Monday, August 31, 2009

Melissa Walker

Claire Zulkey edits the blog She wrote a very short humor book called Girls! Girls! Girls! as well as the newly released YA novel An Off Year.

She interviewed Melissa Walker, author of Violet on the Runway, Violet by Design and Violet in Private (Penguin), and the recently released Lovestruck Summer (HarperTeen).

A few exchanges from the Q & A:

What's something popular that you'd love if you were a teen but don't, being an old lady and all?

I love this question. Edward Cullen.

* * *

What's the hardest part about writing YA fiction?

Being really honest about everything that makes up my characters. I think young adult readers can smell a fake much quicker than adults.

* * *

What kind of research did you do on the fashion/modeling world for the Violet books?

My years at ELLEgirl, where I often interviewed up-and-coming models, gave me enough of a glimpse of all the fabulous and frightening sides of that industry for 20 books.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Arnaldur Indridason

Arnaldur Indridason is the author of Jar City, Silence of the Grave, Voices, and The Draining Lake, all published by Minotaur. He won the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Silence of the Grave and is the only author to win the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel two years in a row, for Jar City and Silence of the Grave. His latest novel, Arctic Chill, releases on September 15 in the US.

From a Q & A with Indridason:

Inspector Erlendur is sometimes described as a “gloomy Scandinavian?” Is there anything to that stereotype? If so, to what do you attribute it?

Many of them are gloomy but you don’t always know why. My books tell the story of this inspector who is very isolated, very lonely and very gloomy and with each book you get a little bit more answer as to why that is. There is a reason for it but we just don’t know it fully and it is one of the mysteries in the books. So it is a question of how you tackle it and if you can make it interesting and part of the whole story instead of just putting it up there and not use it at all. Why the gloominess? I think it is much more interesting to write about lives gone wrong than happy lives, there is no fun in happiness, I always say.

What do you think American readers would be most surprised to learn about Icelandic people or society?

Well, the question I most often get from my foreign readers is if there really are crimes in Iceland. People seem to have an innocent, trolls-and-elves-like image of Iceland with the great landscape and clean air. But...[read on]
Read more about Arctic Chill.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Colum McCann

Colum McCann is the author of two collections of short stories and five novels, including This Side of Brightness, Dancer and Zoli, all of which were international best-sellers. His newest novel is Let the Great World Spin.

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

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

Apart from my tax bill, which made me laugh until I cried, there are parts of Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project that are poignant and perfectly weighted.

What is your most memorable reading experience?

I recently spent two weeks in hospital and had a chance to re-read Ulysses. At a certain point, my dead grandfather stepped into the room with me. The book brought him alive – a man who had stepped down the very same streets that Leopold Bloom journeyed on in 1904. The whole reading experience was one of the most wonderful I’ve had in years.[read on]
Visit Colum McCann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 28, 2009

Matthew Crawford

From interview with Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft:

Dave: As I read it, the underlying argument of Shop Class as Soulcraft is that we do our children a disservice by assuming college is the best path for them and by writing off the trades, without regard to their disposition or prospects. Do you think the book is being read and received the way you intended?

Matthew Crawford: I think it's being read fairly enough. I want to suggest we can take a broader view of what a good job might consist of, and therefore what kind of education is important. We seem to have developed an educational monoculture, tied to a vision of what kind of work is valuable and important — everyone gets herded into a certain track where they end up working in an office, regardless of their natural bents. But some people, including some who are very smart, would rather be learning to build things or fix things. Why not honor that? I think one reason we don't is that we've had this fantasy that we're going to somehow take leave of material reality and glide around in a pure information economy.

The stuff about work has been picked up and noticed most, which makes sense given the subtitle. But there's another major thread in the book that hasn't been commented on as much: our efforts to achieve some kind of self-reliance as consumers. I think the appeal of self-reliance is deeply connected to something we look for in work: the experience of seeing a direct effect of your own actions in the world, and feeling that these actions are genuinely your own. I think the appeal of self-reliance is deeply connected to something we look for in work: the experience of seeing a direct effect of your own actions in the world, and feeling that these actions are genuinely your own.

Sometimes, working in an office, the chain of cause and effect can be confusing and opaque, and responsibility gets spread around. Meanwhile, as consumers, if you try to fix your own car nowadays, you may pop the hood and find there's another hood under the hood; there's a design trend to "hide the works." It's hard to get a handle on things. When the world lacks a basic intelligibility, it doesn’t...[read on]
Read more about Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford.

Visit Matthew B. Crawford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie are the authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health.

From their Q & A with Vanessa Farquharson, author of Sleeping Naked is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days and editor of the Green as a Thistle blog:

Thistle: What surprised me a bit about your experiment was the fact that, prior to exposing yourself to all this mercury, phthalates and BPA, you couldn’t get your levels of anything down to zero.

Bruce: Yeah, the notion of getting to zero is impossible, even if you’re hyper-vigilant about it, because all this stuff is not only in the products we use but in the environment, the water, the air.

Rick: And Bruce and I pretty much obsessed in a way nobody ever would over how to insulate ourselves from these chemicals, but in no case were we able to completely rid ourselves of a toxin. Even with something like triclosan, which is relatively well-labelled in Canada — theoretically, you should be able to stay clear of it, but the problem is that so many consumer products are being made with it and it’s ending up in landfills, leaching out of them into lakes and rivers, and into our drinking water.

Bruce: You can actually test polar bears in the Arctic for most of these things and they’ll test positive, despite the fact that they don’t use deodorant or microwave their food… although the modern ones do.

Thistle: [Laughs] Of course....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

David Carkeet

David Carkeet is the author of Campus Sexpot: A Memoir.

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

Q: You incorporate many different literary styles into the book. It is first and foremost a humorous memoir—your coming-of-age story. But you also include a more subdued, touching portrait of your father. You use literary criticism to explore the successes, and more often the failures, of Dale Koby’s writing in the original 1961 Campus Sexpot. Your investigation into what happened to Koby even injects the book with elements of suspense found in detective stories. How did you arrive at the structure of this book?

A: With much gnashing of teeth. The book begins as a mocking exegesis of a very clumsy novel, the original Campus Sexpot. That exercise, while rollicking good fun in its own way, is ultimately limited for both author and reader, so I move on to broader issues—teenage sexuality, small-town culture, the repression of the fifties and early sixties, and definitions of manhood and fatherhood. My main “rule”—and every book has rules that the writer imposes on it—was that I could talk about an event from my past only if it plausibly sprung from some reference in the original Campus Sexpot. It’s a rule that I grew to curse, owing to the impoverishment of Koby’s book, and my frustration gets vented in the chapter that opens with the refrain, “There is no in Campus Sexpot”—no music, no popular culture, no sports, etc. Still, by stretching the rule a bit, I covered most areas of my boyhood that I would have covered in a conventional memoir.

Q: At what point did you realize that your interest in Dale Koby might become part of the book?

A: Koby’s book is partly about his life, and that raises the question about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Charles Ardai

At The Rap Sheet’s spin-off blog, Killer Covers, J. Kingston Pierce interviewed author and Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai "on the subjects of paperback design, how he works with cover artists old and new, the origins of his popular paperback imprint, how idiosyncratic American tastes affect its jackets, and the future of both HCC and its newer sister line, The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt."

Part of their dialogue:

JKP: Late last year, you celebrated the issuing of your line’s 50th book, which you’d written: Fifty-to-One. That screwball-noir novel used all of the preceding HCC book titles as chapter headings, and its plot concerned crimes associated with a small book-publishing company in mid-20th-century Manhattan, coincidentally called Hard Case Crime. How did that project come into being?

CA: I wasn’t sure what to do to commemorate the 50th book, but I wanted to do something special, and one of my notions was to get all of our living writers to write a short story, and the twist would be that each writer would tell a new story based on the title of another writer’s book. So, for instance, I sent Stephen King a note suggesting some plots that might go with the title Lemons Never Lie (it could be about a used-car salesman!), and I wrote to Don Westlake with some ideas about what he could do with the title The Colorado Kid (it could be about a boxer!). And basically no one liked this idea ... except me. I had such a blast coming up with new meanings for all our titles that I decided I’d just write the whole book myself and use all 50 titles, and use them in order, too. I love ridiculous challenges like that.

JKP: You wrote Fifty-to-One under your own name. But your two earlier books--Little Girl Lost (2004) and Songs of Innocence--both carried the byline “Richard Aleas.” Why did you adopt that pseudonym, and are you still glad you did?

CA: I did it originally for two reasons: a...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Little Girl Lost.

My Book, The Movie: Little Girl Lost.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 24, 2009

Matthew Vollmer

Matthew Vollmer's work has appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including Paris Review, Epoch, VQR, Tin House, and Oxford American. His short story collection is Future Missionaries of America.

From his Q & A with Nic Brown, author of Floodmarkers, at The Millions:

Nic Brown: In your book, you write several amazing, matter-of-fact, contemporary, and complicated stories involving aspects of Christianity - namely Seventh Day Adventists. I know you have some family background with this religion. Did you feel uncomfortable at any point writing about people of this faith (and those only encountering it, like the protagonist of the book's title story), or worried about how any Seventh Day Adventists you know would react? How have they reacted?

Matthew Vollmer: Yes, it's true I grew up Seventh-day Adventist. People may find it hard to believe that stopping each week for 24 hours (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) to rest, reflect, and abstain from "secular" activities (TV watching, sports, shopping, school, work, reading Mad magazine, etc.) could be great, but by and large being an SDA kid was pretty great, at least in my family. Sure, my church and grade school (and boarding academy) had some kooks, but as you pointed out in your interview, we're all freaks and there are kooks everywhere. When you grow up SDA, you grow up in a very tight knit group of people, the majority of whom like to have fun, even if they don't, by and large, dance or participate in competitive sports or listen to rock n roll or endorse the consumption of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or "flesh foods." I suppose my problem began to emerge in college, once I started to ask questions about the "27 Fundamental Beliefs." Also, I started to meet people who weren't SDA. I started to appreciate different cultures, different cultural experiences, and eventually, I just found the SDA culture much too inhibitive, too insular. From my perspective, the SDA church was one that wanted to provide answers for why everything is the way it is. And those answers were often unsatisfying. Not to mention I surrendered the idea of having to have an answer for everything. I realized that sometimes, it's okay for things to remain mysterious.

For years I'd tried to write about the SDA experience. But usually, when I did, I...[read on]
Visit Matthew Vollmer's website.

Writers Read: Matthew Vollmer.

Also at The Millions, Vollmer interviewed Nic Brown. Vollmer's opening:
My favorite thing about your book is that it's a total freak show. We've got a character who's in love with his cousin, another who makes out with his friend's wife, a veterinarian who's into child porn, a guy who makes his mohawk stiff using microwaved gelatin, a guy who keeps a dead dog in his deep freezer, a former bodybuilder who's feeling guilty about causing the death of a Vietnamese kid, and (my favorite) an aspiring actor who works in a hot dog factory and helps a fellow employee pop a zit on his back he can't reach.
Read Nic Brown's reaction and the complete interview.

The Page 69 Test: Nic Brown's Floodmarkers.

Visit Nic Brown's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Attica Locke

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.

At her White Readers Meet Black Authors blog, she interviewed Attica Locke, author of the novel, Black Water Rising.

Part of the Q & A:

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?

Attica Locke: I once described my work as a cross between John Grisham and the filmmaker John Sayles. I appreciate the forward moving engine of a good plot (and am drawn to stories about lawyers), but I also like telling stories set against the backdrop of larger socio-political themes.

WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?

AL: My first goal is to ...[read on].
The Page 69 Test: Carleen Brice's Children of the Waters.

The Page 69 Test: Attica Locke's Black Water Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Andrew Coe

From Chantal Martineau's interview with Andrew Coe about his new book, A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States:

The dish that the book gets its title from is hardly still served anywhere in the various Chinatowns of New York. Why did it become so popular in the first place?

Chop suey perfectly fit the tastes of Americans from the 1890s on. First of all, the dish was filling and cheap--you could buy a bowl for 30 cents. It was flavorsome, satisfying Americans' tastes for rich meat and vegetable stews. Chop suey was exotic.

The United States was then stepping out from the shadow of England, beginning to exert its might around the world. At the same time, foreign immigrants were pouring into this country. Nothing could show that you were up-to-the-minute and worldly-wise like stepping out to the local Chinese restaurant for a late-night bowl of chop suey. And it was safe. Catering to their customers, Chinese chefs removed everything weird and imported from the dish, changing it from an earthy stir-fry to a bland, soggy, and overcooked stew.

When early Americans first tried Chinese food, they were disgusted, but still kept trying it. What do you think that says about us?

We've always been fascinated with weird...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 21, 2009

John Banville

Declan Burke queried John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) about reading, writing, and related subjects. A taste from the Q & A:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT – though I would have smartened up Dostoyevsky’s tin-eared prose style.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Adrian Leverkuhn, in Thomas Mann’s DOCTOR FAUSTUS: an utter monster but a supremely great artist. I would have worked at helping him to find his inner nice person. Ha.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan is the author of the acclaimed Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers; the third novel in the series, Breathing Water, was released on Tuesday.

Brett Battles is the author of three novels in the Jonathan Quinn series: The Cleaner, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel, The Deceived, and the newly released Shadow of Betrayal.

A few weeks ago Hallinan interviewed Battles. Here Battles is the one asking the questions to Hallinan:

I’ve never made it a secret how much I’ve enjoyed your Bangkok Thriller series. Poke, Rose, and Miaow are three of my favorite fictional characters, so I look forward each year to their new installment. And I have to say, Breathing Water is my favorite so far. That’s saying a lot, too, because I absolutely loved A Nail Through the Heart and The Fourth Watcher.

Well, thank you for saying so, and that's good to hear, since you always want to believe the last one is the best one. Back in my years in rock and roll, I knew lots of people who had to look thrilled when people told them how much they loved records that were a decade old. You could see that they'd have given anything to hear something nice about their more recent work. I think all of us have a secret fear that the moment will come when our best work will be behind us. I actually go through that moment of doubt on almost a daily basis.

Boy, do I know that feeling! Is there anything you consciously do to keep improving your work? To keep it fresh?

I terrify myself. Every time I write a book, I try to do something I don't know how to do. In The Rocks, which will be the fourth Poke book, I'm trying to braid together three stories that aren't in the same time period: the story of what's happening with Poke, Rose and Miaow in the present; the story of how Rose came to Bangkok in the first place (which is essential, because the threat they face has its roots in an incident that happened when she was new to the life); and the story of the guy who poses the threat. Since I have no idea whether I can pull it off, it keeps me on my toes. It also keeps me up at night, and that's not a joke.

By the time you started your Bangkok thriller series, you had already been living part time in Thailand for many years, and had already had several novels published. Why do you think it took you so long to set a story in a place you knew so well? Did you purposely avoid writing about Thailand and Bangkok? Or did you know you would write about it at one point, but were just waiting for the right story?

I was waiting for two things. First was a sense that I understood Thailand better than any tourist who's been in the country for fifteen minutes. You've been there, so you know how deceptive Thailand is. The people are so open and so welcoming that you're tempted to believe you understand them. They do this great imitation of being just like us. But then you see them do the same thing with the Japanese and the Russians, and you realize that they're just very instinctive about giving their guests what they think the guests want. So it took some time to feel like I had any understanding at all.

And the second thing was a character who didn't understand the culture any better than I do, but who needed to understand in order to create the life he wants. Poke is a travel writer who's been looking at other cultures as subjects, something observed, written about, and forgotten. And all of a sudden one of those cultures turns around and bites him. He loves Thailand. He loves the Thais, especially his wife and adopted daughter. If he's going to make this life work, he has to understand more. But he's free to make mistakes, he's not the go-to guy for inside info on Thai culture.

You are extremely good at making Bangkok a character in your books. I’ve read a lot of books set in interesting locations where the author failed to achieve what you are able to achieve. How important is making Bangkok a character to you? Why? How much of the Bangkok you write about the real Bangkok people would see if they visited Thailand, and how much is it the Bangkok of your imagination? Do you feel it’s important to be completely accurate in your descriptions? Why?

I think the setting of a book is a character. I think setting only works in novels if it reflects and influences the characters, if it gives the story a distinctive shape. Otherwise, it's dead weight, it's your neighbors' vacation videos. Bangkok is a unique city: the heat, the crowds, the contrasts, the sacred and the profane, tradition and hell-for-leather modernization, all jammed together. And I try to show it mainly through the characters, try to make it clear how they perceive it and feel about it, whether they're loving it or hating it or are about to be killed by it. Almost the only reaction no one ever has to Bangkok is being bored by it.

I'd hope that people who visit Bangkok after reading my books will recognize the feel of the city, and maybe a few of the more frequently-described blocks. Ultimately, though, as I say in the Author's Note at the end of Breathing Water, the Bangkok of the novel is an imaginary environment based on a real one. And I go on to say, “Those of you who find it difficult to believe in the Bangkok that's depicted here should know that millions of people feel exactly the same way about the real city.”

Poke, the hero of your Bangkok novels, is a very interesting character. As are Rose, Miaow, and Arthit. When you develop characters, do you base them on anyone? Perhaps on yourself? Or do you make them from whole cloth? What were the origins of Poke? And why did you decide to make him a travel writer?

I don't consciously base characters on anyone at all. They just come. It's maybe the greatest mystery to me, even in a process that's so full of mystery. Where did Miaow come from? I've never had a daughter, never had a little sister. She's just in me somewhere, clamoring to be let out. I find out who characters are by writing them. They reveal themselves to me through what they say and do. My role is really limited to deciding whether or not they belong in the story, since I can't possibly make them do anything they don't want to do.

Poke arrived in my mind fully developed as a travel writer, complete with the Looking for Trouble series. I grabbed it because it gave him a reason to be there in the first place and because it implied an analytical mind. And, in fact, my wife pointed out to me that there comes a time in every book when he sits down and creates a sort of narrative about how he got into whatever mess he's in and then constructs scenarios for getting out of it. In a sense, he almost writes his way out of trouble.

But in the case of Rose, Miaow, and Arthit (as well as many of your minor characters), you have created characters who are native Thais. Do you find writing from the point of view of a culture you didn’t grow up with difficult? How do you make sure you’re getting them right and not westernizing them too much? Or is that not a concern?

It scares me senseless. And I know I don't get it right, I know I botch it all the time. Will Durant once said that the most interesting questions about a culture are the ones they didn't ask. And Thai culture is so complicated, so different from Western culture, that I don't even know what questions to ask most of the time. So I try to concentrate on the things I do know – about status in society, for example, or family relationships, or the Thai genius for finding something to enjoy in practically everything – and then I rely on my understanding of what else the character is – wife, mother, crook, cop, politician. Two Thai people are kind enough to comb the books for the most obvious howlers, but I'm fully aware that Thais who read these books will understand that I'm as much a farang as Poke is.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Are you the type of writer who likes a bit of give and take with an editor? Or do you prefer to turn in a manuscript that will need little input from your editor? Whatever the answer, why do you think that is?

I like dialogue most. I can't get my characters to shut up. But once in a while I have an absolutely great time with description. My agent, who was my first editor, always says to me, “I'm not sure what I'm looking at here,” and now as I go through second and third drafts I really concentrate on visual and other sensory detail, and that can be exhilarating when, once in a great while, you know you've nailed something you've actually seen. As far as editing is concerned, I try to turn in a perfect book (perfect to the limit of my powers, I mean) and then wait for it to get shredded. But I love the editing process because it ALWAYS improves the book. I even love copy editing now that I've got the world's best copy editor.

I know you asked me this question when our interviewing positions were reversed, but I’m curious as to what your writing process is like. Do you do outlines? If so, how detailed are they? If not, how much do you know about the story before you begin? When you do begin the actual writing, what does your day look like?

I don't outline anything. For book proposals, I do the absolute minimum the people at Morrow will accept, and they've been very nice about accepting documents that essentially present a premise and pose five or six interesting ways it might be resolved, even though we all know I probably won't ultimately use any of them. In Breathing Water, I was following the current political mayhem, and I asked myself what would happen if a viable candidate came along who was actually a man of the people – not a rich, elite Thai-Chinese pretending to be a man of the people, but a dark-skinned, hard-handed guy who'd actually slopped pigs. We're talking about a country where many of the families who loaned the money used to build Bangkok in the 1770s still run things. But poor people can vote now – so what would happen if one of them actually stepped up to attempt to claim power, and the billions in graft that go with it? Everything flowed from that question.

And as far as work habits are concerned, I just write every day until I can't write any more. That's my routine. Write until my fingers fall off.

BREATHING WATER brings in issues of Thai politics, which, I imagine, is a very complicated topic. How did you set about tackling this? How accurate did you keep things? Did you every wonder if maybe you were biting off more than you should have? If so, did that change what you wrote, or did you just push forward?

Thai politics are, on one level, tragic, and on another level, comic. No other country in the world ever fired a prime minister for making an omelet on TV. But the elite needed to get rid of this guy, who apparently makes a great omelet and wanted to show the world how, so they canned him for accepting $1200 for the appearance. There's a law that says no prime minister can be paid any money other than his salary, although every single one of them retires with millions and millions of dollars. The tragedy is that neither side really cares about the people, although they both claim to. There's a river of corruption money, an absolute Mississippi of corruption money, that flows through the kingdom. The dispute is all about who gets to hold the scoop. And writing the book worried me plenty. It still does, although Thailand has an enviable reputation for honoring freedom of speech.

What’s up next for you? More Poke?

Yes. It's The Rocks, as I said, and for the first time we'll go back to see how one member of Poke's family, in this case Rose, came to Bangkok in the first place. And it's got a very satisfying (for me, anyway) villain, and a student production of Shakespeare's “The Tempest,” with all the magic that implies. Now all I have to do is write it.

Thanks, Tim. This has been great fun. I just want to say again that I can’t recommend Breathing Water and the rest of the series highly enough. Now begins that time honored, yet frustrating, tradition of waiting until the next release.
Visit Timothy Hallinan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Nail Through the Heart.

The Page 69 Test: The Fourth Watcher.

My Book, The Movie: The Fourth Watcher.

The Page 69 Test: Breathing Water.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sharon Potts

From a Q & A with Sharon Potts about her new novel, In Their Blood:

How did you get the ideas for the characters in In Their Blood? Are any of the characters based on people you know?

Because In Their Blood was triggered by an incident in my own life, I naturally began with a family that resembled my own--mom, dad, older son, younger daughter. Like Rachel, I spent a number of years working as a CPA, and much like D. C., my husband frequently writes articles on controversial topics. As the story developed, Rachel, D.C., Jeremy, and Elise become their own people. Jeremy and Elise face challenges and situations that my kids have never experienced--their parents haven't been murdered, thank goodness!--and so the characters had to cope with situations that aren't in my frame of reference. As for other characters, while they are totally fictitious, there are naturally bits and pieces of people I've known or who made an impression on me over the years.

In the course of the novel, protagonist Jeremy Stroeb is, in some ways, forced to mourn not only the death of his parents, but the death of his adolescent view of who he thought his parents were. Which of these do you think is most difficult for Jeremy to accept?

Jeremy's true pain comes from...[read on]
Read the prologue to In Their Blood, and learn more about the book and author at Sharon Potts' website.

Publishers Weekly
called In Their Blood a “red-hot suspense novel” and gave it a starred review. New York Times best-selling author Michael Connelly said, “In Their Blood starts with a bang and never lets up. This is thriller writing the way it is supposed to be.”

My Book, The Movie: In Their Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

John Connolly

John Connolly's first novel, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999, and introduced the character of Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow followed in 2000. The third Parker novel, The Killing Kind, was published in 2001, with The White Road following in 2002. In 2003, John published his fifth novel—and first stand-alone book—Bad Men. In 2004, Nocturnes, a collection of novellas and short stories, was added to the list, and 2005 marked the publication of the fifth Charlie Parker novel, The Black Angel. John's seventh novel, The Book of Lost Things, a story about fairy stories and the power that books have to shape our world and our imaginations, was published in September 2006, followed by the next Parker novel, The Unquiet, in 2007, The Reapers, in 2008 and The Lovers, in 2009.

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

AK: I loved the supernatural elements in The Unquiet and The Lovers, more than I have your works that avoid the “woo-hoo” angles, such as The Reapers. Which do you prefer writing, straight P.I. fiction or supernatural-tinged P.I. tales?

JC: I think that the books in which the supernatural element is used feel richer and more layered to me. There are plenty of straightforward crime novelists out there, and what they do they do very well. But there are fewer, I think, who are prepared to experiment and hybridize, mainly because there still seems to be resistance to it among the more conservative sections of the genre. That comes, I think, from a fundamental misunderstanding of how it can be used.

In my books, it’s not a case of “the ghost did it.” I simply don’t find metaphysical and anti-rationalist concepts inimical or alien to the genre. I guess, if I have to defend myself, I take a wider, more inclusive view of the genre’s possibilities, and that can’t be a bad thing. Ultimately, open-minded beats narrow-minded every time.

AK: 2009 marks 10 years for you as a published novelist. What has the journey been like? And what have been its high and low points?

JC: Crumbs. High points? Being...[read on]
Also read Ali Karim's 2002 interview with John Connolly for January Magazine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bill Streever

Bill Streever is a biologist who lives and works in Alaska. His new book is Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places.

He talked to Blake Wilson of the New York Times "Paper Cuts" blog about the book he's working on and other topics:

What are you working on?

Three things: promoting “Cold,” my day job as a biologist and a new book. The time required for promotional work surprises me, although maybe it shouldn’t. In any case, the effort involves a fair bit of writing (blogs and short pieces for various purposes), which keeps me sane, and I see this as a requirement that is likely to fade pretty quickly. We are at the height of the summer just now, and for a biologist working in Alaska, that means long hours and a certain amount of chaos. The two big focal points in my day job are wetland restoration projects and understanding the effects of underwater sounds on whales. This is an odd combination, I know, but it keeps me interested. Lastly, I’ve started work on a new book, tentatively called “Heat: A Natural and Unnatural History.” This is a really fun book to work on. The book is set mainly in Alaska, to juxtapose the hot with the cold. I wanted to start with extreme heat, so I flew to the arctic village of Point Hope and walked thirty-five miles each way to the Project Chariot site, where the federal government had planned to dig a harbor using hydrogen bombs back around 1960. Had the government been successful, a bit of land in remote Alaska would have become, for one brief instant, as hot as the surface of the sun. From there I drop down the temperature scale to look at the evolution of warm bloodedness and fever, chasing bowhead whales and visiting Inupiat village sites that were wiped out by influenza and measles. And so on through fires and volcanoes and, if things go as planned, back up to hydrogen bombs, to a bomb test site in the Aleutian Islands.
Read the rest of the Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Cold, and learn more about the book and author at Bill Streever's website.

The Page 99 Test: Cold.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 16, 2009

T.R. Reid

T.R. Reid is the author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care.

From a Q & A about the book:

How did you choose the five countries featured in this report?

Two of our choices, Britain and Japan, were pretty obvious. I had lived in both countries, I had doctors there and knew the systems. I could speak the language, sort of, in both places.

Beyond that, we were looking for examples of each of the established models of health care systems. The U.K. uses the Beveridge model; Taiwan has chosen the Canadian-style National Health Insurance [NHI] model; Germany, Japan and Switzerland use the Bismarck model. We went to three Bismarck countries on the theory that these private-sector systems are more relevant to America than a British-style National Health Service.

I got interested in Taiwan because Taiwan's Health Ministry did what our film does; it traveled the world studying health care systems. In the end, Taiwan chose the Canadian model. We went to Switzerland because it is a ferociously free-market economy with politically powerful insurance and drug companies. But still, the Swiss managed to revamp their system, making it cheaper and fairer. We thought that might inspire Americans to believe that change is possible here, too.

You and your family lived in London and Tokyo; what was your experience with the health care systems there?

Our American family used the health care systems in Japan and Britain with considerable...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Louis Fisher

From "Six Questions for Louis Fisher, Author of The Constitution and 9/11" by Scott Horton at Harper's:

The Bush Administration repeatedly insisted that the president had “inherent authority” to create military tribunals to enforce the laws of war against enemy combatants. It suggested that there was therefore no need for the President to obtain congressional authorization for the commissions at Guantánamo. They cite the example of the trial of Major André during the Revolutionary War. Are they right about this?

Remarkably, the Justice Department argued in court that part of President Bush’s inherent authority to create military tribunals can be traced back to the 1780 trial of Major André. General George Washington did indeed appoint a Board of General Officers to try André as a spy, but anyone with a smattering of American history would know that you cannot derive presidential power from precedents set in 1780. There was no President at the time other than the presiding officer of the Continental Congress. There was not even an executive branch. There was one branch of government: the Continental Congress, exercising legislative, executive, and judicial powers.

The Justice Department insisted “there was no provision in the American Articles of War providing for the jurisdiction in a court-martial to try an enemy for the offense of spying.” That is false. The Continental Congress adopted a resolution in 1776 expressly providing that enemy spies “shall suffer death… by sentence of a court martial, or such other punishment as such court martial shall direct,” and ordered that the resolution “be printed at the end of the rules and articles of war.” The previous year, Congress had made it punishable by court-martial for members of the Continental Army to “hold correspondence with” or “give intelligence” to the enemy. General Washington acted on the basis of legislative authority, not some sort of “inherent” executive authority cited so frequently by the Bush Administration.
Read the other five exchanges.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 14, 2009

Peter Leonard

Peter Leonard is the author of Trust Me and Quiver.

From his grilling by Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins. It’s a masterpiece.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Sherlock Holmes.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Diana O'Hehir

Diana O'Hehir's more recent novels feature Carla Day and her elderly father, an Egyptologist with early-stage Alzheimer's. From a Q & A at her website:

Why are you interested in Ancient Egypt?

When I was eight years old my grandfather sent me two volumes of an educational series called WONDERS OF THE PAST. These were fat green books with tons of pictures. Anything the editors considered to be a WONDER got dealt with, but they seemed really interested in Egypt—Egyptian pyramids, tombs, papyri, statues—the whole marvelous display. And I was immediately captivated. I took the volume that told about Tutankhamen's tomb to bed with me and read it at night with a flashlight. Which took some doing—the book was ledger-size.

Yes, I wanted to be an archeologist, but I was much too unscientific and dreamy. Measuring things and keeping track of them were not on my list of talents.

So now I write about Egypt. And read about it. And continue to love the idea. That interest in Egypt gets into my mystery novels. My most recent one, ERASED FROM MEMORY is set in an Egyptian museum and contains a murder based on an Egyptian puzzle.

Did you know that of all the ancient cultures Egypt treated women the best? Marriage contracts specified that women had equal rights with men to own, manage and receive property. Many jobs were open to women, including those of musicians, florists, and doctors.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Diana O'Hehir's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Alan Petigny

From a Q & A with Alan Petigny, author of The Permissive Society: America, 1941–1965:

Question: Dr. Petigny, most people see the U.S. taking a strong, clear turn to the left during the 1960s, but you don't agree. Why?

Petigny: When you say "turn to the left," it is important to differentiate between politics and societal values. Too often we collapse the two.

Question: What do you mean?

Petigny: Well, on the political level there is no question that America moved to the left during the sixties. The burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, and the emergent Women's Liberation, environmental and Gay Rights movements at the close of the decade illustrate this shift.

But outside the world of politics, on a personal and social level, the liberalizing process had already begun during the 1950s.

Question: Are you referring to Elvis, the beatniks, and rock 'n roll? And if so, isn't that already a given?

Petigny: Those kinds of examples move my point. I don't want to pick on you, but when journalists and academics talk about "change" during the 1950s, the two items they inevitably point to are rock 'n roll and the beatniks. But I would maintain that the sheer magnitude of change that was unfolding during the 1950s was far more sweeping than Elvis shaking his hips.

Question: You seem to be trivializing the impact of rock 'n roll.

Petigny: That's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kwei Quartey

From a Q & A with Kwei Quartey about his new novel, Wife of the Gods:

Your book is called WIFE OF THE GODS. What does that title mean?

One of the reasons why WIFE OF THE GODS is intriguing as a title is that, just like the book itself, it melds the physical world with another realm in which magical and supernatural powers are believed to exist. I'll explain what I mean by that. All of us wonder why bad things happen. Why do we have disease? Why do we have suffering? Why did your aunt Mary, a perfectly lovely person, get breast cancer, why did Dad die of liver disease? As a doctor, I could offer you a list of causes, but in many ways, it still leaves you cold, doesn't it? Why do we need suffering in the first place? What is it there for, and what purpose does it serve?

In Ghana, where WIFE OF THE GODS is set, many people believe that spells, curses, witchcraft and the power of various gods can bring about misfortune - disease, suffering, and as in this story, murder. All these aspects come together in the book, and when you read it, you'll understand why the title is so central to the story itself.

I have to add that as a doctor, I don't scorn people's attempts to explain suffering through the supernatural or the paranormal, because I don't have all the answers either. There are still many, many diseases that are a mystery to the medical community, and in fact, even with advanced technology we still find ourselves at a loss as to what a particular patient has, and sometimes we never arrive at a diagnosis.

What aspects of your life in Ghana are seen in WIFE OF THE GODS?

One aspect was the side-by-side existence of beliefs in the supernatural with modern science. Many...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Wife of the Gods, and learn more about the book and author at Kwei Quartey's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Wife of the Gods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 10, 2009

George Pelecanos

From Arifa Akbar's "One Minute With: George Pelecanos" in the Independent:

Choose a favourite author and say why you like her/him

I would say John Steinbeck for the reason that he writes simply and for the people, and about everyday people. It's rare in American literature, which is mostly about succeeding or winning. He often writes about the opposite and I appreciate that.

* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Arturo Bandini, from Ask the Dust by John Fante. The character is the son of an immigrant who is trying to be a writer and is very conflicted by it; the idea kind of goes against his working-class roots.
Read more of the interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paul McGeough

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Katia Bachko interviewed Paul McGeough, author of Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas, about covering conflict in Gaza. One exchange:

KB: My sense is that it’s very hard to write about Hamas and Gaza and not be accused of ignoring Hamas’s history of violence. As a journalist who has worked to expand the public’s understanding of the region, how do you respond to that criticism?

PM: The Middle East crisis is a war, and war is a measure of failure, a point in human relations beyond which both sides have the capacity to do terrible things. That is the context in which, to use a cliché of the region, Hamas has become a fact on the ground—by dint of its own resourcefulness and determination as much as by the actions of others. To examine the movement is not to endorse its aims or tactics. It is a perfectly reasonable and—I would argue—necessary role for journalists and authors to dig into, to explore and explain the internal terrain of such an organization. To do so certainly does not suggest to me either anti-Semitism or ignoring the role of violence and terror in the Hamas modus operandi.

To my mind, when an organization like this is at the crossroads of a conflict that hadsstraddled generations and drawn in superpowers, it is incumbent on us to attempt to understand exactly how it works and how it is changing or evolving—if in fact it is. In this context, I don’t see anyone in the media failing to observe or to examine the resort to violence by Hamas, either...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short story collections for both adults and children. She has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize; once in 1977 for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and again in 1984 for According to Mark. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed novel Moon Tiger. Her novels include Passing On, shortlisted for the 1989 Sunday Express Book of the Year Award, City of the Mind, Cleopatra's Sister and Heat Wave. Her new novel is Family Album.

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

What book changed your life?

WG Hoskins’ The Making of the English Landscape. It taught me how to see the presence of the past in the world around me.

Who are your literary influences?

Everything I’ve ever read, some in a negative sense, of course. Elizabeth Bowen, Henry James, John Updike, Carol Shields, Dickens, among many others. I admire precision, stylistic energy and the ability to use exactly the right words.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 7, 2009

Joanna Hershon

From Rebecca Honig Friedman's interview with Joanna Hershon, author of The German Bride--“a stylish account of a German Jewish young woman’s often brutal odyssey to the post–Civil War American Southwest” (Publishers Weekly):

JEWESS: What drew you to write about this oft-neglected period in history? How typical is Eva’s story of the period?

JOANNA HERSHON: I was looking to write a novel that required research but I didn’t know about what, exactly. One day I heard a friend make an off-handed comment: “My ancestors were Jewish cowboys,” and I was hooked. I started researching his family, which led to years of reading about Jewish pioneers in America. What is typical about Eva’s story are the cultural details of her family’s home, the facts of a German Jewish merchant coming home to Germany to find a German Jewish bride, and that pregnancy and childbirth are central struggles in her life. The specifics of her situation — her secret past, her husband’s profligate behavior — I can’t say any of that can be found in any historical records.

Why did you want to write a novel that required research? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just make stuff up?

I was interested in...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Joanna Hershon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The German Bride.

My Book, The Movie: The German Bride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nic Brown

Nic Brown lives with his wife and daughter in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His first book, Floodmarkers, was published in July, 2009. His fiction has appeared in the Harvard Review, Glimmer Train, Epoch, The South Carolina Review, and Time Out Amsterdam.

From a Q & A with Brown at Bookslut:

Why did you choose to center your novel around Hurricane Hugo? You've mentioned a feeling of disappointment at the hurricane for passing over your town when you were younger. Does that figure into Floodmarkers? If so, how?

When I was 12, I wanted Hugo to destroy Greensboro, North Carolina. Whenever I see a storm forecast, I still feel this perverse desire. I think it's something a lot of us feel. I have no research to back this up, but I'm standing by it. Especially in a smallish town, or one in which not much happens, natural disaster offers the chance to become suddenly special. Hugo ended up just glancing Greensboro, which I should have been glad for, since it devastated Charleston and Charlotte. As it was, I still got out of school and jumped on a trampoline in the rain - which was weird and sort of magical and memorable. And that's what this book is all about: a storm doesn't have to destroy your town to still change your daily routine just enough to allow room for the singular.

Describe the process you went through in writing this book. How did you formulate the characters? Did you know from the beginning that you would use interwoven, yet markedly separate, stories?

My friend worked the graveyard shift in a hotdog factory. My wife...[read on]
Visit Nic Brown's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Glenn Stout

From a Q & A with Glenn Stout, author of Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World:

What attracted you to the story of Trudy Ederle? How did you first hear about it?

I stumbled across her story nearly a decade ago while working with the late David Halberstam on the collection we did together, The Best Sports Writing of the Century. Although a story about Trudy did not make it into that volume, I was nevertheless intrigued by the brief account I read. Despite the fact that I had previous written a great deal about women’s sports figures and sports history, writing profiles of pioneers like Eleanora Sears and Louise Stokes, and ghostwriting biographies of people like Mia Hamm, the tennis playing Williams sisters, skater Tara Lipinski and others, Trudy’s story had somehow eluded me. Over the next five or six years, as I fulfilled other commitments, I periodically researched her story until I was able to determine there was enough for a book – no one had ever written a biography of her before. You know, when she swam the Channel she was only nineteen years old, the first woman to do so. Only five others – all men – had ever swum the Channel at the time, and Trudy beat the men’s record by nearly two hours! That stunned me, particularly after I learned that fewer people have swum the Channel than have climbed Mount Everest. Even today, swimming the Channel is one of the most difficult athletic feats on the planet.

So I started poking around at the story. Even a cursory look at old newspaper accounts convinced me of...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Young Woman and the Sea, and learn more about the book and author at Glenn Stout's blog.

The Page 99 Test: Young Woman and the Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tom Cain

From UK novelist Tom Cain's Q & A with Ali Karim at The Rap Sheet:

AK: Considering the controversial aspects of your work, what with the death of a popular princess in a Parisian tunnel in The Accident Man, followed by a manically fundamentalist Christian nutter who tries to bring on “the Rapture” in your second novel, were you nervous about reader reactions?

TC: Well, I’m used to writing about controversial subjects as a journalist and (though this hasn’t happened for a while). I’ve faced about as much in the way of abusive reviews, snide profiles, and general media poison as any writer is ever likely to get. I’m pretty much immune to it now. My only concerns would be if I actually wrote something that attracted the attention of the authorities (ever more possible as antiterrorism laws are used to stifle free speech), or I somehow antagonized a special-interest group--or a criminal one, come to that. I wouldn’t want my family to get caught up in any crap of my creating. But, hey, I’ve just written a short story about an attack on a British prime minister, so clearly any worries aren’t inhibiting me thus far!

All that said, I’m pretty careful not to give offense just for the sake of it. Carver is not a remotely political character, the books take no party/political line, and I do let my villains state their case. I always admired the way that The West Wing, while it clearly offered a liberal Democratic fantasy of a hero president, at a time when the real one was George W. Bush, often gave really good arguments to its Republican characters. So I try to let the devils have some reasonably good tunes ... and it’s kept them quiet so far....[read on]
Read "Bloodsport," a never-before-seen, three-part short story by Tom Cain, the creator of shadowy “accident man” Samuel Carver [Assassin].

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 3, 2009

Richard Russo

From a Q & A with Richard Russo about his new novel, That Old Cape Magic:

Q: Apparently there is a wedding phenomenon you have termed "Table 17". What exactly is that and how does it relate to this novel?

A: A few years ago my wife and I were invited to a wedding and were seated at what was clearly a "leftover" table. It reminded me of the final teams who get into the NCAA tournament. You can tell by their seeding that they were the last ones in, that they almost didn't make the grade. Table 17 works thematically in the novel because being among strangers, not sure whether you belong, may be the main character's future if he can't find a way to slow his downward spiral.

Q: You have said that That Old Cape Magic began as a short story. What was the moment you knew it was calling out to be a novel?

A: Griffin, my main character, begins the story on his way to a wedding with his father's urn in the trunk of his car. I planned for him to scatter the ashes (his past), put his future in danger at the wedding (his present) and then pull back from disaster at the last moment. But then he pulled over to the side of the road in his convertible to take a phone call from his mother, at the end of which a seagull shits on him. At that moment, in part because Griffin blames her, he and I both had a sinking feeling. You can resolve thematic issues of past, present and future in a twenty page story, but if you allow a shitting seagull into it, you’ve suddenly...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue