Monday, November 30, 2009

Alan Jacobson

From Carolyn Haines' interview with Alan Jacobson, the USA Today bestselling author of four thrillers, including the recently released Crush:

Tell us about Crush's main character, Karen Vail, who we first met in The 7th Victim. She went through a lot in The 7th Victim. Does she change any in her second outing in Crush?

Karen Vail is the first female FBI profiler. In the mid-90s, I was writing an as-yet unpublished novel when a wise-cracking, high-energy character unexpectedly flew from my fingertips. I found her so stimulating that I knew one day I'd devote an entire novel to her. At the time, I'd been working with Supervisory Special Agent Mark Safarik, a profiler at the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. I met Agent Safarik by accident but we quickly became friends and often spent hours talking on the phone about profiling and serial offenders. I found the topic fascinating, and it gave me the perfect vehicle for this new Karen Vail character I'd created.

Over a 15 year period, I made repeated trips to the FBI Academy, attended FBI profiling training courses, shot submachine guns in their indoor range, viewed volumes of crime scene photos and offender-created videos of their heinous acts, and edited four published FBI research papers on serial offender behavior. And I got to know the real-life Karen Vail, who gave me valuable insight into how Vail would function as the only woman in an all-male unit.

Though Vail means well, her aggressive approach doesn't always bring desirable results. In Crush, we see that she's learned from the events that transpired in The 7th Victim. Because of the incredibly strong reader and critical response to Vail, I was careful not to change her too much. But I wanted there to be some growth. The Vail we see in Crush is a bit more aware of the consequences of her actions. She thinks before acting or firing back a sarcastic retort. Not always--sometimes she just can't help herself--but, like all of us, she's a work in progress.

Crush takes place in the Napa Valley, an area associated with romantic vacations. What is Crush about, and how did you pull off writing a thriller in wine country?

Crush picks up...[read on]
Visit Alan Jacobson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Roy Chaney

Roy Chaney has worked as a military journalist, photographer, newspaper editor, and as an investigator for the federal government. The Ragged End of Nowhere is his debut novel.

Two exchanges from Rebecca Chastain's interview with Chaney at Number One Novels:

NON: How did you get the idea for your novel?

RC: There were a number of ideas that seemed to coalesce into The Ragged End of Nowhere. The French Foreign Legion plays a role in the story because I’ve always been intrigued by the facts and the legends that surround that fighting force. It seems odd to me that they still exist—they seem to belong to a time long past. Another spark was a business card given to me by an ex-CIA man at a dinner party in Las Vegas a number of years ago. He was working as a business consultant at that time, and on the back of the card was written: “There’s always one more son of a bitch than you counted on.” Apparently he thought that was all that needed to be said about why his consulting services were needed. Those are two of many ideas and images that came together to form the foundation of the novel.

* * *
NON: Finally, if you had to pick one author as your favorite, who would it be?

RC: I could pick one hundred favorite authors, but I can’t pick one. My reading habits tend to be a little eclectic, but when it comes to mysteries and thrillers I still like the usual suspects: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Ian Fleming, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald. Some of the more contemporary mystery authors I’ve been reading include Michael Connolly, Ian Rankin, Lee Child. Don Winslow’s recent book, The Dawn Patrol, was a great find, particularly because, having lived along the coast of California myself, the idea of a surfing P.I seems perfect to me. The Bust trilogy that Jason Starr and Ken Bruen wrote for Hardcase Crime is a lot of way-out fun, and for some old Vegas flavor the Rat Pack novels of Robert J. Randisi are...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Ragged End of Nowhere, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

The Ragged End of Nowhere won the the 2008 Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut mystery set in the American Southwest.

The Page 69 Test: The Ragged End of Nowhere.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver's bestselling books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction include the novels The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible. Translated into nineteen languages, her work has won a devoted worldwide readership and many awards, including the National Humanities Medal. Her latest book is The Lacuna.

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

Can you remember the first novel you read?

My father read me Oliver Twist.

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

For The Poisonwood Bible I spent an afternoon in the venomous reptiles house of Cincinnati Zoo, waiting to see the inside of a green mamba’s mouth, which is sky blue.

* * *
What book changed your life?

Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence series. I was about 16 when I read the first one. I understood for the first time that fiction is a powerful tool for making people more worldly and ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 27, 2009

David Sibley

David Sibley is the man behind The Sibley Guide to Birds, The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, and The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, among many other respected and well-loved bird guides. His new book is The Sibley Guide to Trees.

From his Q & A with Jill Owens at

Jill Owens: How did you decide to focus on trees for this new book?

David Sibley: About seven or eight years ago, I was out on a book-signing tour promoting my newest bird guide, and I was thinking about what I wanted to do next. I decided that I really wanted to do another big book project. That's what I really like to do. I started searching around for what kind of species to cover in my next book; I didn't want to do another, more in-depth bird guide.

There were a couple of reasons that trees came to the top of the list. First, even while I was out there on the road traveling mostly in cities, I was seeing trees every day. Trees are so much a part of our everyday life, even more than birds. It seemed like knowing about trees would be something virtually anyone can put to use every day.

The other part of the decision was that I have always tried to be an all-around naturalist, and to learn as much as I could about other things besides birds. When I thought about field guides, I've always been a little frustrated with the tree guides, because they really work in a way that bird guides have advanced from many decades ago.

Tree identification makes sense because trees are so easy to approach. [Laughter] If you see a tree that looks interesting, you can walk up to it and pull out your 10-power or 20-power hand lens and study the really microscopic features, like the shape of the bud scale, or whether there are hairs on the underside of the leaf or not. There's no time limit; you can take as long as you need to identify it.

The tree guides have never really advanced beyond the stage where bird guides were 100 years ago, where you held the bird in your hand and you went through a key to figure out what it was. Modern bird guides work a lot more on simple pattern matching, just flipping the pages until you see a picture that matches. Gradually, as you use the book more and get more experienced, you internalize that, and one day you'll just look at a bird and know what it is, and not have to look it up in the book.

I wanted a tree guide that would work more in that way, having lots of illustrations and emphasizing the natural groupings and patterns of variation, so that if you're out on a walk and you saw an interesting leaf shape, or an odd fruit, or unusual bark, you could...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jonathan Lethem

At, Kerry Lauerman interviewed Jonathan Lethem about his new novel, Chronic City. Part of their dialogue:

You've said "Chronic City" came from your distinctly Brooklyn point of view. What kind of critique, do you think, is it of Manhattan?

Of course I shudder if I think I made a deliberate social critique, because it's not mostly a great path for a storyteller to take. But rather than a social critique or especially one of any particular present moment, I felt what I was doing was exploring some of the ambivalent power of Manhattan. And I think it's always resided there, as long as I've been alive and lived next door to Manhattan -- it is a kind of virtual reality. There's something unreal about Manhattan, it's a creation of will and aspiration and money. And unlike most places on earth it's not rooted in its past, it's rooted in its possibilities and its future, and it's always being remade and revamped.

Now, having said that, what makes Manhattan, what makes NYC, what makes the world more complicated than any description, than the one I've just offered, is that it's also real -- people go on living their lives in buildings, eating food, wearing clothes, trying to pay the rent. And I wanted to find a way to put this doubleness into the book. This fact that a place can be a virtual reality and still be so stuck in our world, our real world, that's what I really cared to say about Manhattan.

When I first moved to Manhattan "Motherless Brooklyn" had just come out. In that book, Brooklyn is grounded in this kind of firmament, whereas Manhattan is much more sketchy, changing, fast-paced ...

The compression you've made, I've offered a similar description a few times, and I always look from the Brooklyn point of view that what I find so nourishing of Brooklyn is that it wants to be the big city, but it falls short -- it's always half-renovated, and half-gentrified. So you see these lumps of the future lying alongside the past, the recalcitrant chunks of the past that won't go. And they're just side by side and everyone has to just live with this kind of awkwardness. And whereas Manhattan often tries to remake itself and succeeds, startlingly this crazy new building will come up or crazy new neighborhood will exist and everyone seems to believe in it and move in right away, and it's like, OK, now TriBeCa is...[read on]
Visit Jonathan Lethem's website.

Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn made Douwe Draaisma's five best list of novels that focus on mental disorders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tony Richards

From Kelly Melcher's interview with author Tony Richards at Fandomania:

Kelly Melcher: Would you please start by introducing yourself and how you became interested in writing?

Tony Richards: I’m the author of — so far — four full-length novels, five novellas, and more than eighty short stories, with five collections to my name. I’ve been nominated for both the Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards. And yes, I’m a full time writer.

I’m not sure I did “become interested” in writing. I simply started doing it, from a pretty early age. I’m no kind of artist really, but I started drawing my own comic strips at the age of about nine. And then that progressed to stories by the time that I was twelve. I have no slightest idea why… it’s just the way my brain’s wired.

KM: Your newest work, Night of Demons, has just been released. What is it about, and who is your target audience?

TR: It’s the second novel in a series set in a town called Raine’s Landing, Massachusetts. The first book was called Dark Rain. And the central premise is that there were real witches in Salem, Massachusetts, back in 1692. They got wind of the forthcoming witchcraft trials and left that place before they happened, moving to Raine’s Landing instead. They married into either wealthy families or families who would be wealthy later on. And now, in the present day, they pretty much run the place and the town is full of strange dark magic.

In the current book, a really awful serial killer called Cornelius Hanlon — on the run from the police in Boston — decides to lay low there. But he can’t let go of his old habits. He kills the town’s oldest and most respected adept, and finds himself in possession of an extremely strange magical device that gives him inconceivable powers. He also forges an alliance with a malcontented female adept — it turns out a lot of things are not what they seem, there’s been some bad stuff going on below the surface, and she’s looking for revenge on the whole town. And it’s up to the two central characters — an ex-cop turned detective and a tough, sarcastic waitress — to stop them.

Target audience? Anyone with a lively mind who likes a good, fast-moving, entertaining read, I’d suppose.

KM: Urban fantasy has been exploding lately, and in many cases in seems to be taking themes and elements from the horror genre. In your opinion, where is the line between horror and urban fantasy?

TR: I’ve...[read on]
Visit Tony Richards' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dark Rain.

My Book, The Movie: Dark Rain.

The Page 69 Test: Night of Demons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Steven E. Landsburg

Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester, where students recently elected him Professor of the Year. He is the author of The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, More Sex is Safer Sex, The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics, two textbooks in economics, a forthcoming textbook on general relativity and cosmology, and over 30 journal articles in mathematics, economics and philosophy.

Part of a questionnaire he completed for the BBC:

What’s the most important book of all time?

Newton’s Principia of course. Is there another candidate?

What was your first spoken word?

Probably “more”.

What’s your favourite–and least favourite–word?

The great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson was famously delighted by her discovery of the word mumpsimus, for a person who clings stubbornly to an idea that has been thoroughly debunked. That’s a good one, and I have frequent occasion to use it, but in the end I’m rather partial to the word ambisinistrous, meaning left-handed with both hands. My least favourite word is No.

Bookmarks or corner turning?

Corner turning is vandalism and bookmarks are for the weak. It’s actually not that hard to simply remember where you were. I find it helps to factor the page number. If I’m on page 432, I just remember 16 times 27. (Added later: I filled out this questionnaire over a year ago, in the now seemingly ancient days when I was still reading books. Today I don’t need page numbers; my Kindle knows exactly where I left off.)

Skim ...[read on]
Learn more about the book at The Big Questions website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: More Sex is Safer Sex.

The Page 99 Test: The Big Questions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 23, 2009

Declan Burke

Declan Burke is the author of Eightball Boogie (2003) and The Big O.

Two exchanges from his Q & A with Mike Nicol for South Africa's Crime Beat:

Crime Beat: What’s the average kill count in your novels?

Declan Burke: Pretty low, I have to say. I’m not a fan of gratuitous murders, and I especially hate killing for the sake of advancing a plot, or to get rid of an inconvenient character, or to invoke some undeserved pathos. I think two people died violently in my first novel, Eightball Boogie, and none at all in the second, The Big O. Actually, The Big O was in part conceived as a fun exercise in how authentically I could write a crime novel without any killings and the bare minimum of violence. I had a friend who died young, and violently, so maybe that’s one reason I don’t take lethal violence lightly.

* * *
Crime Beat: Serious stuff now: in a blog you wrote that Irish readers might have an ‘inferiority complex’ when it comes to reading Irish crime fiction. We most definitely have the same problem in South Africa. But I sense that we’re way behind you in terms of backlist and number of writers. Did you have a long tradition of crime fiction to build on? Our tradition rests mostly on the shoulders of one James McClure writing in the 1970s, then Wessel Ebersohn in the 1980s but after his last book in 1990 things went quiet until a motorcycle maniac called Deon Meyer hit the scene in 1998. But the rush, such as it is, really started in 2006. How are you convincing the great unwashed that they should read you and your colleagues? I know, I know, you don’t call them the great unwashed for starters.

Declan Burke: ‘Inferiority complex’ might...[read on]
The Page 99 Test:: The Big O (Irish edition).

The Page 99 Test: The Big O (US edition).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 22, 2009

David Malouf

David Malouf—winner of the inaugural Australia-Asia Literary Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Prix Femina Étranger and the Los Angeles Times Book Award—is the author of, among other works, Remembering Babylon, An Imaginary Life and The Conversations at Curlow Creek.

His new novel is Ransom.

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

What book changed your life?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when I was 12. I was introduced to a world of passion, involvement and violence – all that a kid in a suburban environment doesn’t know exists.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

The people I admire most are the people I couldn’t possibly be like, such as Balzac and Dickens. Tolstoy has also influenced me because of his wonderful capacity to inhabit very different points of view in the same scene.

* * *
What are you most proud of writing?

Imaginary Life. If you’re lucky as a writer you get one “gift” book where you break through into a different kind of writing. That was mine.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 21, 2009

C. J. Box

Edgar Award-winning author C. J. Box is the author of eleven novels including the Joe Pickett series. He’s also won the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, and the Barry Award.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE LAST GOOD KISS by James Crumley. I read it ages ago as a fledgling novelist and suddenly lights went on. I’ve talked to a surprising number of other writers over the years who’ve said the same thing.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Shane. As in the Jack Schaefer western novel.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Thomas...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mary Beard

Mary Beard has a Chair of Classics at the University of Cambridge and is a Fellow of Newnham College. She is classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement and author of the highly enlightening and engaging blog "A Don's Life."

A few exchanges from her Q & A with Boyd Tonkin in the Independent:

Choose a favourite author and say why you admire them

Tacitus: he's difficult, but the difficulty rewards you – like a Latin Joyce. He uses Latin in a cranky, weird way. It's so in-your-face, going utterly against the norms of Cicero.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

When I was younger I liked to imagine myself as a cross between Jane Eyre
and some hapless Margaret Drabble heroine – a horribly self-regarding position to take.

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

Classicists take a pretty grim view of heroes. If I had to pick, then Elizabeth Fry – because the black hole of British culture is the penal system. And I think I'd resurrect Lord Reith, because we need the BBC.
Read the complete Q & A.

Beard's Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (US title: The Fires of Vesuvius) is on Jamie Merrill's list of ten history books capable of improv[ing] your general knowledge.

The Page 99 Test: The Roman Triumph.

The Page 99 Test: The Fires of Vesuvius.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jeremy Duns

From a Q & A with Jeremy Duns, the author of the Paul Dark trilogy: Free Agent was published by Viking in hardback in June 2009; Free Country is due to be published next year, and Free World in 2011.

