Thursday, December 31, 2009

Alice Munro

Now 78, Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. Her new book is Too Much Happiness.

She has published fourteen previous books — Dance of the Happy Shades; Lives of Girls and Women, Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You; Who Do You Think You Are?; The Moons of Jupiter; The Progress of Love; Friend of My Youth; Open Secrets; Selected Stories; The Love of a Good Woman; Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage; Runaway; The View from Castle Rock; and Alice Munro’s Best. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the recent Man Booker International Prize given to her in Dublin for “a body of work that has contributed to an achievement in fiction on the world stage.”

From her Q & A with Alexandra Alter for the Wall Street Journal:

Wall Street Journal:A lot of the stories in the new collection are tinged with violence. Where did that come from?

Ms. Munro: I didn't realize until the book was finished. I knew that the first story was a real zinger that way. In fact, I haven't been able to reread it. It's too disturbing…I didn't intend there to be a violent motif going through the book, but it's there and this can happen without your being aware of it…The first story was not copied from anything, but this is really strange: There has been a very similar murder in the last six months which is the same thing of a father killing his children to save them from the evil of the world, and the mother being left to confront them.

You seem immune to literary fads. Do you consciously try to stick to plain story telling and character driven narratives?

I read this about myself, the unadorned style. It's just like your clothes are plain. And I don't think of my writing this way. I don't deliberately keep it that way. There are writers I admire like, say, Nabokov, if I wrote like that I would be perfectly happy. It's not an artistic decision.

How long do you typically work on an individual story?

Some stories...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

C. E. Lawrence

Debra Webb interviewed C. E. Lawrence for ITW's The Big Thrill. Part of their Q & A:

Publishers Weekly likened your work to Keith Ablow -- quite a compliment -- is psychology a field that particularly intrigues you? How do you go about your research to capture such a sophisticated characterization of a psychologist-turned-criminal profiler?

As a writer and an actor, psychology is one of the subjects that I do find endlessly fascinating. If you read the great writers, even pre-Freud, they pretty much knew what was going on in people's heads.

Though at school I was an English/German major, I've been studying psychology and criminal psychology for quite a few years now. I have an extensive library of books on the subject, and I took an excellent course in criminal psychology at John Jay College from Dr. Lewis Schlesinger. I was also in therapy myself for a number of years, and that helped too. I think my therapist sometimes got frustrated when instead of talking about myself, I would ask her about her job - but I really wanted to know!

With lots of great stories out there involving serial killers, what decisions did you make as you developed the story to create a unique killer?

One thing I did was to write some chapters from his point of view. It helped me to find my way into his head, to experience motivation from the inside out. I also hoped it would be interesting for the reader to have a ringside seat, so to speak - as well as rather creepy (in a good way, I hope).

In real life the...[read on]
Visit C. E. Lawrence's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Philip Roth

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House, and in 2002 received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, and Saul Bellow, among others. He has twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

His latest novel is The Humbling.

From his Q & A with the Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg:

Any new writers that you would recommend?

I don't follow what's going on with modern fiction.

Who do you consider your peers?

I have quite a few peers. Don DeLillo. Ed Doctorow. Reynolds Price. Joyce Carol Oates. Toni Morrison. It's a pretty good generation. We just lost three giants in the last couple of years. Saul Bellow. Norman Mailer. And John Updike. American literature is a powerful literature. These people are all of the first rank.

Is there something wrong with American literature today?

American literature today is the strongest literature in the world.

Are you online, and if so, what sites do you visit?

Yes, ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2009

Heather Graham

Carolyn Haines interviewed Heather Graham for ITW's The Big Thrill. Part of their Q & A:

Night of the Wolves is your newest book, a historical paranormal thriller set in New Orleans and Victory, Texas. This is the first in a trilogy, I believe. Tell us a little about the book and where the idea came from.

Night of the Wolves was a lot of fun -- but the concept didn't actually begin seriously. I was joking when I first suggested vampires in the wild, wild west, but the idea definitely grew on me! I incorporated history I find fascinating and incredibly poignant--a lot of what went on during the Civil War--or, as I was taught, growing up in the Florida--the War of Northern Aggression. But there are no sides taken in the story--both of the main characters are weary of the fighting and the death. West Texas at the time was still a very wild land where the law was difficult to uphold. It was still a frontier. But still, certain bizarre murders were bound to call attention, and military men know when they see something has little to do with war.

Night of the Wolves
is the start of a loose trilogy; the characters from this book will make appearances in the next two. Each book, however, stands alone.

You're known to create vivid heroes and heroines. Do you begin with a plot idea or a character or does it vary?

When I'm writing, the germ of the idea might come from a person who has intrigued me, a situation, or a place. I think that everyone has gone somewhere and wondered what gave the place a particular feel, or heard a fascinating true story that might lead to a great deal more. In this instance, the germ was simple--vampires in the wild, wild West!

Do you believe in ghosts or paranormal encounters?

As far as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Simon Kuper

Simon Kuper is the author of Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey — Even Iraq — Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport, written with the economist Stefan Syzmanski.

From his Q & A with Jack Bell at the New York Times:

Q. The book has just been published in the U.S. after having been published in England in August. What has the reaction been like over there?

A. Mostly good, the ration of good to bad reviews is probably 4-to-1 in England. In the U.S. the initial response has been more positive. That may not last. In England everyone thinks they know it already and that it’s their job to set author right. Americans are more literate on the economics than Europeans. They recognize that economics makes things go.

Q. In a snippet, what is the heart of the matter in the book?

A. The heart of the matter is that the thinking in soccer is outdated, backward and tradition-based. It needs a fresh look based on data. There’s a new global map, with countries like the U.S. and Japan already rising. And they will continue to rise at the expense of Europe as knowledge gets disbursed. And it’s happening very quickly.

One example from the book: I went to conference of professional locators in Rome and it got me thinking how silly some things are in football, where the only real resource is the players. Clubs spend enormous amounts of money to buy and transport then and then just drop them don’t do anything to help them adapt. How are they going to fit in Middlesbrough or Madrid? Most teams just say get on with it. It’s military-based. In the game there’s an admiration for military people, in Britain it goes back to 1945. The game is rooted in a male working class that is strong. And the model is a soldier who doesn’t complain, a warrior.

So a player moves with his family and if his wife is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2009

David Finkel

David Finkel is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post and author of The Good Soldiers. He spent eight months with a battalion of American soldiers near Baghdad, 800 men and women from Fort Riley, Kansas, who were part of the “surge” of troops to Iraq begining in 2007.

From his Q & A with Ian Fisher of the New York Times:

Q. Your book starts in 2007, when Iraq pretty much looked lost and even many early supporters were throwing up their hands. Americans seemed to feel they already knew too much about Iraq and the war. Why write then? What did you want to show?

A. You’re right about 2007. As I wrote in the book of the surge’s beginning, in January 2007, “To most Americans, who polls showed were fed up and wanted the troops brought home, the moment at hand was of tragedy, beyond which would be only loss.” Such a moment, of course, would interest any writer. Also, the great policy books of the war had been published by then, and memoirs were coming out, but no one had done a book based on observed journalism, the kind where you plant yourself in the middle of something and document, without agenda, what happens. That’s what this book attempts to do. I didn’t want to write a book about the Iraq war so much as use the war to write intimately about the character of young men, and if the book is successful, it’s because it’s a story pretty much about any soldiers in any war. What did I want to show? That’s what I wanted to show. I had no idea what would happen. I just wanted to be there, see it, write it.

Q. It is the characters, in fact, who make your book so alive: Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who says, “It’s all good” no matter what terrible things are in front of his eyes and who might have been a cartoon in many people’s books but is not in yours; Sgt. Adam Schumann, the great soldier who finally had to face that he’d been through too much; Stephanie Kauzlarich, the colonel’s wife, who struggled with how to answer the question of how she was with: “I’m sick of being a single parent. I’m sick of not having sex. Is that what I say? That life sucks?” This is tough stuff, not all flattering but very real. How did the Second Battalion, 16th Infantry and their families react to having you watching so closely? How did you balance the journalist’s eye to tell all with the close bond you obviously forged with...[read on]
Read more about The Good Soldiers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dan Brown

From Dan Brown's Q & A with the Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg:

WSJ: What are your hopes for [The Lost Symbol]?

Mr. Brown: After "The Da Vinci Code" was published, people came up to me and said they hadn't read anything since high school or college, but that they'd now rediscovered the fun of reading. I hope that happens again.

WSJ: Do you ever suffer from writer's block?

Mr. Brown: No. I've got four refrigerator-size boxes of pages that didn't make it into "The Lost Symbol." I probably wrote ten novels' worth of material for this book.

WSJ: How much fact checking do you do?

Mr. Brown: The research is multi-layered. I'll go to a place that I want to write about as often as three times to make sure that the descriptions are exactly right. You can't always know from one or two visits which detail you are going to want to include. And I'll talk to the building's historian or specialist to make sure that what I've got is correct. Nobody reads the manuscript before it goes to the publisher. But my publisher has fact checkers, and you go through a very high level of scrutiny. That said, I'm weaving facts into a story of fiction.

WSJ: Has wealth changed you?

Mr. Brown: ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stephen L. Carter

At Publishers Weekly, Leonard Picker interviewed Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter, author of the novels The Emperor of Ocean Park and New England White. A sample from the Q & A:

What led you to try your hand at fiction?

Fiction is something that I always wanted to do. When I was a little boy, I used to buy spiral notebooks at the corner store and write little novels in them. From that time, I always wanted to write fiction, and my first novel came about after many years of working on characters and scenes in my mind, and finally, I came up with a story to fit them.

New England White isn't written in the first person like The Emperor of Ocean Park. Was it because one of the main characters, Julia Carlyle, is a woman?

No, the decision to write in the third person came first. The initial version of the plot didn't have Julia in a major role. Writing The Emperor of Ocean Park in the first person was extremely difficult for me to do. Trying to invent a tone of voice and keep that tone going for a whole novel of several hundred pages was really a great deal of work. I found writing in the third person much more satisfying and, in some ways, easier to pull off.

When you wrote your first novel, did you already plan on using Julia and her husband in a future book?

I think...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Robert Crais

Joe Pike, a supporting character in Robert Crais' Elvis Cole series, is the central character in the recently released The First Rule, Crais's second crime thriller to feature Pike.

From Crais' Q & A about the new books with Jordan Foster at Publishers Weekly:

Why did you focus on Eastern European organized crime?

Over the years living in Los Angeles, I've been hearing about the growing criminal element from Eastern Europe. With Joe Pike, if he's going to be a dragon slayer, you need a dragon to slay. Everything I've learned from my law enforcement friends about the Eastern European gangs says that they're as tough, dangerous, and merciless as they come.

How did you do your research?

I've developed quite a network of friends in all levels of law enforcement, from LAPD through ATF and Secret Service. I've been out with the ATF shooting machine guns. That's a great way to not write for an afternoon, but it also gives me all the little details that make a satisfying and rich read. Joe isn't a gun nut who likes guns for guns' sake. He sees them as necessary tools of his trade. There's no emotional rush. If he were a woodsman, he'd...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

José Saramago

José Saramago is the author of 18 novels, including Baltasar and Blimunda and Blindness. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

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

Which literary character most resembles you?

Señor José in my novel All the Names.

Who are your literary influences?

Everything I’ve read has influenced me in some way. Having said that, Kafka, Borges, Gogol, Montaigne, Cervantes are constant companions.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Someone who wouldn’t make me talk too much.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?...[read on]
Blindness by José Saramago is one of Adam Langer's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 21, 2009

Joel Shepherd

Joel Shepherd's books include the Cassandra Kresnov Series and the A Trial of Blood and Steel Series, which opens with Sasha. From his Q & A with Lou Anders:

Lou: So, tell us a little bit about Sasha, and how you came up with her.

Joel: Again, I like characters who break convention, and Sasha breaks a whole bunch. Firstly, she’s a fantasy character who reverses that old cliche of the common peasant who discovers they’re heir to royalty, or some other great destiny. Sasha was already royalty, but rejected it.

Secondly, she was born a princess but absolutely HATED everything that little girls are supposed to love about being a princess, and through a series of events becomes a warrior for a strange group called the Nasi-Keth. Not that she can ever stop entirely being a princess, and she still has relations with her family, but she’s certainly out of the power loop, to put it mildly. With too many little girls today still taught to love all princessly things, I found the idea of a princess who as a little girl would much rather play in the mud, ride horses (way too fast) and beat her siblings with a stick in pretend swordfights, just too irresistible. (I like to imagine Sasha sitting today’s little girls down and explaining that the fate of a princess in most realities is to a) marry someone old and ugly, b) spend all your life being told what to do by men of your family, your in-laws’ family (frequently including the mother-in-law from hell) and of course the priests of whatever dominant religion who will expect you to adhere to all their stupid, woman-hating beliefs, and c) to never ever have any fun at all).

And thirdly, I decided quite quickly that in order to become what she is in this patriarchal society, Sasha would have to be incredibly headstrong. That would make her a handful, to say the least, and some might say a nightmare, especially when she was younger. We see the personality type all the time today in top athletes— self-obsessed, almost pathologically competitive, and in Sasha’s case, prone to wild over-exuberance or temper. She can be a pain in the ass, but she has to be, because that’s the personality it takes to be what she is in this world. And I do think she manages to be lovable at the same time, because her heart’s always in the right place, and she’s absolutely selfless in her loyalty to friends and her belief in helping those who deserve it.

But it gives her this wonderful character arc over the course of a series of novels, because for her, this is very much about growing up, and learning to be less wild and more sensible, and arrange her priorities accordingly. Many fantasy novels have coming-of-age character arcs, but many of those are about someone powerless coming to power. Sasha already has power, by virtue of her skills, personality and circumstance—her coming of age is about learning to use it wisely.

Lou: I want to add, that one of the things I like about Sasha, as opposed to so many of the female protagonists on the bookshelves (and television channels) today, is that she isn’t superhuman. She is one of the best swordsmen of her world, but its because she’s mastered a more sophisticated marital art than the hack and thrust broadsword techniques of her peers. She can beat just about anybody with a blade, but she’s not supernaturally empowered. I imagine she would run in the opposite direction if caught out bare handed by a three hundred pound opponent, right?

Joel: She should...[read on]
Visit Joel Shepherd's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Crossover.

The Page 69 Test: Sasha.

My Book, The Movie: Sasha.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lou Berney

From a Q & A with Lou Berney, author of the new novel, Gutshot Straight:

What does the title of the novel mean?

“Gutshot straight” is a poker hand where you have to draw a single card rank (e.g, a nine) to make a straight. It’s usually a pretty reckless gamble, which accurately describes what the main characters in my novel are prone to. And they're not generally very successful at going "straight," get it? I’m not sure why this kind of poker straight is called a “gutshot.” Either because the stress of anticipation as you're waiting for that last long-shot card makes you feel like you’ve been shot in the gut, or the miraculous landing of the straight makes your opponent feel that way.

The original title for my novel was TRUST ME, but another novel came out with that title so we had to switch. I came up with a bunch of alternatives that my editor – the wonderful Peggy Hageman at William Morrow – gently shot down. It was the sales staff at Morrow who came up with the final title, and I thought it fit great.

Are any of the characters in the novel based on real people?

A couple. One of the characters, I’m not going to say which one, is based almost entirely on my wife. Another character – Dick “the Whale” Moby, murderous Las Vegas strip club owner – was inspired by a real-life strip club owner I encountered several years ago. That’s a funny but deeply-harrowing-at-the-time story I am not prepared to tell at this time.

How did you choose Panama for one of the settings?

I decided...[read on]
Visit Lou Berney's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton has one of the most recognizable trademarks in fiction: the books in her series, from A Is for Alibi in 1982 to her new book, U Is for Undertow, are all named after a letter of the alphabet.

From her Q & A with Andrea Sachs in Time Magazine:

What's the origin of the alphabet tradition?

In the back of my mind, when I thought I would write a mystery novel, I understood the virtue of having titles that readers-at-large could recognize so that they'd know you had a next book out. I was reading an Edward Gorey cartoon book called The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and his book is a series of pen-and-ink drawings of Victorian children being done in various ways. If you have not read it, it is truly amusing. His book goes, "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who [wasted away]," on down the alphabet. And I thought to myself, "God bless it. Why couldn't you base a series of crime novels on letters of the alphabet?"

This is the 21st book in the series. How have you come up with so many different plots?

Part of what I do is keep charts of the books I've written, so I have a record of the gender of every killer, the gender of the victim, the motive for the crime and the nature of the climax — how does the book end? I also have a series of log lines for each book. In A Is for Alibi, Kinsey Milhone is hired to prove the innocence of a woman just out of prison for the murder of her husband. In B Is for Burglar, Kinsey Milhone is hired to find and get a signature on a minor document. So I know...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2009

John Smolens

John Smolens is the director of Northern Michigan University's Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program. He is an acclaimed short story and fiction writer, the author of one collection of stories and three novels.

From a Q & A about his new novel, The Anarchist:

1. What inspired you to write THE ANARCHIST?

Curiosity. There was an element of mystery about the McKinley assassination: repeatedly, historians have said that there was so much about Leon Czolgosz that was unknown, and that appealed to me as a fiction writer.

2. What was your research process like?

I started work on The Anarchist more than five years ago. My tendency is to circle an idea, try to view it from various perspectives (this is probably why most of my novels are told from several points of view). Naturally, the research involved a great deal of reading—histories, biographies, memoirs, newspapers, anything that seemed relevant. In order to find certain material I traveled to Buffalo and Chicago, where I visited libraries and museums. Newspapers were particularly helpful because they chronicle how Americans reacted to the McKinley assassination at the time. When such events are rendered in history books, they're rather distilled and drained of their emotional impact; however, reading, say, a September 7, 1901, edition of the Buffalo Currier provides details that convey the grief, fear, and anger that engulfed the nation immediately after the president was shot. Newspapers also provide a greater sense of the period; advertisements and articles totally unrelated to the events surrounding McKinley and Czolgosz offer invaluable context—you learn how people dressed, what they ate, what things cost. Furthermore, the prose style employed in newspapers, which was often quite formal, shed light on how people thought. Also, in Buffalo I went to an exhibit which displayed memorabilia from the Pan-American Exposition and was able to see the pistol and handkerchief that Czologosz used—the gun was remarkably small, and the burn hole in the handkerchief brought home the absurdity that this assassination attempt was successful.

My research also led me to subjects that, at first, seemed only remotely connected to the story I was writing, and yet as the novel took shape I realized they were essential to the book. I read books on the history of gun powder, the invention of the electric chair, the Chicago Haymarket Riot of 1886 (which had a great influence on a generation of anarchists), and orphanages in the early twentieth century. I collected maps, postcards, and old photographs. Buffalo, like so many other American cities in the first years of the twentieth century, was being inundated with immigrants, desperate for work; crime and prostitution were rampant. And, of course, I read a great deal about the Erie Canal.

3. How much of the story is historically accurate?

Most...[read on]
Visit John Smolens' website and blog.

Read about John Smolens’ novel Cold as The Great Michigan (U.P.) Novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dylan Landis & Marion Winik

Marion Winik is the author, most recently, of The Glen Rock Book of the Dead. Her other books of creative nonfiction include Telling, First Comes Love, The Lunch-Box Chronicles, Rules for the Unruly, and Above Us Only Sky. Winik’s essays have been published in the New York Times Magazine, O, and Salon.

Dylan Landis is the author of the novel-in-stories Normal People Don’t Live Like This, published to high praise from Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, and others. A former journalist, she has published short fiction in Tin House, Bomb, and Best American Nonrequired Reading.

From a conversation between the two writers:

Dylan: What gives you the chutzpah to put on paper what you do? Does the difference between a memoirist and novelist lie in material…in the need for privacy or a sense of shame…in the type of talent?

Marion: The need to connect with other people and to understand and validate my experiences has been a force in my writing since Day One—which is like, 1967 or so. In cases where I am telling something I am afraid to tell, I feel a thrill of revelation, I experience the fear as exciting. I am an inveterate risk-taker, exhibitionist and connection-builder—not just on paper.

“Type of talent” is an interesting issue. I think the type of talent people have may issue from the psychological roots of their writing. For the reasons I just explained, I am a born memoirist. On the other hand, I have always been drawn to types of writing that don’t come as easily. I love the imaginative leap of fiction, as well as the imaginative leap of a brilliant metaphor or other turn of phrase. But I don’t think I’m necessarily “wired” to create those things—it’s something I am trying to learn by extensive trial and error.

Do you think there are similar psychological forces that drive a “born” fiction writer? Because I think of the invention of characters and of a world as quite a different project, emotionally, from that of the memoirist.

Dylan: I’m not a born fiction writer. Every piece, while I’m writing, feels at many points doomed to fail. But I love how fiction feels reassuringly apart from me, like a canvas I’m working on; I love discovering what characters want to do. I mine my subconscious and imagination for material, but I relish not being constrained—or revealed—by life.

And is it so different to invent a fictional character than to construct a memoir’s “characters,” including the narrator? Even invent feels off; I learn my fictional people by revelation. We both make our people flawed, sympathetic and believable. Maybe the difference is that you, Marion, start out knowing your iceberg, the huge amount of submerged psychological material you won’t use but that anchors everything you write. When I start a piece of fiction, I can’t even see my iceberg. All I got is...[read on]
Visit Dylan Landis's website and read the Los Angeles Times review of Normal People.

Writers Read: Dylan Landis.

Visit Marion Winik's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Marion Winik & Beau.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Peter Ho Davies

Peter Ho Davies is the author of two award-winning short story collections -- The Ugliest House in the World (1997) and Equal Love (2000) -- and the novel, The Welsh Girl.

From his Q & A with Dolly Laninga for

UIM: Today’s dramatic political and cultural landscape provides us with people who seem increasingly easy to criticize—and of course to parody. Do you foresee any projects tackling contemporary political or cultural leaders?

PHD: I’ve tried a couple, with varying success, but I don’t yet know if I’m done with them or if they’ll ever see the light of day. The challenge I’m struggling with I think is to make them somehow more than parody (though what that might be I’m still trying to figure out).

UIM: Because of the historical and political content of your work, it is clear you have a lot of knowledge in the field. But then you have also studied physics extensively, leading to a logical approach to writing stories. Do you expect that kind of logic and tight thematic content from the authors you read?

PHD: Actually, I’m by no means the most diligent researcher—imagination I hope fills in the gaps—and while I have a science background, I find the problem-solving mind set useful only in revising, not really in generating new material. As for what I look for in other writers I am drawn to some of the things you suggest—I’m interested in character motivation which is a kind of narrative logic, I suppose, and I respond to thematic resonance—but like most of us I also like to be surprised by a book or a story, to discover something different that offers fresh pleasures.

UIM: Do you find the truths you discover in fiction to be more valuable than those you pursued in your scientific studies?

PHD:...[read on]
Esther Evans, in Welsh Girl, is one of Toni Jordan's top 10 flawed romantic heroines.

The Page 69 Test: Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Brad Parks

Brad Parks spent a dozen years as a reporter with the Washington Post and the [Newark, N.J.] Star-Ledger. His new novel is Faces of the Gone.

From a Q & A at his website:

Q. You and your main character, Carter Ross, seem to have a lot in common. Do you think of him as an alter ego?

A: Not really. There are similarities in our backgrounds. We both had advantages in our upbringing that the people we write about didn't get. We both have a certain yearning for truth-telling that drives a lot of journalists. And we're both stiff white guys who prefer pleated pants. But Carter is pure fiction. His life as a newspaper reporter is far more interesting than mine ever was. And he's a lot better looking.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Q. Why do you write?

A: I love telling stories. I believe the desire to tell—and hear—stories is what makes us human. Once upon a time, naturalists thought human beings were unique for all kinds of reasons. We were supposedly the only animals capable of emotion, speech, rational thought, the Macarena—you name it. As we've come to understand our world better, we've discovered our species is actually not that unusual. Dolphins, for example, can be trained to dance the Macarena. But it turns out there's one thing that separates us from the beasts: We are the only...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Faces of the Gone, and learn more about the book and author at the official Brad Parks website and Facebook presence.

The Page 69 Test: Faces of the Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2009

Michelle Wildgen

Michelle Wildgen is senior editor of Tin House Magazine, an editor with Tin House Books, the author of the novels But Not for Long and You’re Not You, and the editor of the anthology Food & Booze: A Tin House Literary Feast.

From her Q & A with David Medaris at The Daily Page:

The Daily Page: What was the genesis of But Not for Long -- where were you and what were you doing when you conceived it?

Wildgen: It evolved rather slowly. I was experimenting with these new characters in various scenes, just to see if any ideas got traction. I wrote a scene that later I deleted of the three co-op members in their living room, revolving through their heads while they all refused to state aloud what they were thinking. The book took shape through a few more scenes like this: Will showing up on the porch, Hal and Will's ill-advised visit to Mrs. Bryant, while I started to see where it might go.

Why the Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday structure?

As I kept writing it became clear that the book would take place over a pretty condensed time period. I kept tightening up the time frame so I could stay within the confines of the blackout and the immediate crisis. Actually, it wasn't until the very end that I added in the days to divide the sections.

As you were writing But Not for Long, which of your principal characters proved the...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: You’re Not You.

The Page 69 Test: But Not for Long.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Martha Nussbaum

Martha Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, appointed in Law, Philosophy, and Divinity. Her many books include Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law; Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education; Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership; and Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality.

Deborah Solomon interviewed Nussbaum about her new book, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law. A sample of the Q & A:

Your inquiries have lately revolved around the politics of physical revulsion, which you see as the subtext for opposition to same-sex marriage.

What is it that makes people think that a same-sex couple living next door would defile or taint their own marriage when they don’t think that, let’s say, some flaky heterosexual living next door would taint their marriage? At some level, disgust is still operating.

In your book “From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law,” which will be out in February, you draw a distinction between primary disgust and projective disgust.

What becomes really bad is the projective kind, meaning projecting smelliness, sliminess and stickiness ontoa group of people who are then stigmatized and regarded as inferior.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have translated books by such writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy, including his Anna Karenina and War and Peace.

From their interview with Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: What determines which books you translate?

Mr. Pevear and Ms. Volokhonsky: We have always chosen them ourselves. We thought first of all that Dostoyevsky had not been well translated into English. There was a misunderstanding of his style and tone, especially his playfulness. Most English readers think of him as dark and brooding. His jokes, his narrative, are always playful, or almost always. We thought it would add a dimension to the understanding of Dostoyevsky that non-Russians don't have. The only book that was commissioned is the new one, "Doctor Zhivago," which was commissioned by Pantheon.

WSJ: You've translated 16 books together. Which was the most difficult, and why?

Mr. Pevear: "Doctor Zhivago." The issue is the prose. It's not that rich or ornate, but it's extremely difficult to translate. His language is very studied. Even when it looks simple, it's not. The sentences aren't long or complex, but it's the quality of the words. It's never what you expect. He doesn't fall into a flow of language that you can pick up and ride along on. Every sentence has to be worked out.

WSJ: How do you resolve your differences over the work, and do disagreements ever spill over into your personal life?

Ms. Volokhonsky: Richard is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tami Hoag

Tami Hoag's new novel is Deeper Than the Dead.

From a Q & A at her website:

What is the new book about?

Deeper Than the Dead is set in 1985—the early days of criminal profiling, and modern forensic science—in an idyllic southern California college town. The story begins with four children stumbling onto a murder victim, and revolves around the hunt for the killer—who may turn out to be someone very close to them.

Who is your favorite character in Deeper Than the Dead?

I love my heroine, Anne Navarre, who is the children’s fifth grade teacher. She’s smart and plucky. But hands-down my favorite character is FBI profiler Vince Leone. Vince wasn’t supposed to be the hero of the book, but he had other plans. Vince came on stage and took over with a wink and a grin. I love this guy!

There are several characters in Deeper Than the Dead who stand out for special reasons. Tell us about that.

In 2008 I was asked to donate something to a live-auction fundraiser for the United States Equestrian Team Foundation, to help send our team to the Olympics. I donated the right to become a character in a book. The winner was Jane Thomas from Idaho. Jane’s family own the most famous horse in the history of American dressage, the fabulous Brentina, and are great supporters of the sport. Jane’s character plays a very important role in the story, and I incorporated a lot of real-life Jane’s characteristics into her. I even included Jane’s black pug, Violet, in the story. I had a lot of fun writing Jane into the book and was able to support USET at the same time.

Also in Deeper Than the Dead is a character named Fran Goodsell, who is based on a real-life character, my dear friend Fran Goodsell. When I was unable to travel to Germany for Franny’s fortieth birthday bash (Franival!) I knew I had to do something really special for a gift. So Franny became a character in the book as well. I had a blast writing him in as Anne’s best friend.

And last but not least in Deeper Than the Dead is Petal the pit bull. Petal was the real-life companion of Jane Berkey, whose literary agency represents me. An incredible ambassador for her much-maligned breed, Petal unfortunately passed away last year after a long and wonderful life with Jane. I had previously promised Jane that I would include a pit bull in one of my books. What better character than Petal herself?
Read the complete Q & A. Visit Tami Hoag's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stephen Schneider

Stephen Schneider is Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford University. His new book is Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate.

From Schneider's interview with Marilyn Berlin Snell at The New Republic:

In your book, you suggest a kind of continuum: from objective data to subjective determinations based on the data, and then to value judgments.

Right. What to do about what we know--that’s a question of values. But it’s values informed by science. In 1973, I got a call from the Council on Foreign Relations wanting me to talk about policy. I told them that if we’re using the atmosphere as a free sewer to dump our tailpipe wastes, and it’s going to cause change that could harm agriculture, ecosystems, ice sheets, and sea level, then maybe a smart move would be to slow down the rate at which we pollute. That’s a value judgment, and I’ve been making them from the beginning. I’m a very risk-averse person and I worry much more about the planetary life support system than the bottom line of the coal industry.

How then do you defend against charges that you’re an activist?

I am an activist. I want the world to be a better place, and I define specifically what I mean by that: If one group, the rich, benefits from an activity like dumping their waste in the atmosphere and the other group, the poor, are hurt by it and don’t get much benefit, that’s an inequity. Therefore, in my value system, that’s a higher criteria for action than aggregate dollars. I don’t have aggregate dollars as my moral principle. I look at who’s responsible. But I never say that without admitting that those are my values. So, that’s activism.

What’s the difference between being a climate-change skeptic and a denier?

Every good scientist is a skeptic. In fact, I would argue that every good citizen is a skeptic. We have to learn to discern, and listen to...[read on]
Bradford Plumer says Stephen Schneider is "George Will's Favorite Climatologist."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller's acclaimed restaurants include the Napa Valley's French Laundry and Bouchon and New York's Per Se. He recently published his fourth cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home.

From his conversation with James Mustich at Barnes & Noble:

James Mustich: There's an autobiographical thread that runs through your books, not only within each volume but across all four. The first, The French Laundry Cookbook, opens with a rather peculiar -- for a cookbook at least -- evocation of the melancholy that to some degree inspired the cornets that would become something of a signature dish at French Laundry. You said you had to be sad to see how to put the ice cream cone through such a playful and sophisticated transformation.

Thomas Keller: It's interesting. You talk about the four books we've written so far -- I say "we" because, of course, it's a collaborative effort, and it's a great team of people, both from the culinary side and from the writing and production side. You know what goes into books. The French Laundry Cookbook was a moment in time. Everything evolves, and certainly a restaurant like the French Laundry -- or Per Se -- is in continuous evolution. So that book caught a moment in the life of that restaurant; it's about what I was thinking about at that time.

Bouchon, the second book, is about history. To talk about Bouchon, you have to talk about bistros; you have to talk about France. We were really trying to make sure that when we wrote the recipes we talked about food in a way that related to France and the history of those restaurants (of course, when we wrote the recipes, we modernized them).

Under Pressure, which you mentioned before we sat down that you find to be the most daunting, is probably so to a lot of people, because it was written for professionals. It's a book about the new sous vide cooking technology that we're all embracing now, as we've all embraced other technologies that have come along in our lifetimes, such as the microwave and the food processor. Who knew what to do with a food processor before someone put it in front of you and said, "This is how you use a food processor"? Who knew about a microwave before somebody said, "This is how you use a microwave"? So we felt that it was really a good time to be able to explain to other chefs what we've learned about cooking sous vide, using that technique in an à la carte restaurant.

Now, of course, we've done Ad Hoc at Home, which is really a book about, again, history, but history in this country, as experienced by a group of chefs, not just myself, who have memories about the food they ate when they were children, or when they were growing up. It's how they relate to that food and what it means to them now -- and of course, ultimately, about how it brings people together around the table to share this food and to create memories for themselves, which I think is very important.

So, to go back to that moment in my life that you asked about -- when I wrote the story in The French Laundry Cookbook about conceiving the cornet, and what triggered that for me: I was leaving New York, the city which I had loved for so long, which I thought was the center of the universe, where I thought I was going to be forever. Under the stress and pressure that I was going through leaving New York, not knowing what was coming up in my future, because things didn't work out the way I thought they would -- at that moment, in that state of anxiety, sadness, and a kind of detachment, I saw the cornet.

I had lunch with my friends, which I had done countless times before, and we went into a Baskin-Robbins, which we'd done countless times before, and I saw something that I'd never seen before in an ice cream cone -- and it was the cornet, which has become such an icon of ours, of the French Laundry, of Thomas Keller. So much so that you see them in many places now, interpreted. Now, people say "Thomas Keller created the cornet." Well, I don't like to take that kind of responsibility. [LAUGHS] It was an ice cream cone; to me, that's what it was. It was an interpretation, and an inspiration.

JM: Do you find that inspiration comes more powerfully out of sadness?...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Marian Keyes

From Marian Keyes' Q & A with the Independent's Arifa Akbar:

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

It's hard to choose one but I'm very fond of Kate Atkinson. I like how she puts a sentence together. She's very witty and compassionate about the human condition.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I'm really sorry but I've agonised and I don't have any recollection of reading a character and thinking 'she's like me'.

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

Aung San Suu Kyi. I admire her self sacrifice so much. She has remained strong. She's an example of how amazing human beings can be.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mark Coggins

Heather Paye interviewed Mark Coggins, the award-winning author of The Immortal Game, Vulture Capital, Candy from Strangers, Runoff, and The Big Wake-Up, his new August Riordan novel. Part of their Q & A:

Heather: How do you invent your characters?

Mark: I’m often inspired traits or personalities of real people I meet or know—but usually draw one “seed” characteristic from real individuals and embellish from there. None of my characters are meant to be full portrayals of real folks.

Heather: I know a few authors who keep records (almost like police records) of height, weight, background, etc. of their characters, do you keep tabs on your characters, and if so, what do you usually make note of?

Mark: I know writers who do that as well, but I’ve never felt the need to go quite that deep in documenting the fictional back stories of the people that populate my books. Occasionally, I do need to double-check facts about my series characters from other novels to make sure I stay consistent. I’m afraid I’m not organized enough to keep the information in notes, though. I always end up thumbing through the old books to pull the details.

Heather: Some authors say that they feel as though his or her characters are real, do you feel this way, and what do you think about this?

Mark: I certainly try to..[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Big Wake-Up, and learn more about the book and author at Coggins' website and blog.

Check out the post over at The Rap Sheet on the story behind the story of The Big Wake-Up.

Read the results of the Page 69 Test for Mark Coggins' Candy from Strangers, and see who he -- and some Hollywood-types -- would cast in an adaptation of Candy from Strangers.

The Page 69 Test: The Big Wake-Up.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins, long-time columnist for the Village Voice and arguably the world's preeminent jazz critic, has won an unparalleled six ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Peabody Award in Broadcasting, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Journalists Association. His new book, co-authored with Scott DeVeaux, is Jazz.

From Giddins' Q & A with the Independent:

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

My favourite book is Ulysses but my favourite authors are William Faulkner, who has the most of America in him and can use words that would make other writers sound like complete idiots, and Thomas Mann.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Stephen Dedalus (from Ulysses) because he thinks he is the novel's hero but he isn't. He's the supporting character. I totally identify with that.

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

Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. Armstrong for his lack of pretension and Crosby for his insistence on doing things the way he wanted. He didn't negotiate on what was important.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Carla Neggers

Karen Harper interviewed Carla Neggers for ITW's The Big Thrill. Part of the Q & A:

On your website you mention that you "learn about your characters by interacting with them." Can you explain this technique?

I've discovered that I'm not very good at writing up character analyses before I dive into a story. I can do a bit -- the basics, maybe -- but I "see" a character much better after he or she has shown up on the page. I wrote the scene where Sean Cameron follows Hannah Shay up the mountain. Sean, a smoke jumper and businessman in Southern California, is back in the cold and snow of Vermont. He's at the old cellar hole where his father was murdered. Hannah's brother almost died there, and she has her own suspicions about the violence that's struck their small hometown. Putting these two characters together in such an isolated place where both their emotions run strong, in the cold and snow, helped me understand them more than I ever would have sitting in front of a list of questions about them. But writers need to do what works for them. This is what works for me.

Although you've used such far-flung settings as Ireland, Cold River takes place in your home state of Vermont. How much does setting matter to you, or could you have placed this story elsewhere? How do you try to give the reader a sense of place?

For me, setting is...[read on]
Visit Carla Neggers' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hank Schwaeble

Hank Schwaeble is a thriller writer and attorney in Houston, Texas. His first novel, Damnable, was released by Penguin/Putnam in September 2009 under their Jove imprint.

Schwaeble's first short story, "Mugwumps," appeared in the anthology Alone on the Darkside in 2006. In 2007, he won a Bram Stoker Award for the anthology Five Strokes to Midnight, which he co-edited with Gary Braunbeck and which included three of his short stories. The book was highly regarded, winning two Bram Stoker Awards and a World Fantasy Award nomination.

From a Q & A at his website:

Tell us about your first novel, Damnable.

It's a supernatural thriller about a disgraced special forces operator who uncovers a dark set of actors determined to fulfill an ancient prophecy that would carry grave consequences for every living soul, and some not living. Ultimately, he realizes he's got to figure out a way to stop them, because it becomes obvious no one else will.

I'm sure you've been asked this before, but where do you find your ideas?

Creativity is a process. You find something to work with, then you tease it and shape it and flesh it out. For Damnable, I started with the idea of a scene where someone is killed by a dead person while trying to rescue someone else, and imagined where such a story could go. Once you have a premise like that, it really becomes a matter of character creation more than anything else, because your characters are what drive the plot, or what should drive the plot.

And what was the inspiration for your main character Jake Hatcher?

The notion of a reluctant or unlikely hero has always intrigued me. The thought of someone having responsibility beyond anything he or she could anticipate, a charge he didn't ask for or want, goes back to Moses, and it's made for compelling fiction throughout the modern era. So I had the idea of a military asset who had been cast off by the government, a combat expert skilled in extracting information whose existence was now a source of embarrassment due to the ebb and flow of the political zeitgeist. Someone who had done things the chattering class finds unacceptable, and who was now a convenient scapegoat. I imagined what it would be like for a man who was already damned in such a way to then become...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lauren Kate

Lauren Kate is the author of Fallen.

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

Why did you choose to have the story take place in Georgia, specifically Savannah?

I went to college in Atlanta and got to spend some time in Savannah, which is a lush, lovely, and very polite town. But the south is also such an embattled place, still recovering from its civil war scars in a way I think other parts of the country don’t like to think about. Setting Luce’s reform school on the grounds of an old Civil War Academy opened up all these cool possibilities to allude to the *big* battle that’s coming in the series.

Many of the scenes in the cemetery are both eerie and frightening which completely draw the reader into the Swords & Cross world; in conjunction with question one, is there a specific place that you thought of when writing about this place?

I guess I’ve always had a thing for cemeteries. Growing up, I had a friend who lived right behind a pretty decrepit old cemetery, and we’d sneak in there all the time to make up stories about the people whose tombstones we read. In Fallen, Cam attempts to do this with Luce—though for some strange reason, she finds it unromantic…

The cemetery at Sword and Cross is...[read on]
Visit Lauren Kate's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Emily Arsenault

Emily Arsenault has worked as a lexicographer, an English teacher, a children’s librarian, and a Peace Corps volunteer. She wrote The Broken Teaglass to pass the long, quiet evenings in her mud brick house while living in rural South Africa.

From her Q & A at The First Novels Club:

What was your creation process for The Broken Teaglass? Meaning, what was the original nugget that inspired the book? How did it develop/evolve from there?

The first glimmer of an idea came to me on a particularly long day at the office when I worked at Merriam-Webster in my early twenties. I was flipping through some old citations and daydreaming about finding a mysterious note or citation in the files. I didn’t consider writing it up as a story at the time. It really was just a passing notion. But years later (long after I’d left the company, and after I’d written another book—a YA novel that was never published), I started playing with the idea as a concept for a novel. The hard part was answering this question—why would anyone hide a secret in the citation files of a dictionary company? I found this question so difficult to answer that after a couple of months of brainstorming , I gave up. But then I started writing an unrelated story about a bizarre crime, and eventually it occurred to me to combine that story with the dictionary setting. I wrote the draft of the “story within the story” first, then wrote the present-day narrative around it.

The Broken Teaglass is narrated by editorial assistant Billy Webb, a recent college grad. Why did you choose him for the central role (as opposed to his coworker, Mona Minot—or a completely different character altogether)?

When I first decided that I would attempt to write a mystery at a dictionary company, I was wary of the story being (or being perceived as) autobiographical, since I’d worked at a dictionary company myself. One easy way to separate my personal experiences from the plot and characters was to...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Broken Teaglass, and learn more about the book and author at Emily Arsenault's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Broken Teaglass.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Joel Waldfogel

Joel Waldfogel is the Ehrenkranz Professor and Chair of Business and Public Policy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Tyranny of the Market and has been a columnist for Slate.

From's Mary Elizabeth Williams' interview with him about his latest book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays:

You talk in the book about the concept of "deadweight loss" and how it applies to holiday spending. Can you explain that?

A deadweight is a loss to one party that's not a gain to someone else. Normally if I spend $50 on myself it's for something worth at least $50 to me. If I spend $50 on you, and I don't know what you like or already have, I could buy something that's worth nothing for you. That's a loss. The average difference in gift satisfaction between the giver and recipient is about 20 percent.

But we're a consumer culture. We generally like to shop. Why, then, do the holidays go so wrong?

Normal spending, when we're buying for ourselves, provides a measure of satisfaction. The problem with gift giving is that's not what is going on. Usually in shopping there are two parties. There are buyers and sellers. The seller gets a price that's bigger than the cost he bought it for, and the buyer gets an item he values above the price. That generates profit and satisfaction.

The thing about gift giving is the seller still gets a profit, but on the consumer side the recipient does not get the same amount of satisfaction.

It's good for the seller, but it's not good for the buyer or the giver.

There's this idea that any gesture is better than no gesture at all, even if it's from the table of useless golf alarm clocks. You call it being socialized "to perpetuate the wastefulness."

My issue is...[read on]
Visit Joel Waldfogel's personal website and his faculty webpage.

Joel Waldfogel is Chair and Ehrenkranz Family Professor of Business and Public Policy at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The Page 99 Test: The Tyranny of the Market.

--Marshal Zeringue