Thursday, April 30, 2009

Donald Ray Pollock

Donald Ray Pollock's writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, the New York Times, Third Coast, The Journal, Sou’wester, Chiron Review, River Styx, Boulevard, Folio, and The Berkeley Fiction Review. His 2008 book is Knockemstiff.

From his Q & A with

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

I've made several, but the one I remember best is when I drove to Milton, West Virginia, to visit Breece D'J Pancake's grave. Of course, as many readers know, he committed suicide at an early age, a couple of years before his first and only book came out. I stopped at the library in Milton (a pretty small town) to ask a couple of questions about him, but the lady at the desk didn't even know whom I was talking about. Now, I'm sure there are people in Milton who remember him, but that was a little sad, to say the least.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?

I'm not sure about "absolute" happiness, but I am happiest when I go to bed at night knowing that I tried to do my best that day. Usually, that will mean writing at least five hours, getting some exercise, reading a good book, talking with a friend, being nice to my wife. You have to understand that I'm in my 50s now and it doesn't take nearly as much to satisfy me as it did in the old days.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Knockemstiff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

R.J. Ellory

From Ali Karim's interview with British novelist Roger Jon “R.J.” Ellory at The Rap Sheet:

AK: Many of your novels feature psychopaths and the occasional serial killer. Where does this interest of yours come from?

RJE: I think it comes from a really deep desire to understand the human psyche. I think all of us are intrigued by what it is that prompts an individual to do terrible things--from Hitler and Idi Amin to Ted Bundy. Why do people do these things? Why are they different? I think writing about it goes some way towards appreciating a viewpoint, trying to make sense of it, trying to shed some light on this terrible darkness.

AK: And that’s the reason why serial killers appeal to so many other readers these days?

RJE: I think it comes back to the emotional impact. People like to be thrilled, excited, horrified, intrigued, mystified. I think that serial killing is perhaps the most not-understood of all criminal actions. It isn’t like theft. You can see why someone would steal: they want something they haven’t got. It isn’t like killing someone out of rage, jealousy, passion, hatred, revenge, or anything else. Serial killers kill people because ... well, why do they kill people? Not just one or two, but three or 12 or 50. What is it that motivates that level of destructive need? It is said that you can never rationalize irrationality, but everyone considers themselves rational. What is that rationale for John Wayne Gacy or the Zodiac? What problem are they solving? What reality do they exist in that makes this kind of behavior necessary? That’s what fascinates me, and I think that’s what fascinates a lot of other people who read crime fiction.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

James Lasdun

James Lasdun writes poetry, screenplays, short stories and novels, including Seven Lies, which made the Man Booker Prize longlist in 2005.

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

What book changed your life?

My parents gave me a copy of Thom Gunn’s The Sense of Movement. I’d had vague ideas about being a writer but I didn’t know what I wanted to write until I opened that book and read “On the Move”. It’s still a poem I’d give anything to have written.

Are there any books you wish you’d written?

St Mawr (Lawrence), Seize the Day (Bellow), Naked Lunch (William Burroughs), After Leaving Mr MacKenzie (Jean Rhys), The Crying of Lot 49 (Pynchon), Benito Cereno (Melville).

Which literary character resembles you?

I always feel very much among my kind when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kirsten Menger-Anderson

From Kirsten Menger-Anderson's with Donna George Storey at Sex, Food, and Writing, about Menger-Anderson's Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain:

DGS: How did you come to write a novel-in-stories about the history of medicine in America?

KMA: First off, thanks for inviting me to your blog! It's a pleasure to be here.

The history of medicine has intrigued me ever since I looked up "phrenology" in the dictionary and marveled that reading human characteristics in the contours of the skull was once common belief. What other (now discredited) medical ideas have we held, I began to wonder. I discovered the works of Jan Bondeson, Carl Zimmer, and several other medical historians and science writers who tell captivating tales of practices that read like fiction: curative radium, lobotomy, therapies requiring ground millipede and mercury. These techniques and the contemporaneous debates about life, death, and the soul took hold of my imagination. Who were the people who believed humans could birth rabbits? Or that routine bleeding could cure the common cold? I began to look at how doctors and the medical philosophies of previous generations impacted daily life, and I ended up with a book that covers 350 years of medical history.

One of the many pleasures of reading Dr. Olaf van Schuler’s Brain is the wealth of historical detail about New York City over the centuries, which clearly represents a lot of background research. Can you tell us about your process? Do you have any tips for historical research for fiction writers?

Much of my research about New York began with...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Peter Leeson

From a Q & A at the New York Times/Freakonomics blog with Peter Leeson, author of The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates:

Question: The Invisible Hook is more than just a clever title. How is it different from Adam Smith’s invisible hand?

Answer: In Adam Smith, the idea is that each individual pursuing his own self-interest is led, as if by an invisible hand, to promote the interest of society. The idea of the invisible hook is that pirates, though they’re criminals, are still driven by their self-interest. So they were driven to build systems of government and social structures that allowed them to better pursue their criminal ends. They’re connected, but the big difference is that, for Adam Smith, self-interest results in cooperation that generates wealth and makes other people better off. For pirates, self-interest results in cooperation that destroys wealth by allowing pirates to plunder more effectively.

Question: In the book, you write that pirates had set up their own early versions of constitutional democracy, complete with separation of powers, decades before the American Revolution. Was that only possible because they were outlaws, operating entirely outside the control of any government?

Answer: That’s right. The pirates of the 18th century set up quite a thoroughgoing system of democracy. The reason that the criminality is driving these structures is because they can’t rely on the state to provide those structures for them. So pirates, more than anyone else, needed to figure out some system of law and order to make it possible for them to remain together long enough to be successful at stealing.
Read the complete Q & A.

Peter Leeson is the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism in the Department of Economics at George Mason University.

The Page 99 Test: The Invisible Hook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Robert J. Sawyer

From Ann Wilkes' interview with Robert J. Sawyer at Science Fiction and Other Oddysseys:

AW: In WWW:Wake, how did you get the teenage girl so authentic? Did you have help with that or a ready model?

RJS: I spent a lot of time reading blog postings and Facebook postings by teenagers, and talking to teenage girls—including my own wonderful nieces and the daughters of friends. I really worked hard to make the voice authentic, and I had a number of teenagers read the novel in manuscript to check to be sure that I got it right.

AW: In WWW:Wake, you tease the reader with snippets from an awakening, an entity discovering consciousness. Did you do any research on human awareness for this?

RJS: I did years of research on that topic. I’ve been researching human consciousness and perception for over a decade now—and using that material in novels such as Factoring Humanity and Mindscan. To me, the single most interesting area of science right now is consciousness studies, and I love the way it combines computer science, neurobiology, quantum physics, and so many other disciplines.

AW: Your characters are so believable and have such depth. Do you model them after real people?...[read on]
Read the opening chapters of WWW: Wake, and learn more about the book and author at Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Wake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 24, 2009

Richard W. Bulliet

Richard W. Bulliet is the author of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships.

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

Question: What is "postdomesticity"?

Richard Bulliet: Postdomesticity refers to a group of attitudes and practices that arise in societies that rely heavily on animal products—meat, milk products, leather, etc.—while most people living in the society have no contact at all with the producing animals. Feelings of guilt and shame about animal slaughter in all its forms (hunting, meat-packing, fur harvesting, etc.) are central characteristics of postdomesticity. These feelings underlie an increasing sensitivity to animal rights and opposition to hunting, trapping, fur farming, and use of animals as experimental subjects. They also motivate people who have no relevant religious or cultural background as vegetarians to choose a vegetarian life-style. I call this "elective vegetarianism."

* * * *
Q: How do pornographies of blood and sex relate to postdomesticity?
RB: The explosion in popular consumption of pornographies of sex and blood that began in the 1960s doubtless has multiple causes. An important aspect, however, was the almost total elimination of experience with animal reproduction and slaughter from the lives of most young Americans after World War II. Earlier generations living in domestic times had become accustomed from childhood to animals being brutalized and killed, and to animal reproduction. Though it was seldom acknowledged, these experiences accustomed young people to such scenes and ensured that throughout their lives they would regard bloodshed and sexual activity as part of the real carnal world. In postdomestic situations, children are protected from witnessing animal killing and sexual relations. Parents, perhaps rightly, consider such sights coarsening and inappropriate for children. The consequence, however, is a child's first exposure to bloodshed and sexual activity coming increasingly from magazines, videotapes, wildlife documentaries, and erotic Web sites. This type of exposure locates sex and blood in the realm of the imagination, and this opens the door to further imaginative stimulation via pornographic images and slice-and-dice horror movies.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Joyce Carol Oates

From Joyce Carol Oates' Q & A with Deborah Solomon in the New York Times Magazine:

One of the most chilling stories in your new collection, “Special,” appears to draw on your own experiences as the older sister of a severely autistic woman.

When I look at photographs of Lynne, she looks a bit like me. It’s really ironic that I have a sister who’s never uttered one word and of course can’t read, and I’ve written all these books.

Perhaps you had a phobic reaction to her and felt you had to go to the other exaggeratedly productive extreme.

I think it’s actually completely unrelated. I was writing novels in high school and apprenticed myself in a way both to Faulkner and to Hemingway. I was a dedicated writer before she was born.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Andrew J. Cherlin

From a Q & A with Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today:

Q: What led you to write THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND?

A: I had the sense that American marriage and family life differed fundamentally from the other Western countries—Western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand—in a way no one was writing about. Some observers have focused on changes in marriage, others on divorce, and others on non-marital births. But I realized that you have to look at the whole picture—all of these aspects together—to appreciate what was happening. We have more marriages and remarriages, more divorces, and more short-term cohabiting (living together) relationships than the other countries. Put them together and you have more turnover, more movement in and out of relationships than anywhere else. As a result, Americans have more spouses and live-in partners over the course of their lives than do people in any other Western country. We step on and off the carousel of marriages and partnerships faster than anywhere else.

Q: You were already well versed in the subject of marriage in America, as you have been studying families and public policy for much of your career. Did any of your discoveries surprise you as you wrote THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND?

A: I knew that our divorce rate was higher than in other countries, but I didn’t realize how much higher than even in supposedly vanguard countries such as Sweden. One statistic that stunned me:...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

From Katharine Mieszkowski's interview with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of The Face on Your Plate:

Right now there is a lot of attention to the question of where our food comes from. But there have been exposés about slaughterhouses going back to Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle," published in 1906. Why isn't there more change?

But there is.

I just heard a fantastic statistic that at Stanford University, a quarter of the undergraduate student body is vegetarian. That is amazing to me. It means young people are thinking about this.

People are more aware than ever before of these questions, not in the vast numbers that we may hope for, but I would say that more today than at any other point in our history.

But there's a huge gulf between the cultural conversation about food that's going on right now and the actual, average American diet. How do you see bridging that divide?

I've never seen so much attention paid to a single garden in my life as the Obama's vegetable garden. What a wonderful thing! Here you have, for $200, you plant 55 different vegetables on 1,000 square feet instead of a dead-end land. I think Alice Waters was responsible for that. She wants to see kids getting really wonderful, fresh vegetables from their own school gardens, and I think that over the next 10 or 15 years that will happen.

Awareness is changing. I've very optimistic. Now, is Obama going to read "The Face on Your Plate" and say, well, that did it, I'm becoming a vegan tomorrow? No, that's not going to happen.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 20, 2009

Michael Marshall

From Ali Karim's interview with Michael Marshall, at The Rap Sheet, about Marshall's novel Bad Things and related subjects:

Ali Karim: This novel, Bad Things, arrived somewhat mysteriously. Can you tell us a little about its genesis?

Michael Marshall: Bad Things arrived the way most of my books do: with the sudden delivery into my head (from I know not where) of a couple of key scenes, some characters, and an underlying idea. One of those harbinger scenes was the Prologue. At the point where I wrote it down, I had only a vague idea of the events that had led up to it, and what would unfold as a result. I prefer working this way, as it means the books are almost as much of a voyage of discovery for me as for the reader. Though it can mean you spend some long periods tangled in the woods ...

AK: As a parent, I found it hard to read your story in places, because it features, at its heart, the loss of a child. You’re a family man yourself. Tell me what the writing process was like for you.

MM: As much as that part of the novel is about losing someone, it’s about gaining other things: gaining perspective, the will to go on, an understanding of the forces that work in the background of our lives and minds, structuring our existences. You can’t go through life protecting yourself from all harm--that way neurosis lies, as it does for one of the characters in the novel. The truth is there are Bad Things out there in everyone’s lives, waiting for us, lurking in the shadows. The best you can do is try to understand and withstand them, using the human spirit, the courage and support of friends--and a little humor--to bring light into the dark. So while the process of writing Bad Things was sometimes like ploughing through the darker end of the mind’s forests, there was always that glow at the end to head toward.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Christopher G. Moore

Christopher G. Moore is the author of the Vincent Calvino crime fiction series which January Magazine has said "recalls the international ‘entertainments’ of Graham Greene or John le Carré, but the hard-bitten worldview and the cynical, bruised idealism of his battered hero is right out of Chandler."

From his Q & A with Matt Beynon Rees:

How much of what you do is: a) formula dictated by the genre within which you write?

I am told there are quite a few rules. But I never bothered to learn what they are. The private eye novel is mainly thought of as the creation of American authors; notably Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. It is an American invention based on crime in American cities and the social and class structure within which the private eye, police, victims and villains live and die. If there is an American location formula, I broke it in 1992 by setting Spirit House, the first of the Vincent Calvino novels set in a foreign location.

b) formula you developed yourself and stuck with?

To bring the reader into a different culture, different rules, expectations, language, and make it meaningful without overwhelming him/her with obscure references or incidents. The goal is to make Asia accessible without losing the vitality and history of the place.

c) as close to complete originality as it’s possible to get each time?

I am... [read on]
Visit Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peter Rock

From Peter Rock's interview with James Warner at Identity Theory:

My Abandonment is inspired by the true story of a veteran and his daughter who lived undiscovered for four years in a tarp-covered, wood-framed structure in Portland's Forest Park. What drove you to write about this?

Peter Rock: That, I think, is always the question. Where does all this stuff come from? [laughs deeply] Anyway, as you say, it's based on a true story--about five years ago, I read a short mention of a thirteen-year-old girl and her father, discovered living in Forest Park, a rugged wilderness that borders downtown Portland. They had been living there for four years in a carefully camouflaged camp, ingeniously escaping detection, venturing into the city to collect his disability checks and to shop for the groceries they couldn’t grow. He had been home-schooling the girl, who tested beyond her age group. A second newspaper article described how the two had been relocated to a horse farm; the father had been given a job, and the girl was to start middle school in the fall. I thought the situation was resolved, and filed it away; then, a third newspaper article described how the two had disappeared one night. I waited and waited, searched the Web, but months passed and there was no more information. The two had truly disappeared. Unable to find out more information about how they lived or what became of them, my mind began to spin out possibilities. I realized I had to tell the story myself, in order to satisfy my curiosity. And the fact that there was such limited information was a good thing, for me; had there been enough information available to write a non-fictional account I wouldn’t have been interested in writing it. Perhaps some might hesitate at making fiction out of real peoples’ lives, or see it as a real imposition; I am a little uneasy about it, myself, but hope that my effort is a testament to my enthusiasm and respect. And wonder.

Tell us more about Forest Park. Did you go there much while researching the book?

Peter Rock: It's gigantic and full of secrets, wild animals, homeless people, huge trees, bones, secret paths. It's right up against the city of Portland and there's Lycra-clad folks running the trails, but off the trails it gets steep and tangled pretty fast. I did spend a fair amount of time there; mostly just climbing trees, daydreaming around, imagining scenes from the book, trying to...[read on]
Peter Rock is the author of the novels The Bewildered, The Ambidextrist, This is the Place, Carnival Wolves, and My Abandonment, and a story collection, The Unsettling. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and recipient of a 2000 NEA Fellowship, he lives in Portland, Oregon, and teaches at Reed College.

The Page 69 Test: My Abandonment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2009

Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is an award-winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, The Nation, and The New York Times Magazine. From a Q & A about her new novel, If I Stay:

You started your career as a journalist and your first book is a travelogue about going around the world. Is YA literature a departure for you?

Actually, it's more of a homecoming. My first writing job was at Seventeen, where I spent five years on staff and as a contributor reporting the magazine's social-issues stories. I loved writing for teens then because--contrary to popular opinion--they really care about serious issues (from child soldiers in Africa to kids embroiled in the drug war here) and the engage in their reading with such passion. So, now that I'm writing young-adult literature, it feels like I've come full circle.

This book explores some serious themes. Why is this a book for kids and not adults?

It's a book for kids precisely because it explores serious themes. Teenagers are grappling with choices about life and love as much as adults, so why shouldn't their reading reflect that? I don't set out to write YA. It just seems like I'm drawn to stories about young people. That said, I think If I Stay is for adults, too. I love the idea of teens reading this book and then handing it off to their parents.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Gayle Forman's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: If I Stay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Janet Burroway

Janet Burroway is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita of the Florida State University and the author of numerous novels, plays, poetry, essays, texts for dance, and children’s books. Her Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft is the most widely used creative writing text in America. From a Q & A about her new novel, Bridge of Sand:

Where did you get the idea for Bridge of Sand?

A novel idea always comes from many directions, and in fact the way I know it’s a novel is that some unexpected connection occurs in my mind, and then other images, ideas, characters seem to gather and attach there. When the conglomeration is unbearably heavy I have to get rid of it by writing it down.

If I had to pick one source for Bridge of Sand it would be this: twenty years ago I toured a paper mill and I was blown away (almost literally) by the massive power of it – especially by contrast with the flimsy little sheet of white paper that I face every day, and which has a different kind of intimidating power. I decided to write a novel about a poet, a man who leaves his family for a sabbatical and inadvertently rents a cottage in a paper mill town. He sits in front of the blank page while tons of the stuff pours off the rollers behind him – and can’t write, of course. Then his wife comes South to patch up their marriage and instead falls in love with a black mill hand.

I had it all worked out. It seemed a good idea. I spent four years on the novel, which was to be called Paper, and every day of the work was dreary, forced, like the worst kind of dead-end paper-pushing. My editor read a hundred and fifty pages and asked me, “What do you love about this book?” It turned out the only thing I loved was the little store that had appeared quite incidentally. I loved that, and the character of Solly, who’d also shown up out of the blue. I scrapped the novel, wrote three plays and a book of essays, and thought about the little store. I gave up the writer as hero. It’s always a good idea to give up the writer as hero.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Bridge of Sand.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Juan Cole

From "Six Questions for Juan Cole, Author of Engaging the Muslim World," by Scott Horton at Harper's:

1. What are the three biggest misperceptions Americans have about the global Islamic community?

One: If you watch American television, you see the most extreme charges against Muslims set forth by pundits. Some allege that Muslims are inherently violent and commanded by scripture to attack infidels. In fact, the Quran forbids murder and commands Muslims to make peace with people who seek peace with them. The “infidels” whom the Quran urges the faithful to combat were the militant pagans of ancient Mecca, who had aggressively attacked the Muslims and were trying to kill them all. The Quran praises the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels as full of “guidance and light,” celebrates the children of Israel, and says that Christians are closest in love to Muslims. Of course, some Muslims are bigoted and manage to ignore those parts of their scripture, but it is not the case that the religion is essentially militant. I’ve gone with Americans to the Middle East, and after a few days they typically come and confess to me that they are amazed at how nice the people are, how kind and generous to foreigners, and how little they resemble U.S. media stereotypes.

Two: Many Americans seem to view the Muslim world as the new Soviet Union, as a relatively monolithic and uniformly hostile bloc of nations. This point of view seems to me oddly detached from reality. Turkey is a NATO ally, and Washington has designated Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Pakistan as non-NATO allies. Other governments of Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen have offered the U.S. intelligence, security, and/or military cooperation of a high order. Aside from Europe, there is probably no other culture area on the globe where the United States has as many formal and informal allies. The only countries the United States has relatively severe differences with among nearly fifty Muslim-majority states are Syria, Iran, and the Sudan, and that sort of thing changes over time.

Three: Americans underestimate...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Engaging the Muslim World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Xiaoming Wang

Xiaoming Wang is a co-author of Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History and a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

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

Q: Why study the fossil history of dogs?

Xiaoming Wang: The fossil records of the canids (dogs) present a unique opportunity to study this important family of predators. The richness and diversity of the fossil canids are unparalleled among modern families of Carnivora (mammalian predators). Such fantastic records, assembled over more than 100 years of careful collecting by vertebrate paleontologists, permit us to piece together a detailed evolutionary history of the family and enable us to ask many questions that cannot be easily answered by studying other groups of carnivorans.

Q: Why are the fossil records for canids so rich and abundant?

XW: Canids were among the first carnivorans to evolve, dating back to more than 40 million years ago. This long history gave canids an early head start in diversifying before other carnivoran groups had an opportunity to compete. In addition, there are rich fossil records for canids because they evolved adaptations to a more cursorial locomotion (capable of running fast and for long distances), which is ideal for living in open grassland. The global climate became cooler and drier during the late Cenozoic, conditions that favor grassland over trees. Canids thrive in such an environment and the great number of fossils of members of this family testifies to their success.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 13, 2009

Julia Angwin

From Dan Schawbel's interview with Julia Angwin, author of Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America:

What is unique about the story of MySpace?

Most Internet startups were founded by techie engineer types and based on some technological breakthrough. MySpace was founded by cool Hollywood kids, and its chairman was a nightclub owner. Before they founded MySpace, Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson sent spam, sold cute cursors that contained spyware, pushed spy cameras and dabbled in pornography. MySpace proved that the Internet industry was not just for geeks.

What does the title “Stealing MySpace” mean?

It can mean a lot of things. First...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Stealing MySpace, and visit Julia Angwin's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Stealing MySpace.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lisa See

Lisa See's most recent book, Shanghai Girls, will be released on May 26, 2009. From her interview with Kate Merkel-Hess at The China Beat:

Kate Merkel-Hess: Your forthcoming book, Shanghai Girls, will be released in May. What is the book about? What inspired the novel's subject?

Lisa See: Shanghai Girls is about two sisters who leave Shanghai in 1937 and come to Los Angeles in arranged marriages. Four things inspired me. First, I’ve been collecting Shanghai advertising images from the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties for many years. The so-called Beautiful Girls, women who posed for commercial artists, were right in the heart of the excitement in Shanghai. The charming and captivating life illustrated in advertisements is one thing, but I was interested in seeing what real life was like for those women. I also wanted to write about what it was like for Chinese women who came to America in arranged marriages. (We had a lot of arranged marriages in my family. I know how hard life was for the women.) Third, I wanted to write about China City, a short-lived tourist attraction in Los Angeles. And finally, I wanted to write about sisters. The sibling relationship is the longest that we’ll have in our lifetimes. A sister knows you your entire life. She should stand by you, support you, and love you, no matter what, but it’s also your sister who knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt you the most.

For your earlier work Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, you did a great deal of historical research. Did you also do historical research for Shanghai Girls? What types of sources informed your writing?

Research is my favorite part of the writing process. I never know what I’m going to find. I live close to...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Lisa See's Peony in Love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Siddharth Kara

Siddharth Kara is the author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.

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

Q. I thought most countries abolished slavery during the Nineteenth Century. Are there still slaves today?

Siddharth Kara: Yes, there are still slaves today, even though slavery is illegal in every country in the world. By my calculation, there were 28.4 million slaves in the world at the end of 2006. These slaves were in three primary categories: 18.1 million debt bondage/bonded labor slaves, 7.6 million forced labor slaves, and 2.7 million trafficked slaves (slaves who were coerced or deceived then transported into a forced labor or debt bondage situation). Of these trafficked slaves, 1.2 million were sex slaves. For reasons I discuss in my book, there will assuredly be more slaves in the world today than at the end of 2006, with the highest growth in the trafficked slave category.

Q: Since sex slaves are a small percentage of slaves worldwide, why did you focus your book on this small category of slavery?
SK: Sex slavery is the first form of slavery I (consciously) encountered. I first came across sex trafficking while I was volunteering in a Bosnian refugee camp in the summer of 1995, an experience that profoundly affected me. In my research I focus on sex slavery for two additional reasons. First, it is perhaps the most grotesque and barbaric form of exploitation suffered by contemporary slaves. Whips, cigarette burns, knife slashes, beatings, broken bones—all slaves suffer these tortures, but sex slaves suffer these as well as ten, fifteen, or even twenty instances of forced sex each and every day. Second, sex slavery is by far the most profitable form of slavery. Even though only 4% of all slaves are sex slaves, these same slaves generate almost 40% of the total profits enjoyed by slave owners each year.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 10, 2009

Aravind Adiga

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

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

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

At the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in 1998, where I began writing fiction in earnest.

Who are your literary influences?

Guy de Maupassant, Balzac, RK Narayan, Isaac Babel, Ralph Ellison, George Orwell, William Faulkner.

What book do you wish you'd written?

To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson. And the late poems of AE Housman.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The White Tiger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bob Dylan

From Bill Flanagan's interview with author-musician Bob Dylan, in the (London) Times:

BF: You liked Barack Obama early on. Why was that?

BD: I’d read his book and it intrigued me.

BF: Audacity of Hope?

BD: No it was called Dreams of My Father.

BF: What struck you about him?

BD: Well, a number of things. He’s got an interesting background. He’s like a fictional character, but he’s real. First off, his mother was a Kansas girl. Never lived in Kansas though, but with deep roots. You know, like Kansas bloody Kansas. John Brown the insurrectionist. Jesse James and Quantrill. Bushwhackers, Guerillas. Wizard of Oz Kansas. I think Barack has Jefferson Davis back there in his ancestry someplace. And then his father. An African intellectual. Bantu, Masai, Griot type heritage - cattle raiders, lion killers. I mean it’s just so incongruous that these two people would meet and fall in love. You kind of get past that though. And then you’re into his story. Like an odyssey except in reverse.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Paul Gootenberg

From a Q & A with Paul Gootenberg, author of Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug:

Q: Why cocaine? Why did you choose to write about this drug?

A: Well surely not from great personal experience with the drug: I was a hardworking, sober, and impoverished grad student during the peak years of the U.S. cocaine boom in the early 1980s. However, I was also becoming at the time a kind of specialist on Andean export "commodities." My first two books, at least indirectly, dealt with 19th-century guano, a coveted fertilizer export to Europe found on islands of dried bird dung lying off the coast of Peru. Now, guano is a far more exotic good than cocaine, yet, in its time, it also integrated a faltering Andean nation into the world economy. When an old friend, a journalist reporting on drugs in the Andes, suggested to me in the early 1990s that little had been done on the history of cocaine, I got very curious. As I realized the number of interesting fields I'd learn about investigating such a history -- medical and cultural history, economic botany and sociology of the illicit, and so on -- I got hooked.

Q: Why is cocaine's history so dramatic and significant?
A: It's dramatic because cocaine, in a relatively short time, illustrates the phases that virtually all illicit drugs have passed through: first embraced as a miracle drug and promising commodity, then shunned by medical opinion, and finally transformed from the impact of legal prohibition into an illicit good. Cocaine's illicit rebirth was particularly dramatic after 1950 because it had barely registered before as a menacing drug.

It is also...[read on]
Learn more about Andean Cocaine at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Andean Cocaine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Peter V. Brett

From a Q & A with Peter V. Brett about his new novel, The Warded Man:

Question: First of all, I have to ask about the composition of this novel, which is your first. Is it true that you wrote The Warded Man on your Blackberry while commuting by subway from Brooklyn to your day job in New York? This is a novel that weighs in at over 500 pages!

Peter Brett:Well, it wasn’t a Blackberry, but the rest is true. I have an HP Ipaq 6515 smartphone. It’s a little clunky compared to some of today’s smartphones, but back in late 2005 when I picked it out, it was about as close as you could get to a tricorder. I chose it because it could run Microsoft Word, which meant I could write on the mini-keyboard, sync it to my computer, and then continue working in the same document on my desktop.

Finding time to write when you have a full-time job (not to mention a life outside work) is possibly the greatest hurdle for the would-be novelist to overcome. On a good day, I was on the subway an hour and a half. On a bad day, anyone who is familiar with the NYC subway system knows your commute can grow exponentially. I was always looking for a way to make that time productive, but writing longhand on the subway is impossible.

Enter the smartphone. On days when I could get a seat, I would put my iPod on to drown out the background chatter and start thumb-writing. I set a goal of 1,000 words a day for myself, and usually I could get at least 800 of those done on the commute. More if I wrote at lunch. At night, I would go home, sync the phone to my PC, and then clean up the file, fix typos, and finish off the quota (if needed).
The phone really changed my life, because it meant I could write anywhere, at any time. In a long line at the bank? Write. Waiting at the bar for a friend? Write. In a cab, or the passenger seat of a car? Write.

I would frequently even come out of the subway, walk up the steps and down the sidewalk, all the way to my office, still typing away. It’s pure luck that I never walked into an open manhole or got knocked over by a bike messenger. I would say that a good 60% of The Warded Man was written thus. I don’t know that I could ever have done it without this tool to make my historically unproductive time so productive.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Warded Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tess Gerritsen

From Ali Karim's interview with Tess Gerritsen at The Rap Sheet:

Ali Karim: You now have a very successful series going, featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli of the Boston Police Department and medical examiner Maura Isles. However, you’ve switched genres several times in the past, starting out writing romantic thrillers, then moving on to techno-medical thrillers [beginning with Harvest in 1996], science fiction, and finally crime novels. How has your readership reacted to these switches?

Tess Gerritsen: They get very confused, very confused. I know that some of my crime readers occasionally come across one of my earlier romance books and they are completely flabbergasted to find out that I used to write romance. On the other hand, some of my crime readers come across Gravity [1999] and are surprised to discover that I wrote science-fiction.

AK: Some of your science fiction was in the mode of the late Michael Crichton, who also liked to move around between the genres, at one point writing mysteries under the nom de plume “John Lange.”

TG: Precisely. I think basically I write whatever I feel like writing, and wherever it takes me.

AK: A novel’s location is so often key to the telling of a tale. You set ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hannah Holmes

Hannah Holmes is the author of The Well-Dressed Ape, Suburban Safari and The Secret Life of Dust. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Discover, Outside, and many other publications.

Two exchanges from her Q & A:

Describe your latest project.

When biologists discover a new animal, they follow a formula to produce a description of it. What color is it? How many legs? What does it eat? How does it mate? Does it dwell in trees, or under rocks? The Well-Dressed Ape applies the formula to Homo sapiens. The results are pretty funny. And fascinating. And sobering.

* * *
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

I once found Shakespeare's grave by mistake — does that count? I think it was his. It was so unheralded and covered with cedar needles that I still wonder if it was really his. Might have been a brother or a cousin Shakespeare. It was in Stratford on Avon, where he lived. I was hitchhiking across the British Isles, and lo! Out here, behind a church, it's Shakespeare's grave! I probably only went there to pee — I don't remember. There wasn't a soul around. It was just an old cemetery. (OK, I just looked it up online, and the Real Deal is entombed inside the church. So I haven't even been on an accidental literary pilgrimage. But I possibly peed near the grave of one of Shakespeare's relatives.)
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit the website of Hannah Holmes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dennis Lehane

From Dennis Lehane's interview with Ali Karim at The Rap Sheet:

AK: Considering the path of your career from writing a P.I. series to penning a standalone crime thriller [Mystic River], Gothic noir [Shutter Island], and now a historical opus [The Given Day], let me ask you: Did you, or can you, see a “game plan” to your writing?

DL: I think the one commonality ... is that they are all urban novels. They are concerned with the machinery or soul of the city, if you will. So in the end that’s the canvas that I work--the urban novel--with the exception of that trip to the Gothic world in Shutter Island.

AK: And what a tremendous book Shutter Island was, in my opinion. I’m confident it will be one of the novels for which you are best remembered. It was magnificent in terms of ambition, with a Gothic dread that infuses the narrative.

DL: Wow, thank you, thank you. I go by the dictum that you write the book you want to read. If you have that sort of love and passion for a book, then I think it will translate and people will be entertained.

AK: How do you look at your popularity with readers? Even though your fans have clamored for more Kenzie and Gennaro books, they’ve been willing to follow you in all of these other directions.

DL: It’s simple...[read on]
Read the complete interview.

Dennis Lehane: most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 3, 2009

Elizabeth Scott

From a Q & A with YA novelist Elizabeth Scott about her forthcoming novel, Love You Hate You Miss You:

What was your inspiration for writing Love You Hate You Miss You?

I sat down to write with only the vaguest of ideas of what it was going to be about, actually. But what I wrote first is still the start of the book—Amy's first letter to Julia—and it was then, after that letter, that Amy's story started unfolding in my head and I took a lot of notes and then dove right back into her world. And I'm glad I did, even if Love You Hate You Miss You ended up being one of only two stories I've ever written that made me cry while I was writing a scene!

As Amy struggles to deal with Julia's death, she learns so much about life. Why was that important in the book?

Amy's so caught up in her life before—her life with Julia—and there's reasons for that. And so, in the beginning, she doesn't want to deal with her life now. She doesn't care about it. But she can't avoid it, and so she has to deal with her life, and that, in turn, starts to make her think about before. And how things were versus how she saw them/wanted them to be.
Read the complete Q & A.

Scott's other books include Bloom, Perfect You, Stealing Heaven, Living Dead Girl, and the newly released Something, Maybe.

Visit Elizabeth Scott's website and blog.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Scott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stefanie Pintoff

Stefanie Pintoff is the winner of the first Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel Competition. Her novel In the Shadow of Gotham, the first in the Detective Simon Ziele series, releases in late April.

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

1. The Detective Ziele series is set in the early 1900s. What draws you to this time period?

I’ve always loved New York City – and I find no period in the city’s history to be more exciting than the turn of the 20th century. It was a time of unparalleled change and growth that’s been tremendous fun for me to explore and incorporate into my writing. As more people prospered, the city's culture adapted: people became interested in food, and so new restaurants sprang up; their demand for new homes led to a real estate explosion that pushed the city northward, helped along by the first underground subway; and they frequented a growing variety of shows, concerts, and entertainment halls. But still, the city remained marked by vice, corruption, and colorful con artists exploiting it all.

2. What was your inspiration for creating Detective Ziele?

I took one true fact from the life of someone close to me – about how his father waged a losing battle with a gambling habit – and gave this burden to Simon Ziele. I considered how his father's shortcomings would have first limited Ziele, but then fundamentally shaped him. He became someone smarter, more resilient, and more motivated by a sense of fairness than he might otherwise have become.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: In the Shadow of Gotham.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Alan Bradley

From January Magazine's Author Snapshot: Alan Bradley:

What inspires you?

What Peter Ackroyd (and others) have called “Albion” -- the idea of England as part of the collective imagination. Ackroyd wrote: “I truly believe that there are certain people to whom or through whom the territory, the place, the past speaks .... Just as it seems possible to me that a street or dwelling can materially affect the character and behaviour of the people who dwell in them, is it not also possible that within this city (London) and within its culture are patterns of sensibility or patterns of response which have persisted from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and perhaps even beyond?”

By observing myself, I can see that this sense extends not only throughout time, but through geographical space; that I am linked to England by more than genetics.
Read the complete Author Snapshot at January Magazine.

Alan Bradley has published many children’s stories as well as lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC Radio and published in various literary journals. He won the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature. He lives in British Columbia.

His new book is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

--Marshal Zeringue