Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane was born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His novels include A Drink Before the War; Darkness, Take My Hand; Sacred; Gone, Baby, Gone; Prayers for Rain; Mystic River; Shutter Island; The Given Day; and the newly released Moonlight Mile.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Lehane worked as a counselor with mentally handicapped and abused children, waited tables, parked cars, drove limos, worked in bookstores, and loaded tractor-trailers. He lives in the Boston, Massachusetts, area.

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

Q: Who or what has most influenced your writing?

A. Graham Greene and Richard Price were both hugely influential on me. Elmore Leonard's Detroit novels and Parker's Spenser books certainly also had an effect. There are two short story writers — Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus — also set bars I keep trying to reach as well.

Q: Have you worked at jobs other than writing?

A. I've had a million jobs. But from the moment I said I was going to take this seriously, there was no other career track. I was not going to use writing for advertising or journalism. I would tend bar, load trucks, chaffeur — do whatever it took. But from the moment I took my first writing workshop, I was a writer. Whether I got published or not was really irrelevant. Whether I got good was what mattered.

Q: What are your hobbies or favorite pastimes?

A. I'm a pretty boring guy. I love to write, so it rarely seems like work — even when it gets arduous. As for hobbies, I like to play pool and tennis. I sort of play golf because a lot of my friends are into it, but I'm awful — my handicap is about six or seven thousand. I play poker a lot with guys I grew up with, and occasionally go out to catch live music in small clubs. My wife Sheila and I watch a lot of old movies and play with our two English Bulldogs, Marlon and Stella. Outside of a serious addiction to....[read on]
Read about Dennis Lehane's five favorite short story collections and his five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 29, 2010

Roberta Gately

From a Q & A with Roberta Gately, author of Lipstick in Afghanistan:

Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?

A. Atticus Finch from "To Kill A Mockingbird"

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

A. Rhett Butler - though he's not entirely a villain and maybe that's why he's my favorite

* * *
Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?

A. Anne Boleyn - "What were you thinking?"

* * *
Q. Who are your favorite authors?

A. D.H. Lawrence, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen

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

A. "The Secret Garden", "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Gone With The Wind," "Lady Chatterley's Lover," and "The Giving Tree."

* * *
Q. Is there a book you love to reread?

A. "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Read the complete Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Lipstick in Afghanistan, and learn more about the book and author at Roberta Gately's website and blog.

Writers Read: Roberta Gately.

The Page 69 Test: Lipstick in Afghanistan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Russell Hoban

Russell Hoban's books include The Mouse and His Child (1967), Turtle Diary (1975) and Riddley Walker (1980).

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

What book changed your life?

A collection of Oscar Wilde’s short stories called A House of Pomegranates, which I read when I was eight or nine years old. The sumptuousness of the language blew me away.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

Huckleberry Finn. He was always true to himself. He knew he was helping a fugitive in Jim the runaway slave, and could burn in hell for it, but he wanted to stick by him. I would stick by Jim.

* * *
What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

Not a novel but a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales. The Goose Girl is one of my favourites.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bruce DeSilva

Rogue Island, the new crime novel by former Associated Press writing coach Bruce DeSilva, is getting rave reviews. Publishers Weekly, for example, called it "a masterpiece of irreverence and street savvy," and Booklist declared it "definitely one of the year's best." It has also been praised by 14 A-list crime novelists including Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben. DeSilva just completed the second book in the series, tentatively titled Cliff Walk.

From his Q & A at Sons of Spade:

Q: Can you tell us something about how your debut novel came to be?

It all started back in 1994, when I was working for a Connecticut newspaper. One day, I received a note from a reader praising “a nice little story” I’d written. “It could serve as the outline for a novel,” the note said. “Have you considered this?” I would have tossed the note in the trash except for one thing. It was from Evan Hunter, who wrote literary novels under his own name and the brilliant 87th Precinct police procedurals under the penname Ed McBain. I sealed the note in plastic, taped it to my home computer, and started writing. At the time, I lived 15 minutes from work, so I got up early every morning and wrote for two hours before going in. I was a mere 20,000 words into the novel when my life turned upside down. I took a very demanding new job; my new commute was 90 minute each way; I got divorced and then remarried to a woman with a young child. In this busy new life, I had no time to finish a novel. Years streaked by. Each time I bought a new computer, I taped that note from Hunter to it, hoping I would get back to the book someday. Meanwhile, I was reviewing novels on the side for The Associated Press and The New York Times book review section. That gave me entre to the Manhattan’s literary circle. A couple of years ago, I found myself dining with Otto Penzler, the dean of American’s crime fiction editors, and happened to mention that long-ago note from Hunter.

“Evan Hunter was a good friend of mine,” Penzler said. “In all the years I knew him, he never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote. He REALLY sent you that note?”

“He really did,” I said. “I still have it.”

“Well then you’ve got to finish that novel,” Otto said, “and when you do, you have to let me read it.”

So I ...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Rogue Island, and learn more about the book and author at Bruce DeSilva's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Rogue Island.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Bruce DeSilva and Brady.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jane Leavy

From Randy Dotinga's interview with Jane Leavy about her new book, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood:

Q: What were you hoping to learn about Mickey Mantle?

I set out to answer a question posed by a man named Cromer Smotherman, who was a teammate of [Mantle's] in 1950 in Class C ball. The manager assigned this guy, a first baseman, to be Mantle's minder, to keep an eye on him and help try to regulate his moods because he was so hard on himself when he didn't do as well as he ought to have.

I asked this guy, "If you could speak to Mickey today, what would you ask him, what would you want to know?" The man actually got fairly choked up, and he said, "Mickey, why did you do it? Why did you choose to lead the life that you led? What happened? You were not that kind of person."

Those became my marching orders: to answer that question and to answer a second question: Why does he still have purchase on the American imagination 15 years after his death and decades after he played his last game? I was at a luncheon today and there were people lining up to buy the book who weren't born when he was playing.

Q: What made him unique?

There was a sense of optimism in the profligacy of his talent, the riches of his sheer power and speed. A miner's son in a godforsaken corner of the country that had been and would continue to be devastated by horrible environmental pollution, he seemed to epitomize what was best about us. He seemed to touch a sense of our potential, our resources and our strengths. It was that coast-to-coast smile, a name that had the meter and cadence of poetry.

And he left room for ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Richard A. Lanham

From a Q & A with Richard A. Lanham, author of The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information:

Question: The information economy is saturated with it: there's something like 80 million websites, 500 TV channels, countless online newspapers constantly updated, a gazillion blogs, podcasts, mp3s, video downloads, etc., etc. And worldwide there are about 1 million new books published each year. Economics is about the allocation of scarce resources. What are the scarce resources in the information economy?

Richard A. Lanham: The scare resource is the human attention needed to make sense of the enormous flow of information, to learn, as it were, how to drink out of the firehose.

Question: So, is the goal in the attention economy is to get eyeballs first, and the money will follow? Is that how to make sense of the enormous flow of free information that is at our fingertips? If so, who can help maximize the number of those eyeballs? Software engineers? Designers? Celebrities? Artists?

Lanham: You are asking three questions at once. First, yes, in an attention economy, you have to get the eyeballs first. But the money, as many found out with internet stocks, does not automatically follow the eyeballs.

Second, how to "make sense of the enormous flow of free information" is another question altogether, at least if I understand you. If you mean, "how do we explain the explosion of free information provided by the internet?," then there are a lot of answers to that, some beyond the traditional purview of economics. People put up information on the web often for the pure pleasure of sharing what they know-the pleasure of teaching. They don't expect money to follow. They are being paid in a different coin, the pleasure of teaching, which includes of course the attention your readers/viewers/students pay to you. One of the great surprises, at least to me, about the internet-based information explosion is the extraordinary human generosity which it has revealed. People want to share their information, their enthusiasms, their way of looking at the world and now they have a new and infinitely more effective way to do it. It may be what they know about Barbie dolls, or about digital cameras, or the specifications of sewer pipe for your house-the range is infinite. It is far more surprising, at least to me, how often people want to give this information away than how they want to be paid for it. So, how to explain the "enormous flow of free information"? Emphatically, not just in the expectation of future profit. Quite the opposite. This generosity of spirit has not been so remarked as it ought to have been.

Third, "who can help maximize the number of those eyeballs?" Ah, well,...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

William Kent Krueger

William Kent Krueger is an award-winning author and crime writer, best known for his Cork O'Connor series of books. His books have won the Anthony, Barry and Dilys Awards.

From his Q & A with Craig Johnson:

Craig Johnson: In the newest edition of your series, you spend a sizable amount of time in Wyoming rather than your own Minnesota. What effect did that have on the process of writing your new book, Heaven's Keep?

William Kent Krueger: None. But the research was a blast. I've spent a good deal of time in Wyoming—the state of my birth, as a matter of fact—and it was fun to look at it from a different perspective, one that required I take particular note of the physical geography. What a beautiful place that state is. And unpopulated. Which is very enticing, especially when you consider that isolating characters in the wild is a great way to create suspense.

You put your protagonist through a great deal of torture through the potential loss of his wife, Jo. Do you enjoy writing characters on their emotional frontiers?

Emotional frontiers? You must have an advanced college degree. Every story, to be compelling, demands tension. And despite the fact that we work in a genre that general gets a lot of mileage out of putting people in jeopardy, I think it's really the emotional dynamics that drive readers' interest. I also think that characters reveal themselves most fully and most compellingly when their nerves are frayed and their deepest fears surface. I love Walt Longmire, for example, not because he cuts a dashing, daring image (unlike his creator), but because I know him and trust him emotionally, and I care about what happens to him and to the people he loves. I hope the same is true for those readers who enjoy Cork O'Connor.

Your usual stomping grounds are among the Ojibwa, comparatively, how was it dealing with the Plains Indian tribes of the Arapaho, Cheyenne and others?

I approached the Arapaho, who...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Anne Rice

Anne Rice is the author of Interview with the Vampire and other books.

From her interview with Anna Metcalfe for the Financial Times:

What books changed your life?

Great Expectations by Dickens and Jane Eyre by BrontĂ« had a profound influence. I’m not sure any book has ever changed my life.

* * *
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

Going to the morgue in New Orleans to look at dead bodies, a very illuminating and humbling experience. I saw several bodies and will never forget it. I described it later in one of my novels.

* * *
Where is your favourite place in the world?

The Garden District of New Orleans.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jack Todd

Jack Todd's new novel is Come Again No More.

From a Q & A about his novel, Sun Going Down:

Any sweeping novel about the American West is bound to be compared to Lonesome Dove. How do you feel about Sun Going Down being compared to McMurtry's epic novel?

Obviously, I'm gratified and a little embarrassed to find Sun Going Down compared with an American classic such as Lonesome Dove. At the same time, I should point out that they are very different books. Both are sweeping tales set partially or entirely in the Old West but apart from that, I think, the similarities really aren't there. I had read Lonesome Dove when it first came out years ago but didn't remember much about it. I have since re-read it and read Comanche Moon and I might have done some things differently if I had read these books while I was writing Sun Going Down, which was much more influenced by Mark Twain, Cormac McCarthy, and the Nebraska writer Mari Sandoz.

You've managed to tell the story of four generations of one family in under 400 pages, yet the novel doesn't feel rushed or hurried. How did you edit yourself and decide to move on to the next plot or storyline? Given the scope of the novel, did you outline the story prior to writing the book? Did your research or writing process evolve at all while working on Sun Going Down?

The greatest difficulty in writing this book was to get so much story between two covers. The first draft was 900 pages long in manuscript form; it was then cut by a third and then cut to half that length before some 120 pages were restored before the final version. I didn't really do an outline; I was following the story of the family as handed down in diaries and memoirs, so the outline was there from the beginning. In the original plan, however, the Mississippi and Big Sioux sections took up...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Katia Lief

Born in France to American parents, Katia Lief moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in Massachusetts and New York. She teaches fiction writing as a part-time faculty member at the New School in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn.

From her Q & A with Sandra Parshall:

Did you make a conscious choice to write thrillers rather than traditional mysteries? What does the experience of writing a thriller offer that you might not find in writing a mystery?

I never considered writing a traditional mystery, probably because as a reader I love the visceral sensation of suspense that forces me to keep turning pages. I want to write the kind of books I love to read, which means writing books that get deeply under my skin on an emotional level. As my writing students will tell you, I strongly believe that suspense has to be present in fiction to make it interesting, regardless of whether a book is categorized as literary, suspense, comic, romance, etc. For me, suspense is all about the evocation of emotion, and asking questions that aren't answered until the bitter end.

You wrote in an article once that your career as a novelist has been a struggle. In what way?

It took me twenty years before I started earning a living as a novelist. As a young aspiring writer, I worked the proverbial day job and wrote whenever I could. Later, as a mother, the balance was more complicated. It gets to the point where you have to make very tough choices about how you spend your time, where you put your energy, and as a writer where your focus will be. I stuck with writing novels because I love it and feel driven to keep writing, but I probably explore less than I would have if I were independently wealthy or didn't have children. But that's just the nature of life: you set on a path, you make choices, and you hope for the best. Overall I feel I've been very lucky.

Which writers have influenced you, and how? Do you find that you continue to learn by reading the work of others?

I always learn by reading the work of other writers, regardless of what kind of writing it is. In fact, I think that reading is one of the best ways to learn how to write, because it forces you to analyze what's working, what isn't, and why. I'd say that the suspense novels that have most influenced me (so far) are...[read on]
Lief's latest novels are You Are Next and Next Time You See Me.

Visit Katia Lief's website.

Writers Read: Katia Lief.

The Page 69 Test: Next Time You See Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nora McFarland

Nora McFarland has worked for CNN and is a former community relations manager for Barnes & Noble. She has an MFA from the University of Southern California's school of cinema and television.

Her debut novel is A Bad Day's Work.

From a Q & A at her website:

How did you come to write this book?

After finishing grad school I planned to write screenplays – after all, I’d invested three years and lots of borrowed money in a film degree. To pay the bills while I worked on scripts, I got a job as a T.V. News Photographer in Bakersfield – just north of L.A. I recognized almost immediately that the job was a perfect set-up for a mystery. Shooters, as they’re called in the industry, work grueling hours at a frantic pace and report on everything from heinous crimes to bizarrely comical feature stories. I also found myself falling in love with Bakersfield and its unique transfer of rural southern culture to Southern California.

But it wasn’t until I began work at the local Barnes & Noble that I truly considered writing a mystery novel. I had no experience or training for such a large project, but being in the presence of so many books, and meeting the many authors who visited our store, inspired me to make the attempt.

Are any of your characters based on real people?

Leanore Drucker is a nod to two special ladies. The first...[read on]
A Bad Day's Work is a funny, fast-paced mystery similar in tone to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. It was a Target Breakout Pick for the month of August.

Learn more about the book and author at Nora McFarland's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Bad Day's Work.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rebecca Traister

From Marjorie Kehe's interview with Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women:

Q. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that until I read your book I didn't even think about the fact that when Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary she became the first woman in history to win a US presidential primary contest. Did Hillary’s story kind of get buried in the 2008 election coverage?

Think about the fact that no one told you that – before me! How stunning is that?

The story of Hillary as a historymaker was without a question buried during 2008. But I should qualify that and say that in part it was buried by Hillary. And we can’t leave that out of the equation. Most people now are critical of Mark Penn [Clinton's campaign adviser] and I am, too. But the advice that he was giving her, which was essentially to de-sex herself, was not out of line with historic experience and expectation about how you run female candidates. What those who have run have done historically is to present themselves as tough, avoid mentioning their own femininity or selling it at all costs and this is what we saw Hillary do. And part of that meant not making a big deal about the fact that she was the first woman candidate. [That strategy] gave a lot of us permission not think about the tremendous historical role that she was playing, and let me tell you, the media took advantage of that permission like nobody’s business. There was no acknowledgment.

Q. Somewhere down the line – maybe when we have our first woman president – will that be when historians will look back and say, “You know, Hillary Clinton really deserves a lot of credit”?

Without a doubt. And I think we’re hearing about it now, too. The conversations we’re having now about gender and politics in the midterm elections are very different from the conversations we were having during Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, and even different from the ones we were having during Sarah Palin’s candidacy. Many of them are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Eric Jay Dolin

From a Q & A with Eric Jay Dolin about his latest book, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America:

Q Why did you decide to write about the fur trade?

A I know the exact moment the idea for this book occurred. It was in the spring of 2007, while I was reading a book about the Founding of New England. The author wrote that “The Bible and the beaver were the two mainstays of” the Plymouth Colony in its early years. I understood the reference to the Bible, but I had no idea why beavers were thrown into the mix. Intrigued, I read more, and soon the reference to beavers made sense. For more than a decade after their arrival in America, the Pilgrims’ main source of income had come from the sale of beaver pelts. Thus, the beaver was critical to the colony’s survival. This discovery was a surprise to me. What else, I wondered, didn’t I know about the American fur trade? My curiosity piqued, I went to my local library and started reading about the fur trade. And within a couple of days, I realized that I could use the history of the fur trade to tell the broader and equally fascinating story of how America evolved into a transcontinental nation. I was hooked.

Many people, when they think of the American fur trade, think only of Mountain men in the Rockies, that is only a small part of the story. “Fur, Fortune, and Empire” spans the continent, from East to West. You cannot fully understand New England’s, or the nation’s history unless you understand the history of the fur trade.

Q What animals were most important to the trade, and what sorts of products were made from their fur?

A The beaver for the production of beaver felt hats; the buffalo, who robes were used a sleigh blankets, bed cover, and as lining for boots; sea otters, whose luxuriant pelts were...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Fur, Fortune, and Empire, and learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura is the author of short-story collections and literary essays yet best known for his Havana Quartet of novels featuring Inspector Mario Conde.

From his Q & A with PBS:

You are credited with having changed an entire genre of literature almost by yourself. How do you feel about this?

Actually, in art, no one person really changes anything entirely: there are always innovations and renewals (words that in Spanish seem the same but do not mean the same). It is like an accumulation of apprenticeships made possible from previous works and dissatisfactions with the contemporary works. In my case, my apprenticeship began with the new crime novels being written by such authors as Vazquez Montalban in Spain, McBain in the United States and Rubem Fonseca in Brazil. That literature, more realistic and more artistic, gave me the clue that I needed to do what I wanted: to write Cuban crime fiction that did not look like the crime novels being written in Cuba in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The prize for having written this new Cuban crime novel is, however, lonely for I do not consider myself a crime fiction writer but simply a writer, and since my interests are every day farther from the crime novel, I am alone in the experiment I developed. But then, I also have the prize for having found so many readers in and outside of Cuba, who tell me that they understand better what is happening in the island.

On the other hand, I do not feel “an inventor” of anything, and every time I start to write a novel, I realize that I do not know anything and that for each book that I write I must learn once again how to write such a book... the important thing is to write well and above all that the writing serve to present more than a literary mystery.

How did you come up with the idea of Havana Quartet?

The idea of writing a quartet or tetralogy came to me while...[read on]
Read about Leonardo Padura's top ten Cuban novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is the author of Cleopatra: A Life. From her Q & A with James Mustich:

JM: How do you embark on something like this? Once you decided to write about Cleopatra, did you do some preliminary scouting of the landscape to see what sources would be available and useful to you?

SS: I checked to see if there'd been a really good book published in the last few decades. Then I started with what Cleopatra would have read, asking myself, "What can we know about her education?" It turns out to be a very great deal, and bizarrely, no one had written about that before. It may seem an esoteric topic, but it tell us how she would have thought, the questions with which she would have conjured, what the themes of the day would have been. The fact that she could quote Homer, and that she knew her Euripides and her Aeschylus every bit as well as did Julius Caesar already tells you a great deal about her.

JM: The section on her education in the book is fascinating.

SS: I'm glad. I had so much fun writing that, based on some new and excellent Hellenistic scholarship.

JM: For some reason, even though people know she was a contemporary of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, there's something about her story—I guess it's just the Egyptian setting—that leads you to imagine Cleopatra much further back in history. But actually, as you explain, she wasn't Egyptian; she was Greek, and had an education shaped by the same cultural ethos that shaped Caesar.

SS: Exactly. In the version most of us have in our heads, they're opposites, exotics to each other. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 15, 2010

Laura Hillenbrand

William Nack, for almost three decades the turf writer first at Newsday newspaper on Long Island, N.Y. then at Sports Illustrated magazine, is the author of Secretariat, The Making of a Champion, a biography of the 1973 Triple Crown winner. From his conversation with Laura Hillenbrand, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend:

WN: In the fall of 2000, while I was shopping at a supermarket in Washington, D.C., I got a call on my cell phone from Andrew Beyer, the Harvard-educated turf writer from The Washington Post. “I want to read something to you,” Andrew said. So I leaned against the coffee grinder and listened as he began: “In Tom Smith’s younger days, the Indians would watch him picking his way over the open plains, skirting the mustang herds. He was always alone, even back then, in the waning days of the nineteenth century.” Andrew read on a few more moments about The Biscuit’s trainer, the poetic recitation ending with, “His history had the ethereal quality of hoofprints in windblown snow.” When he finished, Andew blurted out, “Isn’t that just terrific?” And that’s how I was introduced to Seabiscuit. You had clearly created a world, and you had done so with a distinctly lyrical feel and touch. Where did you learn to write and who were your literary models?

LH: I think I decided I wanted to be a writer one summer afternoon in my childhood, when the neighborhood pool I was swimming in was temporarily closed due to lightning. I snatched up my towel and huddled on a big porch with the other kids, waiting out the storm. A man I had never seen before sat down on a plastic lawn chair near me, brought out an illustrated copy of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and offered to read it. Most of the kids left, but two or three of us stayed to listen, sitting crosslegged on the floor around him. As he read, I slipped so deeply into the narrative that the thunderstorm around me seemed to be rushing out of the words themselves. My head was ringing with those words as I walked home. I never knew who that man was, but I never really got over that day. As a kid, I read and wrote a great deal. I used to scribble hort stories in notebooks, imitating the style of whatever I was reading at the time, then tear the pages out and bury them in my desk drawers. I was terrified of showing anyone my work, or even admitting that I wanted to be a writer. This didn’t really change until I attended Kenyon College, an ideal destination for anyone who aspires to write well. There, a woman named Megan Macomber, an English professor and writer of spectacular talent, took me aside and told me that writing was what I should be doing with my life. No one had ever said this to me before, and it had an enormous impact. She taught me so much about our language, and she teaches me still. She was one of the first people to whom I showed my manuscript ofSeabiscuit, and her comments made it so much better. If you ask me what I am reading on any given day, it is most likely going to be a work from a great author from long ago. Every writer stands on the shoulders of the old authors who have shaped and refined language and storytelling. In my mind, almost no one today approaches their greatness in either style or insight. I split evenly between history and fiction. For me, the most influential books have been Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Bruce Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. If I like something, I tend to read it again and again. I think I have read Pride and Prejudice—in my view the most perfect book in our language—eight times, and it has taught me something new each time.

The most important book I read while writing the book was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kazuo Ishiguro

From Kazuo Ishiguro's October 2000 interview with Linda L. Richards at January Magazine:

Remains of the Day was made into a very successful movie. How did you feel about the film that resulted?

I felt very happy with the movie of Remains of the Day. Initially I had these classic misgivings of the author seeing his work being turned into film. In the rushes I'd think that a door in the room was in the wrong place. I'd say: No, you've got the whole room the wrong way around. Start again. [Laughs] It kind of underlines that a book must be different to everybody who reads it. Because, of course, I haven't described anything.

Like where the window might be.

Yeah. I have a very particular set of ideas about what's happening. Everybody else who has read the book must have a slightly different idea, because Jim Ivory [the director] making the film had another way he saw it. That was very interesting. But I rapidly got over that. Partly because it was a very authoritative film. I found when I watched the film as a whole it took me over pretty rapidly. I stopped doing this thing of: How are they going to do that scene? How are they going to do this scene? I actually started to get into the blood of the movie, almost to the extent that I forgot that I knew the story already.

Was that exciting for you?

I'd tried not to see too many rushes. I just saw a tiny little bit out of curiosity and then I stopped, because I wanted...[read on]
Kazuo Ishiguro is Jed Rubenfeld's favorite writer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Zac Bissonnette

Zac Bissonnette, a senior art history major at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is set to graduate in 2011 debt-free, without taking a cent from scholarships or his parents. His book is Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships or Mooching off My Parents.

From his Q & A with Husna Haq at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: How did your parents, and especially your father, inspire you to develop financial savvy early on?

A: My dad was a hippie: he drove a VW bus during the early 1970s, and actually lived in a tree house in a state park for a little while (until park rangers gave him the boot!). He's one of the smartest, most wonderful people I've ever met, but he's just not focused on money at all, and has had problems with it his whole life.

A few years ago, my dad's house was actually going through foreclosure, and he was staying at a friend's house, and I was sitting on the couch with him watching a baseball game. And I asked him, just off the top of my head: “Who do you think thinks about money more? You or Bill Gates?” And I’ll never forget his response: “Without a doubt, me. I spent my whole life thinking I was above money and that it didn’t matter and now it dominates my life and is all I think about. It’s like money is exacting its cruel revenge on me.”

Everyone needs to be on top of their financial lives, and the less motivated you are by money, the more you need to worry about it. We're seeing a generation of debt-loaded college grads whose life choices are constrained by decisions they made when they were 17 years old. We know from surveys that students who graduate with significant debt are less likely to pursue service-oriented careers – and more likely to take high-paying jobs that don't inspire them. That's a national tragedy and one I'm committed to fighting.

Q: What's the biggest mistake people make when planning which college to go to and how to pay?

A: The biggest mistake can summed up like this: People...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 12, 2010

Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue's latest novel is Room.

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

What book changed your life?

Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. I was 19 and I thought, “Oh my God, you can write a lesbian novel that’s not trash.”

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

I’m named after Jane Austen’s Emma, and I’ve always been able to relate to her. She’s strong, confident but quite tactless.

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It plunges into the story of an unhappy family with verve and bounce, but it’s true to the pain as well.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Emma Donoghue's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Roger “R.J.” Ellory

Roger “R.J.” Ellory is the recent winner of the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year Award and author of The Anniversary Man.  His latest novel is Saints of New York.

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

What book changed your life?

The Shining by Stephen King. When I was 13 and quarantined for chicken pox in my school dormitory, I would hear the footsteps of nurses in the corridor and by the time I’d got to the door to look, there was nobody there. I realised then the power of fiction.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

I read as many writers as possible who make me feel embarrassed about how clumsy my words are: Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Capote, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx.

* * *
Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John Steinbeck, Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Audrey Hepburn and Elvis.
Read the complete Q & A.

Also see Ali Karim's interview with R.J. Ellory at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jaimy Gordon

Jaimy Gordon's sixth novel, Lord of Misrule, is a Finalist for the National Book Award in fiction.

From her Q & A about the book with Bret Anthony Johnston:

BAJ: Horseracing itself is arguably one of the most complex characters in Lord of Misrule. What was it about the enterprise that captivated and inspired you?

JG: I’ll give you the short answer to this, since Lord of Misrule, and the way all its main characters ruminate on luck, is the long answer. When I hear the first few bars of Handel’s Israel in Egypt or Shishkov’s tale in Janácek’s opera From the House of the Dead (just to seize the first two instances that come to mind) I’ll weep a little, without any sadness. The same thing happens when I’m standing at the rail of a horse race and the horses go by, especially if I’m watching some late closer make his move from many lengths back, or if a stalker slips into the lead in the stretch. It’s just visceral. I come from a family of horseplayers on my mother’s side, and both of my sisters have my weakness. One of them actually breeds racehorses—harness horses—and is very good at what she does. I know all that’s wrong with horseracing and I still have this weakness, even for a cheap claiming race if some old miler is running his race.

BAJ: Do you remember your original idea for Lord of Misrule? How closely does the finished book correspond to what you first had in mind?

JG: As I was suggesting earlier, I didn’t want Lord of Misrule to be another female picaresque from a single point of view but rather a social novel about a group of equally dominant characters inside a community (however disreputable) that is a world unto itself.

I was a friend of the late Malcolm Braly—can you say “the late” of someone who died in a car wreck in 1980, at the age of 54?—who wrote...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

John Harvey

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

From author J. Sydney Jones' interview with Harvey about Nottingham, the setting for the Resnick novels:

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

Nottingham is quite a small, compact city, in which those with little money can live more or less cheek by jowl with the more fortunate. It also, together with the surrounding area, has a long-held reputation for toughness and violence – something which escalated in the 90s largely due to media emphasis on the city as a site for gun crime.

Like a lot of British cities it has seen its industrial base progressively eroded and the late-80s, when I started writing the Resnick series, was a time of high unemployment and dissatisfaction - it was that background that I wanted to bring into the books. I suppose I’m more interested in writing about characters whose actions, criminal and otherwise, stem from sociological and economic reasons rather than individual psychological ones and writing a series of books in the same urban location gives me the opportunity to do that.

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

I think that as the series developed I became more conscious of the extent to which Nottingham and the surrounding area were an important part of the books’ texture.

How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you?

I’ve always found...[read on]
Also see Ali Karim's 2008 interview with John Harvey at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 8, 2010

Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri is Italy’s most successful author, having published more than 40 books and sold more than 20 million copies around the world. His Inspector Montalbano Mysteries have been translated into multiple languages, and The Times [London] named Camilleri one of the “50 Greatest Crime Writers.”

From his Q & A with PBS:

You’re 83 years old and still writing. What keeps you going, and what do you love about writing?

What keeps me writing is the pleasure of writing. I love writing when it manages to be complete because it has expressed everything one wanted to say.

What’s it like to have such enormous success late in life? Do you think you would have experienced it differently if you had been younger when it hit?

I’m forever convinced that things happen when they’re supposed to happen, and this is why I’m unable to question myself about my success. If it had happened to me when I was younger, it probably would have had a much stronger effect on me. This way, its effect has been much more relative.

What did you learn from your background in theater and drama that you apply to your novel writing?

I learned...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Karen Dionne

Karen Dionne is the author of Freezing Point and the forthcoming Boiling Point.

From her "Between the Lines" Q & A with Andrew Peterson at ITW:

If you could only use three words to describe your hero from FREEZING POINT, Ben Maki, what would they be?

Committed. Altruistic. Misguided.

Same question for your style of writing?

Spare. Tense. Fun.

* * *
When did you know for certain you wanted to be a novelist?

I won creative writing awards when I was in high school, but it wasn’t until my son was in high school and I was encouraging him to enter some of the same contests I had that I thought, “What about me? I used to be a pretty good writer.” A classic midlife crisis, but here I am!
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage has published ten volumes of poetry including Selected Poems, 2001 (Faber & Faber). His most recent collections are Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid and Seeing Stars, both published by Faber & Faber in the UK and Knopf in the United States.

His first novel, Little Green Man, was published by Penguin in 2001. His second novel, The White Stuff, was published in 2004.

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

Which literary character most resembles you?

Robinson Crusoe. Writing cuts you off from a lot of things. It’s a solitary adventure.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

When I started it was Hughes, Heaney, Harrison, Hill, Hopkins, Hardy, people whose name begins with an ‘H’ really. I have also translated a lot of medieval poetry.

* * *
What was the first novel you read?

Under my own steam it was The Wind in the Willows. I used to get into the airing cupboard at home and read on a wooden shelf in semidarkness. It was a bit awkward when people came into the bathroom and didn’t know I was in there.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 5, 2010

John Banville

John Banville's many books include The Sea, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, The Infinities, and several crime novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.

From his Q & A with the Independent:

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

My favourite author at the moment is William James... A wise philosopher, and there are not many of those about.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Phoebe Griffin in my Benjamin Black novels, particularly the latest, 'Elegy for April', in which she becomes really interesting. My agent Ed Victor says I am in love with her, but I think I am her.

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

Marie Curie.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the book John Banville most wants his kids to read.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Karin Fossum

Karin Fossum's acclaimed Inspector Sejer mystery series is available in 16 languages, and The Times [London] has called her one of the “50 Greatest Crime Writers.”

From a Q & A at the Harcourt website:

Q: Inspector Konrad Sejer first appeared in Don't Look Back (Harcourt, 2004). What do you like most about this character?

A: He is serious and decent. And he loves his work.

* * *
Q: Originally published in Norway, your crime novels that feature Inspector Sejer have been translated into sixteen languages. How does it feel to have your books so widely published?

A: It feels strange. I look upon them as small, quiet stories.

* * *
Q: You've been dubbed Norway's "Queen of Crime." What do you enjoy most about writing crime novels?

A: The drama. The tragedy. The psychology. The mystery.

* * *
Q: As a writer, what's been your proudest moment?

A: When I ...[read on]
Karin Fossum's The Water's Edge made Geoffrey O'Brien's five best list of international crime fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne Gilman's Weight of Stone, the second book in a trilogy that started with Flesh and Fire, was released last month.

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

Q. Is there a book you love to reread?

A. I tend not to reread books, because there's always something new to discover, but Dorothy Sayers is a comfort grab for me -- there's no mood so bleak or cold so bad that Lord Peter and Bunter can't make it right.

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

A. You're an artist when you're writing, a businessperson the rest of the time.

Q. How did you come to write Flesh and Fire?

A. Oh, that’s one of those “you’re not going to believe this” stories. I was on the phone with my agent and fellow foodie/wine nerd one day, talking about a food expo we wanted to go to that weekend, and we finally decided the ticket price was too high.

“It needs to be a work deduction, somehow,” I said.

“So,” my agent said, “write me a food or wine based fantasy.” And she meant it as a joke, but when we ended the conversation and I went back to sit at the computer – working on one of the Retriever books -- something clicked. And I grabbed my pad and pen and started jotting notes, and the next day I e-mailed her to say “I know you were kidding, but…”

Winemaking has always fascinated me, from my very first trip to the California wine country region back in the early 90’s. The idea of a winemaker as magician… it was completely natural. And the fact that wine is both an intoxicant and a shared social event [we generally drink it with meals, not sitting alone in the dark] made it an interesting thing to base a civilization on.

It seemed as though everything—my love of epic fantasy, my interest and experiences with wine, the things I wanted to say, story-wise, at that moment… all came together in what I referred to as...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Laura Anne Gilman's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Flesh and Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Michelle Gagnon

From Lee Goldberg's Q & A with Michelle Gagnon about her new novel, Kidnap & Ransom:

LEE: The old adage is "write what you know," but the heroine of your books is a kick-ass FBI Special Agent. You've been everything BUT that... a dancer, model, dog walker, personal trainer, bartender, etc. Is writing about Kelly Jones purely an escapist fantasy for you?

MICHELLE: So true, I’m clearly in way over my head. The smart thing would have been to set a book in a Russian supper club starring a modern dancer and call it a day.

Here’s the thing: with THE TUNNELS, I initially set out to write a college coming of age story. But I kept stalling out after twenty or so pages. Each time I went back and tried a different approach, starting with a different scene or tweaking the characters...and each time, I got the same result.

Then one night, I had two of my characters walking through this abandoned tunnel system under the university. And I almost inadvertently killed one of them off. I sat back, re-read what I’d written, and shrugged, figuring I might as well see how it played out. A few pages later FBI agent Kelly Jones walked on to the scene, and the story was off and running. I completed a rough draft within a month.

In retrospect, even though it was entirely unintentional, I feel lucky to have stumbled upon choosing an FBI agent as one of my main characters, because...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Michelle Gagnon's Boneyard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 1, 2010

Garry Wills

From Deborah Solomon's Q & A with Garry Wills, author of Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer:

You’re an observant Catholic. What are your thoughts these days about Pope Benedict XVI?

I think he’s irrelevant.

Irrelevant to what?

To religion; to the Gospel.

In your new essay collection, “Outside Looking In,” you present yourself as a perpetual “outsider.” But isn’t every serious writer an outsider, at least intermittently?

No. I know a lot of writers who, during campaigns, write speeches, go on the staffs of magazines and things like that.

So what? You can be an alienated staff writer.

I don’t know.

Can you elaborate on that?

It’s a silly question. It’s just quibbling.

Do you not like being interviewed?

I don’t like silly questions.

I think it’s a form of self-flattery to call yourself an outsider, as if you’re the only independent voice in journalism, a lone, pioneering John Wayne type.

I’m hardly...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue