Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jay Kirk

From a Q & A with Jay Kirk about his new book, Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals:

What led you to tell the story of Carl Akeley?

I first ran across the name Carl Akeley while working on a story for Harper's. It was a piece about all of these inexplicable sightings of mountain lions in the eastern United States. The thing is, the eastern mountain lion (aka cougar, puma) has been extinct since 1888, and yet there were, and still are, more cougar sightings than Elvis sightings. It was the first story I wrote that got me into the whole natural-history thing, however paranormally tinged, but I realized that, for me, here was the really essential story about America that's never gone away, and it's never going away because it's part of our collective national DNA, and that's our relationship with the wilderness. So in addition to spending a lot of time roaming mountainsides in Appalachia with game wardens and amateur cougar experts, I was reading a lot of history about how we had wiped out the cougar, along with just about everything else, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and somewhere in there, I read something in passing about this "famous taxidermist" who had once "Strangled a Leopard with His Bare Hands." It was just a moment of research serendipity. I can honestly say that my first thought was: I want to write a book about this guy.

How did you conduct your research for Kingdom Under Glass?

The word "painstaking" comes to mind ... I mean, it's hard to separate the research from the writing because in nonfiction, if you really want it to be serious nonfiction, you never stop researching. But I've always loved doing research almost as much as I like actually writing: I love visiting the archives at the natural-history museums, I love reading all the correspondence, especially when it's typed; I love reading the old diaries, even when they're not typed. I loved reading, literally, a couple of hundred safari memoirs—it's, like, this great forgotten subgenre of the travel narrative. Akeley also had thousands of photographs that I was able to use to help visualize my scenes and characters. The vastness of the material available made it immensely feasible to make a lot of artistic choices in terms of what to use for scenes. So many, many unbelievable and amazing things happened to Akeley over the course of his five expeditions and his life, but at times I admit it was hell on my tendency toward OCD.

Not to say that I didn't take half measures in some ways. For instance, to understand the genius of Akeley's craft, or the Akeley method, my research also required that I spend a good bit of time with professional taxidermists. My best source was a guy from Jersey City by the name of John Janelli. Janelli is a high-ranking nabob of the National Taxidermists Association, an organization whose greatest competitive prize is a medallion emblazoned with Akeley's face. Janelli was as impassioned with my project as I was, and he kept coming up with these wild schemes where he would properly educate me in the Akeley method—ideally with something more interesting than a squirrel. On one occasion, Janelli arranged to euthanize a terminally ill...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thomas Powers

From a Q & A with Thomas Powers about his new book, The Killing of Crazy Horse:

Q: What is the most important difference between The Killing of Crazy Horse and previous accounts that have been written about his life?

A: The Killing of Crazy Horse differs from previous books in its focus on the event—the killing itself—not a formal biography of the chief. Many different people played a role on the fatal day—the brooding General George Crook who was determined to get Crazy Horse out of the way; the great Oglala Sioux chief Red Cloud, who was the only American Indian ever to win a war against the government of the United States; the young West Point graduate, Lieutenant William Philo Clark, who thought he could “work” Indians to do the bidding of the Army; the mixed-blood scouts William Garnett (half Oglala) and Frank Grouard (half South Sea Islander); the war comrades of Crazy Horse, He Dog and Little Big Man. Crazy Horse stirred all these men to action, some to defend him, some to get him out of the way. The question at the heart of the book is why was he killed? I found the answer in what a dozen different men thought, felt, intended and did. Seeing the event whole, from all sides, is a good way—in my view, perhaps the best way—to understand what the Sioux and other Plains tribes suffered when they were confined to reservations.

Q: You are perhaps best known for your work on the CIA (although you have written about a wide variety of topics). What made you want to tell the story of Crazy Horse?

A: My writing life has been spent largely trying to uncover things that were hidden, not writing about the CIA as a professional intelligence service. What the CIA was like—its operational style, the tensions between analysts and case officers, the personal histories of the agency’s early leaders—wasn’t classified and it wasn’t even secret in the usual sense when I began, but it was hidden, and it required a lot of patient asking of questions to coax up to the surface.

The first thing that caught my attention about Crazy Horse was the sorrow of his killing. Everybody involved understood almost immediately that it had been a tragic blunder. That sorrow made me wonder why historians had mainly treated the killing as a kind of afterthought. It made a deep and abiding impression on the Sioux, and over time it came to haunt the country as a whole—a painful but perfect example of the way the United States treated its native population. I wanted to know what happened and why it happened. Bringing the whole episode back to life after more than a century seemed almost...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bill Wasik

Bill Wasik is an editor at WIRED and the author of And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture.

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

And Then There's This takes a look at "viral culture." What exactly is "viral culture"?

It's the new way we find out about things, the new means by which we understand our society and our world. Instead of a small number of large media outlets and corporations telling us what the culture is about—what new music to listen to, or shows to watch, or books to read; which news stories are important and which aren't—we now have an explosion of sources, all vying to show us new things, to tell us new stories. The result is that we're bombarded by new stories, every day, all the time. Although it's the Internet that has made this change possible, I see "viral culture" as being bigger than just the Internet. The whole way we understand our world is being reinvented on the Internet model.

How did this book come about?

In 2003, I put together a social experiment in New York that used viral emails to create what I called "inexplicable mobs" of people for ten minutes or less. Within weeks, it spread around the world and became the fad called "flash mobs." I had meant the project as a joke, even as a sort of prank, but after it spread so widely I realized I needed to take my joke more seriously. I became really interested in the way that ideas spread through the Internet—not just silly trends like mine, but more serious ones too, in music, politics, business, and more. I decided that I wanted to write a book where I did more experiments of my own, but also...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Miles Corwin

From a Q & A with Miles Corwin, author of Kind of Blue:

What inspired you to write your novel?

I was sitting inside the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division squad room – while I was researching my book Homicide Special – waiting for the next case to emerge. The detectives I was shadowing were between homicides. While I was waiting, I started sketching some fictional ideas in my notebook, loosely based on some of the cases I’d followed.

How did you use your life experience or professional background to enrich your story?

I’ve spent many years writing about cops, criminals, prisons and courts as a crime reporter for the L.A. Times. During the research of my first book, The Killing Season, I followed two homicide detectives in South-Central Los Angeles for about six months. My third book – Homicide Special – chronicled a year inside an elite homicide division that investigates only the most difficult, sensitive, and high profile cases in Los Angeles. Any murder case that involves celebrities, organized crime, requires sophisticated technology, or is considered a high priority of the chief of police is transferred to Homicide Special.

In both books I was given complete access, and I followed the detectives from the time they picked up their cases, to crime scenes, death notifications, autopsies, witness interviews and, finally, to arrests.

Before I was a reporter, I spent more than five years as a Los Angeles County beach
lifeguard. I have some surfing scenes in the book that reflect my time on the beach.
I used...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Joseph J. Ellis

From a Q & A with Joseph J. Ellis about his new book, First Family: Abigail and John Adams:

Q: You wrote about John Adams many years ago in Passionate Sage and, of course, he plays a role in Founding Brothers and American Creation as well as in your biographies of Washington and Jefferson. When and why did you decide to turn your attention specifically to John and Abigail?

A: As you say, my scholarly relationship with John Adams is longstanding. And if you hang around the Adams Papers long enough, you eventually realize that the “Family Correspondence” is the crown jewel. In earlier books I kept coming back to it for bits and pieces of evidence, and eventually decided that it was a story in itself that wanted me to tell it.

Q: How do you go about writing a biography of a couple, and their marriage, differently than you do writing a single subject biography?

A: Biographers of both John and Abigail invariably write about the other partner, but the partnership itself is a different kind of animal. I recall being impressed by a book by Phyllis Rose entitled Parallel Lives about five Victorian marriages. Perhaps that book gave me an idea that had been floating about in my subconscious for the last twenty years or so. Writing about them as a team also forces you to link the large political events they were living through with very personal issues like child-rearing, aging together, and health. In my judgment, that’s how most of us actually experience history. I very much wanted to capture that fusion of the public and the personal.

Q: How did they meet and was it love at first sight?

A: They met...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 26, 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.

From a Q & A at their website:

---What first got you interested in writing?

Daniela: a passion for reading. I love stories about other people’s lives, other places, experiences which are different from my own. One life just wasn’t enough for me. At a certain point it seemed a natural development to invent my own characters and tell my own stories.

Michael: I recall learning to form letters as a child at school. The wonders of the school library. Various teachers, obviously. University, where I read English, and Dani read Philosophy. We both had ambitions to write. I started writing because I was living in Italy; I was afraid of forgetting my native language. Daniela was a horror fan, and thought she could do as well as many of the writers she was reading. But neither of us found a publisher until we started writing together as Michael Gregorio.

---Who or what particularly influences your work?

Both: Working closely with a partner is an inescapable influence, obviously. Having to justify your ideas to a critical “other” is the greatest test of their validity. When we are both happy with what we have written, we submit the finished piece. At the same time, working within the genre of historical crime investigation, we are challenged by what it is scientifically possible, and what isn’t. We both...[read on]
Visit Michael Gregorio's website and blog.

Read Michael Gregorio's Q & A with R.N. Morris at The Rap Sheet.

The Page 69 Test: A Visible Darkness.

The Page 69 Test: Unholy Awakening.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell's latest novel is The Fort.

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

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

CJ Sansom. I absolutely adore his Matthew Shardlake. He's an extraordinarily interesting and engaging character, and very cleverly written.

* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Obadiah Hakeswill [the villain from the 'Sharpe' novels]. No - that's a joke! Otherwise, I'm completely stymied about this.

What are your readers like when you meet them?

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

It's obvious to say the Duke of Wellington, but that's a bit like falling off a log. My heroine would be Nell Gwyn. She would be fun.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mark Feldstein

From Randy Dotinga's Q & A with Mark Feldstein, author of Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture:

Q: You write that Richard Nixon was paranoid about the press and had every right to be because it really was out to get him. Which came first, his paranoia or the reason for it?

The paranoia came first. There were people in college who talked about him being paranoid long before the press started attacking him, even before [columnist] Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson started going after him in the early 1950s. He would completely overreact to the very mild criticism at the time he was sending [accused spy] Alger Hiss to prison when he was a congressman.

He was lionized by almost the entire media except for a handful of dissident liberal critics, but he was so sensitive and paranoid that he really overreacted.

He viewed himself as a victim and never seemed to realize that he made himself a target by his own initiating of these slash-and-burn attacks on supposed Communist subversion. By the time he became a national figure, there were critics on the left going after him. Certainly Jack Anderson and his boss, Drew Pearson, were out to get him.

Q: Why did they hate him so much?

Drew Pearson was a liberal, very ideological and, like Nixon, was a Quaker. But he was a pacifist compared to the fundamentalist, almost evangelical strain of Quakerism that Nixon was raised in. He was very much of what we'd call a born-again Christian today.

With Anderson, it wasn't so much ideological. He was willing to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Myla Goldberg

Myla Goldberg is the author of the bestselling debut novel, Bee Season.

She was interviewed about her latest novel, The False Friend, by Jill Owens for Part of the dialogue:

Jill Owens: During your reading at Wordstock, you mentioned that The False Friend came from a song that you had written. How did that process happen?

Myla Goldberg: Very mysteriously. [Laughter] In my band I write a lot of songs, and often they are lyrically driven. I'll start with an idea that's in words, and eventually music comes to it. I was writing a song about a girl who falls in a well, and I found myself realizing that there was a lot more going on in my head than I was getting into this song. It tied into my own memories of childhood, and it was much too big for a song.

I realized, "OK. I've got to do something else with this." That's when I started working on the story.

Originally, a memory of my own had come back to me, one that I'd managed to block out for maybe 15 years or longer. My friend Theresa and I had been total best friends in elementary school, but also total competitors. We were very, very fiercely competitive with each other. And I suddenly remembered this one time where I threw a pair of scissors at her, which actually struck her in the leg and made her bleed. We're not talking stitches. I don't think she even needed a Band-Aid. But she didn't tell on me.

I'd managed to forget all of this until I was an adult. The reason it was such a jarring memory is that I'm a very, very nonviolent person. When I took a fencing class, I couldn't even touch the other person with my little lance, even though they were all padded.

So when this memory came back to me, it was this perspective on being a different person than I am now. I used to be a person that actually did something violent once, which is just so completely different. So that got me thinking, "OK. Well, how...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 22, 2010

Avi Steinberg

From a Q & A with Avi Steinberg about his memoir, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian:

Your memoir Running the Books is the ultimate fish out of water story. How did you wind up in prison?

I ended up in prison the way most people end up there. By accident. It’s a classic tale, really. An Orthodox Jewish guy leaves the fold, goes to Harvard, gets bad grades, then becomes a freelance obituary writer, then gets punched in the face at an Orthodox wedding which makes him realize that he must get his life in order. That he needs healthcare. And so he sends out his resume to a prison in the hopes of achieving all that. Health care and order. As I said, a classic American tale. Now, why I went to work specifically in a prison and specifically in a prison library, that’s a slightly different story. In many ways it took, I think, working there for more than two years to discover what I was looking for to begin with. And I think that’s really the saga I describe in this book.

Aside from the obvious answer of clientele, how does a prison library differ from a general public library?

One major difference is that the people who visit a prison library also live together, in this estranged sort of way. They’re around each other nonstop, every day, all day. And the action that occurs in a prison library is always an extension of the drama that is happening upstairs in the cells, in the prison blocks, and to some extent from previous dramas on the street. Everybody’s implicated in everybody’s life. The library functions very differently in these dramas. Sometimes it’s a place for people to gain some privacy and to momentarily escape. But more often it’s a place for people to confront their issues head on. So in a funny way the prison library functions as...[read on]
See Avi Steinberg's list of what Lindsay Lohan should read in jail.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 21, 2010

China Miéville

China Miéville is the author of The City & The City, his sci-fi/fantasy/detective novel which shared the 2010 Hugo Award for best novel.

From his Q & A about the book with Marjorie Kehe for the Christian Science Monitor:

Your work is often described as “weird fiction.” How do you see your genre?

“Weird fiction” is a term that comes from the 1920s and the work of writers like HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. If I and others call my stuff “weird fiction” it’s in homage to and [in recognition of being] inspired by that tradition of that somewhat grotesque, horror-tinged, blurred line between science fiction and the fantastic. But if I’m talking to people that don’t particularly know the field, then I tend to say that it’s science fiction, because that’s simpler. I’m not someone who gets their knickers into a twist about the specificity of these labels.

The premise of the two cities – Beszel and Ul Qoma, physically overlapping and yet legally and culturally divided by some terrible, forgotten act of history – is so intriguing. Where did it come from?

What happened in my head was the literalization of a fantastic idea of cities that overlapped and that became more and more set in the real world. The real-world ramifications and metaphors came after that. But once I had decided that I wanted to set it in the real world you begin thinking about how the real-world logic works and it came to me quite quickly that this was a real-world logic dictated by social filters and borders and [legal codes] and national boundaries – exactly as in the real world but just exaggerated. As is always the case with most of the ideas that you have as a writer of the fantastic, it’s very hard to pin them to an exact spot. It’s only in the second or third phase that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paul Gaus

Paul Gaus, a retired chemistry professor, has been writing Amish murder mysteries since 1997, set in the Amish country of Holmes County, Ohio, where he lives. Originally published by Ohio University Press, Gaus's books are now being republished by Penguin as “The Amish Mystery Series.” The first title in the series, Blood of the Prodigal, which addresses shunning – the Amish practice of exiling disobedient church members into the mainstream society – was released last month.

From his Q & A with the Christian Science Monitor:

How did you start writing Amish mystery novels?

I have lived in Wooster, Ohio, for over 33 years. Just south of us, in Holmes County, we have the largest Amish settlement of any location in the world. While I was teaching chemistry, I took an interest in writing about Amish society. And I always enjoyed mystery novels. So I took a trip out to New Mexico to meet with Tony Hillerman, who wrote many novels about Navajo culture. And I thought that I would write mystery novels like Tony Hillerman does, but I would set them among the Amish of Holmes county.

How do you go about choosing your stories?

"Blood of the Prodigal," like all of my stories, it is written to illuminate Scripture. In particular, its written to illuminate one of the Biblical Scriptures on which Amish people base their lifestyle. A key Scripture for "Blood of the Prodigal" is the 139th Psalm. Many of the interactions in "Blood of the Prodigal" are based on transactions of repentance and forgiveness. There’s comfort in the 139th Psalm for people who face repentance. That’s what an [Amish] bishop tries to do with shunning – restore a person to a community of faith.

So is there a spiritual component for you in writing these books?

There is. I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gay Talese

Gay Talese's books include The Kingdom and the Power (1969), Honor Thy Father (1971), Thy Neighbor's Wife (1981), Unto the Sons (1992), and A Writer's Life (2006).

The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese has just been issued by Walker & Company.

From Talese's conversation with James Mustich:

James Mustich: Sports has been entwined with your life as a writer from the beginning—when you were in high school. Which came first, your interest in writing, or your interest in sports?

Gay Talese: Let me go back one step further. What led me to newspapers was that I had a father who read them. He read the New York Times. When I was ten years old—in 1942— I was aware of the war, and I was particularly aware of it because my father, who was from Italy, had brothers who were in the Italian army. The invasion of Italy was underway when I was 11 and 12, and my father was very concerned about his village and his people—not only his brothers, who were fighting the Americans, but his widowed mother. His native village, Maida, was in the path of the American army as it moved from Sicily up to Calabria. I wrote about this in Unto the Sons.

So my father read the newspaper, and it wasn't the Philadelphia newspaper, even though Ocean City, New Jersey, where I was born, is close to Philadelphia; it was the New York Times. I didn't read the paper with any interest, obviously, then, but I did read the sports page for this reason: at the time the war was on, the Yankees moved to Atlantic City (that was in 1943 and 1944) for spring training, since because of the rationing teams didn't go to Florida during World War II. And Atlantic City is only 11 miles from where I was born and grew up. This was the 1943 championship Yankee team. The manager was Joe McCarthy, who was the famous manager of the time of DiMaggio. Granted, DiMaggio wasn't playing—a lot of the top names in baseball were in the army. Not all. But there weren't many name ballplayers on the Yankee team that I saw in 1943 and '44.

I would get on the trolley and I would go over there, and then I'd read the New York Times about spring training. That's when I started reading the newspaper. My father was reading it for the international news, and I would look at the sports section. I'd see articles about what I'd seen myself. I'd see the exhibition games, and I'd get autographs. Because in spring training at that time, they didn't play in stadiums. Today spring training fields are like any other major league ballpark—places like Tampa, for example, where the Yankees train. But in those days it was an old airport that had old bleachers—that's where the Yankees played baseball. It was a gravel field, with some grass; it was springtime; the grass wasn't growing yet.

Reading sports in the Times, I got to know...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 18, 2010

Michael Dobbs

Michael Dobbs served as Chief of Staff to British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major and was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in the mid-1990s. His many books include House of Cards, the first in what would become a trilogy of political thrillers based on the character Francis Urquhart.

His latest novel is The Reluctant Hero.

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

What book changed your life?

It sounds self-indulgent but it was House of Cards. I wrote it by accident and it took my life in a completely different direction.

* * *

Who are your literary influences?

I used to aspire to John le Carré and Frederick Forsyth. Now I read more widely to see how other people do it. I’m still learning this craft of writing.

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

The Gospel According to St John. I’m fascinated by Bible stories, not because I’m religious but because it’s a period of history that raises so many questions for me.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read about Michael Dobbs and his books, and see his list of five great fictional prime ministers.

The Page 69 Test: The Lords’ Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ken Follett

Thriller writer Ken Follett has sold 100m copies of his 31 books worldwide. His first major success was Eye of the Needle (1978).

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

You took a risk to write The Pillars of the Earth. Were you confident it would work both critically and commercially or were you surprised when it became such a success after it was published in 1989?

I felt I had written a very commercial novel with a heavyweight theme, and I was hoping for a big reaction from critics and the public. The reviews were mixed and the public response was, at first, muted. The book sold about the same number of copies in the United States as my previous book, and frankly I was disappointed. But over time it became clear that Pillars was a phenomenally popular backlist title, selling at double the rate of my others. So I was surprised twice.

You’ve said that you consider Pillars to be your best book to date. Do you find that paradoxical, since you’re known primarily as a writer of thrillers and suspense novels?

It was never my ambition to become famous for a novel about a church. I’m still kind of surprised that I wrote it. Of course, it’s not really about a church; it’s about a group of people who set out to do something that seems almost impossible.

Did you know as you were completing Pillars that there would be a sequel?

Pillars was the first book that truly exhausted...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rachel Hore

Rachel Hore's first novel was The Dream House. Her second, The Memory Garden, was published in August 2007 and was an Amazon Top Ten bestseller. Her third, The Glass Painter's Daughter, was published in April 2009 and was shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year 2010. She teaches Publishing at the University of East Anglia, and Creative Writing, and reviews regularly for the national press. Her new novel, A Place of Secrets, was published last month in the UK.

From her Q & A with Arifa Akbar in the Independent:

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

I'm very fond of Barbara Kingsolver. I love the way she places people in the world and suddenly you zoom back and see the larger, natural order of that place. I have read all her novels but my favourite is 'Prodigal Summer', about the wilderness and set in American forests.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I suppose I would go for Jo March, in 'Little Women', in the sense that I've got a scribbling suit like her woolly pinafore dress and hat with a red bow. In my case, I've got mismatching track-suit top and bottoms.

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

I would say Caroline Lucas, the Green Party's first Member of Parliament.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 15, 2010

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill is the author of The Coroner’s Lunch, Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, and Anarchy and Old Dogs, featuring seventy-three year old Dr. Siri Paiboun, national coroner of Laos. He and his wife live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he teaches at the university.

From his Q & A with PBS:

You’ve traveled and lived all over the world. Where did your wanderlust come from? And why do you think travel is important?

I think being born English has something to do with it. England seemed limited to me. I always wanted to know what everybody else was doing and something told me they were doing it better elsewhere.

I made one or two trips to Europe with my school and my blood was tainted for life. For 26 years, the longest I spent in any one place was eighteen months. I was forever looking for new experiences. Most of my school friends had settled into “the comfort of the known.” Few of them took chances. In my mind that was like only using ten percent of your personality. I reveled in the unexpected, the revelation of making new friends and learning new jobs, the honeymoon with a new place and a different culture.

Cartooning was your first artistic pursuit. Where do you get your ideas? Do you think it plays into your writing now at all?

I was born with two traits that have really helped me through life. I have a vast imagination, and I’m weird. I love the quirky side of life. I get a thrill out of the ridiculous and it means I’m always looking for it. For a while I was drawing weekly cartoons for a publication and I was afraid I might run out of ideas. But when your imagination lets you down there’s always “real life.” And making it up is never as funny as the actual foolishness of man.

This cartoonist eye undoubtedly helped when I started to write. You have to see things, not as they are, but as you can lampoon them. You need to give your readers lots of, “Yeah, that’s how it is,” moments. You “see” on their behalf. Our planet is inhabited by a large number of nondescript people. But a book can’t be...[read on]
Visit Colin Cotterill's website and his Crimespace page.

The Page 69 Test: Anarchy and Old Dogs.

My Book, The Movie: Curse of the Pogo Stick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd’s books include London: The Biography (2000), Thames: Sacred River (2007), biographies of great Londoners (Charles Dickens, William Blake, Thomas More) and the novel, The Great Fire of London (1982).

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

What book changed your life?

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. As a young boy I was impressed by its piety.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

Winnie the Pooh.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

The whole English canon, from Chaucer to Shakespeare, Dickens and Blake.

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

Cate Blanchett.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Laurie David

Laurie David is an environmental activist and the author of a new book, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time.

From her Q & A with Deborah Solomon:

Although known as an environmental activist, you take up a less divisive cause in your new book, “The Family Dinner,” a cross between a cookbook and a parenting manifesto.

I’ve got two teenage girls and have found parenting unbelievably challenging. At one point I said to myself, I have to get some happy family moments. And so I zeroed in on family dinner as the perfect time to accomplish that.

Do you let your daughters use their cellphones at the table?

If I see them even look at their phones, I take the phone. They have to hand it to me. Dinner to me is the only way to bring everyone together, to check in and have some laughs.

But dinner can also be a source of friction. What is the proper response when your teenagers say they dislike your lemon chicken and want beef tacos instead?

You’re not a short-order cook, number one. You should be making dinner for the family, not for the individual. They eat what you eat. My kids now are eating quinoa and kale and beans, and they drink water instead of soda.

Much of this is really a class issue. A mom with a low-paying job might pick up some Cokes and fast food because she doesn’t have the time or money to prepare salmon with quinoa.

First of all, you...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

William Nicholson

From Arifa Akbar's Q & A with screenwriter (Gladiator, Elizabeth) and novelist William Nicholson, for the Independent:

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

Henry David Thoreau who wrote Walden. He was an utterly original thinker who tried to discover how to live well and believed that giving your entire life to work to live made no sense at all. To live well, he thought we had to make our financial demands as small as possible, so experimented with living in the woods for two years in utter simplicity.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Pierre from War and Peace – not physically but psychologically – he is trying to work out how to live and how to make sense of life.

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

Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen micro-credit movement for women.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reed Farrel Coleman

Reed Farrel Coleman’s Innocent Monster (Tyrus Books, Oct. 5, 2010) is the sixth book in his Moe Prager series.

From his Q & A with Bill Crider:

BC: I was reading on your website about the new book, and I see the title is Innocent Monster, so I'm guessing it's about vampires, right?

RFC: Is this where I stick needles in my eyes? Christ, am I sick to death of vampires. Charlaine Harris is like the nicest person alive, but can she please make it stop? Seriously, Innocent Monster is pretty far away from your basic vampire book.

BC: Okay, I guess I was wrong. I noticed that Booklist gives it a starred review that says it's "pretty much note-perfect," so where do the musicians come in?

RFC: On cue, I hope.

BC: Kidding aside, I remember that at the 2004 Bouchercon in Toronto you were campaigning to "Save Moe." Can we assume that Moe has been thoroughly saved and will be around for a while?

RFC: I think...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

My Book, the Movie: The Moe Prager Mystery Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kate Racculia

Kate Racculia is the author of This Must Be the Place.

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

Who are your favorite writers?

I love Kate Atkinson, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, Jane Smiley, Richard Russo—I could go on. And there's nothing in the world like a vintage Stephen King and a glass of iced tea on a lazy summer day.

* * *
Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?

Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game blew my 10-year-old mind with its multiple characters, multiple plots, multiple red herring, try-to-solve-it-yourself mystery. And years later, John Irving's The World According to Garp was an object lesson in absolutely stuffing a book to bursting—with characters, with ideas, with absurdity—and yet making it all ring true.

* * *
What inspired you to write your first book?

This Must Be the Place was inspired by many, many things: the art of Joseph Cornell; the Pixies' "Doolittle;" the true story of John Myatt, an art forger who happened to be a single father (which got me thinking: what would it be like to have a forger in the family?); and a burning desire to justify the student loan payments I owed on my MFA.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 9, 2010

William Gibson

William Gibson's new novel is Zero History.

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

Where do you write best?

At home for the most part but when stuck I resort to a laptop in a coffee shop – the busier the better.

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

The strangest are life experiences that turn into research. For Zero History I participated in the brainstorming of a new brand, for a clothing manufacturer involved in military contracting.

What are you scared of?

Racism, sexism, nationalism, tribalism, fundamentalism (about anything at all), the excesses of religion, self-satisfied ignorance.
Read the complete Q & A.

Gibson's Neuromancer appears on Annalee Newitz's list of "Thirteen Books That Will Change The Way You Look At Robots" and Andrew Crumey's top ten list of novels that predicted the future.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 8, 2010

Carolyn de la Peña

Carolyn de la Peña is a professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis. She is author of The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American.

From a Q & A about her new book, Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda:

Q: What inspired you to write a book about the history of artificial sweeteners?

A: I grew up in the 1980s in a house with a lot of substitutes. We had Egg Beaters, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, No Salt, Crystal Light, and Diet Pepsi. I really don't remember having butter, except in restaurants, until I was in college. So a big part of it is autobiographical: I wanted to know where these products came from, and how people like my mom - who was always watching her weight - had come to think of them as healthy options. And, of course, what impact this way of eating, which was entirely new really, has had on us as Americans. It is odd, when you stop and think about it, that "diet" and "low fat" became mantras for good health, especially considering that all of these products relied on chemicals made in a lab, most of which had not even existed just decades before. I thought there must be more to the story than "diet foods" make "diet people" - especially since these healthy substitutes rose in sales in a way that pretty much parallels the rise in what some people call the "obesity epidemic" that's occurred in the last few decades in the U.S. Of course, when I actually sat down to do a history of all those substitutes, I found each history (fat, salt, egg, and sugar) extraordinarily complex, and pretty unknown. So I started with the first, and most popular substitute, artificial sweetener. After finding little about them in what's been written about food, I decided that fifty years was long enough to wait for a history of these things, and I'd write it myself.

Q: What was the first artificial sweetener in America, and why was it created?

A: The first artificial sweetener, anywhere, was...[read on]
Learn more about Empty Pleasures at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Empty Pleasures.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bryan Gruley

From a Q & A with Bryan Gruley, author of Starvation Lake and The Hanging Tree:

Tell us about the process of plotting a mystery novel. Do you have the story mapped out before you sit down to write, or do you discover it along with your characters?

So far, I’m not much of an advance plotter. I know where the story begins and I have a vague idea of how it ends. Then I start writing and, yes, I discover the story along with my characters. As I go, I jot notes to myself about story arcs I need to follow through on and loose ends I have to tie up, and these become a sort of rough, moving outline for what’s to come in the next few scenes.

How is writing a sequel different from writing a debut novel? Does your writing process change at all?

Writing my first novel was hard because I had no idea how to go about writing a novel. Writing the sequel was hard because I had no idea how to go about writing a sequel.

I don’t mean to be glib. In a sequel, you have to be mindful both of readers who have not read your previous book and readers who have. You have to give the former enough backstory to appreciate the setting and characters without giving so much that you either bore repeat readers or reveal so much of the first book that new readers won’t go back and give it a try.

At least for me, another challenge on the sequel was quieting the echoes of reviewers, bloggers, readers, and others who had opined about my writing. Writing my debut, all I had to worry about were my own instincts and the suggestions of the few friends who read the manuscript. This time around, it was impossible at times not to recall the critics, professional or not, who’d complained about the hockey or the dialogue or the prologue or the way my hair was done in the author photo. It made for some second-guessing, but I tried to remind myself what my friend, the novelist John Galligan, told me: Write what’s in your heart.

When you first conceived of this series, how did you decide which point of view to tell the story from? Did you ever consider using a character other than Gus to narrate, or telling the story from a third-person perspective?

In truth, I...[read on]
Visit Bryan Gruley's website and The Hanging Tree website.

The Page 69 Test: Starvation Lake.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Tree.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert's books include Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.

From a Q & A at her website:

Q: Why do you think U.S. divorce rates are so high? What statistical findings did you encounter that people might consider before tying the knot?

A: First of all, it's important to know that the famous "50% divorce rate" that we hear about so much these days is a little bit misleading. Across the board, there is a 50% divorce rate, true, but those numbers really change based on the age of the couple at the time of marriage. Young couples divorce at astronomically high rates, which blows the curve for everyone else. The fundamental conclusion we can draw from all the data is this: Marriage is not a game for the young. Wait as long as you humanly can to get married, and your odds of staying with one partner forever will increase dramatically. If you wait until you are, say, 35 years old to get married, your odds of success are pretty terrific. The other question is one of expectation. Modern Americans bring to their marriages the most over-stuffled bundle of expectations the institution has ever seen. We expect that our partner will not merely be a decent person, but will also be our soul mate, our best friend, our intellectual companion, our greatest sexual partner and our life's complete inspiration. Nobody in human history has ever asked this much of a companion. It's a lot to ask of one mere mortal, and the inevitable disappointments that follow such giant expectations can cripple marriages.

Q: In the book, you state that same-sex marriage may very well save the institution of marriage. How so?

A: Marriage is on the decline everywhere, and same-sex couples are the only ones who are really passionate about matrimony anymore. As one commentator described the situation, it's as if the institution of marriage is a crumbing, decaying, old neighborhood where nobody wants to live anymore. But then-in come the gay couples, begging to move into that neighborhood, buy up all that valueless real estate, renovate those old houses, bring creative new shops and galleries to the place and suddenly make it the coolest place to live again. After which, heterosexual couples and families will follow! So the argument becomes this-instead of trying to "save" the institution of marriage by excluding gay couples from matrimony, maybe it's smarter to try to rescue marriage by letting same-sex couples move in and gentrify the place. It's a cute argument, but...[read on]
Writers who were pulled in by Eat, Pray, Love include Jennifer Mascia and Vivian Swift.

Read about Elizabeth Gilbert's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jed Rubenfeld

Jed Rubenfeld is the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale Law School and author of the novel The Interpretation of Murder.

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

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

Kazuo Ishiguro. I've read every book he has written... Here's someone else with an exquisite ability to captivate you with his language – and to capture the human drama.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

In my own writing, I suppose it has be [the psychologist] Stratham Younger – but I wish it was the detective, Jimmy Littlemore.

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

Abraham Lincoln. I still tell stories about him to my kids. He was a man of tremendous integrity, morality and self-restraint. And he was one of the few politicians who transcends politics.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 4, 2010

Garrett Peck

From Debra Eckerling's Q & A with Garrett Peck, author of The Prohibition Hangover:

How did The Prohibition Hangover come about?

I had this moment of epiphany at Christmas 2003. … I was at my grandmother’s house in Scottsdale, and had brought a really nice bottle of Burgundy to share with Christmas dinner. Three generations sat at the table: my grandmother, my mom, and me. When I opened the wine, my grandmother got a bit snooty about the fact that she didn’t drink; my mom and I are social drinkers, and we both collect wine.

My grandmother (born in 1913) was part of a generation that stigmatized alcohol use. Those values of temperance weren’t passed on; hence both my mom and I drink. I thought, “Wow, that’s quite a shift in society!” We went from a country that stigmatized alcohol to the extent that we changed the Constitution (and then changed it back after Prohibition turned out to be a disaster), and here we are today where two-thirds of adults drink. The stigma against alcohol is largely gone.

At that moment, the idea came to me, and I knew I wanted to write about it.

* * *
Why this topic? This format?

I wanted to try something that no one else had ever done, which was to explore how Americans became a drinking nation again in the 76 years after Prohibition. The last really seminal work on Americans and alcohol was published in 1979 by William Rorabaugh. It was called The Alcoholic Republic, and it explored the roots of the temperance movement in the early 1800s. But the period after Repeal was completely unchartered waters! And that’s where I dove in.

While I do have a short chronology at the beginning of the book to tell how we got into the mess of Prohibition – and how we got out of it nearly 14 years later—I quickly realized that the story needed to be told thematically, rather than chronologically. Each chapter is a standalone theme. For example, I address how the craft beer market has come bubbling up, why Sideways is the best movie about wine ever made, what churches say about alcohol today, and I capped it all with a chapter on underage drinking, which is part of a huge national discussion right now. Ultimately I concluded that the US should lower the drinking age to 18 as a way to combat binge drinking among young adults. I suspect this will be controversial.
Read the complete interview.

Learn more about the book and author at Garrett Peck's website.

Garrett Peck's best books about Prohibition.

Writers Read: Garrett Peck.

The Page 99 Test: The Prohibition Hangover.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shirley Williams

Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, is a British politician and academic. Originally a Labour Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, she was one of the "Gang of Four" rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. She later served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

Her autobiography is Climbing the Bookshelves.

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

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

The pressures of political life mean I read a lot of poetry. My favourite now is Seamus Heaney. He has such extraordinary insight into events – including political events – but is also, profoundly, a poet.

* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I don't have an answer to that, but my parents did. They named me after Charlotte Brontë's 'Shirley' – although I find her rather self-righteous and tedious!

* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

It has to be Nelson Mandela. When you think of the amount of bitterness he overcame, after 27 years in prison – it's phenomenal.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about Shirley Williams's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Robert B. Parker

Painted Ladies, Robert B. Parker's latest Spenser novel, was completed the year before he died. The novel is out this month.

From an interview at his publisher's website:

Q: Your writing career began with the 1974 publication of The Godwulf Manuscript, the first [book] in the Spenser series. Why do you think that Spenser has developed such a widespread, loyal following and is still so popular among readers?

A: I think people are drawn to Spenser because he's a very likeable man. He has many dimensions. He has important relationships, including an ongoing love relationship with Susan Silverman, a difficult, complicated, interesting woman. Spenser is beset by the same problems we all are, yet, being a bit larger than life, he triumphs over them in ways that we don't always. He can't be bribed, seduced with sex, or frightened with violence, and most of us can. Also, there's a persistence to him. Publishers always like to have an author who gives them a book a year. Readers do, too. Spenser is dependable in that way. He's around every year, growing and changing.

Q: Spenser is a Boston P.I. You live in Boston. Your independent film company is named after your short-haired pointer, Pearl, who has also been featured in your last few Spenser novels. How much do you draw from your own experience in writing your novels?

A: T.S. Eliot once talked about the function of the imagination, drawing the analogy of a bell jar with two separate inert gases in it. When you insert a piece of tungsten, the two become a third gas that was not present before. He likened that to the imagination; that it creates something new out of what was there. That's a fairly good analogy for what I do. Certain aspects of my novels reflect my own life, but in ways that only I understand; that is, you can't read Spenser's career and draw any very intelligent conclusions about my life. Other parts are more obvious. My wife Joan and I were separated for a period in the early eighties, which was reflected in Susan and Spenser's relationship. One of my recurring characters is a choreographer/actor and I have a son who is a choreographer, and another who's an actor.

Q: Are there any underlying themes that run through your work?

A: ...[read on]
For more about Robert B. Parker, see The Rap Sheet entries Looking for Robert B. Parker: A Fond Farewell to the Man Who Saved P.I. Fiction, Part I and Part II.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ken Follett

Thriller writer Ken Follett has sold 100m copies of his 31 books worldwide. His first major success was Eye of the Needle (1978).

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

What book changed your life?

Father and Son [1907] by Edmund Gosse, which I read when I was 14. It’s about a young man who abandons his religion. It gave me permission to do the same.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Writers who taught me literature is the greatest adventure. It was Enid Blyton and her Noddy books from age four, and then Ian Fleming’s Live And Let Die when I was 12. And Stephen King.

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

George Clooney. But my kids would laugh their socks off so I’d say Sir Robert Stephens, who played the best Falstaff I’ve seen.

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

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I wish I had created Hannibal Lecter.
Read the complete interview.

Eye of the Needle is one of Louise Bagshawe's five classic chase novels.

--Marshal Zeringue