Q. What made you decide to make your protagonist a double agent?

I wanted to write a spy thriller set in the Cold War, but I wanted to bring a fresh perspective to it rather than simply repeating what had already been done. The hunt for a double agent, or mole, is a plot in many spy novels of that period, but very few take the viewpoint of the moles. I wondered what it would have been like to be one of the Cambridge Ring. How would it have felt to deceive everyone around you and live in constant fear of exposure? It seemed like an interesting and suspenseful situation and I thought it would allow me to explore the Cold War through new eyes.

Q. Of the many now-infamous British double agents, who do you think was most interesting and why?

I find them all interesting, but I’d have to say Kim Philby. He got the furthest of them all, becoming very senior in MI6, and almost everyone who knew him found him extremely intelligent and charming company. In his memoirs, published in the late sixties, he painted a picture of himself as a man who stuck to his principles through thick and thin. But some of those who knew him in his later years in Moscow have since revealed that he was terribly disappointed by the reality of life under Soviet rule. There’s been much more written about him than the others, but for good reason, I think.

Q. Is Dark himself based on a real double agent?

He has a roughly similar background to...[read on]
Also see the interview at The Rap Sheet in which British features writer and freelance critic Gordon Harries questioned Jeremy Duns about Free Agent.

What is Jeremy Duns reading?

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Matthew Aaron Goodman

From "5 or So Questions for Matthew Aaron Goodman, author of Hold Love Strong," at Tayari Jones's blog:

Was there a particular trigger that got you started on this novel?

Stand in a small hot, overcrowded room with folks and eventually you either sing and live or stay silent and die. It isn't solely about mortality. I'm talking about your human spirit, that fire that keeps one alive. You can get jaded or impervious or indifferent too, or you can fill with some other variation and/or derivative of hate. What I mean is I don't want any part of my spirit suppressed or snuffed out, and I don't want any part of the spirit of the people I loved snuffed out either. Hell no. If I knew how to play a trumpet or a trombone or a clarinet, then I wouldn't have written a word. But I don't, so I had to write.

What do you hope to accomplish by publishing
Hold Love Strong? What would have to happen for you to know you have succeeded? Has it happened already?

How about...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Hold Love Strong, and learn more about the book and author at Matthew Aaron Goodman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hold Love Strong.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Karen Dionne

Karen Dionne's Freezing Point was published in September, 2008. Her second book, Boiling Point, is scheduled for publication in 2010. David Morrell has called her “the new Michael Crichton.”

From her Q & A with Sandra Parshall at Poe's Deadly Daughters:

Q. You’re not a scientist and don’t have an education in any scientific field. Why did you choose to write about science and the moral dilemmas of scientists?

A. I think all writers are drawn to the subjects that interest them most. I’ve always loved science, particularly anything to do with the natural world. I ended up choosing a different career path than pursuing a university degree, so now, I get my science fix by writing thrillers with a scientific bent. Not only do I get to learn more about the subjects that fascinate me, I can people my novels with engineers and experts and every sort of -ologist and live vicariously through them.

Q. Do you have advisors who help you make sure the science is accurate and your scenarios are plausible? How did you find them? What advice would you give to unpublished writers who may be hesitant to approach experts for help?

A. I’d be lost without my experts. For Freezing Point, I consulted with microwave scientists, explosives experts, and medical experts in the fields that are touched on in the book. More recently, while researching my new novel, I found a professor who’s an expert on South American volcanos after I read an article in which he was quoted. I went to his university’s website, found his email address, and sent him a short note explaining who I was and asking if he had time for a few questions. That conversation eventually led to a completely new plot point for Boiling Point which promises to be very exciting. Without his input, I doubt I would ever have discovered it on my own.

All of the experts I’ve talked to have...[read on]
Visit Karen Dionne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hannah Friedman

From a Q & A with Hannah Friedman, author of Everything Sucks: Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest for Cool:

Why did you decide to write a memoir about boarding school?

This is all stuff I wish some big sister would have told me when I was in high school. There's a lot of great teen fiction, but it's very ... fictitious. It's fairy tales about idealized romances, and these girls don't have real problems. They're not worried about their period, or if their breasts are normal.

Does it feel odd to publish a memoir at such a young age, about a time that is only five years behind you?

It made sense to me to write this memoir now, because it's fresh in my memory. These people are still sometimes in my life ... or in my Facebook feed. I'm still in touch with those experiences and emotions. If I had waited until I was 40, I don't think it would be realistic. And teenagers deserve an honest memoir just as much as adults do.

You don't seem to hold anything back. In one scene, you're naked and vomiting. In another, you're abusing laxatives. Was it difficult to be that honest?

Once I decided...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cormac McCarthy

Two exchanges from Cormac McCarthy's Q & A with John Jurgensen for the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: When you discussed making "The Road" into a movie with [director John Hillcoat], did he press you on what had caused the disaster in the story?

CM: A lot of people ask me. I don't have an opinion. At the Santa Fe Institute I'm with scientists of all disciplines, and some of them in geology said it looked like a meteor to them. But it could be anything—volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who've gone diving in Yellowstone Lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it could go on Thursday. No one knows.

* * *
WSJ: For novels such as "Blood Meridian," you did extensive historical research. What kind of research did you do for "The Road"?

CM: I don't know. Just talking to people about what things might look like under various catastrophic situations, but not a lot of research. I have these conversations on the phone with my brother Dennis, and quite often we get around to some sort of hideous end-of-the-world scenario and we always wind up just laughing. Anyone listening to this would say, "Why don't you just go home and get into a warm tub and open a vein." We talked about if there was a small percentage of the human population left, what would they do? They'd probably divide up into little tribes and when everything's gone, the only thing left to eat is each other. We know that's true historically.
Read the complete interview if you're a Wall Street Journal subscriber.

The Road appears on Robert Lee Brewer's list of the ten best dystopian novels ever written, Pedro Hoffmeister's list of five titles with lessons to turn a post-apocalyptic novel into a thriller, Malcolm Devlin’s list of eight zombie stories without any zombies, Michael Christie's list of ten novels to reconfigure our conception of nature for the better, Emily Temple's list of the ten books that defined the 2000s, Ceridwen Christensen's list of ten novels that end their apocalypses on a beach, Steph Post's top ten list of classic (and perhaps not so classic) road trip books, a list of five of the best climate change novels, Claire Fuller's top five list of extreme survival stories, Justin Cronin's top ten list of world-ending novels, Rose Tremain's six best books list, Ian McGuire's ten top list of adventure novels, Alastair Bruce's top ten list of books about forgetting, Jeff Somers's lists of five science fiction novels that really should be considered literary classics and eight good, bad, and weird dad/child pairs in science fiction and fantasy, Amelia Gray's ten best dark books list, Weston Williams's top fifteen list of books with memorable dads, ShortList's roundup of the twenty greatest dystopian novels, Mary Miller's top ten list of the best road books, Joel Cunningham's list of eleven "literary" novels that include elements of science fiction, fantasy or horror, Claire Cameron's list of five favorite stories about unlikely survivors, Isabel Allende's six favorite books list, the Telegraph's list of the 15 most depressing books, Joseph D’Lacey's top ten list of horror books, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five unforgettable fathers from fiction, Ken Jennings's list of eight top books about parents and kids, Anthony Horowitz's top ten list of apocalypse books, Karen Thompson Walker's list of five notable "What If?" books, John Mullan's list of ten of the top long walks in literature, Tony Bradman's top ten list of father and son stories, Ramin Karimloo's six favorite books list, Jon Krakauer's five best list of books about mortality and existential angst, William Skidelsky's list of the top ten most vivid accounts of being marooned in literature, Liz Jensen's top 10 list of environmental disaster stories, the Guardian's list of books to change the climate, David Nicholls' top ten list of literary tear jerkers, and the Times (of London) list of the 100 best books of the decade. In 2009 Sam Anderson of New York magazine claimed "that we'll still be talking about [The Road] in ten years."

Fans of The Road include Paulette Jiles, Joshua Clark, David Dobbs, Andrew Pyper, Dan Rather, Jim Lehrer, Michael J. Fox, Mark McGurl, and this guy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Michael Oriard

From a Q & A with Michael Oriard, author of Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era:

Q: How did your experience as an All-American at Notre Dame during the period of social change you write about in Bowled Over influence your perspective?

A: My own experience playing football at Notre Dame in the 1960s is a touchstone in numerous ways for how I think about college football's subsequent history and the game today. I was extremely fortunate, a beneficiary of a system that anyone who follows the sport knows does not benefit everyone. As a walk-on, I arrived in college with education as my top priority; my Notre Dame football career then worked out in almost fairytale fashion, but without ever challenging that fundamental priority. I know that my experience was not typical for my generation, but neither was it unique. (Believing one or the other is dangerous in writing from personal experience.) I played with teammates who arrived with scholarships and much greater expectations from the sport, but they were also students (the starting offensive line on which I played in 1968 had an average GPA of 3.4). As I have followed college football in recent decades, at my own university and around the country through the media, I have come to doubt that the kind of academic experience that was available to all of us, if we chose it, is even available today.

My experience thus brings home to me how the pressures on "student-athletes" and their time commitments in big-time college football have increased since I played, and not to the benefit of the "student" in the "student-athlete." My experience also makes me aware of how much more commercialized the game has become since the 1960s, how much more money flows in and out of the sport, again not to the benefit of the young men who play. In these and many other ways, my experience shapes my view of how the "system" of big-time football has changed, but at the same time it keeps me from forgetting that football players are individual people, like myself and my teammates forty years ago, not the one-dimensional figures in the headlines denouncing the latest scandal. Football players have been stereotyped, in both positive and negative ways, for decades, and my experience prevents me from believing the stereotypes. It does not enable me to know exactly what it's like to play big-time college football today; rather, it keeps me from assuming that I can know on the basis of what I read or see on television.

Having played (and come of age) in an era of extraordinary social change also keeps me from subscribing to the stereotyped views of the politics of the 1960s and of the politics of football. More on that below.

* * *

Q: Is there a fundamental contradiction that lies at the heart of big-time college football?

A: Yes. Everyone who...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 13, 2009

Marcus Sakey

Marcus Sakey is the author of The Blade Itself, At the City's Edge, Good People, and The Amateurs.

From his Q & A with Dana Kaye:

Me: Talk a little about your writing process. How has it changed from book #1 to #4?

Marcus: More than I thought it would. That old axiom about every book being different? It's spot-on true. I've become a more organized writer with each book, which helps when the fear sets in. I outline the overall shape, and where it makes sense, I apply a three-act structure. There's less wing-it-and-pray and more take-this-hang-glider-off-the-cliff-and-still-pray. This is a strange and scary way to make a living. You need to strike a balance between planning and inspiration. Lean too far either direction and you're likely to end up with something that's either stale or scattered. I guess the biggest change is that having done this a couple of times, I know to expect certain traps. I know that around page 200 I'm going to hate the whole damn project. I know that nearing the end, I'm going to hit problems that seem unresolvable. But I also know that (fingers crossed) if I just keep banging my head against them, eventually I'll break through.

Me: What research do you do for your novels?

Marcus: I tend to research all the fun stuff. I've ridden with gang cops, gone shooting with Special Forces, toured the morgue, learned how to make chemical weapons, practiced picking a deadbolt. Generally, if research involves a fair chance of hurting myself, I'm in.

Me: THE AMATEURS is about 4 friends; are these characters based on people you know?

Marcus: The characters...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Blade Itself.

The Page 69 Test: At the City's Edge.

The Page 69 Test: Good People.

The Page 99 Test: The Amateurs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jeff Wasserstrom

Two exchanges from Jeff Wasserstrom's Q & A at Urbananatomy Shanghai:

Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?

Pankaj Mishra. There are other people I try to read whenever they publish something new. In the China field, for example, I try to keep up with Geremie Barmé (not easy, given how prolific he is!), and I’ve never been disappointed by anything Evan Osnos has done for The New Yorker. I always learn something new (about the world or just about language) from book reviews by Perry Anderson, and the same goes for those of Pico Iyer. But Pankaj still stands out. I loved his first novel, The Romantics, and all the short pieces of his I’ve seen on topics ranging from contemporary Chinese writers to nineteenth century European novelists, from U.S. policy toward Pakistan to the allure of Western popular music when he was growing up in India. He’s the one person for whom I’ve set up a 'Google Alert' account, so that I’d get an automatic e-mail telling me whenever he had something new come out. (I ended up doing away with that, incidentally, as I kept getting messages about other Pankaj Mishras, who were mentioned in news stories about disaster relief, had written about cricket and so on — turns out, he just doesn’t have a very unusual name.)

* * *
What are you working on now and when is it out?

I’m very glad you asked. I just sent in the manuscript of a new book, China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, which will come out early in 2010 and be part of a series that Oxford University Press is doing (all the works in it have the same subtitle). It is a very short book in a question and answer format. In it, I try to give concise, sensible, and I hope engagingly written replies to the sorts of queries I get after giving public talks. Why is China still governed by a Communist Party, after so many other similar regimes have fallen? Is Chinese nationalism something to worry about? Why is China holding an Expo so soon after hosting an Olympics? Those sorts of things.

It’s aimed at general readers not fellow academics, and I see it as the kind of thing that would be ideal to pick up at the airport bookstore en route to China for the first time, or that an expat might want send to a brother or sister about to come over to visit as a present. It has a lot on sources of misunderstanding between the U.S. and China, as that’s something I’ve thought a lot about and something that should concern people who are neither American nor Chinese, given how important the relationship between the two countries has become. (Too bad it won’t be out in time for someone to suggest that Obama read it before heading to China!). I won’t brag about the text, as that would be unseemly, but I can say it has...[read on]
Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. His publications include China's Brave New World and Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China: The View from Shanghai. He is a regular contributor to academic journals and has also written for a variety of general interest periodicals, including Newsweek, The Nation, the TLS, New Left Review, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. He also writes at The China Beat.

The Page 69 Test: China's Brave New World.

The Page 99 Test: Global Shanghai, 1850–2010.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer is the author of the best-selling "Twilight Saga" series.

Last summer Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg interviewed her for the Wall Street Journal. Part of their Q & A:

WSJ: Do you consider your books to be character-driven or plot driven? Where do you put your emphasis most?

Mrs. Meyer: Absolutely character driven. The plot comes from the characters. If you have interesting personalities, the stories write themselves. Some writers love intricate plotting, some love the beauty of language. For me it's all about the people -- always.

WSJ: Why do you think certain books emerge as cultural totems?

Mrs. Meyer: I don't know. I read books that are amazing that nobody has heard of. Bookstores can be overwhelming. Word of mouth is a huge part of it. Publishing isn't about big commercials on TV. With "Twilight" it was people passing books onto their friends. That's how it started. Now it's out of control. People want to know what other people are talking about, and it gets bigger and bigger.

WSJ: "Breaking Dawn" closes the series, at least as told through Bella's eyes. Were you able to tie up all the storylines?

Mrs. Meyer: I was very satisfied with the end, but I wouldn't say it's completely tied up. Life doesn't work that way. The characters seem real to me, so you can't say that's the end. Nothing is really final. Readers will get the sense of closure. But they'll still want to know what happens next. There are always more stories.

WSJ: The books have some heavy breathing, but they are ultimately chaste. What do you hear from your readers on this subject?...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Karen Solomon

Karen Solomon is the author of 2007’s The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to San Francisco (Globe Pequot Press) and contributing author to Chow! San Francisco Bay Area: 300 Affordable Places for Great Meals & Good Deals (Sasquatch Press). Her recent book is Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.

From her interview with Megan Zabel of

Megan: You said in the introduction to Jam It that the book isn't meant to answer the question, "What's for dinner?" You write, "I'm a crafter, and food is my medium of choice." I really love the idea of kitchen crafts. Was food always your medium, or did it take you awhile to find your niche?

Solomon: Not always. It did take a while. My partner and I both work, and we had a kid about two and a half years ago. When you're living that life, dinner happens in about 22 minutes. What you eat every night — we call it "people chow" — is a stir fry or a quick-ass pasta, something that's sustenance. We're not big fans of eating out every night, so it got to be that every meal being eaten, Monday through Thursday, wasn't the kind of cooking that I love to do. I love to take time and make something wonderful and beautiful that tastes fantastic, and that just wasn't happening. I started thinking, Okay, what can I do on the weekends that's going to satisfy that creative kitchen urge, and also yield something really wonderful that I can enjoy throughout the week, or throughout the month? So that's how the book got started.

Megan: You cover a lot of ground in the book — from jam, pickles, and pastas to curing bacon and smoking trout. What inspired you to learn all these somewhat varied kitchen skills?

Solomon: I was doing a lot of...[read on]
Visit the official Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 9, 2009

Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier's historical fantasy novels are published internationally and have won a number of awards.

Her new book is Heart’s Blood.

From her Q & A at Writer Unboxed:

Q: What’s the premise of your new book?

JM: The major theme of Heart’s Blood is acceptance: learning to see beyond people’s outward flaws to their inner qualities. Parallel with that is learning to accept yourself. Acceptance lies at the heart of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, on which Heart’s Blood is loosely based. It means coming to terms with the past, good and bad. Communication and miscommunication form another theme. Heart’s Blood contains extracts from diaries, letters and journals, which weave the stories of past generations into the main narrative. And then there are the mirrors …

Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

JM: The first person narrator, Caitrin, is a skilled scribe. Running away from home, she ends up at Whistling Tor, the crumbling fortress of reclusive chieftain Anluan, where she is hired to sort and transcribe a disordered collection of family documents. As she works through these, Caitrin uncovers a dark story spanning four generations. At the same time, her presence triggers profound changes in Anluan’s eccentric household.

This is not simply a fairy...[read on]
Visit Juliet Marillier's website to learn more about her books and works in progress, and read her "author's spotlight" essay at the Random House website.

Writers Read: Juliet Marillier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 8, 2009

William Ferris

From a conversation with William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart East: Voices of the Mississippi Blues (University of North Carolina Press, November 2009):

Q: In the introduction to Give My Poor Heart Ease, you mention that "While I may live and work in other places, my real home is the farm. It is my spiritual compass." How so? And what was it that ultimately led you away from your family's farm and down Highway 61?

A: Growing up in an isolated rural community with the black and white families who lived near my home shaped me in deep, lasting ways. Stories told by my grandfather, books read aloud by my mother, and hymns sung at Rose Hill Church are memories that to this day are incredibly vivid. These voices shaped my identity in deep, lasting ways.

What ultimately led me away from my family's farm was education: first to Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts, then to Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and finally to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Earl MacCormac, my philosophy professor at Davidson College, later told me that I had "more degrees than a thermometer."

While these schools were far from my family's farm, each in their own way helped me tack a course back down Highway 61. While at Brooks School in the late fifties, I began a pattern of recording and photographing musicians each time I returned to the farm. As a graduate student in folklore at the University of Pennsylvania in the late sixties, this work became the focus of my dissertation. It was also at the University of Pennsylvania that I began to use film to document the blues worlds in which I found myself increasingly immersed.

Q: You began collecting images and recordings for this book at a very young age. How old were you when you began? What time span does the book cover?

A: I began taking photographs at the age of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is the author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, which won the Whitbread First Novel Award in 1985. Her second novel, The Passion, won the John Llewllyn Rhys Prize in 1987, and was followed by Sexing the Cherry, which won the 1989 EM Forster Award. Her other works include The Powerbook, Written on the Body, Arts and Lies, Boating for Beginners, The World and Other Places, and a collection of eassays, Art Objects. Her latest book is The Battle of the Sun.

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

What book changed your life?
The Bible shaped me; Virginia Woolf’s Orlando shaped my imagination; and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities gave me the courage to write whatever I wanted.

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

Meryl Streep.

* * *
What book do you wish you’d written?

Tom Jones. I love the bounce of the writing and I’m drawn to orphan stories.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 6, 2009

Martin Amis

Linda L. Richards interviewed Martin Amis in 2000 about his memoir, Experience.

Part of their dialogue:

Was it difficult writing a memoir?

It's a great surprise to some, because people think that writing is a cerebral business but, in fact, your whole body is involved. That really came home to me when I was writing Experience. I thought I had suddenly succumbed to some ravage of age, because while I was writing the book my sleep patterns changed completely. I suddenly needed about 14 hours of sleep a night. I was like one of my teenaged sons on a weekend, staggering out of bed at four o'clock in the afternoon and wanting more sleep and finding that dozing state incredibly delicious. So, I thought: I'm really slowing down, soon I'll be up for a couple of hours a day and then be going back to bed again. But the minute I stopped writing the memoir, I went back to how I was before. My whole metabolism switched. Because it was front brain emotion rather than the novel which is much more subliminal. You're using a different part of the brain.

With the novel you're creating. With the memoir you're sort of dredging.

Yeah. And you're also writing directly about the things you really care about. I suppose it partly was also a cognitive stretch of grieving for the father. But it wasn't just that.

Why a memoir? Why now?

For the reasons given in the first chapter, really. It was all public already, so I didn't feel I was revealing anything. I was just trying to get rid...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Derek Nikitas

Derek Nikitas teaches creative writing at Eastern Kentucky University. Pyres, his first novel, was an Edgar nominee. His new novel is The Long Division.

From his 2008 interview with New Mystery magazine:

Given your academic pedigree (the MFA, published stories in Ontario Review), what drew you to crime fiction?

I got psyched about crime fiction while at UNCW. I took a crime fiction class and a saw a lot of film noir, so there was never any razor-wire fence between my academic and my aesthetic stomping grounds.

Yeah, there's some truth to the divide between academic "literary" fiction and beach "commercial crime" fiction, since nobody would accuse James Patterson or the Kellermans of being "literary," and nobody would call Dom DeLillo or Lorrie Moore "commercial." But my heroes shred that line: Vladimir Nabokov, Joyce Carol Oates, James Ellroy, Michael Chabon, Denis Johnson, Tom Franklin. These folks tell page-turning tales of crime and mayhem, but they've got deep character, rich language, and rebel story structures. So I'm looking to these guys for my inspiration, generally.

Still, I was surprised when an actual police detective entered Pyres. I'd written a hundred pages before I realized I'd be tossing around that particular convention. I resisted some, but Investigator Hurd is tougher than I am.

But do you think there's still a bias in academia to exile genre fiction to some kind of literary ghetto?

I can’t speak for all of academia, but...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Long Division, and learn more about the book and author at the official Derek Nikitas website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Long Division.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sophie Hannah

At Poe's Deadly Daughters, Sandra Parshall interviewed Sophie Hannah, a bestselling crime fiction writer and poet. Her psychological thrillers include Little Face, Hurting Distance, and The Wrong Mother (UK title: The Point of Rescue).

Part of their dialogue:

Q. You wrote several non-genre novels before turning to suspense. What lured you over to the dark side?

A. I've always been obsessed with mystery fiction, since I was a kid. My parents bought me one of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven mysteries when I was about five or six, and I remember reading it and thinking, “Stories with mysteries in them are so much better than those without -- why don't all books have mysteries in them?” I've never really changed my mind on that point. I read all of Enid Blyton, then discovered Agatha Christie and read all her books, then Ruth Rendell... I'm a mystery addict, really! I think it's because I'm quite nosy. In real life, I'm always desperate to know something -- what someone's thinking, what's going on behind the scenes in people's lives that they don't talk about -- and the great thing about suspense fiction is that you know your nosiness is going to be satisfied at the end of the book.

Q. Why did you choose to write suspense rather than traditional whodunnits told primarily from the sleuth’s or police detective’s POV? What is it about the suspense form that you find rewarding as a writer?

A. Well, each of my books combines two narrative perspectives. I always have a female protagonist in some kind of nightmarish situation, and half of each book is narrated in the first person by the heroine of that particular book. But then the other half is in...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sophie Hannah's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hurting Distance.

The Page 69 Test: Little Face.

My Book, The Movie: Little Face and Hurting Distance.

The Page 69 Test: The Wrong Mother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Edmund White

Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, A Married Man, and Hotel de Dream. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and his memoir, My Lives. His new book is City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s.

From his interview with Thomas Rogers at Salon:

I'm assuming you read the Gore Vidal interview in the Times of London. He says a number of very nasty things about you -- but he also makes accusations that you "gayed-up" his relationship with Tim McVeigh in your play "Terre Haute."

He signed off on it. Now, late in the day, he's decided he doesn't like it, or maybe he forgot -- he drinks a lot. The tension for the [Gore-inspired] character is that he doesn't actually approve of what McVeigh did, but he's attracted to McVeigh as a man and as a personality -- whereas Gore actually approves of what McVeigh did and thinks he's a great freedom fighter.

That's complete lunacy. Gore wanted me to rewrite it to show a lot more sympathy toward McVeigh, but I thought that would lose about 99 percent of the audience. I don't approve of killing hundreds of people in the name of some abstract ideal. I think Gore is a complete lunatic, and it doesn't bother me what he says about me. He's an awful, nasty man. Now he can't write. He's wheelchair-bound, and he's in pain. He lost his lover of many years. The last time I talked to him I said, "Come to dinner, and I'll have some cute boys for you to meet." "Oh, I don't want to meet any of them!" You know, he's just an old grouch.

He's been nice to me over the years, but he's always like this seething volcano and you're always wondering when he's going to go off.

I don't know what he's famous for anywhere, really, because I think those historical novels are complete works of taxidermy. Nobody can read those. "Myra Breckinridge" was funny but light. The essays are what everybody defends -- but a friend of mine who did a volume of the best essays of the 20th century said they're all so topical that they've all aged terribly. I don't know where his work is. You have to have one or two books that are actually good if you're going to have a lasting career, and I don't think...[read on]
Read about Edmund White's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue