Monday, May 31, 2010

Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender is the author of four books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) which was a NY Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000) which was an L.A. Times pick of the year, Willful Creatures (2005) which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year, and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010).

From her Q & A with the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: How did you come up with the premise for "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake"?

Aimee Bender: I think it came from a few different places. One source is a friend of mine who talks a lot about feelings as something to be digested. Those words stuck with me in terms of the correlation between feelings and food.

WSJ: Are you a big foodie?

Ms. Bender: I love food. I'm not a great cook, but I love to cook and I like how different it is from writing.

WSJ: What kind of food do you cook?

Ms. Bender: Pretty simple stuff. Pastas, fish or briskets.

WSJ: Do you have an emotional connection to certain foods?

Ms. Bender:...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Aimee Bender's website.

The Page 99 Test: Willful Creatures.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 30, 2010

William Boyd

William Boyd's books include A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year; and the newly released Ordinary Thunderstorms.

A few questions he asked himself because literary journalists don't:

Are the names of the characters in your novels important?

Extremely. I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to get the names "right" – even for the most minor walk-on characters. If you christen a character correctly, he or she, I believe, already starts to live on the page. You don't have to go the whole Dickensian-Vonneguttian hog, but a little unusualness about the right name works wonders. Characters called perfectly nice and normal names like "Martin Foster" or "Sally Thomas" will always struggle a bit to claim your attention.

What about the titles of your novels?

I couldn't publish a novel if I wasn't happy about the title. The title is a kind of benediction on the whole enterprise. To send a book out into the world with a title I wasn't happy with seems inconceivable to me. Sometimes the right title comes almost immediately; sometimes you're still sweating at it as the 11th hour comes and goes. It's a vitally important omen – for me, the novelist. I don't think...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende's new novel is The Island Beneath the Sea.

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

What book changed your life?

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer.

* * *
Which literary or historical character most resembles you?

Zorro or Genghis Khan.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Probably the great writers of the Latin American boom of literature.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sharon Oreck

Sharon Oreck is a film, video, and commercial producer. Between 1984 and 2000 she was the owner-operator of O Pictures. She is an Academy Award nominee and the recipient of a Grammy Award, two Women in Film Awards, and several MTV Awards. Her new memoir is Video Slut: How I Shoved Madonna Off an Olympic High Dive, Got Prince into a Pair of Tiny Purple Woolen Underpants, Ran Away from Michael Jackson's Dad, and Got a Waterfall to Flow Backward So I Could Bring Rock Videos to the Masses.

From her Q & A with Amy Benfer:

Looking back, the '80s seem like a golden age of music video. Did that seem true at the time?

People keep telling me over and over that their childhoods were really affected by music videos. I was at a club in Argentina with 25-year-olds and they were all like, "You did Sheila E 'Glamorous Life'! Oh!" We did not have any idea that it was perma-fodder. We just thought, "Oh, it's like newspaper work. You write it, and then the next day, you write something else." But because of the Internet, it will live forever. I think that people look back at it and think of it as a golden age. And the reason for that is it was a free time. You could do anything. Nobody was micro-managing it; no one was paying any attention to it. No one was managing what was being seen; it was not p.c., it was not corporate-approved; it was just what people really wanted to do. MTV is over now, in terms of music programming. That's why it was a golden age; because there is no more music programming. There is no age at all.

Your first work as a producer was on Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life" when you were 29 years old. Was it typical at the time to have a young woman working as a producer?

In the music video world, there was no standard at all. Nothing was typical because there was no industry until 1982. When I entered it, it was still pretty much the Wild West. When I went in and declared that I made 10 percent of the budget, that is not the industry standard, believe me. I would never...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lori L. Tharps

Lori L. Tharps is an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University, an author, freelance journalist and mom. Her books include Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain and Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.

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

Q: Why did you shift away from the field of education into a career in journalism?

LLT: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I never considered “writer” a legitimate profession. It seemed like a nice hobby but not something you could tell your parents you wanted to pursue. Once I made the decision to pursue my passion of writing, I elected to go into journalism because journalists have jobs and “writers” just write!

Q: How did the experience of writing this memoir differ from your other nonfiction work as a journalist?

LLT: The hardest part about writing a memoir is that you are the main subject. I was used to dissecting other people’s personalities and researching obscure facts, but for Kinky Gazpacho the spotlight was on me. There were times I didn’t want to write about certain incidents because they were too embarrassing or painful, but the journalist in me knew they were essential parts of the story and had to be told.

Q: You describe a sense of not being “the right kind of Black girl” from your time as an undergraduate at Smith College. To what extent do you think young Black American women in college today share this concern?

LLT: Sadly, I think the same thing still happens when college kids of any ethnic group come to college. Students are forced to immediately align themselves with a group or else risk social stigmatization. College campuses are still great breeding grounds for group-think mentalities.

