Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Craig Nova

Craig Nova is the award-winning author of twelve novels and one autobiography. His latest novel is The Informer.

From John Irving's interview with Nova for The Daily Beast:

John Irving: Nova’s characters are not easy to like; yet, in novel after novel, he made the most unlikely characters sympathetic—and, especially lately, he’s often put them on a collision course.... So, let’s talk about collisions. What are the collisions here, in The Informer? How is it that unlikely characters become sympathetic?

Craig Nova: I like the sense that one character is going to have a train wreck with another. This is more intriguing if the author makes a partnership with the reader, so the two of them together can see it coming. It is a sort of elbow in the ribs, a wink, between author and reader that makes for fun, although it is often an ominous, scary kind of fun.

And as far as unlikely characters being sympathetic, I’ve noticed that the most important thing about characters is that they want something decent, like love. And the more difficult it is to get something like love (because of unusual or trying circumstances), and the more characters want it, the more we can feel their needs. And these are human, basic needs.

In The Informer, the collisions are between two women, one from the streets and one a polite woman who works for Inspectorate A, the serious crimes section of the Berlin Police Department in 1930, and the things that are lurking in the shadows. These are events and people that these two women discover as the book goes along, but the dangers are not immediately obvious.

JI: I’ve noticed that you are having more fun with suspense in your recent books. You've always loved the ominous in fiction, those foreboding moments, haven't you?

CN: I think both of us have liked...[read on]
Visit Craig Nova's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy's fourth novel, Small Island, won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her latest novel, The Long Song, is the tale of a girl born on a 19th-century Jamaican sugar plantation.

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

What book changed your life?

The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. Before then I’d thought I didn’t like fiction. I was 23 and I hadn’t read a book before. It awakened me to feminism, too.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

At the moment, Bertha Rochester from Jane Eyre. I’m very jittery when I have a book coming out.

* * *
If you could own any painting, what would it be?

“The Ambassadors” by Holbein, although I’d never get it into the house.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor at Brown University and critic. He is best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature.

From his Q & A with Deborah Solomon in the New York Times Magazine:

Since its publication in 1958, “Things Fall Apart,” the story of a Nigerian yam farmer who is unable to accept the changes wrought by British colonialism, has become the best-selling novel ever written by an African.

Well, I hear such exaggerated comments. I just leave them alone.

It’s a staple of American high-school English classes, and it has supposedly sold more than eight million copies.

That would be possible. I’m not grumbling; I have done well. But don’t imagine I’m a millionaire.

Things are again falling apart in Nigeria, which was in the news this month, when a predawn massacre occurred near Jos and all the world saw images of Christian villagers, many of them women and children, laid out in mass graves. Do you think the incident is related to the spread of Muslim extremism?

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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jo Nesbo

From the Globe and Mail’s Alison Gzowski's interview with Norwegian author Jo Nesbo:

Why do you think readers are drawn to these sorts of stories. They’re psychological stories, but there are so many ways to tell them … why are we drawn to see the world through crime?

I think there are many reasons. One reason why people like crime is that it’s an established way of telling stories. What you’re looking for in a story you don’t want the unexpected, you want what you’re expecting but you don’t know that’s what you’re expecting. It’s like timing in humour. A famous Norwegian comedian told me that what makes you laugh is not the unexpected, it’s the expected, but you give the punchline one second before you arrive at the punchline yourself. That’s why the classic crime novel in some ways is like the comfort of your own apartment. Here in Toronto, you have rush hour, heavy traffic and you have a perfectly good public transportation system. So why do people ride in their own cars? Why don’t they take the bus? It has to do with the comfort of their own cars, you can do anything, and with the crime novel, you have all kinds of great novels. Why do intelligent well-educated people turn to the crime novel? I think it has to do with the comfort of their own vehicle, they know what they’ll get, in a way. Though that sounds a bit depressing, it’s why they like crime novels.

It also sounds like you’re saying that they’re lesser books … and they’re not, though they have been perceived that way.

Yeah, but...[read on]
Of the 20 most loaned books in Norway's libraries in 2008, 5 were Jo Nesbø novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 27, 2010

David Nicholls

David Nicholls trained as an actor before making the switch to writing. He is the author of the novels Starter For Ten and The Understudy. He has also written many screenplays for film and television, including the feature film adaptation of Starter For Ten. He lives in London.

His new novel, One Day, releases in the U.S. this summer.

From his Q & A with the Independent:

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

I read a lot of F Scott Fitzgerald. I love Tender is the Night, and its atmosphere of doomed romance. He was one of the greatest prose stylists, with a wonderfully clear but lyrical quality. I love to re-read him.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I identified with Pip from Great Expectations, especially when I was younger; I had the same kind of gaucheness and uncertainty.

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

Billy Wilder, a great writer and director with integrity whose work combined European and American sensibilities. I love The Apartment for its blend of cynicism and romance.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 26, 2010

David Gordon

In The Serialist, David Gordon's debut novel, Harry Bloch is a struggling writer who pumps out pulpy serial novels—from vampire books to detective stories—under various pseudonyms. But his life begins to imitate his fiction when he agrees to ghostwrite the memoir of Darian Clay, New York City’s infamous Photo Killer. Soon, three young women turn up dead, each one murdered in the Photo Killer’s gruesome signature style, and Harry must play detective in a real life murder plot as he struggles to avoid becoming the killer’s next victim.

From Gordon's Q & A with GQ's Christopher Swetala:

The protagonist, Harry, is an ex-porn writer. How did you come up with the idea?

I used to work at Hustler.

What was that like?

Most of the men there were bookish and nerdy, and our fan mail tended to come from guys in prison. That's when I first had the idea for a struggling writer who gets a letter from a famous criminal.

Did you have an advice column?

I was never actually the Slut Whisperer. We did have a column, "Dear Slut," that had advice from a porn star. We got outrageous letters from guys who were concerned about their semen production or wanted to talk their wives into threesomes. I had to sort through all these letters and photos.

What photos? People would submit their own candids?

There was an amateur section in Hustler. I had to...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Timothy Hallinan

Author J. Sydney Jones interviewed Timothy Hallinan about his Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers. Part of the Q & A:

What things about Bangkok make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?

Those are really at least two different questions. The most striking thing about Bangkok is that it’s the most cheerful big city in the world. It’s bigger physically than New York and more cheerful than Smallville. The Thai people are the world’s most welcoming, even now when foreigners are no longer the novelty they were in 1981, when waiters would sit down at my table to try out their English. (They also couldn’t believe that I’d willingly eat alone, since Thai people never do anything alone if they can help it. They wanted to keep me company.)

Beyond the good cheer, Bangkok is a city of enormous contrast. It’s heartbreakingly poor and breathtakingly rich. It’s carnal, with more red-light districts than anywhere I can think of, and deeply spiritual, with giant temples and small street shrines everywhere. (Many taxis have an abstract of Buddha-spirit handpainted on the ceiling above the driver.) You’ll walk down some deafening street and turn into a small street (or “soi”) and it’ll be lined with open-air shops where men are beating tiny pieces of gold into gold leaf for the faithful, who rub it onto the statues of the Buddha. All the Buddhas in the big temples are gilded, even the backs, which no one usually sees; the Thais say that doing good deeds secretly is “Gilding the Buddha’s back.”

Finally, Bangkok is, as Maugham said of Monaco, a...[read on]
Also see: Brett Battles interviews Timothy Hallinan.

The Page 69 Test: A Nail Through the Heart.

The Page 69 Test: The Fourth Watcher.

My Book, The Movie: The Fourth Watcher.

The Page 69 Test: Breathing Water.

Visit Timothy Hallinan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nell Irvin Painter

Nell Irvin Painter is the award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History Across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, and Standing at Armageddon. Her new book is The History of White People.

From her Q & A with Thomas Rogers at Salon:

Why write a history of whiteness?

We've spent so much time in this country on various racial issues. It's our national sport, in a way, and it's always as if there is only one side: nonwhite. But this is one of those binaries where you need both sides to make sense of it.

I want to point out that this book is not about white nationalism. It's not about how bad white people are. It's about how we have thought about people now considered white. I used to encounter reservations about the project, and people would ask, "Why are you doing this as a black person?" People hear it's a book called "The History of White People" and that it's by a black author, and make assumptions.

We've all seen the word "Caucasian," usually when we're filling out forms, but most of us have no idea where it came from. What is a Caucasian, exactly?

It comes from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who applied it to a large swatch of humanity on the 11th of April, 1795, with the publications of the third edition of his dissertation, in Latin, about the varieties of mankind. He used the word "Caucasian" because he wanted to underscore the beauty of white-skinned people. He thought they were the most beautiful. He located these people in Europe, east into Russia, south into India and southwest into North Africa. The Caucasus is a border area between Europe and Asia and it's an area freighted with mythological baggage -- Jason and the Argonauts, Mount Ararat.

The Human Genome Project found that there's no genetic basis for racial difference. Is this the end of race?

This is...[read on]
Visit Nell Irvin Painter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Danielle Steel

Best-selling author Danielle Steel's new novel is Big Girl. From her Q & A with Nanci Hellmich for USA Today:

Q: What inspired you to write Big Girl, which focuses on weight, body image and self-esteem?

A: Books are always written about beautiful people who find other beautiful people, but most people are regular people, and weight is an issue for a lot of them. I thought, it must be a drag to always have beautiful people highlighted in books. Why not make a heavier woman the star of the show? If you notice, I do not have Victoria lose weight by the end of the book, but she gets a great guy. I thought that was important and more real.

Q: What messages about weight and body image do you want readers to take away?

A: That it's OK to be you, less than perfect. Our role models are ridiculous. Most of the models that you see in Vogue are extremely young and way too thin to be healthy. We are a society that worships extreme youth, extreme thinness, extreme beauty — and anyone who doesn't measure up feels ugly. Women are born saying, "Do I look fat in this?" Somebody gave me a funny bracelet a few years ago that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hugh Raffles

Hugh Raffles teaches anthropology at The New School. He is the author of In Amazonia: A Natural History, which received the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing. His essays have been published in Best American Essays, Granta, and Orion. He received a Whiting Writers’ Award in 2009. His new book is Insectopedia.

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

You’re an anthropologist who has written about life in the Brazilian Amazon. Why insects for this book? Have you always been fascinated by insects and people’s interactions with them?

Actually, no! But since I started researching this book a few years ago, I’ve become completely obsessed by insects and our relationships with them. Now they seem like the most amazing creatures. But before that, they were around me but weren’t something I paid that much attention to unless they were biting me or invading my apartment.

For a long time though, I’ve been interested in the connections between people and animals of all types. And I’ve thought a lot about what other worlds exist alongside the ones that we people live in. Most of these worlds are invisible to us. To give an example: we usually assume that time is a universal measure that everyone experiences in more or less similar ways. But it seems likely that other animals’ experience of time is completely different from ours—that for them, their short lives might actually last a very long time.

Despite the complexity of our own reality, it’s quite a limited universe when we consider all the parallel realities within which other beings exist. Insects are fascinating because they’re so different from us. It’s almost impossible to imagine what the worlds they live in are like. Recreating those worlds is one of the things I try to do in Insectopedia, often by meeting people (artists, musicians, and scientists, for example) who have their own interesting ways of thinking about this.

How did you decide on this encyclopedic format of A to Z? Did that seem a natural order after you wrote the essays or did you plan that from the beginning?

I’m one of those people who’s interested in pretty much everything. After spending a long time writing a book about one small community in the Brazilian Amazon, I wanted...[read on]
Visit the Insectopedia website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 21, 2010

John Simpson

John Simpson is the BBC's World Affairs Editor and author of several books.

From his Q & A with the Independent:

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

The author I turn back to is George Eliot. It's comfortable reading her. Part of it is knowing the ending.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

One of those broken down Graham Greene characters, who have betrayed everyone and are taking too much drink. I'm not a betrayer and I don't drink too much but I'm a little bit frayed.

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

I have a sense that people are not heroes all the way through but at a historical moment, there are people who behave absolutely rightly. An old man during the 1979 Iranian revolution spoke to troops in bulldozers who'd come to knock down Persepolis. He told them there were sacred pictures in the city and they went away. He was there at a key historical moment.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wendy Webb

Wendy Webb is editor in chief of Duluth-Superior magazine. A journalist with two decades of experience, she lives in Minnesota. The Tale of Halcyon Crane is her first novel.

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

Although you are making your fiction writing debut with The Tale of Halcyon Crane, you’ve worked as a journalist for more than twenty years. Was it difficult to make the switch from nonfiction to fiction? What were some of the challenges?

It was difficult at first. I didn’t realize how different the two styles of writing actually are. One of the cardinal rules of fiction writing is "show, don’t tell." But as a journalist, you "tell" a story, and as I’d been writing that way for so long, it was second nature to me. It took a while before I even understood the difference between showing and telling well enough to break that habit. Also, plotting and pacing a novel was a completely new experience for me because it’s something you never have to do when writing a magazine article. The timing of when to let a bit more of the story unfold is an art unto itself. And consistency—you never even think about it as a journalist, but I found myself constantly going back to make sure Halcyon was wearing the same outfit she left the house in fifty pages earlier.

Loving, lively animals play a role in The Tale of Halcyon Crane— from the animals that Hallie’s veterinarian grandfather cared for to the boisterous dogs Hallie inherits from her mother. Do you have pets?

We have a 130-pound giant Alaskan malamute named Tundra. Readers will notice Madlyn’s dogs are also mals, Tundra and Tika. Tika was our husky-samoyed cross; she passed away about five years ago. I believe...[read on]
Visit Wendy Webb's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thomas Kaufman

Lesa Holstine interviewed Thomas Kaufman about his new novel, Drink the Tea. Part of their dialogue:

Lesa - [Your protagonist] Willis Gidney had a terrible childhood, both on the streets, and in the juvenile justice system. Where did he come from, or, is he strictly out of your imagination?

Thomas - Willis is a lot like me, of course. I have a friend who went through the DC juvie justice system. She told me some frightening stories. She also put me in touch with a cop who she said busted her twelve times. ("It was only 3 or four times, " he told me later.) This retired cop now works for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and he had some great stories.

Two Washington Post reporters, Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham, also gave me great background material.

Lesa - I loved the Washington, D.C. setting. Why D.C. for the book?

Thomas - Washington is a city of contrasts. You only need to look around you to see that. It makes it a great place to write about.

I could load you up with a lot of factoids about DC, but you have to go into the neighborhoods to understand. Near the Capitol, for instance. In the trailer for DRINK THE TEA we shot on Pennsylvania Avenue a shot of the Capitol dome as a time lapse shot, it's kind of a beauty shot. Then the next shot is on North Capitol Street. It's funky. You're still in spitting distance from the Capitol, but around you are enormous KFCs with blue sodium lights set high on outer space stalks, Big Ben's Liquor, and enormous Exxon stations. It's not...[read on]
View the trailer for Drink the Tea, and learn more about the book and author at Thomas Kaufman's website and blog.

Thomas Kaufman is an award-winning motion picture director and cameraman. He has twice won the Gordon Parks Award for Cinematography, and an Emmy for his documentary about deaf children, See What I'm Saying.

The Page 69 Test: Drink the Tea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 18, 2010

John E. Bowlt

From Jessa Crispin's Bookslut interview with John E. Bowlt, author of Moscow & St. Petersburg 1900 to 1920: Art, Life and Culture in Russia's Silver Age:

What was it about this period in time in Moscow and St. Petersburg that allowed for such a creative output?

Several reasons, I think. The first reason I think is that many poets and painters and philosophers at the end of the 19th century in Russia realized that Russia was about to enter a new era. And that feeling was generated by the fact that many of these people associated the year 1900, like many in the West, with the end of the world, that there would be the apocalypse or some calamity or disaster. This would be a cleansing force and after that purification, Russia like a Phoenix would rise. This generated an energy, and a drive and a force that I think infected a lot of Russian society. A desperate wish, not only to reject the past but welcome this new Renaissance, this rebirth. The signs are on the one hand a rotting society and on the other, a new structure, morally speaking, philosophically speaking, artistically speaking, but also socially, economically speaking. These signs can be seen in so much poetry and art and music of the time. There's this sense of moving forward in spite of this imminent catastrophe. This created a certain pregnancy, an anticipation, a certain energy in the art and literature of that time.

Secondly, I think Russians around 1900 were realizing the world is becoming smaller, something we keep saying today. They didn't use the term "global village," but I think there was a sense that because of communications, railroads, telegraph, phonograph, telephone, that sort of thing, the world was becoming smaller and Russia was an increasingly organic part of a civilized community. Many Russians felt that the West, that meant of course Paris, England, to some extent Italy, Germany, and America, should find out about the values of Russian culture. That led to people like Diaghilev, for example, to think about exporting Russian art and Russian music, opera, and ballet, to the West, which of course he did with his ballet company (Ballet Russes) from 1909 to 1929. There's a certain internationalism going on in Russia around 1900.

The third thing, I suppose, which is actually quite manifest, was an appeal to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Arthur Phillips

Arthur Phillips is the internationally bestselling author of Angelica, The Egyptologist, Prague, and The Song Is You.

From his interview by Tim Riley, the author of several books on rock history, including Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary and Fever: How Rock ’n’ Roll Transformed Gender in America:

Tim Riley: The Song Is You tells the story of two music-obsessed people at different ends of the music industry, and how music steers and inflects their obsession with each other. It starts with a live Billie Holiday recording of “I Cover the Waterfront,” and we learn that Julian’s father is the fan on the record yelling out the song request. You’re very attentive to how such intimate affections burst into public. Have you ever had a similar experience—where a pop record takes on intense personal meaning in your private life?

Arthur Phillips: All the time. I wouldn’t have written this story otherwise. I do have that much in common with Julian Donahue. I haven’t really taken my affections public, however. I have befriended a musician whom I greatly admired when I was a kid, and, many years ago, I did ask the singer of the Beautiful South to dance with me at First Avenue in Minneapolis, at the end of their concert. She looked at me as if I might be dangerous and ran to her tour bus. But otherwise, it’s just me and my iPod having intense personal experiences all the time.

TR: Randomness plays a key role in how your plot unfolds—the way an encore of “Monkey Man” by the Rolling Stones reveals something telling about Cait to Julian, fills in some blanks. Did you have playlists for each character, or did songs jump out at you as you developed their differing traits? How many of the novel’s music choices were random?

AP: Well, it’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gina Welch

Gina Welch is the author of In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church.

From her Q & A with Aaron Leonard for Killing the Buddha:

How did you come to join Jerry Falwell’s church?

I had been living in Charlottesville, Virginia, after I’d gone to graduate school. I noticed that there were all these Christians around, and I was very uncomfortable with them.

Meanwhile, what was going on nationally was the perception that evangelical Christians were taking over the country, that they had their fingers in government. I wasn’t able to reconcile the media perception of evangelical Christians—that they were very militant, that they were brainwashed—with the perception I had of evangelicals personally. I wanted the challenge of understanding people whose views on most issues were very different from mine. I truly didn’t believe that I would get to a point where I could relate to them.

What did you like most and least about Falwell’s Church?

There is one main characteristic that I appreciate: selflessness. One of Jerry Falwell’s mantras was “Jesus First,” which has always been a difficult line for me to parse. For a lot of church members I knew, their desires are secondary. They’re primarily on earth to be servants. That has a lot of a great side-effects, like individual humility and a willingness to help.

The negative side effect of that humility, though, is a real resistance to being critical of institutions to which they subscribe. It’s a problem of buying the party line without critical analysis. It can be a kind of intellectual surrender. There was one night when we had an Easter dinner at Thomas Road and a pastor was urging Church members to give financial gifts in addition to the 10% tithe. He said, “Some of you may wonder what Jerry Falwell is doing with my money,” as if addressing the concerns of anyone who might think that they were being ripped off. But he continued, “It...[read on]
Visit Gina Welch's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chang-rae Lee

Chang-rae Lee is the author of Native Speaker, A Gesture Life, and Aloft. His new novel is The Surrendered.

From his Q & A with James Mustich:

JM: [The Surrendered is] a very rich book, surprising and very satisfying in the ineffable way that only an ambitious novel can be. Can you talk a bit about what started you off on this book? Was there an image or an incident or something you were trying to accomplish that gave you its kernel?

CRL: I have to say that I don’t know what started me off. Because it took me so long to write this book, I’ve forgotten its origins -- the first kernel. I’ve been writing this book since before I finished A Gesture Life, which is my second novel. That goes back to the late ‘90s. The main characters -- the soldier, the missionary wife, and the orphan -- they all appeared in little sketches I wrote back then, but in completely different forms. I have to say I didn’t quite know what I was writing about then. I wanted to write about the Korean War, but I had no entry into it that made the kind of sense it needs to make for a novelist. It didn’t quite make emotional sense to me at the time. Historically it did, I suppose, but who cares about that? -- I’m not an historical novelist. I wasn’t sure what my interest in these characters was. And I wasn’t writing them together.

My first attempts were to write, say, Hector’s story (although he wasn’t called Hector at the time), or Sylvie’s story, or June’s story -- each separately. Only after I finished Aloft did I decide that maybe the key to writing this book and actually getting it done was to think about all these characters as belonging to the same story. Which scared me, because they were profoundly different people. The connections and ties I would find between them in writing the book, of course, didn’t exist beforehand.

So it’s a strange sort of book, because the genesis of it was three singular lines that were not supposed to be connected (at least in my mind, they weren’t), and which I tried consecutively: first Hector, then June, then Sylvie -- again, with very different visages and backgrounds than they would each ultimately have.

JM: What struck me immediately about this book, in contrast to your first three novels, is the absence of a distinctive first person voice. During The Surrendered’s long gestation, were they at any point telling their stories in the first person?

CRL: They...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sam Lipsyte

Sam Lipsyte is the author of the story collection Venus Drive (named one of the top twenty-five books of its year by the Voice Literary Supplement), and the novels The Subject Steve and Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book and received the first annual Believer Book Award. His new novel is The Ask.

From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: Your parents were both writers – your mother was a journalist and novelist, and your father covered sports and has written young-adult novels. Did you always want to be a writer?

Mr. Lipsyte: I always wrote—probably initially in toddler imitation of my parents—through middle school, high school and college. Then I didn't write for a little while, and then came back to it… By the time I finished college, I was a little confused about what writing meant to me or what I thought of writing fiction. I got involved in a noise rock band and so I kind of screamed and drank for a few years. The rock band thing didn't really work out, as is so often the case.

How did you come up with the idea for "The Ask"? Where did Milo's character come from?

My novel before that was called "Homeland." When I finished that, I was living in Astoria, Queens, and playing around with a lot of different notions. I started to write about a character in economic distress, although there would be greater economic distress a few years later, and I'm not claiming I predicted anything.

I was interested in the theme of a character with his back against the wall.

You're known for writing dark comedies. How do you strike the balance between humor and some really depressing themes and circumstances?

I don't...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah is a bestselling poet and novelist who regularly performs her work both in the U.K. and abroad. A Room Swept White, her fifth psychological crime novel, is out this month in the U.K. The Wrong Mother was released in the U.S. in September 2009.

From her Q & A with the Independent:

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

I've got lots of favourite authors but I would say Nicci French because I look more forward to reading her next new book than any other author.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Emma Woodhouse, from Jane Austen's Emma. She is nosy and bossy, and it has been said that I might be either or both.

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

Although I know he would hate to be considered a hero, I would say Eckhart Tolle, who wrote The Power of Now, which I think is one of the most brilliant books ever.
Read the complete interview.

The Page 69 Test: Hurting Distance.

The Page 69 Test: Little Face.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 12, 2010

Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman has published articles in The New Yorker and Harper's. Her debut book, The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, is a collection of interlinked essays about the bizarre characters and situations she encountered while earning a PhD. in Russian literature at Stanford University.

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

You posed the question of whether Tolstoy was murdered in order to get a field research grant to travel to Russia. You didn't get the grant, but you did attend a Tolstoy conference held at his estate, and continued to speculate jokingly over whether Tolstoy might have been poisoned by his wife or another enemy. What's your current theory?

The premise of the story was kind of an elaborate joke I made up to try to be eligible for a larger grant. The part of it that wasn't a joke was, I am really interested in detective fiction…. [My interest in] detective fiction came from the question of literary biographers: Who was the writer, and how did he produce the work?

I used to have a dream of writing a detective novel, and definitely the hardest part was motive. When you started looking at the life of Tolstoy, there was so much passion and anger and drama surrounding him. A lot of people wanted him dead.

How has the community of Russian-literature scholars responded to your book, particularly the parts that paint unflattering portraits of other academics?
I was really nervous about that before publication…. I originally wanted to turn this material into a novel or fictionalized stories, but no one was enthusiastic about this, not even my wonderful editor. Publishing it as nonfiction, I stand by it, but it wasn't my original decision and I'm not completely sure how I feel about it…. I changed a lot of the names, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Alexandra Penney

Alexandra Penney made some money, invested it with Bernie Madoff, lost it, blogged about and then published a book about the experience titled The Bag Lady Papers.

From her Q & A with Thomas Rogers for Salon:

Most of the angry comments accuse you of being tone-deaf. Did you think their complaints are valid?

Millions and millions of people are worse off than I am. I don’t forget that. I think there's been this enormous change happening in society, a recalibration and a rethinking of what money means. Look at the absolute anger and rage at the bankers and at Goldman Sachs. I can understand somebody saying, "Hey, this woman had 40 shirts," and I can really understand that. It’s like: Who does she think she is? But I had those shirts since college, and I made all that money myself, every dollar, and to have it stolen is an unbalancing experience.

It seems a little callous to call something "The Bag Lady Papers" when there are people out there who are actually losing their homes.

It’s a very good point. But my entire life, save from when I was 16 or 17, when I first started working, I had a fear I would end up on the streets, even though I come from a comfortable background. It was a real fear, and I went into therapy and still couldn’t get rid of it. "The Bag Lady Papers" came from those fears.

Didn't anybody warn you about the title?

To me it...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ariel Gore

Ariel Gore is the author of numerous books on parenting, the novel The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show, the memoir Atlas of the Human Heart, and the guidebook How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.

Her new book is Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness.

From her Q & A with Amy Benfer for Salon:

How do you think feminism became the fall girl for women's unhappiness?

People said, OK, if women are less happy than they were 40 years ago -- which, in itself, would be very hard to measure -- then they thought, Well, what happened 40 years ago? Oh yeah -- feminism! So therefore feminism failed! It’s this crazy talk because the first rule of research is not to confuse correlation with causality. What else has happened in the past 40 years? Well, hey, maybe women have replaced the time we used to spend talking with friends with TV watching. When you study postpartum depression, there is a very clear understanding that in communities where you see more support, there is less depression. How come nobody said, "Oh, women are unhappy because of TV!" It’s at least equally plausible.

Some commentators have blamed women's alleged unhappiness on unrealistic expectations. Is there any truth to the idea, or is it just an anti-feminist cop-out?

When Marion Milner’s book "A Life of One’s Own" came out in the '30s, reviewers said, "Oh, the reason this woman is unhappy is that she wants too much." It’s crazy, especially in American culture, to say something like that, because American culture is built on this notion of striving. I do think it’s pretty rich to then turn around and say, "Oh, ladies. It’s back to the ironing board for you."

But I think there is a kind of depression that is...[read on]
Visit Ariel Gore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo is the author of fifteen novels, including Falling Man, Libra and White Noise, and three plays. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Jerusalem Prize. In 2006, Underworld was named one of the three best novels of the last twenty-five years by The New York Times Book Review, and in 2000 it won the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction of the past five years. From his Q & A with The Barnes & Noble Review about his new novel, Point Omega:

The Barnes & Noble Review: The frame narrative of Point Omega describes two days at an actual video installation in the Museum of Modern Art, a showing of Douglas Gordon’s, 24 Hour Psycho. Was this the immediate inspiration for the novel? Can you describe the video?

Don DeLillo: In the summer of 2006 I walked into a gallery on the sixth floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The room was as described in the novel, dark and chill, with a free-standing screen, no chairs or benches, and a film in progress -- extremely slow-going progress. This was a video work by Douglas Gordon titled 24 Hour Psycho, the famous Hitchcock movie being run at two frames per second instead of the customary twenty-four. No soundtrack, very few visitors to the gallery, most of them remaining only minutes. The video seemed to me a kind of meditation on such subjects as time and motion, what we see, how we see, what we miss seeing under normal circumstances. I returned the next day and then again a few days later, staying a little longer each time and beginning to realize by the third or fourth visit that a piece of fiction might spring from this experience.

In the museum there were other rooms beyond the 24 Hour Psycho installation, showing other videoworks. In the novel there is only Psycho.

BNR: What was your own experience of the installation? Is it mainly about altering the viewer’s sense of time and space?

Don DeLillo: I don’t...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 8, 2010

Craig McDonald

From the introduction and first exchange of Craig McDonald's interview with John Kenyon:

Print the Legend is the third of seven books to follow Lassiter, a pulp and crime fiction writer who is chums with Ernest Hemingway. In Toros & Torsos, the two get wrapped up in a series of murders that are tied to the surrealist art movement. In Print the Legend, which picks up where T&T ends, it is five years after Hemingway killed himself, and Lassiter is in Idaho looking into some questions about Papa's remaining unpublished work. This is a crime story, however, so there is plenty of intrigue and action along the way.

The genius of these books is that McDonald has created a perfectly believable world in which Lassiter interacts with real people, reacting to actual events (and occasionally bringing them about), and does so in such a way that he doesn't affect what truly took place. He does so with impeccably researched details that add to the verisimilitude without intruding on the story. It's intriguing to read about Hemingway (and I learned more about the man here than in any textbook), but the story would be just as compelling if it were about a fictional character.

* * *
You've obviously fully absorbed Hemingway's work and done considerable research on the man. But writing in his voice is still quite a challenge. How did that work, and did you get it right the first time?

It’s really up to the reader as to whether I pulled off writing a lost chapter of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, or in drafting Hemingway’s alleged suicide note. In terms of the actual writing of the “lost chapter,” I reread Hemingway’s Feast, then wrote the chapter in a single sitting without very much revision. The suicide note was also written in a single pass.

I think if I’d really gone over and over those pieces, they might have come out as over-thought…over-cooked. Hem’s voice in his letters, which I used to write Hem’s dialogue in my novels, is pretty far away from Hem’s formal fiction prose, so I shot for that tone in the suicide note. Feast had a narrative voice all its own…longer, more interior…not so laconic and stripped down as the prose style most think of when they think of Hemingway’s writing. So I think trying to capture that voice from the memoir, you’re less apt to veer into something that might come across as...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Toros & Torsos.

Writers Read: Craig McDonald.

The Page 69 Test: Print the Legend.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Roger Smith

Keith Rawson interviewed Roger Smith, author of Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead, for Spinetingler Magazine. Part of their dialogue:

You paint Cape Town as an intensely violent city in both Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead, how much of that is fiction and how much of it is fact?

My books are fiction, of course, but they are a very realistic depiction of Cape Town. All of Cape Town, not just the tourist spots.

The Cape Flats – the flipside of the Cape Town picture postcard – is about as violent a place as you’ll find outside of a war zone. Forty years ago, the apartheid government dumped anybody who wasn’t white out in this windswept maze of shacks and matchbox houses. Ruled by drug lords and gangsters, the Flats has the highest number of rapes and murders in South Africa, and sex crimes against children are off the charts.

You’ve been criticized for the amount of violence in your novels, what is your attitude when you read these kinds of reactions and does it ever cause you to second guess yourself when you’re writing?

As I’ve said, I live in – and write about – an extremely violent country. I don’t portray anything that doesn’t happen every day in South Africa. I loathe the comic book porno-violence of a lot of European and U.S. crime writing (and movies, TV and video games, for that matter) where bloodshed is used to titillate. People aren’t turned on by what I write – they’re shocked. As they should be. Each day children are raped and slaughtered out on the Cape Flats, just miles from where I live. My partner – who grew up out on the Flats – counsels abused children, and tells me stories that give me nightmares. If this was happening anywhere in the West there would be an outcry. Here it barely makes the newspapers.

Every South African has had...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Roger Smith's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Wake Up Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Richard Powers

Richard Powers is the author of nine novels. The Echo Maker (2006) won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

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

What book changed your life?

Between ages 10 and 32, there was one every two months. But the book that has changed me most surprisingly and repeatedly over the longest period of time is Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.

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

For my novel Generosity, about the “happiness gene”, I became the ninth human being on earth to have his genome sequenced.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

Josef K.

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

Tom Stoppard’s [play] Arcadia. I’d trade my soul for it.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 5, 2010

J. K. Rowling

From J.K. Rowling's interview with O: The Oprah Magazine:

O: You're saying it's difficult to write outside your gender, but you've chosen to create Harry Potter. Is that hard?

JKR: If I say no now, that's going to sound really arrogant. But I had been writing the first book for six months before I stopped and thought, 'Why's he a boy?' And the answer is, He's a boy because that's the way he came. If I had stopped at that point and changed him to Harriet, it would have felt very contrived. My feminist conscience is saved by Hermione, who's the brightest character. I love Hermione as a character. She's kind of a caricature of me when I was younger. I was obsessed with achieving academically, but underneath that I was insecure.

O: We love Hermione, too! We identify!

JKR: I think we have a very strong female character in her.

O: You have a young daughter. Do you read Harry Potter to her?

JKR: I kept...[read on]
The Harry Potter books made Sarah Ebner's list of the top 25 boarding school books; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is #1 on Brian MacArthur' list of the 100 books that defined the noughties.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jackson Taylor

Jackson Taylor is the Associate Director of The New School's Graduate Writing Program, which he helped launch, and where he teaches. For more than fifteen years he has been the Director of The Prison Writing Program at PEN American Center. His short fiction has appeared in Spit, Pink, Moss and Punk, and his poems have appeared in Lit, Sleeping Fish, Witness, and others. For three years he worked at the New York Times in the Culture, Arts and Leisure, and the National desks.

His new novel is The Blue Orchard.

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

You say in the novel’s afterword that if you had known it would take you a decade to complete The Blue Orchard, you might never have started it. What kept you working on it all those years?

The inherent mystery was an engine. It had momentous strength and pulled me along. Perhaps others who have pursued family secrets will know what I mean, and perhaps the reader while turning the pages of the book will sense some of the curiosity and excitement I felt while making discovery.

The Blue Orchard is based on your grandmother’s life. Why was it important for you to share Verna’s story?

The lives of people we come from are filled with exquisite, concrete clues that can be examined to understand childhood, the world, and ourselves, and to recognize how many ways we resemble the rest of our species. The study of the real record adds perspective to the ways anyone might look at the youth of their parents or grandparents.

During the years of research, the historian’s voice in me kept questioning: How? Why? My grandmother wasn’t easily impressed by people, so I wanted to know the nature of this man who’d earned so much respect.

Verna overcame many obstacles to rise from poverty and become an independent woman of means. How unique was she for the time?

I like to imagine that...[read on]
Read more about The Blue Orchard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Josh Neufeld

Josh Neufeld is the writer/artist of the Xeric Award-winning graphic travelogue A Few Perfect Hours (And Other Stories from Southeast Asia & Central Europe). Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Neufeld spent three weeks as an American Red Cross volunteer in Biloxi, Mississippi. The blog entries he kept about that experience turned into a self-published book, Katrina Came Calling, which in turn led to A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge.

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

Q: Prior to A.D., what were your past encounters with New Orleans like?

Before Hurricane Katrina, I had very little personal connection to New Orleans, other than the fact that my wife and I had visited the city for about a week in 2003. Like most people, I appreciated New Orleans’ unique cultural, racial, and historical heritage, and that it is the birthplace of jazz and so much other good music. As an American, I knew how important the city was to the identity of the whole country – and how it was all in danger of being lost due to Katrina and the aftermath. Seeing what happened to New Orleans, and the government’s inability (or unwillingness) to respond, lay bare the realities of decades of poverty, discrimination, and government corruption (all of which, of course, are themes in A.D.) Since Katrina, I have visited New Orleans many times, and each time have come to love it more – and admire those who stayed and are attempting to rebuild their lives.

Q: Who are your influences?

My earliest influence is undoubtedly Hergé, the creator of Tintin. Hergé was the first cartoonist I really “studied,” in the sense that from the age of eight or nine, I read every Tintin book scores of times. Among other things, I think I got my sense of humor and love of globe-spanning travel from the Tintin books.

Another major influence is cartoonist Joe Sacco. He does real, on-the-ground research, and tackles serious issues about the human condition; and he draws beautifully! Books like Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde should be required reading in every world politics course.

I would say my third most important influence is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

John Harvey

John Harvey is the author of eleven Charlie Resnick novels and the Frank Elder series, and is a recipient of the Silver Dagger Award, the Barry Award, and the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement, among other honors. His new novel is Far Cry.

From Harvey's Q& A with Julia Buckley:

Your new book, FAR CRY, has a horrific premise: a woman suffers the abduction of not one, but two daughters, years apart. Did you envision that the book would become a deep examination of the psychology of that loss?

I don't see what else it could be. Unless you leave the woman permanently in the background as a character and concentrate solely on the investigations.

The ideas behind FAR CRY came out of a conversation with the writer Jill Dawson, who lives in the Fenland where much of my book is set, and whose home is close to a village where an abduction and murder of two schoolgirls had happened several years before. Affected by this, as a mother of two young children as well as a writer, Jill had written a novel, WATCH ME DISAPPEAR, based around her responses to these murders. When Jill and I met and had our conversation, the disappearance of a British child on holiday was very much in the news; her parents believed their daughter had been abducted but was still alive and made the decision to use the media as a way of securing her release - something which backfired on them and made them suspects in the eyes of many people.

Jill and I talked about the ways in which parents might react in such situations, the emotional havoc it wreaks on their own relationships and the degrees to which they might become obsessed not solely with their own loss, but with the wider area of child abuse and abusers. We talked about the possibility of writing a book which explored those issues and I came away convinced that was what I wanted to try and do.

Before starting to write, I talked through my initial ideas with a friend who is a very experienced psychotherapist, just to check that the lines on which I was planning base my story were credible.

It was always my intention to place the mother at the heart of the book and, in retrospect, I regret that she isn't as central - doesn't have as much space - as I'd intended. The scenes with her and her missing daughter were always going to be the big challenge for me as a writer - carrying them off convincingly. The are the most important scenes in the book for me, the ones that I can get excited about having written,though, of course, they're very short - a tiny part of the book as a whole if you're counting pages.

An epigraph from Macbeth appears before chapter one—the words of MacDuff when he hears that his family has been slaughtered. Did MacDuff’s character inspire you to write this story, or did you make the connection between your character and Shakespeare’s after the writing?

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

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ken Scholes

Ken Scholes's short fiction has been appearing in various magazines and anthologies for about a decade, including Realms of Fantasy, Polyphony 6 and Weird Tales. He is a winner of the Writers of the Future contest.

Lamentation is his first novel in the Psalms of Isaak series.

From his Q & A at

You've written several short stories before you began to write Lamentation. Was it difficult to write a longer story?

Yes. I was quite daunted by the idea of writing a novel, which is why it took me so long to try. I still prefer the quick "in and out" of a short story. But I'm learning to love writing novels. It gives you a lot more room to tell your story.

The Psalms of Isaak is based on the short story "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise." What inspired you to write this series?

The story itself was intended for the mechanical oddities issue of a magazine but they closed to submissions before I finished. I wrote in my work notes that I hoped to tell more stories with those characters but I really had no sense at the time that I would. The story was accepted at Realms of Fantasy and when it came out, the art they'd commissioned for it (linked at my website) hit me like a brick. Douglas Allen's painting of Isaak weeping in the impact crater was very powerful and I realized when I saw it that there was more to Isaak's story than I had thought. So I set out to write more short stories and eventually, on a dare from my wife and Jay Lake and at the encouragement of many other friends, I sat down to write LAMENTATION.

How did you come up with the idea of combining fantasy and science fiction elements? Were you trying to tell a good story in a new way?

Well, I was just trying...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Lamentation, listen to an audio excerpt, and watch a video interview with Ken Scholes.

Learn more about the author and his work at Ken Scholes's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Lamentation.

--Marshal Zeringue