Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Patricia Gussin

Patricia Gussin is an author, physician, medical researcher and mother.

Her novels include Shadow of Death, Twisted Justice, and The Test, all thrillers, reflect her dual passions for family and medicine. From a Q & A about the latest:

How did you get the idea for The Test?

My husband and I were heading toward the beach one fine summer day when we came upon a neighbor who seemed agitated, so we stopped to chat. Acting like amateur psychologists, we let him rant and rave about how fanatical he was about what to leave his children in his will. He wanted to be fair, but also wanted to reward
them according to his perception of admirable behavior. He ended up by saying, “I guess, what I want is to rule from the grave.” That statement served as the framework for The Test. What would happen if a very wealthy man created a will designed to rule from the grave?

Which part of the writing process did you enjoy most? Why?

I enjoyed creating the Parnell family. I love large, complicated families and find them the perfect stage to play out the range of human emotions.

Which part of the writing process was most difficult? Why?

The most difficult challenge in writing The Test was...[read on]
Visit Patricia Gussin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of Death.

My Book, The Movie: Twisted Justice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Philip Kerr

At the Independent, some what Arifa Akbar found out from one minute with Philip Kerr, author of the "Bernhard Gunther" novels and other books:

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

If I could choose her, I'd pick my wife, Jane Thynne, who writes thinking man's thrillers. But if that is too nepotistic, I'd say Raymond Chandler. He is a dark sort of PG Wodehouse, a great prose stylist whose descriptions are like perfect ice-cream sundaes. He has real firecracker descriptions of people.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Jack Torrance from [Stephen King's] The Shining. He has that writer's obsessive compulsiveness to sit in front of a computer no matter what. It touches so many nerves for authors.

* * *
Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

David Hockney. I like his...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 28, 2009

Victor Lodato

Victor Lodato is a playwright and poet. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and has won numerous awards for his plays, including one from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. His newly released debut novel is Mathilda Savitch.

From his Q & A with Lauren Mechling at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: How did you capture the voice of a teenage girl?

Mr. Lodato: That's the voice that came to me. For a long time I felt more like a secretary than a writer, I just let her babble and I wrote everything down that I heard. It's almost musical; she's clearly a pretty idiosyncratic child. I knew parts of the story within a few months, but there were aspects that I didn't know till I'd made it halfway through. That was what kept it fun and that is why I set the book in present tense. There is an aspect to Mathilda that feels alive and nervous and dangerous.

What do you find is the biggest difference between writing plays and writing fiction?

When you write a play you have to draw the...[read on]
Watch the video trailer for Mathilda Savitch and learn more about the book at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website.

The Page 69 Test: Mathilda Savitch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Iain Banks

Iain Banks' mainstream fiction includes The Wasp Factory (1984), Walking on Glass (1985), The Bridge (1986), Espedair Street (1987), Canal Dreams (1989), The Crow Road (1992), Complicity (1993), Whit (1995), A Song of Stone (1997), The Business (1999), Dead Air (2002) and The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007). His new mainstream novel is Transition.

Banks' science fiction includes seven novels based around The Culture, a massive interstellar civilization. These novels are: Consider Phlebas (1987), The Player of Games (1988), Use of Weapons (1990), Excession (1996), Inversions (1998), Look to Windward (2000) and Matter (2008). His non-Culture science fiction novels are Against a Dark Background (1993), Feersum Endjinn (1994) and The Algebraist (2004), which was nominated for the Hugo Award. A collection of short fiction, The State of the Art (1989), contains both Culture and non-Culture work.

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

Who is your perfect reader?

Probably me, with slightly better taste.

* * *
What book changed your life?

The Wasp Factory.

* * *
What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

Using the equation e=mc2 to work out the explosive yield of very small quantities of antimatter, to determine how small an effective nano-missile could be.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Randa Jarrar

Jessica Lee Jernigan queried Randa Jarrar about her critically acclaimed debut novel, A Map of Home. Part of the interview:

One of the things I admired most about your book was how—without melodrama, and without allowing your heroine excessive self-pity—you make the political personal. At 13, Nidali isn’t upset about the invasion of Kuwait because it’s an abrogation of international law; she’s upset about it because it screws up her social life. This is something that a lot of readers will, I think, understand in a way that they might not understand, say, the feeling of having bombs dropped near one’s home.

Randa Jarrar: Thank you. Well, I made a conscious choice early on in the process for Nidali to have a fresh perspective—that the things that would upset or anger her should surprise the reader. For example, a reader might expect the family to leave Kuwait because of the danger or the imminent arrival of American forces, but they leave because they run out of za’tar spice. I just think it’s funnier and more interesting that way.

There’s a moment in your novel when Nidali’s father remarks on the constantly shifting borders of Palestine and says, “There’s no telling where home starts and where it ends.” For him, this is tragic, but, for Nidali, it’s liberating. Is Nidali’s reaction an accurate reflection of your own feelings about the idea of home?

RJ: Nidali’s dad has suffered so much partly because he lost his home, and also because he’s spent so much time and energy trying to regain it, even psychologically. Nidali has a different take, a different way to adapt to displacement. She can either find it tragic, the way her baba does, or she can find or cling to a new home, or she can realize that she is a borderless person; someone who can belong anywhere. Of course, the last option is the most...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: A Map of Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 25, 2009

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Last spring, thriller writer CJ Lyons talked with fellow author Libby Hellmann about her writing.

Part of the Q & A:

CJ: Tell us about your background and how you broke into fiction.

LH: Writing books was never in my master plan. I was going to be a film-maker. In fact, I planned to become the Lina Wertmuller of the US and dance into the sunset with Ingmar Bergman.

Funny about that.

I got an MFA in film production but started working in broadcast news. Aside from loving film, I had acquired a healthy news jones. It’s understandable – I was raised in Washington DC, and when you’re gossiping about the neighbors, you’re usually talking politics. After a while I moved to Chicago and worked for a PR firm where I produced industrial films and videos, wrote speeches, and coached executives in communication skills.

I didn’t start writing until the 1996, after my father passed away, but it took five years and three “practice” novels before I mastered the craft of fiction well enough to be published. I remember writing an article about getting published called “Doing it By the Book”… because that’s pretty much what happened. I did what they say you’re supposed to: I went to conferences, I volunteered, I sent out query letters, I revised, and ultimately I got an agent. She sold what became An Eye for Murder to Berkley Prime Crime for a three book deal. The unusual part ...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Doubleback, Hellmann's new novel, and watch the video trailer.

My Book, The Movie: A Shot To Die For.

The Page 69 Test: Easy Innocence.

My Book, The Movie: Easy Innocence.

Visit Libby Fischer Hellmann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 24, 2009

James Ellroy

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book for 2001. Ellroy lives in Los Angeles.

From a Q & A about his latest novel, Blood's A Rover:

Q: How does this book differ from the other two books in the Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy? The plot is quite complex, and there are tons of characters. How did you keep all the story lines straight?

A: Truth be told, it’s markedly less complex than The Cold Six Thousand and slightly more complex than American Tabloid. The historical period–1968-1972–is less iconic than the periods covered in the first two books; thus, I had greater latitude to fictionalize. Again, this is a novel of outward revolution and revolution of the soul. There is greater dialectic in this novel than in my previous twelve novels combined. How did I keep the storyline straight? I wrote a 397-page outline, that laid out the action, down to the most minute detail. Meticulousness, diligence, profoundly rigorous work habits all contributed to the greatness of this novel. During the odd moments that my super-human resolve faltered, I stared at the numerous portraits of Beethoven that adorn my pad and at the photo of Joan that I keep on my nightstand (the left side, of course).

Q: As in the first two books, readers will recognize a lot of the names in Blood’s A Rover–Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, and Richard Nixon to name a few. So how much of the story is really true?

A: Yeah, Gay Edgar Hoover, Howard “Dracula” Hughes, and Tricky Dick Nixon appear...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peter Maass

One of the six questions Ken Silverstein asked Peter Maass about his new book, Crude World...and Maass' answer:

The discovery of oil in poor countries seems very seldom to result in general prosperity. What accounts for this so-called “resource curse”?

It’s an odd thing–you’d think every country with a lot of oil would be lucky. And many are. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Brunei have so much oil and such small populations that it would be impossible for them to not prosper. Canada certainly benefits, thanks to a diversified economy that saves it from the downsides of depending on a sole resource. Norway is in great shape because its institutions were solid when its North Sea tap was opened, enabling it to withstand the pressures and temptations of oil dependency (hence the lesson that it’s best to find democracy before finding oil).

But in poor countries, dependence on exports of a single resource or just a few resources can lead to destabilizing booms and busts. Without good oversight and management, resource revenues can be siphoned off through corruption and waste. When oil dominates an economy, the farming and manufacturing sectors can suffer from neglect as well as exchange-rate imbalances. That’s a bigger problem than you’d think, because the oil industry is capital intensive, creating few jobs. Even Saudi Arabia, which has more oil than any other country, has high unemployment. And research from Paul Collier and other scholars shows that a dependence on resource revenues can lead to less democracy and higher risks of violence, due to struggles for access to state-owned resources. Resources are central elements in the violence that afflicts countries like Nigeria, Congo and Iraq.

I think “curse” might be too strong a word, because it implies a fate that is inescapable or that operates like an economic law. Better to think of it as a peril. And it’s good to remember the advice of J. Paul Getty, the legendary oilman who did a good job of summing up the underlying problem. As he is credited with saying, “The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not the mineral rights.”
Read the other five Q & As.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Michelle Huneven

Michelle Huneven is the author of the novels Round Rock and Jamesland. She has received a General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers and a Whiting Writers’ Award for fiction.

Her new novel is Blame, the story of a woman who believes she accidentally killed a mother and daughter during a drunken blackout.

From Huneven's Q & A with Hilary S. Kayle at Publishers Weekly:

Where'd you get the idea for your plot?

I heard a man tell a story that he was arrested for killing his ex-wife. Because he'd been in an alcoholic blackout, he assumed he was guilty; the motive was there, and he had no memory of it. Luckily, he had an alibi in spite of himself, and that story stuck with me for about 20 years. I also wanted to write a book about somebody who didn't feel like she was a good person. What if you don't know if you're owned by darkness or not? Finally, I was really interested in a life spent pursuing goodness and atonement, and then finding out that maybe you weren't as bad as you thought you were.

Your main character, Patsy MacLemoore, spends time in prison. What kind of research did you do to make those scenes feel real?

I knew an older woman who'd...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Blame, and learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Huneven's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blame.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 21, 2009

Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen's latest book is You Were Always Mom's Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives. From her Q & A with Deborah Solomon in the New York Times Magazine:

As a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of many popular books on the language of relationships, what did you learn about the current state of sisterhood from researching your new book, “You Were Always Mom’s Favorite!”?

Sister relationships span a huge range, from best friends to worst enemies. From “I adore her; I talk to her five times a day” to “I decided to cut her out of my life.” For most women, it’s in between.

Would you say that literature has overemphasized the darker side of sisterhood? I am thinking of Cordelia and her abusive sisters in “King Lear.”
In Cordelia and the Cinderella stories, there are three sisters, but it’s really two against one. The two baddies are...[read on]
Visit Deborah Tannen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Christopher Mackay

Christopher Mackay, a professor of history and classics at the University of Alberta, is the translator of The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, which was written largely by a Dominican friar from Germany named Henricus Institoris. From his Q & A with Joanna Weiss at the Boston Globe's "Ideas" column:

Ideas: One thing that occurred to me, reading this book, is that human nature hasn’t changed much in 450 years.

Mackay: The thing that I find most relevant to today is how you view the world around you. You see what you think you’ll see and you don’t see what you don’t think you’ll see. On “CSI,” Grissom says that the facts speak for themselves, but the facts don’t speak for themselves. It’s how you interpret the facts. [Institoris] talks about things like, you can stick a knife into a beam into your barn and you pretend to milk it, and through some razzmatazz you steal the milk from your neighbor’s cow. This is what people really thought. Onto that kind of stuff, he wants to impose this notion of this sect of heretics who are presided over by Satan.

Ideas: Was there a lot of superstition in daily life in Europe in those days?

Mackay: It...[read on]
Visit Christopher S. Mackay's website.

Writers Read: Christopher S. Mackay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saundra Mitchell

At Writer Musings, Tabitha Olson interviewed Saundra Mitchell about her novel Shadowed Summer, "a southern gothic ghost story, about a girl who accidentally calls up an unsettled spirit, then spends the summer putting things right again."

Part of the Q & A:

What was the inspiration behind your idea?

I actually set out to write a paranormal romance. I wanted to write a book like Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss. But once I got started, my girl didn't want to fall in love with my ghost, and my ghost didn't want to fall in love with my girl. I had to sort them out on the page. The final book doesn't look at all like what I intended!

* * *

Your knowledge of southern customs, language, and habits is deep. Have you lived there, or did that come from research?

Well, southern Indiana thinks it's the south (even though it's not, really,) so some of it comes from living where I live. And much of it comes from my best friend Wendi, who was born, raised and lives in Georgia now- and my many visits down to meet her. One day, I'll set a book in Georgia so I can call grocery carts "buggies"!

But the rest is research. I like to read linguistic surveys, which teaches me a lot about common phrases and words in an area. And I'm not shy about asking the experts- I called the Louisiana Sheriff's Department to find out the colors of the cars and uniforms, and who would respond to certain kinds of calls.

I bothered the Louisiana Native Plant Society to make sure Iris didn't pick flowers that don't exist there. I feel like the setting is a character in the book, so I...[read on]
Visit Saundra Mitchell's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thomas Keneally

From a Q & A with Thomas Keneally, author of many books including Schindler's Ark (1982), which won the Booker Prize and is the basis of the film Schindler's List, at the Guardian:

When were you happiest?

I'd like to say when I was 20 or even 40, but I'm afraid it has been in extended phases since I turned 60. Like all the young, I had too many reasons to be unhappy earlier.

Which living person do you most admire?

It's a test to admire the living. Maybe Seamus Heaney.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Intolerance of people. I no doubt dislike it because I have some of it in me, but what I'm talking about is ethnic myth-making about a group, glib but deadly regurgitations of hysteric myths. Really, really hate it.

What makes you depressed?[read on]
Also see Keneally's 1999 interview with Linda L. Richards at January Magazine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Michael J. Allen

From a Q & A with Michael J. Allen, author of Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War:

Q: Why was and is there such a dogged search for Vietnam War POWs and MIAs? How is the Vietnam War different from other wars in this aspect?

A: Because the United States lost the war. The plight of American POWs and MIAs became a way for Americans to understand how and why that defeat happened, and the effort to recover these men offered those averse to that outcome the ability to do something about it.

Q: How did this obsession with recovering POWs and MIAs affect the war and its outcome? How did it affect the American people?

A: It fueled the hostility so many Americans harbored toward the communist enemy while at the same time contributing powerfully to the war-weariness that sapped popular support for the war over the long-term. Sooner or later all parties to the conflict came to see the return of American POWs as among the most powerful inducements for U.S. withdrawal from the war.

Q: Who did Americans choose to blame for the inability to recover these men? Why?

A: Initially, most blamed...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thomas H. Cook

At January Magazine Ali Karim has an extensive and enlightening interview with Thomas H. Cook, winner of "an Edgar Award for his 1996 novel, The Chatham School Affair, and [whose] 2005’s devastating Red Leaves was nominated for an Edgar, a Crime Writer’s Association Dagger Award, an Anthony Award, a Barry Award and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award." Cook's latest novel, The Fate of Katherine Carr, was publisher this summer.

A small sample of the interview:

What is it about the conventions of crime and mystery fiction that attracts you to this dark end of the street?

Namely, it is the sense of people in crisis. That is the heart of all drama, whether the crisis be physical or spiritual or moral. Crime writing takes crisis as the given, and I really like that aspect of the genre.

One theme that striates your work is the deceptive nature of human beings. You’re also interested in how fate and circumstance weave around people, often revealing aspects of their lives that were hidden from view. What draws you so to the machinations of the human condition?

I continue to be moved by the capacity of people to learn from their mistakes, and by their heartfelt attempt to help others learn from those same mistakes. Because of that, I like writing novels in which the actions occur in the far past, and are now being reflected upon. That structure allows for characters both to carry out and to reflect upon their actions.

In your novels, you look into the psychological aspects of evil. My father is a retired psychiatrist, and he often warned me that about 10 percent of humans have sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies, to lesser or greater degrees. What is it about the evil that lurks within many of us that interests you?

Evil at the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lisa Black

USA TODAY bestselling author Karen Harper interviewed Lisa Black about her new novel, Evidence of Murder. The beginning of the Q & A:

Tell us what Evidence of Murder is about.

Still dealing with the fallout from the bank robbery gone bad in Takeover, Theresa MacLean is unable to summon much interest when beautiful escort Jillian goes missing--but when the woman turns up dead, Theresa is moved not only by guilt but empathy for Jillian's infant daughter, Cara. She suspects Jillian's new husband, wunderkind video game designer Evan Kovacic, but with no trace of foul play on Jillian's body Theresa cannot prove that Jillian has even been murdered, much less by whom. No one can help her. Homicide detective Frank Patrick thinks Theresa is letting her grief deflect her from a more likely suspect, Jillian's obsessive ex-boyfriend Drew. And with other bodies turning up, Theresa's boss believes a serial killer is at work. Theresa is forced to face the master gamer on her own, but can she find her way through this maze in time to save Cara?

How much of your own life experiences (and personality) appear in your protagonist, Theresa MacLean? Can you tell us a bit about her?

Theresa is just like me only stronger, faster, smarter and divorced. She has the same...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: Takeover.

My Book, The Movie: Takeover.

The Page 69 Test: Evidence of Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mitch Horowitz

From a Q & A with Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation:

Q: Occult America traces the ways in which occult and magical movements shaped our nation—politically, intellectually, religiously, culturally, and even commercially. Why did the U.S. prove to be such fertile ground for occult movements? What are some primary examples of how the occult influenced American identity and vice versa?

Mitch: Alternative religious movements were entwined with America from its earliest days. In the mid-1600s, just as Europe was experiencing a backlash against occult and esoteric spiritual movements, the American colonies were developing a reputation for religious liberalism. When the town of Philadelphia was a cluster of only a few hundred houses, it hosted faiths ranging from Quakerism to the Mennonites to mystical offshoots of the Lutheran church. The year 1694 marked a turning point for the colonies (and, in many ways, the modern spiritual world) through what initially appeared a very modest event: At that time the first intentional mystical community reached North America when the esoteric scholar Johannes Kelpius led a small sect out of Central Germany to the Wissahickon Creek near Philadelphia. His magical brotherhood practiced its own forms of astrology, alchemy, numerology, Kabala, and esoteric Christianity. News of their “Tabernacle in the Forest” spread back to the Old World and served as a magnet for other occult and esoteric movements. By the early 1700s, admirers of Kelpius formed a new and larger commune at Ephrata, Pennsylvania. In 1776, the Shakers – who were once considered a very mysterious sect – broke ground on a settlement outside Albany, New York. That same year the nation’s first “spirit channeler,” a 24-year-old woman who called herself the Publick Universal Friend, began to preach across New England. Beginning in the early 1800s, a region of Central New York called the “Burned-Over District” became suffused with Spiritualism, Mesmerism, and various occult experiments. These movements helped solidify early America’s role as a safe harbor for religious innovation and eventually made the nation into a launching pad for the revolutions in alternative spirituality that swept the globe in the twentieth century.

Q: In Occult America, you show a strong link between Spiritualism, feminism and a particularly American brand of progressive liberalism. Why did that link exist, and what opportunities did the occult open up for American women and other disenfranchised groups?

Mitch: America’s earliest...[read on]
Visit Mitch Horowitz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Joanne Rendell

From a Q & A with Joanne Rendell about her new novel, Crossing Washington Square:

You have a PhD in English Literature. How did this help with writing Crossing Washington Square?

My own academic experiences are everywhere in this book. Like Diana, I once taught Sylvia Plath to undergraduates. Like Rachel, I sometimes struggled to ignite a discussion in a classroom full of tired students! I’ve also seen first hand how vicious, snobbish, and competitive academics can be with each other. Yet, at the same time, I have seen what a fascinating and important world academia really is.

While in grad school, I also received a wonderful grounding in literary theory which really shaped this novel. I know a lot of people come out of literature degrees complaining about too much theory and not enough reading of the books themselves. But I really valued the theoretical and philosophical side of my studies. I enjoyed asking questions about how we look at books and why and how politics and culture shape what we read and the books that are written. I particularly loved exploring the debates about “high culture” and “popular culture” – in other words, whether it is more important to study Shakespeare or whether Stephen King and Nora Roberts are worthy of study too.

This high culture and popular culture debate is very important in the novel. Rachel is a scholar of popular fiction, while Diana is a rigorous Sylvia Plath scholar who thinks that popular fiction is an easy ride for students. Why did you write about this?

As I said, I’ve always found this debate fascinating. I wanted to...[read on]
Also see Rendell's Q & A with Allison Winn Scotch.

Learn more about the book and author at Joanne Rendell's website and MySpace page.

The Page 69 Test: The Professors' Wives' Club.

The Page 99 Test: Crossing Washington Square.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 12, 2009

John Banville

John Banville's many books include The Sea, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, and several crime novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.

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

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

My royalty statements. It was a sardonic laugh.
* * *

What book changed your life?

The catechism of the Catholic Church, which was dinned into me as a seven-year-old. It answered every question I could have possibly asked about the world.
* * *

Which literary character most resembles you?

Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza. He’s a complete realist and gets enjoyment out of the world’s silliness.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 11, 2009

Steven M. Thomas

From A Q & A with Steven M. Thomas, author of Criminal Paradise (2008) and the recently released Criminal Karma:

Describe “Criminal Paradise” in a nutshell.

It is Ross MacDonald meets John MacDonald with some Elmore Leonard thrown in.

That sounds like quite a combination. Can you elaborate?

The writing aims for the kind of literary quality you find in Ross MacDonald’s classic series of Lew Archer detective novels, but the plot revolves around hardcore characters and action more like those in John MacDonald’s Travis McGee adventures. Robert Rivers, the protagonist of “Criminal Paradise,” operates outside the law, same as Travis McGee does much of the time, but the book is set in Southern California, the home turf of straight arrow Lew Archer. Both Archer and McGee are men who pack a conscience as well as a pistol, modulating the inevitable violence of their professions with a strong moral compass. Robert Rivers fits the same mold.

What is the Elmore Leonard connection?

The book’s...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Criminal Karma, and learn more about the book and author at the official Steven M. Thomas website.

The Page 69 Test: Criminal Karma.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Roger (“R.N.”) Morris

Roger (or “R.N.”) Morris recently visited the Umbria region of central Italy. Michael Gregorio (the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio), who live in Spoleto, Italy, put some questions to him.

From the Q & A, published in The Rap Sheet:

Michael Gregorio: Tell us about the curious dedication which introduces A Gentle Axe: “For my mother, Norma, who likes a good murder.” Surely there’s a story there.

R.N. Morris: My mother was a keen reader of what we would probably call “pulp.” She liked nothing better than a good thriller. A good murder, too. I suppose that’s where my own interest in the genre springs from. There were always crime books scattered round the house, and it was inevitable that I would start to read them
sooner or later.

MG: What kind of thing were you first drawn to?

RNM: Well, initially, I suppose, Agatha Christie and the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but even before that I had got a taste for suspense by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Brent Ghelfi

Brent Ghelfi is the author of Volk’s Game, Volk’s Shadow, and new in bookstores, The Venona Cable.

From his 2008 Q & A with Kerry Lengel of The Arizona Republic:

Q: You started writing Volk's Game while on a business trip to Russia, looking into selling manufactured homes there.

A: It was the craziest trip I'd ever taken. It was like a Third World country just beginning the Industrial Revolution. People didn't understand financing, they didn't understand risk of loss, they didn't understand what we consider the blocking and tackling of business. So it was a non-starter from the get-go, but it was a really interesting experience, and the guy leading the charge was a Russian army general, probably ex-KGB, but you just don't know. Kind of a short guy and always with bodyguards, and he became somewhat of a model for the character known as the General.

Q: And Volk himself?

A: I was staying at the National Hotel, which is where the CIA used to stay to look down on Red Square. Lenin's Tomb has all these steps, and when the ICBMs would roll through Red Square, depending on where you stood was a rough hierarchy of who had power and who didn't in the Kremlin. All of this stuff is right out of a Le Carre novel.

I'm looking down, I can't sleep, I'm jetlagged, and watch this guy...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Volk's Game.

My Book, The Movie: Volk’s Game.

The Page 69 Test: Volk's Shadow.

Visit Brent Ghelfi's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Carolina De Robertis

From a Q & A with Carolina De Robertis about her new book, The Invisible Mountain:

Q: When did you first have the idea to write The Invisible Mountain and was there a particular event or idea that was its genesis?

A: Books often begin out of the need for a text that does not yet exist. It is difficult to pinpoint a single moment when this book began. Though it took eight years to write, the search for it started many years before.

I began as a gatherer of stories. When I was twelve, my father told me all the stories he knew of our family, reaching back to great-great-grandparents in Italy. He was going through a personal crisis, spurred by his own father's death. My grandfather had been a distant, eminent parent, and my father had spent his whole career trying to emulate him, only to learn upon his death that he had written his children out of his will. Years later, my father would repeat history by disowning me for not conforming to his views—but for now, he poured out stories, hoping that one day I would turn them into a book. He chose me to tell, rather than my siblings, because, he said, I was the one most like his mother, the poet, who was said to be crazy, and who always loomed enormous in our family as the prototype of what an artist is and what a woman should never be. I listened to the stories and carried them inside me like radioactive seeds.

When I was thirteen, I managed to find Gabriel García Márquez, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, and others who exploded open new universes of what a story could be, and how it could be told. My fate was sealed as both a very nerdy teenager, and a person indelibly in love with the written word. But over the years, I couldn't find one thing I was looking for: a novel that could open the gates to Uruguay, a country at the root of me, that I knew little about, and yet that was essential to knowing who I was. In my mid-twenties, I became obsessed with the idea of writing a book about Uruguay, as a way of understanding this country I hungered for and longed to know; I awakened to the possibility of writing my way back into a heritage I'd lost. I didn't have to look far for a place to begin: the seeds had been waiting for years.

The novelist Annie Dillard has said it beautifully: “There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

Q: Are any of the characters in the novel based on your own family? Is there a particular character in the novel that interested you most? Or with whom you most identify?

A: Although......[read on]
Visit the website of Carolina De Robertis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dan Waddell

From a Q & A with Dan Waddell, author of two novels featuring genealogist Nigel Barnes, The Blood Detective and Blood Atonement:

What do you think the recent upsurge of people researching their family tree is a result of?

I think there are a few reasons. First and foremost, it's a pretty compulsive hobby. Tracking down names, searching for elusive documents, not knowing what you might find - it's easy to find yourself sucked in. Once you start there is an urge to find out all you can. Secondly, I think as people get older it awakens a sense of wanting to put your life in context. It's usually a profound event that triggers it - a birth or a death. You either wonder, like I did, what exactly it is that you are passing on to your child. Or, in the case of a death, you wonder exactly who the person was who died, how they lived and that sets you wondering about all the others who have gone before you.

Finally, while there are some people who want to do it because they want to complete an ornate family tree to hang on the wall, I think many others are motivated by the skeletons that lay in the family closet. Most family histories have at least one or two cracking stories in them. I think people are secretly a bit disappointed when they find out there's nothing juicy in their family past. There's an undeniable thrill when you find a criminal, an adulterer or some other black sheep in the family. Though maybe that's just me...

Where did you get the idea from to relate it to crime?

It just came to me after a day wading through birth, marriage and death certificates (and after several pints of beer). I'd always wanted to write crime fiction, but was determined to do it only when I had a good enough idea. Like many ideas, it just popped in my head without any effort. I knew almost immediately it would work.

Do you know of any crimes that have been solved through the use of genealogy?

I know of...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Dan Waddell's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Atonement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Val McDermid

Val McDermid has published 18 crime novels and eight other books. She won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for The Mermaids Singing (1995).

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

Which literary character resembles you?

James Bond, for his elegance, suavity, fast cars and success with women.

Who are your literary influences?

RL Stevenson. I read Treasure Island in comic form when I was quite young and was captivated. I absorbed a lot about storytelling and structure. Also Margaret Atwood, Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Val McDermid's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Margot Livesey

Margot Livesey, this weekend's featured contributor at Writers Read, is the author of six novels--Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona and The House on Fortune Street--and a collection of stories titled Learning By Heart.

From her 2005 interview at January Magazine:

Valerie Compton: Weeks after having read Banishing Verona for the first time, I am still completely in awe of Zeke as a character. He seems really alive and that's amazing, particularly because he apprehends the world so differently from other people. How difficult was it for you to create Zeke?

Margot Livesey: A son of a friend was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in the early 90s, and that was what first made me aware of this condition. In keeping her company, and in keeping him company, I began to learn about it intellectually, by reading about it -- and also to learn about it in a more internal way through his way of perceiving the world, and watching the things he was grappling with.

When I came to create Zeke, I certainly used the things I had learned intellectually, but more importantly, I just really tried to imagine myself going through the world from the point of view of someone who has Asperger's. And that meant thinking about all kinds of things that I normally do in writing, like all those shorthand phrases -- well, they're not shorthand -- but phrases like "she smiled." I thought, No, I have to think about that for a moment. Would he register all those things? I mean when most people say "she smiled," we actually summarize an enormous number of things to come up with that little phrase. And so it meant in some ways going very slowly through his parts of the novel to make sure that I wasn't rushing to oversimplify or rushing to summarize things that I thought he wouldn't. At the same time, it was also for me a balancing act, because I didn't want to keep belaboring this with the reader. You know, going through the novel, as the novel went on, I increasingly did use the conventional summary for facial expressions and for other aspects of...[read on]
Writers Read: Margot Livesey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 4, 2009

Adam Thirlwell

Adam Thirlwell is the author of The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes (UK title: Miss Herbert). His first novel, Politics, was translated into thirty languages. In 2003, he appeared on Granta’s list of the best British novelists under forty.

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

Who are your literary influences?

Laurence Sterne, Milan Kundera, PG Wodehouse, Robert Musil, Gertrude Stein, Denis Diderot, Bohumil Hrabal, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh and Henry James.

* * *

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Vladimir Nabokov, because he was so charming and so enclosed. But I’m not sure I’d like to be stuck in a lift with anyone – it would give me terrible claustrophobia and social inadequacy.

Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

For the jowly infantile face, Robert Downey Jr. For the height, Tom Cruise. For the winsome, sad eyes, Winona Ryder.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lucinda Rosenfeld

Caroline Stanley interviewed Lucinda Rosenfeld for Flavorwire. Stanley's introduction and their first exchange:

Lucinda Rosenfeld’s latest novel, I’m So Happy for You, is an honest (albeit dark) look at a pair of best friends from college — Wendy and Daphne — who are now in their thirties and living in New York. Subverting the classic chick lit formula, Rosenfeld bravely reveals the unpleasant things (envy, selfishness, fear) operating just below the surface of many female friendships. If I’m making it sound the least bit unpleasant, it’s not; like Rosenfeld’s past two novels, this one kept me up until 4 a.m. just so I could find out how it ended — lucky for me, it didn’t disappoint.

Flavorpill: Was it hard for you to put down the character of Phoebe Fine and take up a new protagonist? Do you find one more likeable?

Lucinda Rosenfeld: First, I want to say: thanks for featuring I’m So Happy For You on your web site. It was indeed difficult letting go of Phoebe Fine (protagonist of What She Saw… and Why She Went Home) and beginning a new chapter (forgive the pun) in my fiction writing, with Wendy Murman (protagonist of ISHFY). In case you couldn’t have guessed, Phoebe was based in part on yours truly. However, as I rapidly approach forty, I’ve started to think of her as my youthful alter-ego — and therefore don’t relate to her as much as I once did. I’m thinking especially of Phoebe’s self-destructive side…

As for who is more likable — Wendy or Phoebe — I think I’ll leave that question to my readers. Clearly they’re both flawed characters. But, then, I’m not really interested in any other kind. I’m also not entirely convinced that unflawed characters exist. Most of us, I think, are just a big mess of competing impulses, some selfish, others generous.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about the book and author at Lucinda Rosenfeld's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: I'm So Happy for You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Michael Connelly

From a Q & A with Michael Connelly about his new Harry Bosch novel, Nine Dragons, which releases in the U.K. on October 1st and in the U.S. on October 13th:

Question: "Eight bullets, eight dragons. And then there would be him. Bosch would be the ninth dragon, as unstoppable as a bullet." Where does the title Nine Dragons come from?

Michael Connelly: Hong Kong has many sections. One of the biggest is called Kowloon, which means "Nine Dragons." It comes from a legend. During one of the old dynasties the emperor was chased by the Mongols into the area that is now Hong Kong. He saw the eight mountain peaks that surrounded the area and protected him and wanted to call the place Eight Dragons. But one of his guards reminded him that the emperor was a dragon too. So they called it Kowloon, meaning nine dragons. I was told this story by a researcher who was showing me around Hong Kong the first time I visited. I loved the story and immediately started thinking of using Nine Dragons as a title. This dictated that a lot of the Hong Kong portion of the story take place in Kowloon, including the most significant moment of the whole novel.

Q: What inspired you to write Nine Dragons and to set a third of the book in Hong Kong?

MC: Nine Dragons is a book long in the making. It is a pivotal story in Harry Bosch's journey — and his most personal one. While I think it is a book with more action than usual for me, it is also...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sarah McCoy

From a Q & A with Sarah McCoy, author of The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico:

Q: In The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico, the description of the sights and smells of Puerto Rico are so evocative, the reader feels transported to the Caribbean. What sounds, tastes, smells, etc. make you feel transported to that region?

A: In my daily life, I'm incredibly influenced by my senses. The sound of the wind through summer leaves reminds me of lazy Virginia days. The taste of lemon-drop candies takes me back to the candy dish in my Oklahoma grandma's house. When I see snowcapped mountains, I'm transported to my childhood in Germany. The smell and feel of gardenia buds against my cheek reminds me of my grandparent's farm in Puerto Rico. Having been a child in a military family, I've lived a gypsy life so my memories are a sensory stewpot. I get unending glee running into a sight, smell, sound, taste, or feeling that instantaneously takes me back somewhere I thought I'd forgotten but no, it's there inside of me.

In writing this novel, I had the advantage of going home to Puerto Rico about 3/4th of the way through writing. It was incredibly helpful to stand on the porch of our house and look out over the island, seeing it both as my familiar home and as the new place I'd created in my imagination. I took copious notes and photos of all the small details - the roosters crowing each dawn, the way my bed sheets stuck to my body in the July heat, the taste of coconut milk drunk right from the hairy nut, my grandma's singing as she cooked, the clean smell of my grandpa's cologne and starch in his guayabera, everything. I wanted to experience it all fresh to help evoke my childhood memories. From that trip, I was able to fully remember details of things that before had only been bleary recollections: the first time I saw a cockfight and then faced frozen chicken feet in Grandma's freezer; the beat of bongo drums and click of my mom's dancing heels on the tiles; the smell and taste of Grandma's sofrito sizzling in a pot. These and so much more transport me to Puerto Rico.

As a writer, I believe one of my most fundamental jobs is to create what John Gardner called "the fictional dream." Meaning, I'm recreating Puerto Rico on the page in the hopes of transporting my readers to that reality. As human beings, we process our world through our senses; therefore, it's crucial that I provide as much tactile description as possible. Of course, there must be balance. A book of all description is nothing without the beating hearts of characters within, but it's through those characters' sensory experiences that the reader is able share in their worlds.

Q: At heart, this is a novel about the meaning of family. How did your family shape the story and the writing process? How do they feel about the book?

A: My family...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico, and learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

--Marshal Zeringue