Q: Why did the discoveries you made in your research on the history of Black slaves in Spain affect you so profoundly?

LLT: I guess...[read on]
Learn more about Lori Tharps at her website and blog.

Writers Read: Lori L. Tharps.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hilary Thayer Hamann

Hilary Thayer Hamann is the author of a work of literary fiction, Anthropology of an American Girl, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a young woman growing up in Reagan era America. The novel was first published by Vernacular Press, an independent publishing company of which Ms. Hamann was founder and co-owner. Anthropology was purchased for publication by Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, and releases this month.

From her Q & A with Steven Kurutz at the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: Why does the novel resonate with young women?

Ms. Hamann: It's a substantial endeavor and takes being a woman in this culture very seriously. If I thought anything, I thought my book wasn't as "light" as other books for women. They look like a pregnancy test: you go to an airport and everything is light blue and pink.

WSJ: How much of the heroine's story is your own?

Ms. Hamann: I wouldn't say it's autobiographical but I attended the same schools, walked on the same streets. I think incoporated into my story are the stories of other women. I tried to make a constellation, not a single star.

WSJ: The book is set partly in the Hamptons in 1979. What was the area like then?

Ms. Hamann: There was a sense that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Robert Penn Warren

From Robert Penn Warren's 1957 interview with The Paris Review:

Do you feel that there are certain themes which are basic to the American experience, even though a body of writing in a given period might ignore or evade them?

First thing, without being systematic, what comes to mind without running off a week and praying about it, would be that America was based on a big promise—a great big one: the Declaration of Independence. When you have to live with that in the house, that’s quite a problem—particularly when you’ve got to make money and get ahead, open world markets, do all the things you have to, raise your children, and so forth. America is stuck with its self-definition put on paper in 1776, and that was just like putting a burr under the metaphysical saddle of America—you see, that saddle’s going to jump now and then and it pricks.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 24, 2010

Michael Harvey

Michael Harvey's new novel is The Third Rail.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Hmm ... I can think of three and can’t pick between them. THE LONG GOODBYE, THE GREAT GATSBY, THE SUN ALSO RISES.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Sam Spade ... is there any other answer?

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Clive Cussler, Eric Ambler, Homer.
Read the complete Interview.

Read an excerpt from The Third Rail, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Harvey's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Third Rail.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jonathan Littell

Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones is a brutally graphic novel about the Holocaust narrated by Max Aue, a former Nazi officer.

From Littell's Q & A with the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: Why pick this topic?

Mr. Littell: It evolved slowly. I wanted to write about the war initially and then the emphasis focused on the genocide. I knew I wanted to do it first person. I didn't have any hesitation. I've been in dark places a good part of my life.

What was the process?

I started on this full time in 2001, but I'd been thinking about it for a dozen years. The research was done very systematically. I drew up a long reading list. I then divided it thematically and read chunk after chunk. Along the way you find out about new books and one topic leads to another. I also fit in trips along the way, including Jewish communities in the Caucasus.

How difficult was it to focus on the death squads in the Ukraine and various concentration camps? When you write, you don't think about the content, you think about the sentences, the grammar, the syntax, the rhythm. It's like a painter. Hieronymus Bosch was able to paint Hell by thinking...[read on]
The Kindly Ones is one of writer/director John Waters' six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bernd Heinrich

Bernd Heinrich is a renowned naturalist and emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont. His new book is The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy.

From his Q & A with Jed Lipinski at The Barnes & Noble Review:

Can penguins really feel love?

When I talk about penguins experiencing love, I'm talking about mechanisms that we have for attachment, for reproduction. And I don’t think that’s anthropomorphizing at all. It's not any more of a generalization than saying the muscles of a bird act the same way in moving a limb as they do for us. Of course, attachment is going to be very different between species, just as it is between individual humans.

But when I wrote as much in my Op-Ed on March of the Penguins for the New York Times, many readers rejected the idea of love as a chemically induced state of mind that many animals share. One reader seemed threatened by the idea that humans might not be special, that they might be just another animal. He felt love was an exalted feeling that only humans can have. Yet most biologists simply look at a trait’s functional aspects: what it does, what it's for, why it evolved. We're interested in the differences, of course, but also in the things we all have in common.

Why do you think "March of the Penguins" was such a hit?

Because people recognized aspects of our own behavior in them, for one. But I think it's a mistake to see them as archetypes of virtue, as many viewers did, because by that measure you'd have to hold up others as archetypes of evil. The male bird of paradise, for example, will mate with anything that comes along every few minutes. So if you hold up a penguin as something to emulate, then why not a bird of paradise? It's not that penguins are nicer or better than birds of paradise—they're just penguins. As humans, we tend to impose a moral framework on animal behavior, as we do on our own. We value that which doesn’t put a burden on society. But birds don’t have morals in the sense of emotional pressures to act in a certain way. They are what they do, and do what they are.

We have this idea that many birds, like swans, for example, are these ideals of monogamy. Is this true?

Monogamy among birds...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 21, 2010

Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins was hailed in 2004 by Publishers Weekly as "a new breed of writer." A frequent Mystery Writers of America "Edgar" nominee, he has earned an unprecedented fifteen Private Eye Writers of America "Shamus" nominations for his historical thrillers, winning for his Nathan Heller novels, True Detective (1983) and Stolen Away (1991).

He collaborated with Mickey Spillane on a number of works, a subject he discussed with crime fiction maven J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet:

JKP: How much of The Big Bang is actually Spillane’s, and what contributions did you bring to that existing story?

MAC: Each of these books is different, but the outcome is usually about 50-50 Mickey and me. In the case of The Big Bang, Mickey had written four very long chapters. I turned these into around seven or eight somewhat shorter chapters, expanding and shaping and inserting my own stuff. In addition to those chapters, Mickey had significant plot and character notes. Plus, he had given me the ending.

What I do not do is simply plop down Mickey’s portion, and then pick up where he leaves off. The seamlessness many readers and reviewers have noted derives in part from my method of weaving material in and around Mickey’s. I frankly can’t always remember who wrote what, when I’m looking at the galley proofs. But that’s the way it should be in a good collaboration.

JKP: The Big Bang is all about the trafficking of recreational drugs into the United States and the negative effects that trade had on users. Spillane was a pretty conservative guy, as I understand it--at least politically conservative. Can I assume he was concerned in real life about the perniciousness of the international drugs business?

MAC: He felt strongly about this subject. The Big Bang’s conclusion (which we will allude to but not reveal) posits a solution to New York’s drug problem that is shockingly harsh. Mickey told me that if his own son were a drug addict, he would stand behind what Mike Hammer does at the end of the novel. He did not see the ending as just metaphorical, but as practical. To me, it’s a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Liane Merciel

As a so-called “Army brat,” Liane Merciel grew up in Germany, South Korea, and several different parts of the United States. She now lives in Philadelphia, where she practices law. She is an alumnus of Yale University and the College of William & Mary Law School. Her new novel is The River Kings' Road.

From her Q & A with Alex Bledsoe:

What came to you first: your characters, their world or their dilemma?

Yesss, starting with the easy ones. Thanks. ;)

The world came first. I've been working in and on the world of Ithelas for about ten years as part of an online RPG I used to run (and still occasionally run when I have time, although that is not very often these days). It's changed enormously over that time, and the version used in the books is itself substantially different from the game version, but one way or another I've been playing in this sandbox for a while.

The characters were the next step. I took a sample of people who could give different perspectives into that world: some who were native to the region, others who were foreigners. Some men, some women. People who had special talents with magic or sharp pointy objects, and people who couldn't wield anything deadlier than a bread paddle. Your usual motley six-pack for high fantasy.

After that, of course, I was stuck trying to find something that could bring all these disparate people together and put them into motion for a plot. Then I thought: what is one concern that transcends gender, social class, and nationality? What's something that anybody could care about? A...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The River Kings' Road, and learn more about the book and author at Liane Merciel's website.

The Page 69 Test: The River Kings' Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein is the author of the John Ceepak Jersey Shore mysteries Tilt A Whirl, Mad Mouse, Whack A Mole, Hell Hole, Mind Scrambler, and Rolling Thunder.

He also writes thrillers and award-winning ghost stories for middle grades readers: The Crossroads, The Hanging Hill, and the forthcoming The Smoky Corridor.

From his Q & A with Jack Getze at Spinetingler Magazine:

Tell us about the new Ceepak [novel]. What’s the story about? Does the relationship between Danny and Ceepak make any change?

The new Ceepak (mystery number 6 in the series) is called Rolling Thunder. After going down to Atlantic City in Mind Scrambler, I wanted to get the boys back home in Sea Haven. The story starts on opening day for a brand new wooden roller coaster (The Rolling Thunder) built on the refurbished boardwalk that had some arson issues in Hell Hole. The owner and his family take the first ride around the rails and, halfway up the third hill, his wife has a heart attack. Or did she? Things get even more complicated when a local beach babe is found dead one week later. Danny has to really step up in this story and, in fact, at the climax is basically on his own! Ceepak’s skeevy dad shows up again, too....

* * *
Where did Ceepak come from? Is he all imagination, or did you pull things from real people? A Jersey policeman?

Ceepak was a conscious effort on my part to create a memorable character that had not yet been done in the genre; almost the polar opposite of the bitter, hard drinking, burnt-out ex-cop. He is an amalgam of an FDNY fire captain friend of mine, a nephew who was a Marine in the first Gulf War, and some soldiers I met at a wedding, one of whom was named Jon Cepak.[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Chris Grabenstein's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Chris Grabenstein & Fred.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Deborah Schupack

Deborah Schupack is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, as well as numerous short stories and newspaper and magazine articles. She runs a copywriting firm, King Street Creative, and lives in the Lower Hudson Valley. Her new novel is Sylvan Street.

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

Q. Sylvan Street has an entire neighborhood of protagonists. What challenges came with writing about so many central characters? Which characters were easiest to write, and which were the most difficult?

Once I came up with the idea for Sylvan Street and a neighborhood modeled on my own, households started to flourish in my head (although they are very different from my neighbors). My routine—and it was a pretty idyllic one, surely one I’ll never be able to duplicate—was to go on a midday bike ride around the hills and reservoirs of the Hudson Valley, and just let my mind write a scene. I often had a nugget in mind, and biking in the midst of my beloved scenery, the old rock walls, the neat idiosyncratic houses up here, was amazingly generative.

Many characters, and whole sets of characteristics, came to me pretty round and full. Sally, for instance. I heard her voice perfectly. I could listen closely to her and write a whole scene that way. Keith, too. His voice, his stance. I felt I could just write and write whenever Keith was around.

In the early part of the writing, I felt I knew a lot about Maggie and Billy’s relationship, but less about each character. In paying attention to developing them, I became more and more charmed by Billy. I fell not for his obvious charms but more for the humility and genuine talent I saw behind that pretty-boy exterior. He really grew on me. Shoshanna and Maggie were the most difficult to write—oddly, although maybe tellingly, because they are the ones closest to me, at least in terms of age and gender (though not, mercifully, circumstances).

The greatest challenge was to keep all the characters’ complexities and interactions within a tightly structured, lean story line. I ended up cutting some scenes that I’m really proud of but that slackened the plot. With the wonder of the internet, I’m able to “preserve” some of those scenes on my website and offer them to the reader in a different venue—adding to the reading experience, I hope, while not...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Sylvan Street.

Visit Deborah Schupack's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 17, 2010

Melissa Febos

From a Q & A with Melissa Febos, author of the memoir Whip Smart:

You must have encountered some food fetishes in your time as a dominatrix. Care to share any stories?

Well, I had a lot of clients who wanted to be caught eating junk food, and then punished for it.

What do you think is at the root of food fetishes?

The same thing that is at the root of all fetishes--the object becomes a vessel for emotions, obsessions, escape. Often it's a symbol, of an experience, a trauma, an epiphany. Usually, I think people are trying to answer some implicit question. At least that's what I'm trying to do when I revisit something over and over.

What's the most common food fetish you and your co-workers saw?

Do golden shower cocktails count as a "food" fetish?

Is your newfound fame bringing you any odd or unwanted attention?

Um, yes. To say...[read on]
Read more about Whip Smart.

Visit the official Melissa Febos website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ilana Stanger-Ross

Ilana Stanger-Ross's debut novel Sima's Undergarments for Women is out this month in paperback. From a Q & A at the author's website:

Where did the idea for Sima and her basement undergarment shop come from?

I’ll confess: it was my mother’s idea. She grew up in Boro Park, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Sima’s shop is located, and has remained loyal to it. When I was a child, we’d go to Boro Park whenever I needed new clothes, so I grew up thinking that everyone shopped in clothing stores where the owner squeezed your cheeks and gossiped with your mother while deftly navigating narrow passages between rows of discount clothes.

When it came time to buy my first bra I imagined shopping at some anonymous, well-lit department store, but, alas, back to my mother’s own childhood we went. She took me to Miss Pauline’s, an old-fashioned shop wedged into a tiny space on Coney Island Avenue, where I was promptly felt-up by Miss Pauline herself, a zaftig woman undeterred by pre-pubescent squeamishness.

In high school I ditched Miss Pauline for Victoria’s Secret, but in my twenties I returned, usually with my mother in tow. A bra-fitting makes a huge difference, so I became, if not a regular, at least an occasional but devoted visitor to Miss Pauline’s shop. Just around the time I began my MA in Fiction at Temple University I returned to the store only to find it was closing. Miss Pauline was retiring, and there was no one to replace her. My mother suggested I write about her shop, and the idea intrigued me. In a one-on-one seminar with Dr. Alan Singer at Temple I began to write a short story set in a bra-shop. After a few drafts he asked, “Why isn’t this a novel?” I told him it had to be a short story, because I was too terrified to embark on a novel. He didn’t buy that excuse, and it began from there.

Do you think this book is only for women readers?

I imagine it’ll appeal to women more, in part because it’s such a woman-centered novel, and then again because women read more fiction than men. It’s also an interesting time to be debuting as a female author…chick-lit has emerged as a bestseller category, and there’s definitely the temptation to promote Sima as chick-lit because of the bra-shop setting. But...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Sima's Undergarments for Women, and learn more about the book and author at Ilana Stanger-Ross' website.

The Page 69 Test: Sima's Undergarments for Women.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende's new novel is The Island Beneath the Sea. From her Q & A with Alexandra Alter for the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: How did you choose the book's setting?

Ms. Allende: I wasn't even planning it. I had written a novel some time ago, "Zorro." One of the chapters happens in New Orleans, and I went there and researched it several times… I realized much of its character was given 200 years ago by 10,000 refugees who fled what was Haiti. They fled with their white families and their slaves and their concubines of color, and their children. It was an incredible event. It changed the city completely. So when I started to do the research about New Orleans [for the new novel], I needed to know why these people had come, these 10,000 refugees.

How did you research it?

I usually start by reading history, not only about the place but what was happening that time in the world. The French and the American Revolutions determined the time, so that was very important. These slaves were able to fight and defeat the troops of Napoleon, who had conquered Europe. They couldn't conquer the slaves in Haiti.

How do you transition from gathering research to creating a story?

It's a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 14, 2010

I.J. Parker

Shamus Award-winning author I.J. Parker talked about her series of novels featuring Sugawara Akitada, who works as a minor official in the Ministry of Justice in Heian Kyo, capital of Japan in the 11th century, with J. Sydney Jones. A small part of the interview:

What things about eleventh-century Japan make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?

I can’t speak for others, but I’ve always liked foreign locales for my own reading. Eleventh century Japan encompasses a complex, colorful, and remarkably sophisticated world. You find raw violence as well as strict formality, strange superstitions and enlightened teachings, and great power and wealth alongside extreme poverty and suffering. Both the refined and secluded world of the ruling nobility and the sturdy and lively one of soldiers, peasants, and merchants make possible a wide variety of plot choices and settings.

Did you consciously set out to use historical Japan as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?

I’ve never thought of setting as “character” and don’t know how that would function. Setting and its description can set a mood or atmosphere, suggest action, and support theme, but character for me is always the human factor. I do use setting consciously both to set mood and support theme. Occasionally, a particular setting is included because it is typical for the poetic awareness of nature in Japanese poetry and prose. My plots are almost always suggested by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Paul Doiron

From a Q & A with Paul Doiron about his new novel, The Poacher’s Son:

In your author’s note, you’ve said that the book was inspired by some features you wrote for Down East. What were those stories, and how did they evolve into an idea for your first novel?

When I started at Down East a number of years ago, I wrote a series of short features about offbeat stuff in Maine, and for some reason everything that interested me seemed to involve game wardens. A bear was killing pigs down the road; a warden shot it. A bobcat mistook a hunter for a turkey and jumped on his back; he called the wardens for help. It didn’t take me long to realize that Maine game wardens had really unusual jobs. Then, without really intending to do so, I began writing a novel about one.

You’ve been a successful writer and outdoorsman for some time. What made you want to incorporate those interests into a crime novel?

The crime genre was my first love — I remember devouring all the Sherlock Holmes stories as a kid — so I’m like the man who breaks up with a woman and then realizes, years after the fact, that she was right for him all along. Because when I went to college I began reading what most people categorize as literary fiction and decided that I wanted to write stories like Raymond Carver’s or novels like Tim O’Brien’s. Then my girlfriend (now my wife) gave me P.D. James to read, and I said, “Wait a second, this is a crime novel, but it’s also literature.” When you think about it, so many of the classic literary works are also corking novels of suspense: Crime...[read on]
Visit Paul Doiron's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meredith Cole

Meredith Cole's new novel is Dead in the Water.

From her Q & A at The Divining Wand:

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?

A: Elizabeth Bennett.

* * *
Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?

A: Professor Moriarty

* * *

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?

A: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Meredith Cole's website.

The Page 69 Test: Posed for Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Olen Steinhauer

Olen Steinhauer's new Milo Weaver thriller is The Nearest Exit.

Last year he answered some questions about The Tourist (the first Milo Weaver novel) posed by Oline H. Cogdill for Publishers Weekly. A taste of the dialogue:

What drew you to the spy thriller?

John le Carré. It wasn't until I picked up The Spy Who Came In from the Cold that it became clear how spy fiction can encompass all the social commentary, realism, philosophy and fine writing of literature, yet still maintain the vigorous pacing that hooks an audience.

What's the biggest challenge for you in writing a spy thriller?

Plausibility. There's the plausibility of the story itself, which may contain terrorists or competing intelligence agencies pulling off hard-to-believe acts. The spy genre was so well-mined by the 1970s that it's difficult to find an angle that hasn't become cliché. You have to come up with something completely new or look at the old plots with a fresh, contemporary eye.

Paranoia and lies preoccupy Milo Weaver, the CIA agent in The Tourist.

My interest in paranoia and lies...[read on]
Read Olen Steinhauer's essay, "The Origins of The Tourist."

Visit Olen Steinhauer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 10, 2010

Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom's novels include Love Invents Us, which examines the force of love in human relationships, and Away, a romantic epic about a young Russian immigrant to the US. Bloom teaches creative writing at Yale University.

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

Which literary character most resembles you?

Undoubtedly it’s one I’ve created. But when I was a little girl I thought I was Sydney Carton in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I don’t think anyone else did.

When were you happiest?

Now. If I could conflate my life now with my life raising my kids when they were young, that would be it.

What book do you wish you’d written?

There are two trilogies I admire: Robertson Davies’s The Deptford Trilogy and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Jane Isay

In 2004 Jane Isay left her job as Editor-in-Chief at Harcourt Trade Books to embark on a new career as a writer. Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents is the result.

Her new book is Mom Still Likes You Best: The Unfinished Business Between Siblings. From a Q & A at her website:

What made you decide to write about siblings?

I kept hearing bits and pieces of difficulties with brothers and sisters from the people I interviewed for Walking on Eggshells. I began to notice that many people feel that they don’t have good enough relationships with their siblings, and this is a source of worry and concern. Over time I came to see that this is another part of our lives where pain is accompanied by silence, and so there’s no relief. I wanted to see if I could understand more about the dynamics of closeness and distance, by listening to sibling stories.

Was writing your second book a different experience?

I understood the stages of writing such a book, from listening, to germinating, to drafting and rewriting. And I knew that it would be possible for me to complete the task. But this book was more difficult to write because it took a long time to understand the core of sibling relationships. So I spent days and days struggling with the issues and feeling less than smart. Then a wise friend said to me: “It’s when you feel stupid that you’re doing you best thinking—you are at work solving the puzzle.”
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Jane Isay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Daniel Okrent

Daniel Okrent's books include Great Fortune, a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history. His new book is Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

From his Q & A with James Mustich at the Barnes & Noble Review:

James Mustich: What drew you to Prohibition as a subject?

Daniel Okrent: My last book -- not counting a collection, but my last beginning-to-end book -- was a history of Rockefeller Center. I wrote a chapter about how the Rockefeller agents assembled the property, the three square blocks to build it on. And it turned out that those were the three blocks that were the center of the speakeasy belt in Manhattan, and to acquire the ground leases to 228 separate brownstones, the Rockefeller agents had to go place by place by place. I went to the city records to find out how they did it, and I kept on running into speakeasy owners who had more political clout than the Rockefeller family, who were able to stop them at various stages. I said, "Holy cow. How did that happen?" That's always the best way to start a book: how did that happen? Then it became a question of getting interested in Prohibition, and then wondering how did Prohibition happen. That's how Last Call was born.

JM: What was interesting to me in reading the book is the way you place Prohibition in a continuum; you go far back into the century before the Prohibition movement gathered steam, take us up to its passage through Congress, then go beyond its repeal to measure its lasting influence. This wider context transformed for me what we might call the received idea of Prohibition -- the idea that the whole country was hijacked by fanatic teetotalers for thirteen years, till it finally came to its senses.

DO: Actually...[read on]
Visit Daniel Okrent's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 7, 2010

Julie Orringer

Julie Orringer's much anticipated novel The Invisible Bridge is out this month.

Back in 2004 she was interviewed by the folks at Barnes & Noble. One exchange:

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?

It's difficult to choose one book that most influenced my life as a writer, but if I had to choose, I might say it was Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. When I was a high school student, I found a copy in a used bookstore in Ann Arbor. It was a 1943 Random House edition with gorgeous woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg -- Jane looked pale and determined in her plain governess' clothing; Mr. Rochester was dark-eyed, frightening, on a rearing horse. It was Jane's persistence and independence that I found exciting; I'd always loved stories about young women who struggled on through difficult circumstances, and Bronte's story seemed the archetypal example of the form.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow, raised in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom and now divides her time between London and Sierra Leone. Formerly an award winning journalist for BBC Television (1989-99), she is now a full-time writer. Her recent published works include Ancestor Stones, a novel set in West Africa, and The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir of her dissident father and her country. Her new novel is The Memory of Love, a story about friendship, war and obsessive love.

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

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

I temporarily became a surgeon for Memory of Love. I spent two weeks in an operating theatre, watching amputations, and I loved it.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Pi in Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. I was once a little boy before I had to become a grown-up woman.

Who are your literary influences?

Michael Ondaatje, for the scale of his stories and his extraordinary structures.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris' new Sookie Stackhouse novel is Dead in the Family.

From her Q & A with Deborah Solomon:

Why do you think vampires are omnipresent in popular culture?

People are really interested in the concept of eternal youth in this plastic-surgery culture. Vampires never die.

But they do evolve. How has the typical vampire changed since 1897, when Bram Stoker created Count Dracula, a blood-drinking Transylvanian aristocrat?

Oh, my gosh. My vampires are trying desperately to be contemporary so they can blend in. They have an alternative food source, which has emboldened them to try to join mainstream society. Synthetic blood, created by a Japanese company, satisfies their nutritional needs.

I suppose that’s social progress. At least your vampires can’t be described as misogynists who prey on defenseless women.

Well, mine are more sympathetic than Dracula. He had disgusting personal habits. He...[read on]
Read--Coffee with a Canine: Charlaine Harris & Scrunch, Rocky, and Oscar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Meghan Daum

Meghan Daum is the author of the essay collection My Misspent Youth and the novel The Quality of Life Report, a New York Times Notable Book. Her column on political, cultural, and social affairs appears weekly in the Los Angeles Times.

From a Q & A about her new book, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House:

Q: In LIFE WOULD BE PERFECT IF I LIVED IN THAT HOUSE, you detail your lifelong obsession with real estate and your quest for a place to call home. What does “home” mean to you? How has that meaning evolved over the years?

A: Asking what “home” means is like asking what “love” means. And, as I say in the book I have a pet peeve about people referring to houses as homes, especially if they’re talking in terms of real estate or about properties as physical, purchasable entities. “I just bought a new home,” someone will say. Really? What does that mean? You bought a feeling, a mélange of smells, a history? No, you bought a house! In my mind, you buy a house but you make a home.

So I guess for me the best way to talk about “home” is to talk about the elements of your surroundings that you make—your friends, your choices, your plans, and, yes, decisions about cities and neighborhoods and floors and furniture and window treatments. In terms of how this has evolved for me over the years, I think it correlated pretty closely with my sense of myself as an adult versus a non-adult. Like most children (most lucky children anyway) my earliest definition of home was, of course, the place where my parents were and my room was and where I ate dinner most nights. Later, when I left for college, I entered a pretty aimless period where I was obsessed with "having my own place” but wasn’t quite at a stage where that could happen in any kind of authentic way (a fancy way of saying I moved dorm rooms constantly and eventually rigged things up so I was basically living in New York City and going to college (in upstate New York) at the same time; I thought I was super cool and artsy and “having it all.” In fact, I was a bit of a caricature of the brooding co-ed with bohemian ambitions and suburban roots, plus I was squandering my education, but that’s another matter. In my 20s, I genuinely did live full-time in New York City, where, like many people, I soaked up the various ecstasies and discontents of the place so fully that it almost becomes part of your blood type. In my 30s, I’m embarrassed to say, I was extremely attached to certain pieces of antique furniture that I dragged from place to place and to certain interior decorating concepts that I tried to implement wherever I went. But I did live in some fantastic, beautiful places in my 30s. I lived on the Nebraska prairie and in the Santa Monica Mountains. I lived near the beach, near the Hollywood sign, and near a truck stop. And several beaux-arts lamps came with me every step of the way—not to mention my 85-pound sheepdog.

Over a six-month period from late last year to early this year, I got married, lost my mother, turned 40, and decided to...[read on]
Among the early praise for the book:
"Daum is, undoubtedly, one of the most interesting thinkers—and cultural critics—of our generation, if not the most interesting, and certainly one of the most elegant, sharp writers of prose around."
--Joanna Smith Rakoff
Visit Meghan Daum's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 3, 2010

Scott Turow

Scott Turow's new book is Innocent, the sequel to the bestselling Presumed Innocent.

From his Q & A with Sarah Weinman at The Barnes & Noble Review:

[note: spoiler alert--the interview gives away what happens in the book]

Sarah Weinman: Unlike Presumed Innocent, which is told exclusively from Rusty's first-person point of view, Innocent features four separate perspectives, belonging respectively to Rusty, his now-grown son (and budding law professor) Nat, Tommy Molto, and Rusty's senior law clerk, Anna Vostic. Why did this story need multiple angles?

Scott Turow: If a book is going well, there is always a character who kind of resonates with it. I don't think that when I started writing Innocent I had the idea of writing from Tommy's point of view. But I got up one morning and tried it, because I had an inkling that maybe it would be good to show the investigation of Barbara's death in parallel with what had gone on in Rusty's life a year before. With respect to Nat, I thought he was, in some ways, the most interesting character in the book, because there's a tremendous moral uncertainty about his father. The whole story depends on Nat's willful blindness to certain facts. I'm not sure that could be credible to a reader unless you enter his point of view. I don't think the mechanical considerations were as important to me as the fact of his position being represented. Once I had opened up the perspectives beyond Rusty, I sort of felt obliged to get into Anna's, because I don't think she can be as fully accepted as a character unless you really see how she understands herself.

SW: Anna struck me as an enigma, and I thought she would remain that way throughout the entire book. But all of a sudden, fairly deep into Innocent, she gets her own point of view. On one hand it elicited sympathy, but from a narrative standpoint it was surprising you waited so long to utilize it. Did you consider introducing her perspective earlier, in order to allow the reader to better understand her troubling, important decisions?

ST: The short answer is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Joseph Wambaugh

Joseph Wambaugh, a former LAPD detective sergeant, was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. His many books include The Hollywood Station trilogy.

From his Q & A with Dennis Marsili:

Q: When you were a police officer was there any particular case that sticks out in your mind that you could put a finger on that was a really important case for you?

JW: I don’t know about that so much but since I worked in LA most people want to know about show biz stuff. So when I worked at Wilshire station my first plain clothes assignment there, when I only had about 2 ½ years on the job we had what was called ‘Felony car’ we used to ride around in plain clothes in a plain car and look for felonies. It was kind of a patrol job but we were in plain clothes.

We spotted a couple of guys in a car in a parking lot at night. So we went and pulled them out and my partner took out the driver on his side and I took out the passenger. We got ID and patted them down and asked them ‘what are you doin’ out here?’ and my guy said ‘well we are at an actors studio up there and we came down and we got to talking and time got away from us. We are not doing anything wrong not doing dope or anything we are just sitting here.’

At this time he was not known to anyone, but I recognized him because I’m an old movie buff. Back in East Pittsburgh I used to go every Saturday afternoon to the theater, and see the double feature. I knew who all the child stars were, like ‘the little rascals’ and ‘our gang’ and I recognized this dude. He couldn’t believe it because he had left that all behind and wanted to be a real actor. At this time he was about 26 years old. I looked at his driver’s license and he said, ‘I m an actor really.’ Then I said I know who you are Mr. Blake.

Then many years later when I was a cop/writer I went on Johnny Carson. Blake was the highest paid actor in series television at the time because he had the show ‘Baretta’ and he was making a ton of money and was a big star.

The producer prepped me before the show and said, ‘we got a couple of guys on tonight you will be guests with have you ever met Robert Blake? And I said yeah and I described the story to him. They went out and prepped the audience and told them about Joe Wambaugh when he was working a plain clothes detail and pulled Robert Blake out of a car when Blake was a struggling nobody.

By that time when Blake was on the Johnny Carson show he had erased from his mind that he had been a child star on ‘Little rascals and our gang’ and he played in many feature films as a child actor. When I used to go to the Saturday matinee there used to be a serial called ‘Red Rider’. I used to have a ‘Red Rider’ BB gun when I was a kid. Red rider’s sidekick was a little Indian papoose. The papoose’s name was ‘little beaver’ and little beaver was Robert Blake. So I knew all this because I am a movie buff. So this is what I explained to the producer and the producer told the audience about this and all about ‘little beaver’.

Here is Blake who told people publicly that he was a starving actor on the streets and had to steal milk from the stoop next door in order for his family to survive. He had wiped out of his mind that he was a child star. So the audience is in on it all and Johnny is in on it all, Blake doesn’t know anything and doesn’t know what is going to happen.

So when I get called out, Blake was already done with his thing, he’s got that big cockatoo that was from the show. He had the bird on his shoulder and he is sitting there real cool. So I come out and Carson says here is the author/cop Joe Wambaugh. I sit down and Johnny says, “Joe have you ever met Robert Blake?” and I say “Oh yeah,” and the audience starts to giggle and Johnny has a little smirk and Blake looks puzzled. Then Johnny says, “Oh yeah? Well where?”

So I described it and I can see the light dawning on Blake. We get to the punch line; now remember it was all setup, so Johnny says “Did you arrest Mr. Blake for anything Joe; that night?”

And I said, “No way, I didn’t want to go down in motion picture history as the guy that busted ‘little beaver.’”

Now remember Blake has tried to hide all this from everybody. He was so pissed off he turned white and everybody is laughing. We go to commercial he jumps up the damn cockatoo goes flying he leaps up storms off the set and leaves. So I said to Johnny, “Was that kind of mean what we just did to that guy?”

Johnny said,...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 1, 2010

David Baldacci

Many of David Baldacci's political thrillers are set in Washington, D.C.

From his 2009 Q & A with The Hill:

So many of your books are set in Washington and have to do with the government and politics. What got you writing about Washington?

I moved there when I graduated from law school to practice in the mid-’80s, and my law offices were only a few blocks from the White House. I would catch glimpses of Secret Service men every so often, and I would see protesters in Lafayette Park a lot. It’s sort of an energetic place; it just seemed like a lot of fodder. I like to call Washington the only place that can raise your federal income tax and declare war. It just seemed like there were a lot of story ideas from there.

What kind of feedback do you get from your readers who also work in the sectors you write about? Do they ever try to correct you on anything?

You always have people who have special expertise, and if you get something wrong, they will no doubt tell you. That’s OK. I get that a lot from gun aficionados. If you write anything about a gun, you’ll get 1,000 people e-mailing you to say you got this or that wrong.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about David Baldacci and his books at his website.

The Page 69 Test: Stone Cold.