Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer is a bestselling British novelist.

From his Q & A with the Globe & Mail:

Your thrillers may be easier to pitch to Hollywood.

I quite agree with you. But you know I’ve had over £1-million [in options] in 30 years, and never had a film. It just drives me bonkers. I mean, some of them have been optioned four or five times! I am a filmgoer, I love the theatre but I am a filmgoer, and there’s so much rubbish [in] films today.

What accounts for the trouble?

I read yesterday about Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks’s book, where they paid £100,000 for the option or something 10 years ago and said you know, this will be on the screen in a year, it’s the most successful book of the year, everybody loves it. And nothing has happened in 10 years! So it’s not just me. You need that bit of luck. I hope my grandchildren don’t say, “Grandad would have enjoyed this film.”

... Hollywood, as we all know, goes through phases, whether it’s romcoms or mysteries or car chases, whatever it is. At the moment it’s vampires. Vampires are the in thing. Well, I don’t do vampires. You do vampires, everybody wants to talk to you.

Are there any faces in mind for some of the characters in your books?

“I’m a great admirer of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meredith Maran

Meredith Maran is the author of My Lie: A True Story of False Memory, a book that recounts how and why she falsely accused her father of molestation.

From her interview with Michael Humphrey at Salon:

For a reader new to your story, and perhaps even the recovered memory craze of the 1980s, can you explain briefly what happened to you?

During the 1980s and 1990s, tens of thousands of Americans -- most of them middle-class, 30-something women in big cities, like me -- became convinced that they'd repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, and then, decades later, recovered those memories in therapy.

In the years leading up to that mass panic, I was working as a feminist journalist, writing exposés of child sexual abuse, trying to convince the world that incest was more than a one-in-a-million occurrence. In the process, I convinced myself that my father had molested me. After five years of incest nightmares and incest workshops and incest therapy, I accused my father, estranging myself and my sons from him for the next eight years.

In the early 1990s the culture flipped, and so did I. Across the country, falsely accused fathers were suing their daughters' incest therapists. Falsely accused molesters were being freed from jail -- and I realized that my accusation was false. I was one of the lucky ones. My father was still alive, and he forgave me.

Why write this book now?

In 2007, I was out for a walk with someone I wasn't even that close to. She asked me if I'd ever done anything I was ashamed of and had never forgiven myself for. And without hesitation I said, yeah, when I was in my 30s I accused my father of molesting me, and then I realized it wasn't true. She stopped walking and stood still, just staring at me and she said, "The...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and now lives in Cape Town, a city as violent as it is beautiful. Before turning to a life of crime, he was a screenwriter, producer and director. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood, is in development as a feature film starring Samuel L. Jackson. His latest novel is Wake Up Dead.

From Smith's Q& A with Crime Beat:

Crime Beat: You have been compared to Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Elmore Leonard, Mickey Spillane, and Donald Westlake which is such a broad sweep of the genre as to render these comparison’s silly. Comparisons are both flattering and tedious. Do you just brush them off as reviewer’s laziness, or do you trace back roots to some or all of these writers?

Roger Smith: Comparisons are odious, but who the hell can resist these — with the possible exception of Mickey Spillane! Of course I’m flattered, but I understand that comparisons are often merely a way of thumbnailing a book, ala Hollywood: the Hansie meets Deep Throat kind of thing.

But Leonard is a great influence: the ensemble cast, the suspense rather than mystery approach, the dark humour. And the late Westlake’s Stark alter-ego remains a reminder that there’s an alternative to the Scandinavian snooze-fests that weigh down the bookshelves. James Ellroy’s name comes up quite often too. Body count, I guess.

* * *
Crime Beat: All the elements of Mixed Blood are to be found again in Wake Up Dead: the tight fast plot, the clipped dialogue, the cast of dangerous, explosive characters who exist in a drug heightened toxic world. It is almost a hermetically sealed world; once you’re in, there are not many ways out. Death of course is one. Obviously this is a world you want and the world you believe inherent to the crime novel.

Roger Smith: Well, I don’t know if it’s a world I want, but it is the world we live in, so I’m going to write about it. I’ve said this to you before, but I admire crime fiction that reflects the world in which it is set. Somehow, I don’t see contemporary South Africa as the setting for capers and cozies, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Roger Smith's website.

Read about Roger Smith's top 10 crime novels.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Wake Up Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lan Samantha Chang

Lan Samantha Chang's new book is All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost.

From her Q & A with Nicole Lee:

Nicole Lee: Your new work is a novella about a group of poets who go through a writing program together. I recall reading an interview in Willow Springs from a few years ago in which you mentioned having written a 100-page manuscript about some poets, but you put it to one side because you said you felt the story needed to have poetry in it, but you hadn’t written poetry as an adult. Did this new forthcoming novella have its roots in that manuscript?

Lan Samantha Chang: Yes. I’m now finished with the poets manuscript and it’s a short novel, All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost, which will come out from W.W. Norton this month.

What made you decide to take a second look at it—what change enabled you to return to a work you initially put to one side? How can you tell when you are ready to work on something that you put aside earlier?

The project began as a private exploration of some of my most pressing questions about teaching and art. It was so private, in fact, that I assumed I’d never publish it. It wasn’t really that a change took place, as much as a recognition that this was the project in which I was most emotionally invested. I would keep putting it aside and coming back to it. When I was given a leave of absence for a Guggenheim in 2008, I vowed to only work on it for one month, but I found the project too exciting to put down, and so I’ve been working on nothing else for the last year and a half now.

Can you tell us what originally sparked your interest in the story?

For the last few years, I’ve been teaching and directing the MFA Program at the University of Iowa. In this job, I’m surrounded by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nicholas Evans

Nicholas Evans’ novels include The Loop (1998), The Smoke Jumper (2001), and The Horse Whisperer (1995), which has sold more than 15m copies in 36 languages and in 1998 became a film starring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas.

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

What book changed your life?

Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.

* * *
Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, but I’d settle for Woody Allen.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Jack London, Rudyard Kipling.

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

Anna Karenina.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Michele Norris

National Public Radio host Michele Norris is the author of a new memoir, The Grace of Silence.

From her Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Your description of growing up in Minneapolis makes your family sound a bit like an earlier version of the Huxtables of "The Cosby Show." Were they as ideal as they seem?

I now understand that my parents wanted to make sure that we were seen as a model family in the way we carried ourselves and presented our homes to the outside world.

What I discovered was that there were some things that I didn't fully understand as a child in that model home. There was a silent tornado in our home, and it led to the breakup of my parents' marriage, or at least contributed to the breakup.

It was something that I didn't see or recognize or even feel fully as a child, but it was there: things that my father experienced and things that my mother experienced but that they didn't talk about.

I always knew that I was shaped by all the things that my parents told me – eat your peas, do things and don't do other things, their admonitions. What I didn't understand was how I was also shaped in fundamental ways by the things they never talked about.

Q: What did you learn about your parents and their unwillingness to talk about how they felt?

That was generational, and we've changed a lot. They didn't talk about their feelings or their emotions the way people talk and tweet about them now.

It had its benefits and its costs. It's amazing to me, now that I know what my father experienced, that he was able to move forward and leave that behind.

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hooman Majd

Hooman Majd is the author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran and The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge.

From his interview with the Christian Science Monitor's Jon Letman:

What did you have in mind when you wrote The Ayatollah Begs to Differ?

I was trying for it not to be a Washington political insider kind of wonky style of writing or to get into really deep foreign policy issues. I didn’t want to turn off people who ordinarily wouldn’t read a book about Iran or politics. The fact that Iran is so much in the news, I felt that my style of writing would probably be appreciated by people who don’t necessarily follow the news every day. They hear some stuff about Iran — that it’s a big enemy, a big danger, there’s this nuclear program, this or that, Ahmadinejad’s crazy or whatever. But can they get a sense of who are these people, how do they live, what do they do? I felt this would be a good introduction for people who were curious enough to go beyond the headlines.

How about your new book "The Ayatollahs' Democracy"?

In the next book obviously, by virtue of the fact that we’ve had all the unrest last year, and Iran has been even more in the news than in recent years, and because the nuclear crisis is so much more of a crisis now than it ever was, I felt it would be hard to write a book that wasn’t perhaps more political or at least to try to give a better understanding of the politics of the Islamic Republic. This is for people who’d like to be able to read all of this in one place and try to get an understanding of...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, and learn more about the book and author at Hooman Majd's website.

Read more about The Ayatollahs' Democracy.

The Page 69 Test: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hal Herzog

Hal Herzog's new book is Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.

From his Q & A with Kerry Lauerman at

Why is it so hard to think straight about animals?

I think it's the human-meat relationship. The fact is, very few people are vegetarians; even most vegetarians eat meat. There have been several studies, including a very large one by the Department of Agriculture, where they asked people one day: Describe your diet. And 5 percent said they were vegetarians. Well, then they called the same people back a couple of days later and asked them about what they ate in the last 24 hours. And over 60 percent of these vegetarians had eaten meat. And so, the fact is, the campaign for moralized meat has been a failure. We actually kill three times as many animals for their flesh as we did when Peter Singer wrote "Animal Liberation" [in 1975]. We eat probably 20 percent more meat than we did when he wrote that book. Even though people are more concerned about animals, it seems like that's been occurring. The question is, why?

And, by the way, I think that the argument against eating meat is very strong.

On many levels. Michael Pollan's mantra of "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," along with the larger understanding that meat eating puts an incredible burden on the planet, has created a new energy around vegetarianism. But is it just the same people who have always kind of been concerned about this stuff?

No, I think not necessarily. I think there are also cases of, for example, the passage of the chicken welfare proposition in California [Proposition 2]; that passed, while the gay marriage proposition on the same ballot was defeated. The chicken amendment -- it was chickens and pigs -- there was no party affiliation. Both liberals and conservatives voted for that. So I think in some ways we are more concerned about animal welfare than ever before. So it's actually a great paradox.

I think the fact is that...[read on]
Visit Hal Herzog's homepage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lisa Black

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue, working as a forensic scientist in the trace evidence lab until her husband dragged her to southwest Florida. Now she toils as a certified latent print analyst and CSI at the local police department by day and writes forensic suspense by night.

Her new novel is Trail of Blood.

From author J. Sydney Jones' interview with Black:

Why don’t we start off with your connection to Cleveland, scene of your crimes?

I am a native of Cleveland, lived there from birth until I was 36. I’ve been in Florida for ten years now, but I return to Cleveland at least every other month to visit my mother and sisters.

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

Cleveland has everything—hills, trees, inner-city, rivers, a lake, very wealthy neighborhoods and very poor neighborhoods, industry, and culture. It also has a lot of history, beginning as the westernmost territory in the new United States at one point, progressing to the turn of the last century when Rockefeller and Carnegie had mansions on Euclid Avenue.

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

I’m what I call ‘spatially oriented’…not sure what it means, but it sounds good…and places can capture my imagination more than people or colors or smells or current events. I like to put scenes in powerful surroundings, large buildings, sweeping plazas, freezing cold lakeshores. It seems to make the action more intense, even if it’s...[read on]
View the video trailer for Trail of Blood, learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: Takeover.

My Book, The Movie: Takeover.

My Book, The Movie: Trail of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Trail of Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson grew up in Larchmont, NY and graduated with a BA in English Literature from the University of Colorado at Denver. A former web editor and producer, she worked for companies such as iVillage, and

Georgia’s Kitchen is her first novel.

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

Q. Who are your favorite authors?

A. Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, Jennifer Egan, Jane Austen, Michael Cunningham, Michael Chabon

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

A. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri; In The Time Of The Butterflies, Julia Alvarez; The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; Empire Falls, Richard Russo; The House Of Mirth, Edith Wharton

Q. Is there a book you love to reread?

A. The Great Gatsby

Q. Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?

A. Sit down, turn off your email and write!
Read the complete Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Georgia’s Kitchen, and learn more about the book and author at Jenny Nelson's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jenny Nelson and Clarabelle.

The Page 69 Test: Georgia’s Kitchen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 20, 2010

Darin Strauss

Darin Strauss' new book is Half a Life, the story of how an accidental death in his teens changed his life forever.

From his Q & A at the Wall Street Journal:

Dave Eggers, whose McSweeney's imprint is publishing the book, has also written about personal tragedy. Did he give you any advice?

He said that you have to be sure you want to tell the story if you're going to do it, because some people are going to say mean things. I felt I should examine it. I realized that when I was 18 and going through this I would have loved to have something to read about this topic. I'm really wary of self-help books. But if I did it right, it's kind of like a self-helpful book.

So much of your struggle seemed to be about finding an appropriate way to respond to the accident in public.

It's a very performative thing, grief. As with so much in modern life, I think there's a whole performative layer to what we do because we feel like there's a private TV show viewing our lives. This is for the viewers at home—I'm going to cry now.

Did you avoid going back to Long Island?

I would...[read on]
Visit Darin Strauss's website.

Writers Read: Darin Strauss.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Val McDermid

Val McDermid won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for The Mermaids Singing (1995).

Her latest novel released in the US is Fever of the Bone.

From her Q & A with Boyd Tonkin at the Independent:

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

Peter Temple. He's one of the select band of crime writers who does it so well that he sets the bar really high. He puts us all on our mettle. The fact that he won the Miles Franklin Award [in Australia] should put an end the "Is it proper literature?" argument abourt crime fiction.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

My answer to that for some reason causes mirth: James Bond. The easy swagger, the success with women, the ability to juggle different tasks. I mean the Sean Connery Bond, of course – with the accent.

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

I adored, and still miss, my Dad. He was a working-class guy who loved football and his family, and was the life and soul of the party. He was a good man, who encouraged me to be the best I could be.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about McDermid's literary influences.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Michael Gregorio

Michael Gregorio is the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio. They live in Spoleto, Italy, and were awarded the Umbria del Cuore prize in 2007.

Their new book is Unholy Awakening.

From their Q & A with R.N. Morris at The Rap Sheet:

R.N. Morris: I consider myself very lucky, because I got in on the Hanno Stiffeniis series right at the beginning with your first novel, A Critique of Criminal Reason (one of January Magazine’s favorite books of 2006). That title hints at a link with the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who of course features directly in the book, and indeed casts his shadow over your hero, magistrate/investigator Stiffeniis, in every subsequent book. The standard question for historical crime novelists is “What drew you to your chosen period and setting?” Am I right in thinking that it had something to do with a preoccupation with Kant?

Michael Gregorio: Back in 2000, we were working separately on novels, but neither of us seemed to be going any­­where. Daniela was teaching philosophy, and she was fascinated by something she had read about the Prussian philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Indeed, she had plans to write a short story about the great thinker, and the rough ex-soldier, Martin Lampe, who was his personal valet. The two men had been living under the same roof for almost 30 years when, one day, the servant was sacked on the spot. What had Lampe done to give offense? And why did the “most rational man in the world” paste notices around his house, remind­ing himself to “Forget Martin Lampe”? Kant’s biographers had little to say on the subject, so we began working together on a possible explanation. The result in 2006 was A Critique of Criminal Reason.

Our first novel portrayed Kant’s last days, and it shocked many purists, apparently. We had come across an article in The Lancet suggesting that the philosopher’s old age was plagued by a form of Alzheimer’s disease described at the time as dementia. Can you imagine the most rational man in the world going nuts? It was the stuff that novels are made of...

At the end of the book, we killed him off, as you probably recall. We never intended to use Kant as a serial subject, nor as a detective. Instead, we created a protégé, a young magistrate named Hanno Stiffeniis, an ex-student of Kant’s, as our hero. Hanno idolizes Kant until he actually meets him, and realizes that he is all too human. As a result, Hanno Stiffeniis is tormented by his fear of what Kant may have said or written about him. Like all lead characters, our magistrate is tormented by his own demons...

In short, our novels are about Hanno Stiffeniis, his wife, and his family. You don’t need to study philosophy, know about Kant, or read our novels in chronological sequence to follow what’s going on. We think of Immanuel Kant as....[read on]
Learn more about the authors and their work at Michael Gregorio's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Visible Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sigrid Nunez

Sigrid Nunez is the author of the novels The Last of Her Kind, A Feather on the Breath of God, and For Rouenna, among others. She has been the recipient of several awards including a Whiting Writers' Award, the Rome Prize in Literature, and a Berlin Prize Fellowship. She lives in New York City.

From a Q & A about her new novel, Salvation City:

Q: Salvation City begins at a time in the near future after a global flu pandemic has killed large numbers of people, including both parents of the thirteen-year-old main character, Cole. To what extent would you say your novel belongs to the genre of apocalyptic or dystopian fiction?

A. My book certainly has elements of both those genres, but it's also different. Salvation City is really about a near apocalypse and a temporary dystopia. The pandemic is catastrophic, but it doesn't destroy civilization and most of life on earth, as happens in classic apocalyptic fiction. The disease passes, and life goes on, which is of course what happened after the 1918 flu, the worst disease outbreak in history. In classic dystopian fiction, like 1984, the whole point is to portray the grim, hopeless future that awaits us if we don't change our evil ways. There's something of that in my book, which shows what could happen in the event of a pandemic, given how unprepared we are for such a crisis. But though the flu convulses and radically changes America, it doesn't create some new repressive state as happens in most dystopian fiction. And though I'm interested in the effects of the flu on society, my main concern is how one young boy tries to find his way after being deathly ill, then stranded in an orphanage, and then sent to live in a community completely different from the one he grew up in.

Q. Did your decision to write about a flu pandemic have anything to do with the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu virus?

A: No. I started writing this novel in 2007, two years before the swine flu outbreak. Whenever I start a new book I always begin with a character, or a few characters, whose story I want to tell, and I've always been interested in writing about people who are facing some kind of extreme situation. I knew I wanted to set the story in the near future so I could play with certain "what if" ideas, something I hadn't done before, and I knew, of course, that another pandemic like the Great Flu of 1918 was a real and perhaps even imminent possibility. Still, when the swine flu began I was as alarmed as everyone else, and surely more terrified because of all the time I'd just put in imagining the worst. I was doing final revisions then, and for a couples of weeks I was paralyzed, not knowing what to write, or rewrite, while watching the real thing unfold minute by minute.

Q. Why did you choose to write about a young male protagonist this time when in the past most of your fiction has been written from a woman's perspective?

A: I wanted to...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Last of Her Kind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and now lives in Cape Town, a city as violent as it is beautiful. Before turning to a life of crime, he was a screenwriter, producer and director. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood, is in development as a feature film starring Samuel L. Jackson. His latest novel is Wake Up Dead.

From Smith's Q& A with PBS:

What makes a good thriller?

A flawed hero with everything to lose. A cast of enterprising psychopaths. Pace, suspense and escalating violence. Multiple points of view that allow the reader to ride shotgun with the good and the bad guys, making it impossible not to turn the page.

For your first two novels, you’ve chosen to write stand-alones. Was it a conscious decision on your part to avoid a series? If so, why?

It was a conscious decision. I believe series are better suited to mysteries, where the hero may be beaten, battered and betrayed, but he’ll always survive because the author wants the reader queuing up at the bookstore for the next installment.

Not so in a stand-alone thriller, where characters are placed in extreme jeopardy that may cost them their lives. To me this juices up the experience for the reader and raises the stakes to the ultimate. This is the level of intensity at which I like to write – an intensity that a series can’t match.

Did you always imagine that Mixed Blood would become a film? You’ve had a successful career as a screenwriter and producer. How will you be involved in bringing Mixed Blood to the screen?

A movie was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Roger Smith's website.

Read about Roger Smith's top 10 crime novels.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Wake Up Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bll Crider

Bill Crider is the author of more than fifty novels, including the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. He is the winner of the Anthony Award and has been nominated for both the Shamus and Edgar Awards. The late Clyde Wilson was a legendary Texas private eye. He worked with the famous and the infamous. One of his cases was the basis for two true-crime books and a made-for-TV movie.

From Crider's Q & A at Sons of Spade:

Q: What makes Ted Stephens different from other (unofficial) PIs?

A: Ted's a former cop, but he's an official p.i. Unlike many of them, he's not working for an individual in MISSISSIPPI VIVIAN but for a big insurance company. He's sent from Texas to Mississippi to check out what the company believes is a scam, and he winds up involved in a murder case.

Q: How did you come up with the character?

A: The character was my co-writer's invention. Clyde Wilson was for many years the most colorful and best-known p.i. in Texas. He worked many big cases, and when Ivana Trump needed someone to help with her divorce from Donald Trump, Clyde went to New York to do the job. He told me that Ted Stephens was a composite of himself and an ex-cop that he knew and that the cases Ted worked on were based on actual cases.

Q: What's next for you and Ted Stephens?

A: Clyde...[read on]
Read more about Mississippi Vivian at the publisher's website, and visit Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read "Clyde and Me and Mississippi Vivian" by Bill Crider, Spinetingler Magazine.

My Book, The Movie: Mississippi Vivian.

The Page 69 Test: Mississippi Vivian.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jon Clinch

Kings of the Earth is Jon Clinch’s second novel. His 2007 debut, Finn, was named among the top ten books of the year by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Christian Science Monitor. It earned the Notable Book award from the American Library Association, and lists it among their 100 Best-Reviewed Novels of All Time.

From a Q & A about Kings of the Earth:

When you sat down to write Kings of the Earth, was there pressure associated with the reception that Finn had already received?

Oh, absolutely. Right after Finn, I spent a year and change writing a novel that I ended up throwing out entirely. It just didn’t live up to the intentions I had for it. Plus—and here’s the part that really matters, I think—it sounded and felt too much like Finn. I wanted to do something very different, and it took a lot of throat-clearing to find my way there.

Where did the idea for Kings of the Earth come from?

For me, the key to writing a novel is always two-fold. First I have to find a character (or characters) whom I can care very deeply about. Then I have to find a method for approaching that character’s story. A voice, to begin with, plus a storytelling system of some kind. I’m not particularly interested in conventional, linear narrative that goes straight from point A to point B.

In the case of Kings of the Earth, the characters turned out to have been right there in my subconscious forever and ever. They’re the people I grew up with, and the people my parents grew up with. At the center of the story is a family tragedy on a primitive farm in upstate New York, near the place where my dad was born. He didn’t stay there, though, and the world where he and my mother raised me was so different as to exist in another universe. Or maybe a dream.

I wanted to explore that difference. The existence of two contrasting cultures side by side. The space where a deeply rural and primitive way of life intersects with a more modern world that needs it but barely recognizes it.

As a way of coming to terms with the main characters—and jumpstarting a respectful treatment of them—I even gave them my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. They’re the Proctor brothers in Kings of the Earth, which makes them my forebears. It acknowledges their claim on me.

That covers the characters. How about the storytelling method?

Kings of the Earth has a kind of...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Finn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lauren Winner

From Shala Carlson's Q & A with Lauren Winner about her book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity:

Q: I think most people might be surprised to read a Christian book about sex that doesn’t present an airtight, generic definition of chastity. Did you know from the beginning that you would not be attempting to set definite parameters?

A: I actually think I did offer a pretty clear explication of chastity — that chastity means sex only with one’s spouse — though emphasizing too that sexual sins are not somehow unforgivable and also emphasizing that we need to think of chastity as one of many spiritual disciplines that are part of Christian discipleship and obedience.

Q: What I think some people might find a bit surprising, though, is that you aren’t dividing all physical behaviors into “acceptable” and “forbidden.” You tell the story that you and your now-husband received advice from a pastor when you were dating not to do anything sexual that you would not be comfortable doing on the steps of the University of Virginia Rotunda. At the same time, you acknowledge that certain Christians wouldn’t accept kissing as part of their definition of chastity.

A: I’m much more interested in suggesting/modeling certain principles — so, for example, I told the on-the-steps-of-the-Rotunda story not because I thought everyone should adopt my boundaries, but because I do think most people (all?) should adopt the idea of inviting their community into their "personal" decision. (In this case, "community" was represented by our friend/pastor/interlocutor.)

I think this sort of obsession with line-drawing already misses the point. Chastity is about focusing on God in a particular way, and if one gets too obsessed with line-drawing, then one is, well, focused on line-drawing — not on God.

Q: Real Sex is written most specifically for those with what you call "articulated Christian ethics." What do you think readers who don’t share that same perspective can take away from your discussion of chastity?

A: I wrote the book...[read on]
Lauren Winner's new book is A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Deanna Fei

For The Oregonian, Jeff Baker interviewed Deanna Fei about her debut novel, A Thread of Sky. Part of the Q & A:

Q: Talk a little about the genesis of your book. Since this is your first novel, I assume this is something you've been carrying around for awhile.

A: Ten years ago, I toured China with my mother, my sisters, my aunt, and my grandmother. As with most family vacations, there were moments of wonder and reconnection, along with plenty of conflict and frustration -- but there was also the central tension of seeing our ancestral home from the confines of a guided package tour. Afterward, I couldn't stop thinking about the dramatic possibilities of that journey: the conflicts and secrets among six strong-willed women, the family history that had led from China to America and back, the complicated notion of returning to one's roots. I started scribbling some notes and the characters began taking on lives of their own, completely apart from their real-life counterparts, and soon I was writing a novel. At the time, I didn't realize, of course, that while that tour with my own family had taken two weeks, this novel would become a six-year odyssey.

Q: You have six main characters and multiple settings in the U.S. and China. How was it juggling all that? Was this a bigger or smaller book at some point?

A: It's true that the writing process often felt like a juggling act, and sometimes I needed to create timelines for each character and even draw graphs to illustrate for myself how their storylines would intersect. But I always knew there was no other way for me to tell this story. In the same way that each woman is something of a mystery to the others, China is...[read on]
Read an excerpt from A Thread of Sky, and learn more about the book and author at Deanna Fei's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Thread of Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 11, 2010

David Gentilcore

David Gentilcore is a professor of early modern history at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and the author of Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy.

From his interview with the Boston Globe:

IDEAS: When did the tomato become an integral part of Italy’s cuisine?

GENTILCORE: You can’t imagine Italian food without it. And yet most of these dishes, such as pasta al pomodoro, are fairly recent — from the 1870s or ’80s. Italian immigrants arriving in New York City or Boston were the first generation to eat these dishes as daily things. Making a rich meat sauce with maybe the addition of tomato paste, that Sunday gravy style, is something that happens only in the 20th century.

IDEAS: Why was the tomato initially regarded with such horror?

GENTILCORE: The tomato was associated with the eggplant, which was regarded with suspicion. It’s a vine. Anything that grows along the ground was seen as a plant of low status, something you only give to peasants. And the tomato was thought to hinder digestion because it was cold and watery. When ideas about digestion changed, something like a tomato was not harmful anymore.

IDEAS: It’s been called the “love apple.” Was it seen as an aphrodisiac?

GENTILCORE: Francisco Hernandez, a personal physician to King Philip II of Spain, was sent to the New World to write a huge compendium on animals and plants. He was dismayed and disgusted by the appearance of the tomatillo, which was considered the same thing. He compared it to female...[read on]
Read more about Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 10, 2010

Arnaldur Indridason

Arnaldur Indridason's latest Reykjavik Thriller is Hypothermia.

From a Q & A at PBS about the series:

Inspector Erlendur is sometimes described as a “gloomy Scandinavian?” Is there anything to that stereotype? If so, to what do you attribute it?

Many of them are gloomy but you don’t always know why. My books tell the story of this inspector who is very isolated, very lonely and very gloomy and with each book you get a little bit more answer as to why that is. There is a reason for it but we just don’t know it fully and it is one of the mysteries in the books. So it is a question of how you tackle it and if you can make it interesting and part of the whole story instead of just putting it up there and not use it at all. Why the gloominess? I think it is much more interesting to write about lives gone wrong than happy lives, there is no fun in happiness, I always say.

What do you think American readers would be most surprised to learn about Icelandic people or society?

Well, the question I most often get from my foreign readers is if there really are crimes in Iceland. People seem to have an innocent, trolls-and-elves-like image of Iceland with the great landscape and clean air. But of course we have crimes just like any other country in the world even if there is less of it due to the fact that we are only 300.000 on this island. What readers will find out is that even if we are so few, Iceland is a very vibrant, very cultural and very modernized society with deep roots in literature.

You’ve talked a lot about how the booming Icelandic economy created a major shift, good and bad. How do you expect Iceland’s recent reversal of fortune as a result of the global economic crisis to affect or inspire your writing?
It is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mary Lawson

Mary Lawson is the author of Crow Lake.

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

Q. What inspired you to write this novel?

A. The honest answer is, I don’t know. The novel came from a short story, and the short story came from a single sentence, which came into my mind one morning without explanation and out of nowhere. It was, ‘My great grandmother fixed a book-rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning.’

This was true – fact not fiction – though I still have no idea why I suddenly thought of it. My mother had mentioned our great grandmother often when we were children, but that was a long time ago and I hadn’t given her a thought for years.

There was quite a gap between the short story and the novel, and during that time both of my parents died and my children flew the nest. I spent even more time than usual, then, thinking about issues of family, home and childhood, and I have no doubt that that had an influence on the novel.

Q. Do you see Kate’s character as being autobiographical to a certain extent and if so, in what ways?

A. If you’d asked if the story was autobiographical – no. Virtually nothing that takes place in the novel happened in my life. But you asked about Kate’s character, which is harder to answer.

She is much more serious than I, but circumstances have made her so. She has been damaged by loss, and the damage has made her rather self-righteous and judgmental – I hope I am not quite as hard on other people as she is. Having said that, I do share some of her prejudices; the work ethic is strong in both of us; I expect a lot of myself and of those around me; I am not by nature tolerant, easygoing or laissez-faire. But fear of further loss has caused Kate to limit her world. Academic study is safe, it cannot betray her; love, on the other hand, would make her vulnerable again. So she keeps the barriers up, to protect herself. Life has been much kinder to me than it was to her.

As for other similarities; I have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue's new novel is Room.

From her 2004 Q & A at Barnes & Noble:

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

I discovered Jeanette Winterson's strange, surreal novel about Napoleonic Venice, The Passion. I had read some trashy lesbian fiction before, but this was the very first book I found that had lesbian themes and was a work of great art. I realized -- duh! -- that it was possible to be "out" and a literary writer as well, and I started writing my first novel, Stir-Fry, the same year. I haven't liked all Winterson's books since, but I've always admired her uncompromising flair.

* * *
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?

I hate desks, they make me feel like a child doing homework. So I work on a laptop, usually on my lap as I sit on the sofa in my office. But I couldn't care less where I am and have happily written in airports, cafes, hotel rooms.

* * *
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?

Abby Bardi's first novel, The Book of Fred, is a wholly original, hilarious take on a girl's life in and out of a fundamentalist cult, and I think it should be "discovered" in great numbers.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Emma Donoghue's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Aaron Kupchik

Aaron Kupchik's new book is Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear.

From his interview with Justin Sullivan for

There's still very much a public perception that crime, violence and drugs are on the rise in schools. Has the addition of school resource officers [school resource officers] been effective at all?

The jury's still out on whether they've led to a decrease in crime. There have been big decreases in crime, but it's unlikely that the SROs have had an effect on that. There have been only a few studies that have tried to look at effectiveness, and they've been totally mixed. What we do know about preventing crime in schools is that when you have a more democratic and inclusive school, you tend to have less crime. A democratic and inclusive school is one where students feel respected, they feel like they're a part of a school, and where a school deals with students' problems rather than just dismissing them. It's one where the students feel empowered. SROs and zero-tolerance policies do the opposite of this; they erode what we know works.

The Columbine shooting is often invoked as a justification for zero-tolerance policies. But what kinds of changes did Columbine High adopt in the wake of the shootings?

Columbine is central to the way we think about school security. It redefined the tragedy of school crime in a very dramatic way. In the wake of it, what Columbine High did was quite sensible. They invested in counselors. They recognized that kids who do bad things in school are usually kids who have very serious troubles, and so rather than simply kicking them out of school for a week, they tried to reach out to kids who are dealing with difficult issues -- to solve problems rather than just delaying them for a week while the kid's out of school. They turned away from the more zero-tolerance type of policies and toward what I think is a much more effective way of trying to deal with things.

That's pretty surprising. If there's any school where you thought things might become more draconian, it would be that one.

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

Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville is a group of wood stilt houses located about a mile south of Cape Florida on Biscayne Bay in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Stiltsville is Susanna Daniel's first novel.

From Daniel's Q & A with The Reluctant Floridian:

I’m fas­ci­nated by Stiltsville logis­tics: Was there a lot of social­iz­ing between houses or did fam­i­lies stick to one place? Did you spend nights there or just go for the day?

We always went for at least one or two nights, and some­times came home early Mon­day in time for school. My fam­ily knew a lot of other Stiltsville fam­i­lies casu­ally, but for the most part we didn’t social­ize while we were out there. I think my par­ents con­sid­ered Stiltsville a place to be together as a fam­ily. Maybe once a week­end there was a party at another house and we’d watch the boats pull up, and we could hear the music. But we didn’t host big par­ties our­selves. But my friends were always invited to come with us to spend the week­end, and most week­ends we had one or two guests.

Is there any­thing left of your grandfather’s orig­i­nal stilt house?

Noth­ing. After Hur­ri­cane Andrew, there were still a few pil­ings, but there was no dock and no house. Now even the pil­ings have been removed.

Why did you decide to set your novel in the past, and par­tially at Stiltsville?
Miami has changed a lot in the years since I’ve lived there. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t set a novel in Miami in the year 2010, but I wanted to write about what it was like to live there in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s— dur­ing the years when Miami was really grow­ing into the city it is today. I wanted to write about the tumult and cri­sis and excite­ment of that period—this was the time of the Mariel boat lift and the McDuffie riots and the cocaine cow­boys, and of course Hur­ri­cane Andrew.

As for Stiltsville, I knew...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Daniel's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Stiltsville.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen is the author of the #1 bestselling novel Water for Elephants, as well as the bestseller Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, and the newly released Ape House.

From her Powell's Q & A:

Describe your latest book.

Ape House is about a family of language-competent bonobo apes who are kidnapped from their home and mysteriously reappear a few months later as the stars of a reality TV show being filmed in a remote town in New Mexico.

Their main caretaker at the Great Ape Language Lab, Isabel Duncan, has an easier time relating to animals than she does to other humans. And she's not alone. We live in a world full of the faux intimacy that reality television and sites like Facebook have created. We have all this very superficial contact with and information about other people, and yet all this increased information has made it more difficult to form actual relationships. Isabel does not know how to connect. But all that changes when an explosion rocks the lab and her ape family is taken from her. She's set on a collision course with the human race, mostly in the form of a very married journalist who sees her ape family's abduction as the story of a lifetime.

I structured Ape House like a thriller — I like plot twists and forward motion — but I used that structure to explore the themes of what it means to be family, how we relate to each other in society, sexuality and the social strictures surrounding it, the phenomena of tabloid journalism and reality TV and what these indicate about our culture, and I transposed these elements against the culture of the peaceful, egalitarian, and extremely amorous bonobo ape. For many years, people have argued that since violence, murder, and warfare are part of chimpanzee society, they are also hardwired into us. The recently discovered and relatively unknown bonobo is as closely related to us as chimpanzees, and provides humans with a very different model for behavior, one that encompasses empathy, sharing, and an abhorrence for violence.

Essentially, it calls into question our assumptions about what it means to be human.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

I went to Hemingway House in Key West for four years in a row with the sole purpose of getting the cats hammered. I bought tons of catnip (they sell it in the gift shop), and got the cats so stoned they were lolling about on the lawn letting the other visitors rub their tummies (and occasionally administering a chomp, because, as every cat person knows, a tummy rub can go bad). I really want a Hemingway cat.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Sara Gruen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don Winslow

Don Winslow's novels include The Dawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Power of the Dog, California Fire and Life, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and Savages.

From his Q & A with the Independent:

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

Today I'm going to pick Tolstoy because he wrote big fat books that are page- turners and I want to know what happens to the characters.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Any generally played by Brad Pitt, obviously.

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

Gerry Lopez, the surfer.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ismail Kadare

Ismail Kadare is an Albanian writer who shares his time between his native country and France.

From his Q & A with Luke Sampson for the Financial Times:

What are you most proud of writing?

The Palace of Dreams. It was written in 1980 and published a year later, during the blackest period of Albanian tyranny. It was a book opposed to that tyranny.

* * * *
What book changed your life?

Macbeth. I read it when I was 11. Although I couldn’t understand everything, I loved it enough that I began to copy it by hand. A year later, I wanted to do the same with Hamlet, which, however, was even more incomprehensible to me.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

The three peninsulas of Europe: the Apennines, with Dante; the Balkans, with Greek tragedies and medieval Albanian ballads; and the Iberian Peninsula, with Don Quixote. The British Isles (Shakespeare). Russian and central European literature (Kafka).
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 3, 2010

P.W. Singer

P.W. Singer is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He's written for or appeared on a wide variety of media, from "60 Minutes" to the New York Times. He has worked for the Pentagon and Harvard University, and in his personal capacity, served as the coordinator of the defense policy advisory task force for the Obama campaign. In his previous two books, Singer foretold the rise of private military contractors and the advent of child soldiers - predictions which proved to be all too accurate.

His latest book is Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

From his Q & A with Military History:

Who was the father of military technology?

It was probably the first caveman—let's call him Ogg—who picked up a rock. Ogg probably thought he'd achieved the ultimate dominance in war, until his enemy, Ugg, picked up a strip of leather and invented the sling, thinking that he'd achieved military dominance. And that's really the story of technology in warfare; a constant back-and-forth process of breakthroughs made and then surpassed.

While there is this constant evolution in military technology, there are certain revolutions that occur every so often, something that completely changes the rules and forces us to ask new questions. And these questions are not only about what is possible, but also about what is proper—what is right and what is wrong.

What are some of these revolutionary advances?

The longbow, gunpowder, the atomic bomb and, today, robotics. And, of course, the computer. We're not talking about its processing power, but about the "ripple effects" it has had on war and the world beyond. The computer not only fundamentally changed organization and communication in war (remember General Norman Schwarzkopf's comment that it was the use of computers that allowed the United States to be so successful in the First Gulf War?), but the computer also created such entirely new domains of war as cyberwarfare. And it creates new relationships in war—for example, soldiers...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Wired for War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jack Todd

From a Q & A with Jack Todd about his new novel, Come Again No More:

You mention in your author note that some of these stories were based on those of your family. Which story was your favorite to explore in the novel? Is it interesting to see in a fictionalized format?

My parents were such an oddly matched couple that I most enjoyed exploring the way they met, their courtship and their marriage, including the story of the day my father left my mother alone for hours in a hotel in Denver. My mother told me that story in some detail, but it turns out that it is only the tale of their honeymoon in Denver, not of their wedding day. I recently discovered that my parents were not actually married when I was born, because my father had never obtained a divorce from the woman known as Thelma Pearl in this novel. They were together some twenty-five years before they finally married. We were never told that my parents weren’t married, but my older sisters remember babysitting the youngest while the folks went to the courthouse to get hitched at some point in the 1950s – I was never told at all. I’m not sure I would have handled the situation depicted in Come Again No More any differently had I known, but it does cast a different slant on things.

Sometimes it’s hard to lay out family history in a memoir or even a fictional work. Did you find it hard to depict certain aspects of your family’s life in this book? Are there any aspects of the book that you think members of your family would object to?

The single most painful incident in our family is probably the one I wrote about in Sun Going Down, in which Emaline is terrified that her mother is being beaten to death by her stepfather. Emaline herself puts an end to the beating by hitting her stepfather over the head with a burning kerosene lantern. Knowing that your mother endured something like this is hard enough, bringing it to life even harder.

While I didn’t necessarily find it difficult to write about my family, I don’t doubt that some family members would object to much of what is portrayed here. They want to believe that their ancestors never fought, drank, cheated on one another or had sex – even marital sex. They would ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is the author of Where Men Win Glory, Under the Banner of Heaven, Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air.

From his 2006 interview with Larry Weissman for Bold Type:

Bold Type: How did you start writing, what was your formal training?

Jon Krakauer: I never studied writing. but I'd always been a reader and had a secret fantasy about being a writer. Because of my climbing, I went to Alaska for the first time in 1974 to the Arrigetch Peaks in the Brooks Range and made three ascents of unclimbed peaks. The American Alpine Club has a journal, The American Alpine Journal, they publish every year which is a compendium of notable ascents around the world, and they invited me to write an article about these climbs. That was the first article I ever wrote. Three years later I was paid for the first time to write an article when I climbed the Devil's Thumb, and wrote about that for a now-defunct British magazine called Mountain. Then a friend and climbing partner, my writing mentor David Roberts, quit a teaching job at Hampshire College, where I had gone, to become an editor at Horizon. After a year he left Horizon to freelance, and said it's a great racket. He told me how to go about the protocol of writing query letters and convinced me to try freelancing. I dabbled in it for a couple of years and in 1983 quit my carpentry job and went for it and I've been writing ever since.

BT: How did you make the move from nature writing to mainstream magazines?

JK: I knew that you couldn't make a living simply writing about the outdoors, so I made an effort from the beginning of my freelance career to write about other subjects. Since I had been a carpenter, I felt like I could bullshit my way writing about ...[read on]
See Jon Krakauer's five best books on mortality and existential angst.

--Marshal Zeringue