baggie of dirt from his yard. Then drove away fast.

True story: found his address in an old phone book in the bowels of the local library — and the directory actually spelled his name "Kerowac." I live for that kind of stuff.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?

This is it. I couldn't write a better job description: travel Florida wherever my curiosity leads me, talk to locals, venture down the most remote back roads. Then come home and weave all the cool things I found — historic, obscure, funky — into seemingly outrageous crime plots that are but thinly veiled reflections of what fills our newspapers down here every day. The books' satire also provides a cathartic vent to keep me sane in my home state, which I love too much to ever leave, while thinking I'm crazy for staying.
Read more of the interview.

Visit Tim Dorsey's website.

The Page 69 Test: Atomic Lobster.

Learn more about Nuclear Jellyfish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

David Oppegaard

From The Soulless Machine Review interview with David Oppegaard, author of The Suicide Collectors:

SMR: So, The Suicide Collectors will be your first published novel. If you had to sell it to me in 30 seconds, what would you tell me about it?

DO: The Suicide Collectors is a combination of horror, literary, and speculative fiction. Five years after suicide plague has culled 90% of the earth’s population, a man named Norman travels across a wild and dangerous America to find a cure.

* * *

SMR: Why suicide? What are your thoughts about David Foster Wallace (and Kurt Cobain)?

DO: I set out to write an apocalyptic novel with a new twist, and I’d never heard of any book with a suicide plague before. DFW was a troubled and complex mind and he obviously got tired of dealing with the pain. I think Kurt Cobain might have been better off never becoming famous at all, which is the sort of paradox that boggles the fame-obsessed American mind. I was always more of a Soundgarden and Pearl Jam guy myself.
Read the complete interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Suicide Collectors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

John Brandon

From a Q & A with John Brandon, author of Arkansas, at McSweeney's Internet Tendency:

McSweeney's: Where were you when you started the novel that became Arkansas?

John Brandon: Chattanooga. I was working at a plant that produced the little perfume samples that go in fashion magazines. And lotion samples—sometimes I got free lotion. All I did was stand in one place and box them up and build the boxes into pallets. I was at one end of the machine and this guy named Alan was at the other end. He did most of the talking. He was an ex-hippie, not very hippie-ish anymore. I'd never been to California before, so he told me all about it. When he was young, he went to the same Buddhist church—temple?—as Richard Gere. He was still ticked because Richard Gere had beat him out for a woman. I used to tell him not to worry about it, that there was no shame in losing a chick to Richard Gere. He'd say, "Yeah, but back then he was just Richie. And I was better-looking."

McSwys: How'd that job fit into the rest of your life? Aside from the lotion, I mean.

JB: I had the perfect work shift in Chattanooga—6 to 2:30. I would come straight home and take a three-hour nap before dinner, then I'd be fresh to write from about 7 to whenever the coffee place closed. Chattanooga is known for its hair salons and coffee houses, weirdly, and my favorite place to write was...[read on]
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wendy Mnookin

Karen Rigby of Emprise Review interviewed the poet Wendy Mnookin.

Rigby's introduction and one exchange from the Q & A:

Wendy Mnookin is the author of four poetry collections, The Moon Makes Its Own Plea, published in October by BOA Editions, What He Took and To Get Here, also from BOA, and Guenever Speaks, a collection of persona poems. She has recent poems in the Harvard Review, Prairie Schooner and Salamander. She has won a Book Award from the New England Poetry Club and a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Mnookin graduated from Radcliffe College and the Vermont College MFA Program. She teaches poetry at Emerson College and at Grub Street, a non-profit writing center in Boston. Her poetry website is

Mnookin and her husband live in Newton, Massachusetts, where they raised their three children. Besides reading and writing, she loves walking, gardening, and cooking.

Many of the poems use domestic scenes or natural images but are not only about daily life. There seems to be an underlying tension, a waiting in the dark or hesitancy. What do you make of the speaker in these poems?

On one level, this tension refers to my own life experience. My father died when I was two. He and my mother and I were in a car accident; we lived and he died. This sudden loss (which I write about in What He Took) has been central to my life. My way of being in the world is filtered through an awareness that you lose the people you love. Of course on some level we all know this—we are all mortal—but I think losing my father at a young age hard-wired the experience of loss into my brain. In some primal way I know that loss happens, that it can happen unexpectedly, that it doesn’t go away.

I did not explain the back story in The Moon Makes Its Own Plea (though I refer to it in “The Way Back”) because I think everyone lives with a sense of threat, whether it’s a fear of losing someone they love or the more generalized threat of living in the world with all its dangers. The challenge becomes how to live in relationship to others despite the risk of loss.

Perhaps, then, I would describe the speaker in these poems as a woman trying to sort out identity and relationship while acknowledging the inevitability of loss.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Wendy Mnookin's website and check out Garrison Keillor reading one of her poems.

Writers Read: Wendy Mnookin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Edmund White

Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, the memoir My Lives, and Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel. He teaches at Princeton University.

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

What was the last book you couldn’t finish?

Don DeLillo’s Underworld.

* * *

Who are your literary influences?

Proust, Isherwood and Nabokov.

* * *

What book changed your life?

I was a teenager when I read Wuthering Heights, while I was in my school infirmary with a fever. It gave me a sense of the dark glamour of literature.
Read the complete interview.

Read an excerpt from White's Hotel de Dream, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Hotel de Dream.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catherine Blyth

Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski interviewed Catherine Blyth about her new book, The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure.

Part of their dialogue:

It's often said that we live in the communication age, but you argue that we're really not having enough conversations. How can both things be true?

For all of the amazing, proliferating ways that we have to be in touch, face-to-face conversation is being pushed to the margins of our lives. And it has for thousands of years been the core of human interaction, and it's very good at what it's designed to do.

There's a whole lot to be said about the pleasures of a wired-up world, but there is a lot of difference between being in touch and having an interaction. If anything, I think that with too much communicating via machines, people end up hiding behind screens.

Let's start with the simplest kind of conversation. You want to bring back the convention of saying "hello" and "goodbye" to pretty much everyone whom we interact with on a daily basis, such as the grocery store clerk. Why do you think these little niceties are important?

It's all about the connections that stitch the day together. If you live in a city, like me, you'll know that there can be quite a lot of friction in your day. If you just humanize these encounters, if you meet somebody's eye, if they feel you listening to them, instantly it's going to boost your mood and theirs.

If you just introduce these low-stakes but emotionally satisfying little transactions in your day, you're more armed and prepared for more difficult conversations.

What is important about small talk? The very name of it makes it seem puny. What is its function?

Some people liken it to grooming amongst apes. Even if...[read on]
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Catherine Blyth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 16, 2009

Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson is the author of Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home.

From her Paris Review interview, conducted by Sarah Fay:

Is it true that Housekeeping started as a series of metaphors you wrote while you were getting your Ph.D. in English literature?

When I went to college, I majored in American literature, which was unusual then. But it meant that I was broadly exposed to nineteenth-century American literature. I became interested in the way that American writers used metaphoric language, starting with Emerson. When I entered the Ph.D. program, I started writing these metaphors down just to get the feeling of writing in that voice. After I finished my dissertation, I read through the stack of metaphors and they cohered in a way that I hadn’t expected. I could see that I had created something that implied much more. So I started writing Housekeeping, and the characters became important for me. I told a friend of mine, a writer named John Clayton, that I had been working on this thing, and he asked to see it. The next thing I knew, I got a letter from his agent saying that she would be happy to represent it.

Were you surprised?

I was, but these things always came with little caveats....[read on]
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Billy Collins

From the poet Billy Collins' conversation with James Mustich, Editor-in-Chief, Barnes & Noble Review:

JM: Since Ballistics is your ninth or eleventh book, depending upon what you're counting, I'm wondering if the enterprise of writing poems has changed for you in any way in the course of composing that shelf of volumes.

BC: I think there may be some subtle changes. Some poets develop in very distinct ways by getting either better or worse. I wonder about the legitimacy of expecting improvement from writers, which seems to press more heavily on fiction writers than poets. The disappointing second novel is measured against the brilliant first novel -- often no novel lives up to the first. Literary improvement seems like an unfair expectation. I don't know anyone who's getting better in life particularly. I don't see signs of improvement in people I know [LAUGHS], or in politicians, or in me for that matter.

The reason I said that poets don't need to develop is tied up with the idea of the persona. While I don't much like the expression "finding your voice, " my sense is that the important breakthrough moment for a poet is when he or she has developed a kind of character through which he or she can speak with ease. This character -- or persona -- resembles the poet in many ways but is clearly a refinement of the actual person. Your persona is your better. And what marks that discovery of a character is the conviction on the poet's part -- and subsequently, we would hope, on readers' parts -- that this character is different from all other poetic characters, at least in some small way. So once a poet has put together that character, perhaps like some kind of Frankenstein monster, borrowing this and that from other poets, a style is established. In my own case, I find that once I had constructed a persona, I had no real interest in changing to a radically different voice. I know my voice has a limited range of motion; I don't write dramatic monologues and pretend to be other people. But so far, my voice is broad enough to accommodate most of what I want to put into my poetry. I like my persona; I often wish I were him and not me.
Read the complete dialogue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Joseph O’Neill

Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland made the 2008 Man Booker longlist and was named as one of the New York Times’ 10 best books of 2008.

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

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

U and I by Nicholson Baker; I’ve just read it for the umpteenth time.

* * *

What would you go back and change?

The Florida recount.

What was the first novel you read?

Graphic novels by Hergé.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

John Lawton

John Lawton is the author of 1963, a social and political history of the Kennedy-Macmillan years, six thrillers in the Troy series and a stand-alone novel, Sweet Sunday. In 2008 he was one of only half a dozen living English writers to be named in the London Daily Telegraph's `50 Crime Writers to Read before You Die.' His latest Troy thriller is Second Violin.

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


It's what happened. It was an insane moment in history: a fear at the highest level after the fall of France that we'd be taken over by some secret 5th column that the Nazis might have in place. It was nonsense. We locked up a few Nazis, but also an awful lot of people who would eventually help win the war, and a lot of people who'd survived camps in Germany. It was crass and thoughtless, but it wasn't entirely harsh.

It was also arbitrary. We locked up Herman Bondi—one the most gifted nuclear physicists of the 20th century; we didn't lock up my publisher George Weidenfeld who spent the war at the BBC making propaganda broadcasts with George Orwell. (It was Orwell who remarked how difficult it was to get an Italian meal in Soho after we locked up all the chefs.)

I think Lord Weidenfeld is in part standing behind all my Jewish Mittel-European immigrants – they all grew out of odd conversations with him. He certainly gave me the idea of starting the book in Vienna and bringing a refugee to England. But then I thought of Freud and the way he left Vienna and made it two refugees.

The upside to this is that while London, Coventry and Plymouth were heavily bombed during the Blitz, the Isle of Man was just about the safest place to be. But, and there's always a but, the British then decided to ship internees to Canada and Australia, only to be sunk by U-boats en route.

There's a heavy-handed comparison that could be made with Guantanamo, but nobody was water-boarded (good God even the wording makes it sound like sport rather than torture). But, internment without due process is where democracy lies down and dies. It's one of the odder pages in British history.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 12, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander

From inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander's interview with Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal:

What poets had the greatest impact on your own work?

There are so many, but let me mention a few I am thinking about right now. Walt Whitman, a poet with a wonderfully capacious sense of what America is and can be -- and of all the varied voices making up the American song -- is very important to me. Gwendolyn Brooks, the great poet from the South Side of Chicago, an incredibly brilliant miniaturist whose work understood that in the small details of peoples lives much larger and broader truths can be told. Also, Robert Hayden, a poet from Detroit who wrote in the middle of the 20th century. He has an incredible depth of feeling and gravitas in his work, a tone that is very important to me as I write this poem. It is a joyous occasion but also a very serious moment. To move forward as a country is challenging work. His work lets me think about the enormity of the task at hand.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read Elizabeth Alexander's poems online.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Natasha Cooper

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

From her interview with January Magazine contributing editor Ali Karim:

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the Trish Maguire novels, of which A Poisoned Mind is the ninth. Tell me, why are you attracted to writing about Trish and the legal world?

I find the legal world fascinating for a whole lot of contradictory reasons. The gaps between law and justice worry me, and the idea of barristers using every allowable means to defend people they think must be guilty is a hard one to accept. And yet I am mesmerized by the wit and cleverness of all the barristers I know. They are the best storytellers, too, which is not really surprising, given that their whole professional lives consist of assembling facts into narratives that will be better than their opponents’, so that the jury (or judge in a civil trial) in each case will choose their story over that of the other side.

In A Poisoned Mind, Trish has been promoted to a Q.C. (Queen’s Counsel) and investigates a case that borders on the environmental concerns currently in vogue. But the work has a hard criminal edge. So, how did this novel evolve?

When I was first planning A Poisoned Mind and the crimes I was going to explore in it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way our consumer-led society, with its demand for fuel-hungry high living standards, produces waste products that can seriously damage the natural world. At the same time, we cannot stop some children being so damaged by their emotional and physical environment that they become explosively dangerous. So my plot is a double one. The novel begins with a fatal explosion in some tanks that contain waste benzene. While Trish deals with the legal aftermath of the disaster, she also becomes involved in the life of a troubled teenager, Jay, whose many stresses drive him towards violence. The questions that hang over the narrative are: what -- or who -- caused the explosion? And who -- if anyone -- will Jay attack?
Read the complete Q & A.

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

The Page 69 Test: A Poisoned Mind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Janice Y. K. Lee

Janice Y. K. Lee is the author of The Piano Teacher, which the publisher describes as "In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong."

From the author's brief Q & A with Lauren Mechling of the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: You grew up in Hong Kong but you lived in the United States from high school through your early thirties. When did you know you wanted to write a book about Hong Kong?

Ms. Lee: I never thought I would. And I'm as surprised as anyone that I wrote a historical romance. It's not the type of book I tend to read. When I was in my twenties, I was writing stories about twenty-somethings in New York or Koreans in 1970s Hong Kong. And then I wrote a short story about a young Chinese girl and her English piano teacher and I knew that was something I didn't want to stop thinking about. And then I decided to move it back to the war. That really opened up a lot of possibilities for the story.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Janice Y. K. Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 9, 2009

Rick Mofina

ITW contributing editor Jeff Ayers interviewed Rick Mofina about his new novel, Six Seconds.

One exchange from their dialogue:

What sparked the idea for your new novel?

Six Seconds is a standalone that took shape by refining a number of unrelated scenes, dramas and events I had observed during my time as a reporter; such as the heart-wrenching anguish of interviewing a mother whose child had vanished.

Then there was the time I was on assignment in Nigeria, not long after the September 11 attacks. I was in the Abuja where I saw a boy in a slum wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Osama bin Laden's picture and message calling him #1 Hero.

On that African trip I also visited Ethiopia where I watched old women, who lived in some of the harshest conditions on earth, weaving fabric on a loom in the slums of Addis Ababa.

Prior to that, I was in the Gulf where I talked to British aid workers, and at Kuwait's boarder with Iraq. I also talked to peacekeepers from Canada concerned about the toll land mines were taking on children who plucked them from the dunes.

And I'll never forget the big city homicide detective back home who confided that he was haunted by the case he couldn't clear. Then I remembered years back, when Pope John Paul II visited my city where I was attending university. I went out to see him and met an international student who joked about assassination as the papal entourage passed by our group near the campus.

It got me thinking.

What if I took these elements and twisted them into fictional threads that were all connected? What if ordinary people from different parts of the world became ensnared by extraordinary events that could alter history as a clock ticked down on them? Suppose it all came down to six seconds?
Read the complete interview.

Read an excerpt from Six Seconds and watch the video trailer.

Visit Rick Mofina's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jay Lake

From Jay Lake's Q & A with Willamette Week:

The most beautiful word in the English language is:

Boustrophedon. (Or, possibly the phrase, “paid in full.”)

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

Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer. It’s the first volume of his Book of the New Sun cycle, and I think it ought to be required reading for anyone who aspires to beauty in fiction.

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

Ernest Hemingway, because he couldn’t hit back.
Read the complete interview.

Jay Lake's 2008 novels are Escapement from Tor Books and Madness of Flowers from Night Shade Books; his short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Lake is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nami Mun

Nami Mun is the author of Miles from Nowhere.

From a Q & A at the Penguin website:

Q. Your novel has many autobiographical elements. Like Joon, your main character, you're a Korean–American from New York City who was a teenage runaway, a dance hostess, and an Avon Lady who sold cosmetics door to door. Joon is also at times a drug addict, a sex worker, and a petty criminal. How closely is Joon's story based on your own?

Not very. If I had to put it in numbers, I'd say maybe one percent of the book is autobiographical. Yes, I left home at a young age but I chose not to write about the actual events of my own life as a runaway. I kept those actual events in a "reserve" of sorts and used my knowledge of them to strengthen the narrative artifice I was creating.

Take the chapter "Avon" for example, in which Joon sells cosmetics door–to–door. I once had a job selling jewelry out of a briefcase door to door. I think I was maybe fourteen or fifteen then. I would walk down streets and enter businesses and do my best to get someone, anyone, to buy a gold necklace or what have you from me. One place I went into was a Chinese restaurant. It was completely empty of customers, so I walked to the back, into the kitchen, and mimed and gestured my sales pitch to a staff of Chinese men who spoke little English. I held a necklace out for them to see. One of them took it from my hand, looked at it closely, and without much warning, tossed it into a sizzling wok. I was stunned. The man said to me, "Fake? Turn green," again and again, while stir–frying the necklace with these very long chopsticks. They all stood around the stove and watched the oil bubble, and I think I prayed to every god I knew back then, begging for that necklace to stay gold. After about a minute or so, the man plucked the necklace out, studied it again, and said words to his co–workers, who nodded in agreement. Luckily, for me, it didn't turn green.

I'm pretty sure it was my one and only sale, but when that man paid me money, I remember feeling proud of myself for having rolled with the punches—for having kept my cool about the stir–frying thing. For a split second I thought I could make it. That even though I had a few things stacked against me, I could work and make money and eventually make it off the streets.

That was a really good day, and that moment has stayed near me for decades. But I didn't write about it in the book. Instead I contained the moment and wrote completely fictional events and dialogue to better explore and express just how complex a feeling like pride and hope can be for someone who's on the verge hopelessness as Joon is in "Avon." Incidentally, I also didn't write about actual events that occurred while I sold Avon door to door either. Basically, my approach to this material was inspired by Hemingway's iceberg principle: for every part of the iceberg we see, seven–eighths of it is underwater, strengthening the iceberg.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit the Miles from Nowhere website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict’s new novel is Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts.

Alexandra Sokoloff, author of The Harrowing and The Price, on Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts: “Deliciously malevolent–Benedict’s writing is like a beautiful, poisonous flower.”

From Benedict's Author Snapshot at January Magazine::

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?


What’s the most difficult?

Reading unpleasant reviews of my work. I’m all for hearing someone’s thoughts on my writing, even if they’re not crazy about it. I know my work won’t please/amuse/entertain everyone. But some reviewers seem to take a distinct pleasure in being particularly cruel. Now, I understand that I’ve put the work out there so folks get to say whatever they want. But it hurts sometimes and, yes, it can make me cry.

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

How can you write the stories you write? You look like such a nice person!
Read the complete feature.

The Page 69 Test: Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 5, 2009

Norah Vincent

From a Q & A with Norah Vincent about her new book, Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin:

The research for Voluntary Madness required that you commit yourself to three various mental institutions. This was a very brave thing for you to do considering your battle with depression. Did you worry that it could have a detrimental affect on your health? How did you prepare yourself mentally for this research?

Yes. Having been in a psych ward before, and having seen what a detrimental effect it had on my mental health over the course of just four days, I worried a great deal about committing myself again, even if only for research. Initially, this kept me from embarking on the project at all. But then, after a lot of deliberation and back and forth, I finally had to face the fact that this is what I do. I do the things—often dangerous or unpleasant things—that other people don’t want to do, and I report back on what I find. Besides, the subject was and remains very important to me, a central theme of my life, in fact. I thought it especially important to call attention to the shortfalls and sometimes the sheer wrongheadedness of mental health care and mental health practitioners, and what I see as the often greedy, predatory m.o of the pharmaceutical companies.

I prepared myself as best I could, given the physical restrictions I knew I’d be facing. Since physical exercise is very important to my mental health, and since I knew it was unlikely that I’d be able to go outdoors, or that there would be an exercise facility available to me in the hospitals, I prepared a yoga routine that I could do in my room or in the day room. I brought books that I love, so that I could keep myself occupied intellectually and somewhat buoyed emotionally/spiritually. Otherwise, I told the people in my life what I was doing, and right before I went into each facility I informed them of my plans and whereabouts and asked them to be on call, as it were, should I need them. That’s about it. There wasn’t much I could do mentally except screw my courage to the sticking place and jump.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Norah Vincent's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Chuck Klosterman

From Chuck Klosterman's interview with Stephen Blackwell at Lit Mob:

When did you realize your next book ought to be fiction? Did it have anything to do with positive responses towards “Something That Isn’t True at All”? Did it have nothing to do with that?

A: That had nothing to do with it whatsoever. I’m not even sure anyone read that story. I made the decision to write a novel while I was putting CKIV together, but I had (kind of ) been thinking about it for several years. I suppose every writer aspires to write a novel. It’s the ultimate obstruction.

Since, at first, the majority of people that will read Downtown Owl are likely fans of your non-fiction, were you concerned with putting too much of yourself into the characters? Mitch, Horace and Julia all have Klosterman traits. Were you worried your own personality might override theirs?

A: I don’t think the characters are very much like me. One is a kid who hates rock music. One is a woman. One is a very old man. So I didn’t worry about putting too much (or too little) of myself into any of those characters. That thought barely crossed my mind. The only people who will actively see me in these people are readers who consciously look for that kind of relationship. But if people WANT to search for similarities, that’s cool, too. You can’t control anyone’s personal relationship to what you create.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about Downtown Owl.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Nathaniel Rich

Nathaniel Rich has published essays and criticism in The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, The New Republic, and Slate. He is senior editor at The Paris Review.

Of Rich's novel The Mayor's Tongue, Stephen King wrote: "This is an elegantly-structured, brilliantly-told novel, by turns terrifying, touching, and wildly funny, and always generous and magical."

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

What book do you wish you’d written?

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien; Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo; It by Stephen King.

What book would you give to someone who had time-travelled from another era to paint a picture of the 21st century?

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It has diabolical humour and is an evocation of a world which resembles our own but is much stranger. It examines the intrusion of violence and the impact of fantastical events on everyday life.
Read the complete interview.

Rich wrote in Slate:
"[Flann] O'Brien's lack of readership [compared with Beckett's and Joyce's] is particularly surprising since of the holy Irish trinity, he is by far the funniest. His masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), has the singular distinction of being consistently laugh-out-loud funny, even on a second or third read, even 70 years after its publication. Many readers today regard Ulysses or the Molloy trilogy in a daze of stultification or with mild terror at the novels' calculated efforts to frustrate narrative convention. Yet it would take a reader of calcified heart to read O'Brien's best work without laughing his face off." [read more]
Read more about The Mayor's Tongue at Nathaniel Rich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sandra Ruttan

Shots contributor Damian Seaman interviewed Sandra Ruttan about her latest novel, The Frailty of Flesh.

One exchange:

Do you endorse 'Rankin with ovaries' as a description of your work? And what do you think it means?

Comparisons always make me a bit nervous, because there can be a backlash from readers. I’m a huge Rankin fan. The first author I had sign a book for me was Ian Rankin. I also think whether or not it fits is up to the individual. What’s dark to one person may be trivial to another, depending on their tastes and prior reading experiences.

I do think that it’s possible to see a Rankin influence in my work, particularly with Frailty, and in my case I have a focus on family relationships that underlines the entire book. Perhaps that’s my maternal side coming through a bit, hence the reference to ‘ovaries’. Or maybe it’s just as simple as the fact that I’m a woman.

I suppose there are things Rankin has dealt with in his books that come through in mine as well, like problems within the police department. We read things we find interesting, and we write about things we find interesting.

I could actually see my character Tain going for those incredibly long walks in the dead of night. I could also see him listening to music, but not drinking. Tain has made a conscious choice to turn away from booze.
Read the complete interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Frailty of Flesh.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Robin Romm

In October 2008 Gregory Cowles of Paper Cuts, the New York Times books blog, put a few questions to Robin Romm, including:

What are you working on?

Well, tonight I am working on remaining optimistic about the election and not getting queasy over the financial crisis. I’m sure I’m in good company. But on the literary front, I’ve got a memoir coming out in January. It’s called “The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks.” I started writing it in 2004, when I took a leave from graduate school to be with my mother while she was dying. I’d been writing short fiction for years, but I found that the summer and fall of my mother’s final decline, I couldn’t tunnel into a fictional world. My own world seemed so bright and urgent, so violent and weirdly pure. A wise professor of mine (Nona Caspers) suggested I abandon fiction for a while and just write what I saw. So I did. And then I wrote more. Contrary to what people assume when I tell them I’ve written a book about the weeks leading up to my mother’s death, the project wasn’t an act of catharsis or therapy. I put craft to chaos to tame it somehow, to make it knowable. I wanted to reveal a complicated knowledge, a truth I couldn’t find in any of the books I’d read about loss. I wanted to give a voice to the contradictions — the dark humor inside of the rage, the terror inside of the love. It was also a way for me to keep my mother with me. As long as I was writing the book, I had a mother. Now the reader will have her. What an odd thing memoir is.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read about The Mercy Papers.

Visit Romm's website and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue