Wednesday, June 30, 2010

John Connolly

John Connolly is the author of Every Dead Thing, Dark Hollow, The Killing Kind, The White Road, Bad Men, Nocturnes, The Black Angel, The Gates, and The Whisperers. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and lives in Dublin, Ireland.

From his Q& A with Boyd Tonkin in the Independent:

Choose a favourite writer and say why you like her/him?

Ross Macdonald. [His detective] Lew Archer was such an influence on me, especially in his capacity for empathy. I've been fascinated by the idea that evil is the absence of empathy.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

It would still be Ignatius J Reilly from [John Kennedy Toole's] 'A Confederacy of Dunces'. As I get older I tend to rail against the world more and more.

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

I'm very wary of heroes: they always let you down in the end. It would probably be somebody in music such as Neil Young or Kate Bush; someone with a very tenacious vision of themselves and their work.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Susan Isaacs

Susan Isaacs' new novel is As Husbands Go.

From her 2004 Q & A at Barnes & Noble:

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

For a couple of months during college, I was wowed by H. L. Mencken's book of essays, Prejudices. Its influence was both positive and negative. I loved the author's iconoclastic instincts, his razzle-dazzle language, and his contemptuous take on the assorted idiocies of American politics and culture. My infatuation could not last longer than a couple of months because of Mencken's off-the-cuff racist and anti-Semitic asides: How could anyone that smart be that stupid?

In any case, while in Mencken mode, I wrote an essay for the college newspaper defending the fraternity/sorority system. (Fortunately, I can find no trace of this piece and thus can avoid confronting my younger, dopier, and more arrogant self.) The response was, to me, astounding. More pats on the back then I could count and, on the other hand, a stunning number of outraged letters to the editor protesting what I had written. A grand fuss, but it brought me little pleasure. True, I loved the attention, but it didn't take me long to realize both the applause and the fuming was not for me, but rather, for my competent imitation of H. L. Mencken.

A little more than a decade later, when I began writing my first novel, I started to realize that all I had as a writer was my own voice. Sure, I could imitate Mencken or, for that matter, Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde. But that was just a clever college-kid trick. Mencken and Austen and Wilde were far better Menckens and Austens and Wildes than I could ever be. Besides, why would any reader bother with an imitation when they could read the real thing? All I could be, for better or worse, was Susan Isaacs.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mark Terry

Mark Terry is the author of three Derek Stillwater novels, The Devil's Pitchfork, The Serpent's Kiss, and The Fallen, as well as two standalone novels, Dirty Deeds and Dancing in the Dark.

From his Q & A with Travis Erwin:

I've read your blog long enough to know you are a tireless researcher, but given the fact your characters are knee deep in matters of national security, how do you go about gathering information on weapons and procedures and such without raising red flags in gov't institutions the world over? Or does the FBI and CIA hold a constant vigil outside your door? Yeah I'm mostly joking, but have you ever had any "interesting" inquiries as to why you are looking into such matters as chemical warfare and biological weapons?

I'm reasonably certain my Internet searches have caught the attention of the FBI etc. Here's an example: over the last several weeks I've been researching chemical weapons that come out of Russia and domestic terrorism in Russia. Then, two or three weeks of that, there's a Moscow subway bombing by domestic terrorists. If my name doesn't come up on some sort of list somewhere at the Federal level, then someone's really not doing their job. Particularly in that some of my searches are for things that are a little bit more esoteric than, say, VX gas or Sarin. I mean, how many people have even heard of Soman?

At my last house my next-door neighbor put up this huge satellite dish (this was before the small dishes) that looked like something you could contact Mars with, and then--weirdly--built an addition onto the house so the satellite pole came up out of the roof. For a while there we swore Juan must have been working for the NSA. And once I had a private investigator come to the house, flash his credentials and ask if he could use our driveway for surveillance purposes. Not to be paranoid, but you do...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Fallen.

My Book, the Movie: The Fallen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Brady Udall

Brady Udall's new novel is The Lonely Polygamist.

From a Q & A about his earlier novel, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint:

How did you come to write The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint? Was there a specific event that inspired you to write a book about a mailman running over the head of a young boy?

My wife's ex-boyfriend was actually run over by a mail truck, just like Edgar in the book. This guy was dating my wife at the same time I was dating her (unbeknownst to me) and when she finally fessed up about it, I demanded to know all about this bastard. Among other things, she told me that in his youth he'd been run over by a mailman and was so badly injured that he was presumed dead. It turned out that he survived and went on to become my rival for my future-wife's affections. Anyway, after my wife's confession, I went out to find this guy—not to beat him up, but to verify his story. I found him at his apartment and he very graciously told me everything. He told me there was one thing he wanted to do in this life: find the mailman and tell him that he was okay, that he had lived a healthy, normal life. I jotted it all down in a notebook while he talked, knowing I'd write a book about it some day.

Have you received any reaction from the Native American community in response to the way reservation life and the Willie Sherman school are represented in the book?

The only responses I've gotten from Native Americans have been good ones. It seems that only educated white folks object to the portrayal of the reservation and the school. Most Native Americans are quite aware of the extreme poverty and destitution that can be found in reservations all over this country.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Scott Turow

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

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

What book changed your life?

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, when I was 17. It thrilled me so profoundly.

* * *
What books are on your bedside table?

I’m away from home so on my iPad I have Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I want to see what all the fuss is about.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

Age 11, after reading The Count of Monte Cristo [by Alexandre Dumas]. But at university I decided writing would not support me.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Saul Bellow. He and my father were in high school together. He is the literary recreation of my father’s sensibility and he helped me to come to terms with the world I came from. Dickens has had more direct influence on my style, syntax and grammar than anyone else.
Read the complete Q & A.

See Scott Turow's five favorite pre-1980 novels about the law.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ian Rankin

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

How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

You mean the body count in my books? I've no idea. I think it's quite low – one or two corpses per tome, and each book represents a year in the life of Edinburgh.

Ever dispatched someone and then regretted it?

Often. The prospective member of the Scottish parliament in Set In Darkness – I liked him, but the narrative didn't. Then there was the old priest Rebus used to hang out with – he died of natural causes, but it came as a bit of a shock.

Have you ever been in trouble with the police?

Back when I was writing the first Rebus, they...[read on]
See: Ian Rankin's 6 best books.

Read J. Kingston Pierce's 2000 interview with Rankin at January Magazine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jess Walter

Jess Walter's latest novel is The Financial Lives of the Poets.

From his Q & A about the novel at Fringe Magazine:

Q. You dedicate this novel to a couple of “dismayed and displaced newspaper friends, whose talent and commitment deserve a better world.” Did you initially set out to write a novel about a journalist damaged by the decay of the newspaper industry, or did making Matt Prior a newspaperman just seem to fit the character you had already envisioned?

A. I rarely set out to do anything. The bud of “Financial Lives” was a piece of the first chapter that I wrote, a big, sloppy poem in which a guy goes into a 7/11, runs into some dudes looking for munchies and two hours later is stoned stupid. That was months before I began working on the novel. I tried the thing aloud at a few readings and became so taken with that voice–even though it was an awful poem–that I began that great process of trying to figure out who this guy was, other than some middle-aged guy shocked by the improved potency of pot. He rants and dissembles and makes fun of himself, but seems almost charmed by his own failings. I liked him.

As often happens with me, I rifled through the trunk of other things I wanted to write about at the time, the other cultural obsessions I have at that time. The sad, sad decline of newspapers was right at the top of the trunk. And happily, Matt felt like a lot of the journalists I knew, including myself, a smart-ass underachiever. At the time, dozens of former colleagues and friends were losing their newspaper jobs and it felt right to me, and seemed to make the book larger, part of this seismic cultural shift, to give Matt a dying career that it would have been impossible to imagine our culture without a few years ago. Being a...[read on]
Jess Walter's Citizen Vince was Nick Hornby's favorite novel of 2006.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nicola Barker

Nicola Barker's latest novel is Burley Cross Postox Theft (2010), a comic epistolary novel.

From her Q & A with the Observer:

You're a great mimic as a writer and the new book involves you taking on the voices of a whole village. How do you manage that?

I'm partially deaf, so when I meet people or watch people I have to concentrate very hard on the rhythm of their speech. If I don't, nothing makes any sense. My skills at mimicry probably aren't particularly to my credit – I'm just like a short-sighted person who has an excellent sense of smell. Evolution can be generous like that, sometimes.

Your new book, Burley Cross Postbox Theft, is an epistolary novel - are you a great letter writer yourself?

I can honestly say that I am a terrible letter writer. Dull as ditchwater. Can't spell for toffee. But I'm great at decorating envelopes. I've made an art form out of it. If you get a letter from me, it'll be a beautiful piece of crap, basically.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Nicola Barker's Darkmans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Victor Gischler

Keith Rawson interviewed Victor Gischler for Spinetingler Magazine. A sample of their conversation:

Speaking of Toby Sawyer [of The Deputy], most of your male protagonist tend to be–and excuse the phrasing–irresponsible assholes. What’s your attraction to writing this type of character?

I hate heroes in crime fiction who have flaws like “They care too much” or they’re alcoholics and “struggle every day to keep sober.” That ABC After School Special stuff leaves me cold. If my protagonists ever feel any sense of redemption, then it truly is a triumph because that start so far down in a moral/ethical hole. My protagonists don’t know readers are watching them. It doesn’t occur to them to be on their best behavior. Having said that, many readers are often surprised they can find away to like/care about the protagonist. One of the comments I got all the time about Charlie Swift (the protagonist of Gun Monkeys) was along the lines of “I don’t know why I like this guy, but I do.” I like to challenge the reader with the implied statement “This fucking guy is going to be your hero for the rest of this damn novel. Can you handle that?”

With most of your novels–as with Sawyer’s underage girlfriend in The Deputy–you’ll typically feature a strong female character to offset the relative immaturity of your male protagonist. What’s your attraction to writing this type of female lead?

All I really want is for my female characters (all my characters actually) to be...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Victor Gischler's Blogpocalypse.

Victor Gischler is a former English professor. His books include Gun Monkeys, The Pistol Poets, Suicide Squeeze, Shotgun Opera, Go-Go-Girls of the Apocalypse, and Vampire a Go-Go.

The Page 69 Test: Shotgun Opera.

My Book, The Movie: Shotgun Opera.

The Page 69 Test: Go-Go-Girls of the Apocalypse.

The Page 69 Test: Vampire a Go-Go.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 21, 2010

Natasha Friend

Natasha Friend is the author of the YA novels Perfect, Bounce, Lush, and the newly released For Keeps.

From her Q & A with Hartford Books Examiner:

2) How do you go about capturing authentic voice for your characters? Did FOR KEEPS require research in this area or were you simply able to call upon your vast array of life experiences (camp counselor, tutor, teacher) to do so?

My inner angst-ridden teenage girl is alive and well. I still have every note passed to me in junior high and high school, sitting in a box in my closet—primary source material at its finest. The voices of my characters live in my head, and, for the most part, the subject matter of my books—eating disorders, alcoholism, blended families, teen pregnancy—has required little research. I draw on my own experiences, and those of my friends, former campers, students. The rest I leave up to my muse.

3) You studied psychology at Bates College before earning an MA from Clemson University's English program. How has that background informed your writing? Did you find it especially beneficial when dealing with the heavy subject matter of FOR KEEPS?

My fascination with human psychology—sparked by Dr. Moyer in my first psych 101 class at Bates—informs everything I write. I...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: For Keeps.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 20, 2010

R.N. Morris

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

Michael Gregorio: A Razor Wrapped in Silk--that’s a really great title, Roger. Alliterative, and very seductive. Swishy, like a flashing cut-throat razor blade. Where did it come from? Did you write the story, then search for a title, or was the story somehow inspired by the phrase?

R.N. Morris: The title is a phrase in Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot. It occurs in a letter written by the complex and troubled Nastasya Fillipovna. The context is quite complicated and I can’t really begin to explain it. Basically, she’s shacked up with this guy Rogozhin, of whom she writes: “I am convinced that hidden in his drawer is a razor, wrapped in silk, like that murderer in Moscow; he too lived in the same house with his mother and had wrapped a razor in silk to cut a throat with.” When I read that I just knew that I had to write a novel called A Razor Wrapped in Silk. I hope the book lives up to the title! Rogozhin does, indeed, fulfill the role she seems to be urging on him, and he becomes her murderer.

MG: Has your “purloining” of it added to, or detracted from, Dostoevsky’s intentions?

RNM: Ha! Good question. Whenever I go back to Dostoevsky, I’m struck by how much more complex, rich, and profound his books are than mine! This is one such case. His psychological depth and insight is breathtaking. But I hope my purloining hasn’t detracted from his intentions. His work still stands, obviously, independent of mine. I’m like a literary flea on a great beast’s back. The great beast continues undeterred. Our intentions are very different. I can say that. Mine are simply to create entertaining mystery stories. That’s hard enough for me!
Read the complete Q & A in The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beth Raymer

From a Q & A with Beth Raymer, author of Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling:

You write that you associated gambling with "some of the happiest moments of my childhood." Where did you grow up?

We started out in St. Clairsville, Ohio, then we moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. My father was a car salesman. Usually around gambling with my father, everyone was drinking and in a good mood, cocktail waitresses were beautiful with nice clothes and lots of makeup. Being around money was very thrilling, and I understood the power of it.

You held a lot of varied jobs before you got hired by Dink [a professional gambler] in Las Vegas—you worked at a residential home for troubled teenage girls and as an "in-home stripper" for $150 an hour. Did you feel already at age 24 that you needed a second chance?

I wasn’t a good student at all. I never went to class; I basically worked. I liked working much better than going to school. I liked making money. I found a new start in Las Vegas. No one is really from there. People there don’t have family; they’re on their own. They have some degenerate gene in them. That appealed to me.

How long did it take you to learn the lingo of gambling in Las Vegas?

It took a couple of months. I was around people who had been gambling since they were teenagers. Once, I was with all the gambling crew from Dink’s at a Sunday brunch, and the bill came, and they all pulled out wads of money. It was so normal for them to talk about money and in this slang—it was always like, "Oh, I made a decent amount of money," and I always wondered what "a decent amount of money" was. For me that meant about $30, but for them, "a decent amount of money" meant $250,000.

How much did you make?...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 18, 2010

Maggie Pouncey

From a Q & A with Maggie Pouncey about her new novel, Perfect Reader:

Describe the idea of the “perfect reader.” Why did you choose this as the novel’s title?

This is a notion you sometimes hear, from both writers and scholars—I’ve heard Martin Amis described as Saul Bellow’s perfect reader, for instance. It’s the notion that there is someone in the world who can and will read a book exactly as the author hoped it would be read. It’s a recognition fantasy, the fantasy of being truly seen and known, and there’s something fascinating, and moving, and troubling about these fantasies of recognition we all travel around with, as a kind of antidote to aloneness. So for me, it was a way into the question of how well we can know another person. In Flora’s case, she becomes her father’s literary executor, where the job description as she sees it is to be, essentially, the perfect reader, and so the question becomes how well can—and really, should—a child know a parent.

You grew up on a few different college campuses, the daughter of a professor and later a college president. How did the environment surrounding your childhood affect your writing of this fictional town of Darwin and of the world of academia?

I started writing stories set in the town of Darwin in high school, maybe fifteen years ago now. Darwin is at once everywhere and nowhere I’ve lived. The college campus is a place I know intimately, in my bones. I’m certainly not an academic, but I grew up watching and listening to academics, and I was always struck by their particular breed of humor, and disappointment. My upbringing caused me to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lisa Unger

Author Alafair Burke put a few questions to Lisa Unger, including:

You live in Florida, but DIE FOR YOU takes readers to the streets of both New York City and Prague. How did you decide to set the book in these locations, and how were you able to depict them so credibly?

I lived in New York City for thirteen years, and visit many times a year. So it really is one of the places I know best. When I close my eyes, I can hear it, smell it, taste it. And it has occupied such a huge place in my heart and imagination for so long that my novels seem to naturally begin there.

In 2007, I spent five weeks in Prague. And the city itself – its dark history, its gothic beauty – inspired DIE FOR YOU. I wandered the streets of that city with my husband and daughter and just let it sink into my skin. I kept thinking that Prague was a city of secrets, that beneath its pretty cobblestone streets beats a dark heart. I love that energy … it’s the same pulse in New York, and even in Florida. This idea -- that beneath the glamour of New York City, the beauty of Prague, or the sunshine of Florida lurks something feral -- is fascinating for me. The same might also be said for the lives of many of my characters.

Did your time in Prague change anything about your creative process or writing habits?

Initially, I went to Prague...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is the author of the novels Die a Little, The Song Is You, the 2008 Edgar winner Queenpin, and Bury Me Deep.

From her Q & A with Craig McDonald in 2008:

CM: Your novels are steeped in period detail, slang and attitude, yet don’t stray over that treacherous line into pastiche. How do you maintain that tricky balance?

MA: It’s very hard, and I don’t always, especially on the first draft. I guess because I’ve so immersed myself in the films and the books there are certain clichés of the genre that eventually, the more you read it, stand out. When people first see film noir, they see the venetian blinds, but that’s the least-interesting part of film noir. Everyone wants to talk about Out of the Past, and I love Out of the Past, but there are so many more interesting film noirs. At a certain point, you get that kind of geek quality about it. So I’m less interested in the kitschy parts now as a reader and a film-viewer and as a writer. I’m looking for the less-trod ground. When I’m doing research, it’s my habit to look through old books and magazines and I’m really looking for the odd piece…the piece of slang you’ve never heard. The phrase you never see. I’m more fixated on the idiosyncratic.

CM: You’ve described yourself as a collector of “vintageware”…of men’s magazines and period advertising that inform your 1950s-set novels. What did you do differently in terms of researching Bury Me Deep, which is set in 1931?

MA: It was ...[read on]
At The Rap Sheet: The Story Behind the Story: “Bury Me Deep,” by Megan Abbott.

The Page 69 Test: Bury Me Deep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tana French

Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990.

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

Q. A recurring anxiety in your fiction concerns the intrusion of mass culture into Ireland and the consequent erosion of the country's traditional character and identity. Do you find that there is still a "real" Ireland, or have Burger King and Britney Spears triumphed at last?

I think the Irish sense of identity is a strange, complicated thing that's been shaped, or misshaped, by centuries of poverty and oppression, first under British rule and then under Church rule. We became extreme: there's a sense, almost at a subconscious level, that either you cling to your origins to the point of resisting all change, or else you need to ditch them altogether, pretend they never existed, in order to get ahead. This was very obvious during the economic boom, when a lot of people-mainly in my generation and the one behind us-seemed to run as far and as fast as they could from anything that was identifiably Irish: accent, slang, fashion sense, cultural references, all shifted into some nonspecific mid-Atlantic bland zone. For a lot of people, anything that marked us as Irish was linked to being poor, isolated, provincial and generally inferior. We were like the poor immigrant kid who strikes it rich and instantly changes his name, gets accent lessons, refuses to eat Old Country food and almost dies of embarrassment if his new cool friends run into his parents. The implication was that the past and the future are somehow mutually exclusive: if you want to lay claim to your future, you have to ditch your past.

Personally, I think that attitude is slightly insane. It's very possible to transcend your past without forgetting it-I know plenty of people who've done exactly that. But if you try to eliminate it altogether, you're ripping the foundations out of your future. I'm hoping this might be one of the few silver linings to the terrifying recession we're in: an end to the hysterical scramble to turn into the Joneses, and a reexamination of what we have that's worthwhile and unassailably ours. I still believe that there's plenty there, and that there's no reason why we can't find a balance between that and the more global influence.

Q. How fully do you plot a mystery before you write it? Are you yourself ever surprised by the direction that one of your stories takes?

I don't have...[read on]
Also see Tana French's top ten maverick mysteries.

Visit Tana French's website.

The Page 69 Test: In the Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 14, 2010

Margaret Atwood

A few questions Margaret Atwood asked herself because literary journalists don't:

Why are you such a pushover for everyone who wants you to do stuff for them?

I was the child who refused to eat her Easter rabbit-shaped cookie because I wanted to talk to it. I should just have learned early to bite the heads off quick. Otherwise the rabbits start telling you their tales, and then it's game over.

Will you never learn?

Apparently not. I still seem to get into the merde, as a result of being too naïve. I think novelists are the people who don't really know what people are talking about much of the time. That's why they write novels – to try to find out.

Do you really go around in a corset, high heels, and a whip, subjugating men, as a 1989 cartoon depicted you?...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Craig Nova

Craig Nova is the author of twelve novels and has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is also the recipient of NEA and Guggenheim fellowships. His writing has appeared in Esquire, Paris Review, New York Times Magazine, and other publications. His latest novel is The Informer.

From his Q & A at Fringe Magazine:

Q. Fringe readers will be interested to know that you chose 1930 Berlin partly because of some cultural and political parallels between that time and place and ours. Can you talk about those parallels a bit, and how they helped lead to The Informer?

A. Well, this is a good question, and I’d like to answer it from the beginning, from the way the book came into existence.

When push came to shove, in the actual writing, I was interested in three things, story, story and story: I imagined it as a sort of collaboration between Graham Greene and Albert Camus (my inspirations for this book). I wanted to write a sort of Brighton Rock set in Berlin in 1930. Of course, there were gangs in Berlin, the Rings, and people were getting murdered all the time. It seemed like an ominous, moody place to set a sort of book like Brighton Rock.

The first item in writing a novel, at least for me, is a general feeling, a sort of uneasiness or curiosity, that gets me started. This, for The Informer, was the realization of the truth of Orwell’s discovery, if you can call it that, that people make up their minds first and then look for facts to support an argument already made.

Few people look at the facts first, and then decide. Mostly, in political circumstances, it’s the other way around. In politics, a fact is either convenient and should be emphasized, or it is inconvenient and should be suppressed.

So, this inability to discover what is going on presented itself to me as a problem and one I wanted to write a book about.

Then I began to look around. What was the most dangerous and most politically intense time in modern history? Invariably I came to Berlin in 1930. And the first thing that came to mind, which I found through reading and actually going to Berlin and talking to people, was a sort of cultural similarity.

So, in Berlin in the twenties we had many things that were like today. We had people confronting the impact of Modernism, that is people had lost the traditional support of, say, village life, of family, of the church, of a belief in what was known as civilization (the First World War had surely finished that off), and while the freedom of this new way of being was great for many people, I think others were simply uneasy and a little confused.

Today, we don’t have Modernism, but Postmodernism, which I take to mean that we don’t have a standard truth, but instead a series of points of view, from different perspectives, and that the entire notion of truth is somewhat under attack. A lot of people...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Informer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Laura van den Berg

Laura van den Berg's fiction has or will soon appear in One Story, Boston Review, Epoch, The Literary Review, American Short Fiction, StoryQuarterly, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, Best New American Voices 2010, and The Pushcart Prize XXIV: Best of the Small Presses, among other publications. The winner of the Dzanc Prize, Laura's first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was published by Dzanc Books in October 2009 and was a Holiday Pick for the Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" Program.

From her Q & A with Fringe Magazine:

What is your favorite story in the collection and why?

“Where We Must Be” is up there, because it was one of the first stories I wrote that blended the “real” and the fantastic, so it represented a kind of step forward. I’d also wanted to write something that somehow incorporated Bigfoot for ages, so that was a plus as well.

At what point in your writing process did it become clear you had a cohesive collection, and what do you think links these stories into an aesthetic collection?

I had probably drafted three or four stories before I started to wonder if a book was in the works. But I don’t think I ever really felt certain that it was a collection until I’d finished the first full draft and worked on it for a while. In terms of connecting factors, all the stories are narrated by women and landscape plays a fairly significant role. In addition, the stories all, to varying degrees, incorporate some kind of “mythic” element—for example, a failed actress takes a job as a Bigfoot impersonator in “Where We Must Be,” a botanist seeking a rare flower crosses paths with a group of men hunting the Loch Ness Monster in “Inverness,” a missionary in Africa becomes obsessed with a creature rumored to live in the forests of the Congo in “The Rain Season,” and so on. Obsession is a connecting factor too. My characters have a tendency to get[ on]
Writers Read: Laura van den Berg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 11, 2010

Michael Koryta

Michael Koryta has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Great Lake Books Award, and St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Novel prize, while also earning nominations for the Edgar, Quill, Shamus and Barry awards. In addition to winning the Los Angeles Times prize for best mystery, his novel Envy the Night was selected as a Reader's Digest condensed book. His work has been translated into nearly twenty languages. A former private investigator and newspaper reporter, Koryta graduated from Indiana University with a degree in criminal justice.

His new, standalone novel is So Cold The River.

From Koryta's Q & A with Deb Smouse:

So Cold the River was a wonderfully creepy, suspenseful, amazing novel. I have to confess: one night, I had to flip through a travel magazine so that I could go to bed at my hotel without being too scared. Two nights later I stayed up until 2 AM so I could finish it! Tell our readers about it.

There is nothing I like better than hearing a reader lost a little bit of sleep with my work! That just puts a smile on my face. Thanks so much for the kind words. This book is a departure from what I’ve done before; it’s a mystery, yes, but also with a supernatural, ghost-story element. The idea came to me strictly from the place itself. West Baden is a real town, the mineral water that made it a world-famous destination around the turn of the last century is quite real, the extraordinary hotels and history are real. So I took that incredibly rich story fodder and had some fun with it.

Where the concept came from? And how did you flesh out the story of the mineral water?

Much of the story revolves around the mineral springs that made the area a famous spot for a short period in American history. This water had essentially a mythical reputation; name an affliction, and you can probably find an old advertisement claiming it could be cured in those springs. Now, over time it went the way of most snake-oil sales products; dismissed, then forgotten. I decided to play around with the idea that not all of the water’s reputation came from false sales gimmicks.

What is your favorite scene in So Cold the River?

Good question, and...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: So Cold the River.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis’s debut, Less Than Zero, is one of the signal novels of the last thirty years; his new novel, Imperial Bedrooms, follows those infamous teenagers into an even more desperate middle age.

From his Q & A with Jesse Pearson for the Independent:

My current conception of LA started in some ways with your novel Less Than Zero. Part of what makes LA so weird is the palpable sense of desperation in the air. A lot of young people who want to make it.

Oh, totally. You come here and the odds are overwhelmingly against you, but you do it anyway. And you know what? I think that – and I've said this before – but I think that LA forces you to become the person you really are. I don't think LA is a place where you're allowed to reinvent yourself. It absolutely isn't. There's an isolating quality to a life lived out here. I don't care how many friends you have. I don't care if you have a relationship. Whatever. It's an isolating city. You're alone a lot. It doesn't allow you to hide.

In Imperial Bedrooms, Rain, the young actress character, propositions Clay, who's now a successful screenwriter. Is it really like that sometimes, with a wannabe actor propositioning a writer or a producer?

Listen, I'm sure it can be. What I was thinking about when I was working on the novel was: what is the central narrative myth of Hollywood? And it revolves around exploitation. People exploiting each other. I'd been exploited myself, and I think people thought that I might have exploited them or whatever. So as the novel was coming together in my head and then in outline, that became the thing that was interesting to me. And at some varying levels, yeah, I've experienced it. But I ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

William Martin

John T. Cullen interviewed City of Dreams author William Martin for ITW. A sample of their exchange:

Lest anyone think that a historical thriller writer may be 'stuffy,' I begin by citing one of your first endeavors, which is now a film classic. Early in your writing career, you wrote the screenplay for Humanoids from the Deep, a 1980 horror movie produced by Academy Award winner Roger Corman. Is it fair to say that fun is part of your repertoire, along with the requisite suspense, pacing, and other factors that thriller readers expect in their strong brew?

I have a sign in my office that says, "This is supposed to be fun. Not for you... for them." For the readers. Never lose sight of that. And the requisite suspense and pacing, the sudden plot twists, the nasty surprises, the good guys and bad guys, the smart, sexy women and the tough-talking babes, the big scenes that build to big climaxes... all of it is part of the fun. But it is also part of the craft of storytelling that all the greats from Shakespeare to Dickens to Stephen King have understood and paid homage to. You might have all kinds of higher motivations. You should if you're writing a book. But first, tell a good story.

Oh... and that was a lifetime achievement award they gave Corman. He deserved it for giving so many people a chance at big-time filmmaking. He didn't get it for Humanoids.

City of Dreams comes with this premise: Hidden somewhere in New York City is a box of 1780 bonds with a face value of twenty thousand dollars. The Supreme Court is about to decide if these bonds still have value, and if so, compound interest over 230 years will be worth a fortune.

Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, travel reporter Evangeline Carrington, must find the box--fast! And...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: City of Dreams.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chris Knopf

Chris Knopf is the author of The Last Refuge, Two Time, Head Wounds, Hard Stop, and Short Squeeze. A copywriter by trade, Knopf is a principal of Mintz & Hoke Communications Group. He lives with his wife, Mary, and dog, Samuel Beckett, in Avon, Connecticut, and Southampton, New York.

From a Q & A about his new novel, Elysiana, with Hartford Book Examiner:

2) You are both a sailor and a former lifeguard--two pursuits that play prominently in the book. Can you tell us how your own experiences influenced your writing? Do you find it easier to write what you know vs. "making it up"?

I prefer to base my stories on my own experience, which I then drastically (or not) fictionalize. Elysiana is a good example, in that it’s almost completely derived from my experiences as a guard at that time and place. Writers are often like fishermen. We catch a guppy and turn it into “The Old Man and the Sea.”. Although there were things that happened at the shore that I didn’t include because I didn’t think they were believable.

3) The story is set on an island off the coast of the South Jersey in 1969. How did you go about capturing authenticity of time and place? Also, what did you find to be the key(s) to creating such a vivid and resonant atmosphere?

Back when I...[read on]
Coffee with a canine: Chris Knopf & Sam.

My Book, The Movie: Two Time.

The Page 99 Test: Hard Stop.

Writers Read: Chris Knopf.

My Book, The Movie: Short Squeeze.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 7, 2010

Christopher Farnsworth

From a Q & A with Christopher Farnsworth, author of Blood Oath:

Why do you think there's such a fascination with vampires and zombies in pop culture?

Right now, we're having a hard time envisioning the future. Forty or fifty years ago, the future was flying cars and cities on the Moon. It didn't work out that way; we've got people wearing suicide vests instead of jet packs. That's frightening. I think it's natural that we're looking to familiar monsters to symbolize all the unknown terrors out there. We know how vampires and zombies work. More important, we know how to kill them. That can be comforting, in a weird way, when you're faced with things like terrorism, economic collapse, and swine flu.

That's the deep, serious answer. The other, equally true answer: they're just cool.

Is your book a "mash-up" of genres? How does it compare to wildly popular books such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

The book is a mutt in some ways: a hybrid between the spy and vampire genres. It mixes historical fact with a world where everything we've seen in horror movies actually happens. I think people who read and loved Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would pick this up and feel right at home. Like those books, it's an attempt to assemble a new world out of some familiar pieces. But...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Blood Oath.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Jennifer Egan

From a Q & A with Jennifer Egan about her new novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad:

Q: Ok so tell us, what exactly constitutes a “visit from the goon squad”?

A: I knew the title of this book before I knew almost anything else. So I, too, entered the project in a state of wondering who the Goon Squad was, exactly. In addition to Proust, whose In Search of Lost Time I was working my way through as I wrote Goon Squad, my other primary literary (if you will) influence was The Sopranos, whose polyphonic structure I found deeply compelling. So I guess you might say that there are goons in my book’s genome. The book is certainly full of people who feel beaten up in one way or another—disappointed, out of luck, gypped of what they once expected and still feel they deserve—but these hardships aren’t the work of particular enemies so much as life’s vicissitudes. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that the reader’s understanding of who the real goon is accrues over the course of the book in much the way that my own comprehension of life’s extreme brevity has overtaken me as I’ve pushed into my forties. And that’s all I’m going to say!

Q: In the thirteen chapters in this book we meet a large cast of characters and come to see, chapter by chapter, how all of their lives are connected, and often entangled, in surprising ways. Where did you get the idea to have their stories unfold in this way?

A: It happened organically, and I was led by little more than my own curiosity. I started with “Found Objects,” the first chapter in the book, and found myself intrigued by the the brief mention of Bennie Salazar, who sprinkles gold in his coffee and sprays pesticide in his armpits. I thought: Why would someone do those things? And from that question came the next piece, “The Gold Cure.” In that one, there’s a mention of Bennie’s ex-wife, Stephanie, who plays tennis at a country club. And I thought: Hmm, what’s Stephanie’s story, and how did her marriage to Bennie end? So I wrote “A to B.” Small, lateral observations in a character’s life would catch my eye much as they do in my own: I’m forever watching people and wondering: Who is that person? Where is she going right now? What does his apartment look like? What expression does he have when he’s completely alone? And of course, there’s no way...[read on]
Visit Jennifer Egan's website.

Read about Jennifer Egan's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Attica Locke

Attica Locke is the author of the novel, Black Water Rising.

From her Q & A with the Independent:

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

Larry Brown, who has just passed away. He was based out of Mississippi and the reason I love him is because he wrote about the American South with a great deal of compassion, and without mockery.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I'm a cross between Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird - I had that wide-eyed admiration for my father who was a lawyer - and Jay Porter, the main character from my novel, who I am more like than I wish I were.

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

Dr King, but not for the postage-stamp reason. I appreciate being able to vote and do all those things which the Civil Rights movement enables me to do, but I'm talking about a reason beyond that: his philosophical commitment to non-violence.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Black Water Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 4, 2010

Brett Battles

Brett Battles is the author of three novels in the Jonathan Quinn series: The Cleaner, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel, The Deceived, and Shadow of Betrayal, now available in paperback.

From his Q & A with Julia Buckley:

The plot of Shadow of Betrayal is complicated. Do you write outlines before you write books?

I usually do a 10 to 15 page synopsis/outline, which I give to my publisher before writing each book. I then also create a lot of notes both before I begin and as I’m going along. At one point for SHADOW I actually stopped working on the draft for a couple of days, and spent that time writing bullet point lists of the story from each of the main/important characters points of view. It really helped me get everything straight for the final push to the end. I should point out that though I create that 10 to 15 page synopsis, the final story doesn’t always (as in never) stick completely to it.

Makes sense. The main character, Jonathan Quinn, is a “cleaner.” What exactly is this?

Quinn's job is simple on the surface. He’s an expert at making bodies disappear. If you work in the world of international espionage, and you’re pretty sure you’ll be having a body that needs getting rid of--that you don’t want anyone to ever find-- Quinn’s your man. And though he’s not hired to be the one who does the shooting, there are many times when he has to...[read on]
Read: Tim Hallinan interviews Brett Battles.

The Page 69 Test: The Cleaner.

The Page 69 Test: The Deceived.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of Betrayal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jenny Hollowell

From a Q & A with Jenny Hollowell about her new novel, Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe:

Birdie leaves home because she cannot embrace her family's religious evangelism, yet the fame she hopes for requires nearly the same leap of faith as the next life her parents are awaiting. What is the connection between Birdie's and her family's respective desires to be transformed?

Everyone wants to feel their life is important in some way. Whether you are in church on Sunday or in line at an audition for a reality TV show, I think you are revealing a very basic human desire. You want to be seen by someone, really seen. You want to know that you matter. I don't think it is a coincidence that our culture is so captivated by fame and religion at the same moment. To me, these obsessions are not contradictory. They are illustrative of our desire as human beings to feel our lives are meaningful.

Both pursuits require sacrifices. Birdie's parents spend their lives devoted to their evangelism. They don't have hobbies or social lives or anything that might be perceived as self- centered. There is no doubt they have selfish desires—they are human, after all—but they have subjugated them to keep God at the forefront of their lives.

Having lived in a house hold that ran on faith, Birdie naturally has these same resources. She is very much her mother's daughter in the sense that she has staked everything on one hope. The sacrifices Birdie makes—delaying gratification, enduring ridicule, accepting uncomfortable circumstances in the pursuit of a greater reward—are behaviors she learned from her family. In a way, faith is the family business.

Was your own religious background on your mind as you were writing this novel? How did it affect your thinking about Birdie's relationship to faith?

I grew up in...[read on]
Visit Jenny Hollowell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dennis Tafoya

Dennis Tafoya was born in Philadelphia and attended Oberlin College. He dropped out and worked a series of jobs, including housepainter, hospital orderly and EMT before starting a career in industrial sales. He began writing poetry, publishing stories in journals, and then started work on Dope Thief, his acclaimed debut novel. His new novel, The Wolves of Fairmount Park, releases this month.

Lenny Picker interviewed Tafoya for Publishers Weekly. Part of their dialogue:

How did your experiences lead you to write your novels?

When I was an EMT in a Philadelphia emergency room, biker gangs used to rent farmhouses and set up speed labs in the countryside not far away. One night, one of the labs burned, and we got calls all night from people asking how to take care of burns. A few days later, a badly burned body showed up in the woods. That stuck in my head, and ever since I’ve wondered how somebody ends up in a burning meth lab in the middle of the night, and if you’ve come to that place, is there any way back? Is it possible to create characters who get involved in that kind of life and who can still claim our sympathy?

What was the genesis of Wolves?

My amazing agent sold a two-book deal based on one sentence about the second book—a heroin addict trying to solve a murder in Philadelphia. I’d been thinking about the idea for a while, but I really didn’t have more than that for a long time. I knew I wanted...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Dennis Tafoya's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dope Thief.

Writers Read: Dennis Tafoya.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nelson Algren

From Nelson Algren's 1955 Paris Review interview:

Did you ever feel that you should try heroin, in connection with writing a book about users?

No. No, I think you can do a thing like that best from a detached position.

Were you ever put down by any of these [users] as an eavesdropper?

No, they were mostly amused by it. Oh, they thought it was a pretty funny way to make a living, but—well, one time, after the book came out, I was sitting in this place, and there were a couple of junkies sitting there, and this one guy was real proud of the book; he was trying to get this other guy to read it, and finally the other guy said he had read it, but be said, “You know it ain’t so, it ain’t like that.” There’s a part in the book where this guy takes a shot, and then he’s talking for about four pages. This guy says, “You know it ain’t like that, a guy takes a fix and he goes on the nod, I mean, you know that.” And the other guy says, “Well, on the other hand, if he really knew what he was talking about, he couldn’t write the book, he’d be out in the can.”
Read the complete interview.

See Pete Anderson's take on The Page 69 Test: The Man With the Golden Arm.

--Marshal Zeringue