Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alyssa Katz

Alyssa Katz is the author of Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us.

From her Q & A with Mark Schone at Salon:

Isn't homeownership actually good for you? I thought it was the panacea for almost all social ills, it drove the crime rate down, educational achievement up, and so on.

Yes, well, homeownership is only as good as the amount of home you actually own, and I think the big problem in the last generation or so is that Americans have turned to more and more and more debt to reach for the American dream.

There's a lot of great examples out there -- the Nehemiah homes that transformed East New York in Brooklyn from a really devastated and dangerous place to someplace that's still really poor and has a high crime rate but has an opportunity to really grow and have a stable bunch of families really invested in building a home there. So all that's great. Certainly there's a lot of evidence that homeowners do tend to stay in one place for longer, their kids perform better in school. They tended to be more involved in local politics, community affairs, and block cleanups. The problem is, it's very hard to separate out the effects of homeownership itself from the fact that people who have a certain economic or social standing are more likely statistically to be homeowners in the first place.

Does this mean that we shouldn't actively encourage homeownership, using government money or government policy?

I think there's nothing wrong with using government money, policy, pressure, all those tools to make homeownership more of a possibility than it would otherwise be in the marketplace, simply because the market left to its own devices discriminates aggressively. It rewards people who already have wealth, who have already had a leg up economically, and it's great to give other people the opportunity as well.

The problem is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 29, 2009

Carleen Brice

Carleen Brice was named 2008 “Breakout Author of the Year” by The African American Literary Awards Show for her debut novel Orange Mint and Honey, which was also a selection of the Essence Book Club. She is also the author of Walk Tall:Affirmations for People of Color, and Lead Me Home: An African American’s Guide Through the Grief Journey and edited the anthology Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife. Her new novel is Children of the Waters.

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

OW: CHILDREN OF THE WATERS touches on so many issues—chronic illness, family secrets, interracial relationships, challenging pregnancies, holistic healing, self-esteem. May we ask how you came to write this novel? Did any characters or storylines jump out at you above any others?

CB: Well, the nugget of the story–the relationship with Trish and Billie–is based on a true story. One of my sisters-in-law is biracial and her family put her up for adoption and kept her older sister who is white. In real life she was adopted by a white family, so when her white birth sister found her, race wasn’t much of an issue. (And unlike Billie she was actually immediately very close with her birth sister.) There was also a young woman who worked for me years ago who discovered at a young age that her birth mother was Native American. Those two stories fascinated me. And truth be told I have a half sister who I’ve never met, and yet here I’ve written two books with characters who are half sisters. We’ve recently been in touch and I hope we’ll meet one day soon. As far as interracial relationships go, my husband is white.

One brother was married to a biracial woman and all his in-laws were white. My other brother is married to a Latina. Our family is, like many, many families in this country, quite a mixed bag. I’m fascinated by reconciliation and how the past affects us even if we don’t think it does. So family secrets and dynamics are something I’m just naturally drawn to.[read on]
Read more about Children of the Waters.

Visit Carleen Brice's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gregg Hurwitz

Keith Raffel asked some questions of Gregg Hurwitz about his new book, Trust No One. A sample:

The Sunday Telegraph says, "The breathtaking pace of this thriller is set from the opening scene." How do you keep it going?

This is far and away my fastest paced book. So the challenge was to keep that momentum hurtling forward while not sacrificing character or plausibility. It was something of a balancing act, and I hope readers find that I pulled it off.

Are you writing what Graham Greene called an "entertainment?" Or are you shooting for more?

I always put it all out there on the page. I never feel like I'm done with a book until it has - after draft upon draft - thoroughly exhausted me. But at the same time, I'm wary of drawing my own conclusions about my work. I am all about story. At the end of the day, I want to write the best goddamn tale I can and if readers find something more there, then I'm quite pleased.[read on]
Read an excerpt from Trust No One and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Gregg Hurwitz's website and blog.

Gregg Hurwitz is the author of several critically acclaimed thrillers, most recently The Crime Writer which was a finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the ITW Best Novel of the Year award.

My Book, The Movie: The Crime Writer.

The Page 69 Test: Trust No One.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson is the author of seven novels, including A Small Death in Lisbon, which won the Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of 1999 from Britain's Crime Writers Association. A graduate of Oxford University, he has worked in shipping, advertising, and trading in Africa, and has lived in Greece and West Africa. He lives in Portugal and Oxford, England.

From his Q & A with Julia Buckley:

Your novel THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD is the fourth and last in the Javier Falcón series. Is it difficult to say goodbye to a character that you’ve gotten to know so intimately?

As you now know from The Blind Man of Seville Javier was not in a good mental state when I first met him. He was divorced, struggling with his father’s death, tending towards the introspective and not getting on well with his homicide squad. He also had this terrible sense of being on the edge of a great abyss, something in his mind that he knew but did not know, a feeling that a monstrous revelation was about to surface and break him as a human being. By the time he finishes his four book journey I believe that he is in a much better place. He has been dismantled, put back together, re-equipped and revived. So I leave him with no sadness on my part, but with a feeling of a job well done. It had always been important to me, in a reversal of the normal series character, that my protagonist would change. And he does, for the better.

Your biography reveals that you are an extremely well-traveled man, and as a result, you say that “I realised that there were other ways of thinking and doing things that were just as valid as my own.” Does this objectivity affect the way that you create characters?

That realization was...[read on]
Visit Robert Wilson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lisa See

Lisa See's most recent book is Shanghai Girls.

From her Q & A at Powell's:

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.

Bob Dylan. It's a funny thing, but I didn't love him all that much when I was younger. My mom had his early albums, and I was aware of his songs and all that, but I wasn't particularly passionate about him in the same way I was for, say, the Stones. When his voice went, I didn't care for him at all. Then, when I was on book tour in the Bay Area for one of the mysteries, I had a media escort who played Time Out of Mind over and over again as we drove together day after day. The escort was a huge Dylan fan. She'd been to lots of concerts over the years, so she talked to me about his work, even from the "off" years, and about the songs we were listening to. Maybe it's because I heard that CD so many times — literally over and over again for five days — that something just clicked. I finally heard what I needed to hear. (Or maybe I was brainwashed.) Over these past few years, I've become fascinated by the way Dylan can tell a whole story in just a few minutes, how he plays with words, and how things don't necessarily have to follow a linear progression. I even got XM radio in my car so I can listen to The Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour. I have to drop everything and go for a drive so I can listen to it. He'll take a single word or concept — rain, Cadillacs, or presidents — and play archival pieces related to that particular theme. The music is interesting and often it's stuff I've never heard before, but what I love most are Dylan's musings on the theme. He has one weird mind.[read on]
Also check out See's interview with Kate Merkel-Hess at The China Beat.

The Page 99 Test: Lisa See's Peony in Love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 25, 2009

J. Courtney Sullivan

From a Q & A with J. Courtney Sullivan about her new novel, Commencement:

Q. One of COMMENCEMENT’s protagonists, Celia Donnelly, is an Irish girl from Milton, MA, who moves to New York after graduation. You’re an Irish girl from Milton who moved to New York after graduation. Is Celia—or any of the characters—modeled after you?

A: For the most part, every character in COMMENCEMENT—Celia very much included—is made up of material that’s about ten percent borrowed from real life, and ninety percent pure fiction. There are definitely a lot of similarities between me and Celia: we live in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, our upbringings were similar, we sort of look alike, and as children we both took embarrassing Irish step dancing classes that left us completely unable to dance like normal people. But Celia is much more of a wild child than I ever was. She’s fairly apolitical, while I am obsessed with politics and women’s issues. Politically, I am most aligned with April. And I guess there’s a bit of me in Sally, too—I am a total neat freak, and have even been known to wash my keys in soapy water now and again, as Sally does. (Think of how dirty they get!) There are small similarities between me and every one of my characters: I share Bill’s love of W.H. Auden and Bree’s love of Dolly Parton. But then again, part of the fun of writing a novel is living vicariously: Last year, when I desperately wanted to get a dog, I gave one to Celia instead. She has a closet full of fabulous designer clothes, while I have six black sweaters with varying necklines.

Q: In the same vein, are any of the characters based on your friends?

A: When I was a student at Smith, I met ...[read on]
Visit J. Courtney Sullivan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Robert Fate

Jugglers at the Border, Robert Fate's fourth Baby Shark novel, is due out in September 2009.

From his interview at Meanderings and Muses:

You know, women in the 1950s were a whole lot different than they are today in a whole lot of ways (was that an understatement?). Back then, a young woman in her early 20s would most likely be married and a "stay at home mom." Kristin is a far cry from that stereotype. Even knowing the brutality that is part of what makes Baby who she is, you really don't explain why she seems determined to stay single. The love between her and her adoring Lee seems strong enough to warrant a commitment in the way of marriage. Will we be learning more about this inability to commit on Kristin's part as the series goes on?

I’m glad you asked about this. I have never wanted any aspect of Kristin’s existence to seem to be a literary device, not her personal life, the incidents of family life she remembers before the deaths of her mother and father, nor her friendships and infatuations, and especially not her love life. I have never felt an inclination to overly expose her private life and have tried to handle those matters in a realistic but considerate way. On the one hand, I think the reader has a right to know, but Kristin has her right to privacy, as well.

Kristin had as normal a childhood as was possible with her father “off at war” the better part of her early years, and then “off shooting pool” after he came back from the Pacific. She was allowed to love him in spite of his truancy, because her mother did. She never heard him condemned for not coming home to stay after the war, but rather they read his letters together that told of his adventures on the road, as they had read his letters from the South Seas. He explained himself to his daughter in the first book as she was deciding whether to go with him, and her response showed the hard-nosed, clear-eyed view of life and compromise that has come to define her as the self-contained warrior we know.

Kristin dropped out of high school and went on the road with her father after her mother died. This was her choice. She was sixteen, resilient, and willing to live out of the backseat of her dad’s Cadillac just to be with him. Then, at age seventeen, after witnessing her father’s murder, she was brutally raped by three men, beaten senseless, and left for dead in a burning building. So, I ask you sincerely, how in the world could anybody expect her to have a normal, loving relationship with anyone after that? Especially a suitor. She needed time to heal.

Indeed, she is nineteen before she can bring herself to even chance a relationship and that ends badly before it can get properly started. So, having been set back again, she kisses a few frogs along the way, but has no success in finding love until she is twenty-one and meets Lee Pierson, the romantic detective. This is in Beaumont Blues. There are complications; it is not easy, but they want it to work, so it does and she ends the book with a boyfriend.

All right, Kaye––I am finally to your question. In High Plains Redemption Kristin discusses with Henry what it is that is keeping her relationship with Lee from becoming more serious. Lee is a police detective and in her pursuit of justice she sometimes finds herself on the other side of the law. If she is truthful with him about some of the things she and Otis have done, she is presenting him with a moral dilemma, as well as putting herself, Otis, and even Henry in danger of arrest. Plus, she sees it as unfair to ask Lee to make choices between the oath he has taken as a police officer to uphold the law, and the temptation of letting her slide on acts for which he would ordinarily arrest people. It’s not easy. She loves Lee, but she can’t be truthful with him. He’s no dummy. He gets it and doesn’t try to press her, because he doesn’t want to lose her. So book three ends with them ignoring the elephant in the room, and not trying too hard to resolve the issues that have them stalemated.

In Jugglers at the Border, book four, you will find Kristin and Lee more relaxed in their roles and a hint––but only a hint––of how they might solve their impasse.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Baby Shark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wednesday Martin

Wednesday Martin has worked as writer and social researcher in New York City for almost two decades. She was a regular contributor to New York Post’s parenting and lifestyle pages for several years, and her work has appeared in a number of national magazines including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Fitness. Martin was also a features editor at Woman’s World. She earned her doctorate in comparative literature from Yale and taught cultural studies and literature at Yale, The New School, and Baruch College. A stepmother for nine years, she lives in New York City with her husband and their two sons.

Her new book is Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do. From a Q & A at the official website:

Q: Are you a stepmonster?

A: I've certainly had my days! And what became clear to me in the researching and writing of this book was that, contrary to what I had believed when I first got involved with a man who has kids, that's true of most women with stepkids. We have all had days when we feel wicked or evil. Being in a tough situation and feeling compelled to fix it, and then feeling like a failure when it comes to repairing someone else's dysfunctional family will do that to a person!

Q: Is that why you wrote the book?

A: In part, yes. It was cathartic for me to write about my own feelings of frustration and failure, certainly, and to find that these were common emotions for women with stepchildren to feel.

But I also wrote the book that I wanted to read but couldn't find. As I struggled to figure out how to relate to my husband's kids and to deal with being a stepmother, I couldn't find many books out there that went beyond formulaic advice that felt impossible to follow at the time. Like "Don't take it personally" and "Let it go or you'll regret it."

I wanted a book that...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Stepmonster, and learn more about the book and author at Wednesday Martin's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Stepmonster.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 22, 2009

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of Shadow of the Wind and other books, is one of Spain’s bestselling authors. His new novel is The Angel's Game.

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

What book changed your life?

Discovering the world of books changed my life: I discovered the magic of the printed word.
* * *

What was the first novel you read?

Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
* * *

What are you most proud of writing?

I’m just proud of surviving the writing of my books and giving them to others. I’m fond of all my books – they’re all my little monsters so despite their defects I’m proud of them.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tess Callahan

From a Q & A with Tess Callahan about her new novel, April and Oliver:

How has your upbringing colored your writing?

My parents were (and mother still is) remarkably kindhearted, and raised us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, which is essentially the task of a fiction writer. We were a working class family who budgeted to make the mortgage each month and never missed mass on Sunday. The youngest, I spent a good deal of my childhood beneath a drape of forsythia in our yard where I dreamed up many rooms and even a barn with horses. I was never bored. From an early age, writing became a tool I used to navigate my way through life, both through journal keeping and story writing. As with any household, there was occasional turbulence, but it all seemed very normal to me. All in all, I am fortunate to have had a more stable and loving upbringing than most of my characters.

How much of the book is autobiographical? Where do your characters come from?

I once heard Milan Kundera say in an interview that his characters start where he leaves off. That feels right to me. You could say that each of my characters is an unmanifested aspect of my personality, a particular trait taken to an extreme. They each represent someone I might have become, but didn’t. Oliver is probably the most like me in that I often feel...[read on]
Visit Tess Callahan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kyria Abrahams

Kyria Abrahams was a regular columnist for Jest Magazine for several years, where she was featured alongside performers and writers from The Daily Show and Chappelle’s Show. Her memoir is I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing.

From a Q & A with Abrahams at Failure Magazine:

Have you found that readers are sometimes misinterpreting what you’ve written?

Yeah, definitely. Specifically, a lot of people have said they wanted to reach into the book and smack me. But I want to reach into the book and smack me, too. That’s kind of the whole point.

Also, people have said it’s unclear how much of my life was created by being a Jehovah’s Witness. I think it’s great that people are unsure about that, because that’s the core of the book. Was I messed up by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or was I just a brat? The [Frederick Perls] quote at the beginning sums it up best: “Many factors come together to create this specific unique person which is I.”

I was hoping that people would have a dialogue about that, and was surprised when people were annoyed that I didn’t answer the question for them. That’s when I realized that my book is Mumblecore. I know that sounds really pretentious, but what I mean is, people sometimes won’t like a movie because that movie has an unlikable character. I’ve noticed some people have reacted the same way to my book.

What is your stance on organized religion?

It’s...[read on]
Read an excerpt from I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed, and learn more about the book and author at Kyria Abrahams' website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: I'm Perfect, You're Doomed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jennifer Cody Epstein

Jennifer Cody Epstein's acclaimed novel The Painter from Shanghai is a re-imagining of the actual life of Pan Yuliang and her transformation from prostitute to post-Impressionist painter.

From a Q & A with Epstein at Shortcut:

You are an American writer, based in New York. How did you hear about Pan Yuliang and what were your intentions in writing about her?

It actually began at the Guggenheim Museum, about ten years ago. My husband and some relatives and I were at an exhibition on Modern Chinese Art, and there was just one image by Pan Yuliang on display. But it drew me over immediately. It was a typical Pan Yuliang in that it was very evocative of Matisse and Cezanne, and the bright, bold colors and distinctly Western setting (as compared to the huge propaganda-style images and much more subtle ink paintings around it) really stood out for me. I went over to see more and when I read about Pan’s story (prostitute-concubine-Post-Impressionist icon; really?!) it just blew me away. I’d never heard of her before—but I couldn’t, at that moment, understand why---it struck me that everyone should know about her. I guess I hoped that by writing this novel I’d both educate myself about how that transformation happened(not just factually, but emotionally—in a way only fiction can really get close to) and also spread the word about a woman I consider to be—at least in the West—an unsung feminist hero.

What is the perception of Pan Yuliang today in China? Do Chinese women perceive her as a role model or as a failure?

I think that within the context of women artists in general she’s...[read on]
Learn more about The Painter from Shanghai and its author at Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Painter from Shanghai.

My Book, The Movie: The Painter from Shanghai.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anthony Neil Smith

Anthony Neil Smith is the editor of Plots With Guns and the author of Pyschosomatic, The Drummer, Yellow Medicine, and Hogdoggin'.

From his Q & A with Jedidiah Ayres:

What about crime or noir then? Was that always what you were going to write?

Oh yeah. I was hooked by The Hardy Boys in second grade before moving on the superior Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators Series. Plus, I really loved the covers and titles of all the adult crime fiction in the library. I just liked the idea of detectives, of solving crimes. Of course eventually I didn't care so much about the solving any more and just wanted to read about bad people doing terrible things, but with reasons.

I tried writing other things along the way--comedy, teen angst, Christian fiction when I was a holy roller, but it always came back to crime and noir. The "lightbulb" moment was picking up James Ellroy's WHITE JAZZ in the store, reading a few pages, and then picking my jaw off the floor. I thought "I didn't know you could write crime fiction like this". So that was the moment I also realized that instead of just studying Literature, I needed to find some Creative Writing classes.

Even in grad school, I would sometimes toss a crime story into workshop just to see what would happen (and I tried to write them so they weren't obviously genre stories). Eventually, at my dissertation defense, my professor Frederick Barthelme told me not to worry about the literary vs. genre debate. He said I obviously cared about the crime genre, and so I should go after what I liked. And I did. Maybe that'll change one day, but for now I just write the types of stories I would most want to read. And studying literary fiction and craft definitely helped me think about more interesting ways of going about it.

Is it an issue for you still? Is there a level of literary respect/credibility that you want to acheive?

Ha! I want...[read on]
Visit Anthony Neil Smith's website and MySpace page.

"My Book, The Movie" -- Pyschosomatic.

The Page 69 Test: Yellow Medicine.

The Page 69 Test: Hogdoggin’.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

David J. Williams

Jeff VanderMeer interviewed David J. Williams about his latest novel, The Burning Skies. Part of the Q & A:

Amazon.com: How was writing your second novel different from writing your first?

David J. Williams: The toughest thing about it was that I had six years to do the first and only a year to do the second. To draw an analogy from the music world: there's a reason so many second albums underperform--you take a band that's had a lifetime to write the first album, and then you lock them in the studio and say, okay guys, the clock's ticking and we need forty more minutes of classic riffs! Fortunately, I had the whole thing mapped out at a high level, so it was really just a matter of following the gameplan I'd already developed. And in The Burning Skies, we have the opportunity to see a lot more of the world of the early 22nd century. The bulk of the narrative is set in orbit; the book centers on the space station known as the Europa Platform, the site of the secret summit conference between the U.S. president and the leaders of the Eastern bloc. But the elite terrorist group Autumn Rain crashes the party, and things go out of control from there...

Amazon.com: How difficult is it to write about the President of the United States? Did you have any examples in fiction that you thought worked particularly well?

Williams: What I didn't want was...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Burning Skies, and learn more about the author and his work at the official website of David J. Williams.

David J. Williams is a former programmer for the Homeworld videogame series and a graduate of the Clarion workshop. The Burning Skies is the sequel to his acclaimed debut novel The Mirrored Heavens.

The Page 69 Test: The Burning Skies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

J. Robert Lennon

J. Robert Lennon is the author of four novels including Mailman and The Light of Falling Stars. His stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, the Paris Review, Granta, Harper’s, and the New Yorker.

His latest novel is Castle.

From a March 2007 Q & A at Corduroy Books:

I’m curious about how much Castle is/was, fundamentally, a sort of political act for you, a way to maybe try to exorcize the really, really awful ‘intelligence’/military policy issues of the previous administration. That’s actually not that clear: the book seems, overtly, to be about exactly that, about working out the deception at the center/heart of our lives, and so maybe the question is, how much of that was intentional and planned? Is Castle your attempt to forgive/close this really really atrocious part of our recent past?

I wanted, very specifically, to write a novel about the collective damage that our torture policy has done to the American psyche. That was my original intent. I struggled for the better part of a year with a novel about an Iraq War vet in a fugue state who falls in with domestic terrorists, but it all seemed too contrived, and it wouldn’t get off the ground. Then my wife told me about an article she’d read about a guy who discovered an abandoned castle in a state forest in New Jersey, and Castle suddenly sprang into focus. I had the whole thing in my head a few weeks later, though it took a lot of revisions to get to the finished product.

I don’t see any fogiveness or closure here, though. I mean, I am very happy with President Obama so far, but even he isn’t departing very far from Bush’s claimed privileges, particularly on the issue of so-called extraordinary rendition. What I’m writing about is a chronic national sickness that is not going to be cured in my lifetime. A few reviews of Castle have called its political message awkward or clumsy, but my obsession with politics had become so intense that to address these things any less directly would have been a kind of hypocrisy. It’s the novel I needed to write at the time.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about the book and author at J. Robert Lennon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Castle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 15, 2009

Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson's acclaimed novel Spin won the Hugo Award in 2006. He won the Philip K. Dick Award for his debut novel A Hidden Place; Canada’s Aurora Award for Darwinia; and the John W. Campbell Award for The Chronoliths.

His new book, Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, releases later this month. From his Q &A with Brian Francis Slattery at the Tor website:

Brian Francis Slattery: One of the things about Julian Comstock that I really enjoyed was that, in many ways, you wrote a pre-20th century novel—which, of course, totally matches the content in several important ways. But why did you decide to do this? I ask in part because there’s a certain bravery in going back to the 19th and 18th centuries for literary inspiration, given that your readers are reared on 20th-century expectations; also, by choosing such a specific style, certain stylistic and thematic doors close—and others open. What did the style—and your narrator in particular—allow you to do that you might not have been able to do otherwise?

Robert Charles Wilson: I came at the idea sideways, in a sense. When I first considered writing a novel set one hundred and fifty years into a radically depleted future, I tried to get a feeling for what a century and a half really means in terms of change (and not just technological change) in America. So I started immersing myself in mid-19th century American popular literature as a kind of depth gauge. Basically asking the question: What’s the cultural distance between then and now, and can I build a comparable degree of change into my book?

I’m not talking about classic literature but long-forgotten topical and popular novels—the kind of thing you have to hunt down at ABEbooks.com or read in PDF at archival sites. Weird stuff like George Lippard’s creepy The Quaker City, or Eugene Batchelder’s A Romance of the Sea Serpent, a novel in verse about a monster that attacks shipping in Boston Harbor and subsequently gets invited to a Harvard commencement. Seriously.

But the real galvanizing moment for me was when I stumbled across a series of six boys’ books written just as the Civil War was winding down, the so-called Army-Navy series by Oliver Optic. (Oliver Optic, a.k.a. William Taylor Adams, was a hugely successful writer in his day, author of over a hundred books and a household name for many American families. The better-remembered Horatio Alger was an Oliver Optic wannabe.) Read those books and you get the impression of a genuinely kindly, well-meaning, often naïve author trying to introduce young readers to the world they would inhabit as adults—and a pretty ugly world it was. Internecine warfare, slavery, rampant racism, mob justice: Have fun, kids!

For instance, in one of the books, during a naval battle, the 17-year-old narrator says, “A cannonball nipped off the head of the man standing next to me. This was so irregular that I did not know quite what to do.” It’s funny and ghastly at the same time. It’s like Guernica repainted by Norman Rockwell. And I thought it would be a great way to tell a story about a post-collapse 22nd-century America.[read on]
Visit Robert Charles Wilson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Gary R. Bunt

From a Q & A with Gary R. Bunt, author of iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam:

Q: Who in the Muslim world has resisted the Internet and who has embraced it, and why?

A: Again, this can be a contextual issue, and one has to consider which specific application of the Internet is being considered. Scholars might say that what is permitted (halal) in everyday life is halal online, and that what is forbidden in everyday life (haram) is haram online, and of course there are recognized points in between these two poles. Many Muslims will say that if the Internet encourages religiosity and facilitates participation in political, cultural and/or religious aspects of Islamic life, then it has to be a good thing. Understanding of the Internet has become more refined, and -- as in many other contexts -- fear of the Internet has been replaced by pragmatism. Similarly, as with other aspects of human life, there are areas of the Internet that are seen as a challenge to traditional Islamic values (however they are defined) or have required interpretation to determine their appropriateness and validity.

Good examples of platforms and individuals who have embraced the Internet include Muslim political platforms and special interest groups, and also some religious authorities and scholars, including those from non-traditional backgrounds seeking to present alternative perspectives on Islam. This latter category, reliant in the pre-digital period on the printing press and the fax machine, has benefited immensely from the immediacy and interaction of the Internet as a cost-effective and dynamic space that is difficult for authorities to censor. A great deal of technological innovation is occurring in the name of Islam, in order to maximize the perceived benefits of the medium. [read on]
Read more about iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Anne Fine

Anne Fine has written more than fifty books for young children, teenagers and adults.

Her latest novel is Our Precious Lulu.

From Fine's Q & A with Anna Metcalfe at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children. I read it in my early 20s, when I’d just got married. There’s a fierce honesty to the emotions in it. It opened my eyes to how much an author can do, especially about what goes on in families.

What is your daily writing routine?

I make tea in the early morning, then sit in bed and write for a couple of hours with a pencil, a rubber and a pad. Then I walk the dog and move to my computer.

Who are your literary influences?

Antonia White, Rebecca West, Sue Miller. And I have a passion for Angus Wilson. It’s generally people who deal in great depth with the refractions of emotions within families.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 12, 2009

Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman, according to Fay Weldon, "is a far more serious novelist than she pretends to be or is allowed to be by reviewers.... Up there at the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original and Austen-like stylist belongs..."

Lipman's new novel is The Family Man.

From a Q & A with the author at Powells.com:

What fictional character would you like to date?

I developed quite a crush on Anthony Rubin, boy next door and Jewish high school hockey player in Frederick Reiken's The Lost Legends of New Jersey.

What is your favorite literary first line?

"I have never begun a novel with more misgiving."
—W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

When I first read...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Family Man, and learn more about the author and her work at Elinor Lipman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Family Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Matthew Amster-Burton

From a Q & A with Matthew Amster-Burton, author of Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater:

Who are you, Matthew Amster-Burton, and why are you qualified to write about kids’ eating habits?

I am the world’s foremost expert on child development. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I have one child, Iris, who is now four and a half, and she has taught me a lot about how to eat. Before Iris was born, I was working as a restaurant critic for a daily newspaper in Seattle, going out to eat several nights a week and not paying for any of it. You probably think this is the world’s best job. I’m not going to deny it. But after Iris joined me and my wife, Laurie, at the dinner table when she was nine months old, I started thinking about a new line of work. Now I make dinner for the family almost every night and write a lot about home cooking and feeding kids.

What exactly is a “hungry monkey”?

It’s what I started calling Iris one day when...[read on]
Visit the Hungry Monkey website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Elmore Leonard

James Mustich asked Elmore Leonard about his new novel Road Dogs ... and a few other subjects. An excerpt from the Q & A:

JM: For a writer who has plied his trade in what are conventionally seen as well-defined genres, Westerns and crime, your books aren't really plot-driven, even though the plots are extremely entertaining.

EL: No.

JM: They're character-driven, and the characters are very much creatures as of their speaking voices as anything else.

EL: Well, they have to be able to talk!

JM: But it's more than that; even though your plots are intricate and ingenious, it's language that's shaping them because of the prominence of the voices.

EL: Yes, I agree with that.

JM: Did you have that impulse from the beginning? Did your start out writing that way?

EL: In the early '50s,...[read on]
Visit Elmore Leonard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell is a Swedish author who gained bestseller stardom with his series of crime novels featuring inspector Kurt Wallander. The books have been published in 33 countries and consistently top the bestseller lists in Europe, receiving major literary prizes and generating numerous international film and television adaptations.

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

Who is your perfect reader?

Probably myself. I only write books I’d like to read myself, so when I’m writing I’m also reading.

What book changed your life?

Robinson Crusoe, the first book I read. My grandmother taught me to read when I was six. It’s a miracle when the letters stop jumping around and you can read sentences.

Where do you write best?

I’ve never had the privilege of having “that table” so I’ve forced myself to write anywhere, in any circumstance. In Africa I sometimes write outside if it’s hot.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bridget Asher

From a Q & A with Bridget Asher about her new novel, The Pretend Wife:

Random House Publishing Group: Your fiction explores unconventional twists on relationships-in The Pretend Wife, for example, your heroine decides to spend the weekend with an old flame as his spouse even though she is already married. Where do you get your ideas, and what's your personal view on family dynamics?

Bridget Asher: I never thought I'd be a wife, frankly. Never dreamed of my wedding day. And so the term "the pretend wife" has come to me over the years quite naturally. I sometimes still don't feel like a wife-the term itself is so wifey! But I've always been fascinated by love and the construct of marriage. I married for love but it's fascinating how we watch our friends and family sometimes marry for some other reason-safety, normalcy, acceptance. But the idea of love doesn't go away in these cases. It still exists. I wanted to explore the true love that got away. I wanted to write a love story about that love, and that's where The Pretend Wife came from.

Plus, we all have the beau who got away ... and have always wondered: What if?

I'll also confess: I've never wanted to have a fling, but I have wanted to have whole other lives. Maybe I'm not alone in this. Maybe this is part of the pleasure of writing and reading novels-we get to know what it is to live other lives.[read on]
Visit Bridget Asher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Paul Auster

From Paul Auster's Q & A with Anna Metcalfe of the Financial Times:

Who are your literary heroes?

Shakespeare, Montaigne, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hawthorne and Melville.

* * *

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

I gave my daughter Wuthering Heights when she was 11 or 12.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Louise Penny

Jeri Westerson interviewed Louise Penny, the Macavity Award-winning author of A Rule Against Murder and three previous novels in the Three Pines mystery series.

Part of their dialogue:

Your first book Still Life began your Three Pines series and won the first of your many awards. When I interviewed Julia Spencer-Fleming, we discussed a certain amount of “world-building” that goes into creating a small, closed community. Even though we might be well-acquainted with small towns and it might be inspired by someplace close, there is still a lot of invention that goes into it, not just geography but people. Tell us about Three Pines and its inhabitants.

Three Pines is a tiny, bucolic village in Quebec, close to the border with Vermont. It's part French and part English, as is Quebec. And when I came to create it all my decisions were selfish. I knew it would take about a year, and the chances of getting published were tiny so the writing of the book needed to be fulfilling enough on its own. So I decided to create a community I would choose to live in, with people I would choose as friends. Since I was going to spend so much time there, I wanted to enjoy it. More than that - I wanted to love it. Wanted it to become a sort of 'safe place' - a venerable old village with stone homes and a village green, that had survived disasters, and wars, loss and sorrow, and still turned its face to the sun.

The first thing I created was the new and used bookstore, and its owner Myrna. Then the bistro, with it's open fireplaces and mullioned windows and gay owners. Sarah's bakery and Monsieur Beliveau's General Store. And the B&B. None of the stores, none of the people, were created for dramatic purposes or with the thought they'd have to be able to carry a series. It was just dumb luck. Writing under the influence of gummi bears helps too. Mind altering. Just don't try to snort them. Trust me.

How heroic does a hero need to be? And how do you define “heroic” when it comes to Inspector Gamache?

He's a man with a moral centre. A man who, while flawed, will always try to do the right thing, not the easy thing. As we know, it's...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Still Life.

My Book, The Movie: A Fatal Grace.

The Page 99 Test: The Cruelest Month.

The Page 99 Test: A Rule Against Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 5, 2009

Alissa Hamilton

Alissa Hamilton is the author of Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice.

From her interview on the New Yorker's "Book Bench" blog:

In your Introduction, you write that most orange-juice drinkers are “misinformed about what it is they are drinking.” Is it the “processed” part that most consumers are misinformed about?

That’s part of it. Most are surprised to hear, for instance, that the big brands, which market their product as “pure” and “simple,” add flavor packs to their juice to make it fresh. But people are also misinformed about the growing of juice oranges. A flight attendant once told me that he gets far more requests for orange juice on flights to Florida, because there’s still a strong association of oranges with the state. Yet most of the juice he’s serving now comes from Brazil, where there are fewer environmental regulations, and labor and land for growing oranges are cheaper.

Woah. Back up to the flavor packs. Why doesn’t orange juice taste fresh naturally, especially if it’s “not from concentrate”?

Flavor packs are fabricated from the chemicals that make up orange essence and oil. Flavor and fragrance houses, the same ones that make high end perfumes, break down...[read on]
Visit the Squeezed website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Todd Kashdan

Kathryn Britton interviewed Todd Kashdan about his new book, Curious?

Their opening exchanges:

Kathryn Britton: What prompted you to write your new book on curiosity?

Todd Kashdan: I wanted to write about curiosity because it has been neglected, even though there are few things in our arsenal that are so consistently and highly related to every facet of well-being — to needs for belonging, for meaning, for confidence, for autonomy, for spirituality, for achievement, for creativity. The only books out there are getting dusty on academic library shelves. I think scientists should write books themselves to get the science out to the masses.

Kathryn: What inspiration kept you going while you were writing it?

Todd Kashdan: I have always been an anxiety researcher, especially social anxiety - people that have profound levels of shyness and fear about being evaluated. Then I started seeing people who had energizing and profoundly meaningful social interactions. I started asking them about their motivations and feelings in the midst of social interaction. What kept arising was “I felt interested” or “I was curious.” I realized that curiosity is the counter-motivation to anxiety.

When people are dealing with new people, and new challenges, they’re...[read on]
Browse inside Curious?, and learn more about the book and author at Todd Kashdan's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Curious?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Xujun Eberlein

From a Q & A with Xujun Eberlein about her debut story collection Apologies Forthcoming, winner of the 2007 Tartt Fiction Award:

Q. About half of your stories in Apologies Forthcoming are set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and another half in its aftermath. What sets you apart from other English fiction about this period?

A. So much of what I see in English literature about China is “victim literature,” which tells horror stories of victims during the Cultural Revolution. While that is needed, it gives only a partial picture, and a partial picture hinders understanding. As Milan Kundera once noted, man tends to look for clearly distinguished good and evil, as he has an irrepressible desire to judge before understanding.

An astounding fact, one that is largely either ignored or unseen by Westerners, is that the Cultural Revolution was an "all-people movement." By this I mean virtually everyone in China, at various stages of that movement, participated. There was often no clear divide between victims and victimizers, and people took turns to be in both positions. At any given point during that decade-long period, as well as immediately before and after, victimizers were turning into victims and vise versa. For some, it was only after they themselves became victims, that they recognized their own part in victimizing others. For others, that recognition never arrived. The Cultural Revolution was a period of history that inflated politically-based hatred and conflict to the extreme. We are talking about non-personal hatred here. In all the conflicts, there was a great tragic sameness – violence of one group of people against another, which we still see around the world today.

Another controversial perspective that I bring out in my stories is the strong idealism of the young generation of Chinese that became the Red Guards. Yet the fact remains that the Red Guards did commit numerous acts of violence. An important issue is thus the relationship between idealism and violence.

It is my intention to tell stories from more than one perspective, showing what actually happened during the period when I was a young witness. Several stories in this collection can be called participant stories instead of victim stories. It is not my concern to point fingers, rather I strive to portray reality in the full variety it has, and hope that brings a deeper understanding to readers.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Xujun Eberlein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Steve Luxenberg

Laura Wexler, author of Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America, interviewed Steve Luxenberg about his new book, Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret. Their exchange begins:

Q. You say several times in Annie’s Ghosts that you were working to balance your roles as a reporter and as a son. Can you discuss how you navigated these roles, and describe any situations that challenged the balance you created?

A. The secret first emerged during a time when my mom was quite sick, and my siblings and I were trying to figure out how to deal with her frequent trips to the hospital emergency room and her resulting anxiety. That initially put me in the role of son, and as a son, I believed what Mom had told her doctor and what was reported to us: That she had no idea what had happened to her sister. Of course, that turned out not to be true.

Once I set out to write the book, I wanted to tell the story fully, without holding back. I’ve been a journalist for so long that it wasn’t hard for me to slip into the role of questioner and observer. I sometimes wonder if that’s one reason why I chose journalism. It’s one of the few professions that sometimes demands immersion in difficult and emotional subjects, while allowing the reporter to set aside, or even submerge, his or her own feelings.

A book puts the writer into a more complex relationship with the material. I wanted to apply the discipline of journalism to ferret out the story, but I didn’t want to push aside my feelings—they were part of the story, too. Sometimes I found myself taking notes on my own reactions, and that felt strange at first.

Q. At some points in the narrative, I see you holding back your personal reaction to avoid influencing the person you’re interviewing. Can you talk about that?

A. The most difficult...[read on]
Read the prologue to Annie’s Ghosts and visit Steve Luxenberg’s website, where you can see photos and documents relating to the book and read his blog.

The Page 99 Test: Annie's Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 1, 2009

Joe Meno

Joe Meno's new novel is The Great Perhaps.

From his interview with The Millions:

The Millions: I had this sensation when reading The Great Perhaps that its form was continually unfolding and revealing itself to me. For instance, we've got an elevated third person narrator that also manages to swoop deeply into various characters' perspectives; we've got short narratives about various Casper ancestors; we've got Jonathan's father Henry writing letters to himself about his past - and so on. This sensation of formal evolution was exhilarating, perhaps because it never felt inaccessible. Did you plan to write a book that shifts in these formal ways? And why these particular narrative choices?

Joe Meno: When I first started writing the book I had no idea what it was about or how to tell it, other than I wanted to try and tell the story of a family in the weeks leading up to the 2004 election. After I finished the first draft, I realized the book was about complexity, and the need for it, and how terrified we, as Americans, seemed to have become of anything complicated or uncertain. As I started rewriting and organizing the book I realized that in order to get to the complexity of the character's lives, I would need a structure that was also complex, so I started using different forms for each character as a way to develop who they were - Jonathan, a paleontologist, has various abstracts from his published scientific journals, his wife, Madeline, an animal behaviorist, has her chapters structured like field notes, their daughter Amelia, a budding Marxist, has excerpts from her angry anti-capitalist rants in the school newspaper, their other daughter, Thisbe, has these very violent prayers she has made up, and their grandfather, Henry, has these letters he writes to himself as a way to rid himself of his connections to the past.

TM: There's a notion in your novel that cowardice and failure can be inherited. Do you think the book supports or disproves this theory - or does it do both?

JM: Actually, ....[read on]
Visit Joe Meno's website.

--Marshal Zeringue