Friday, December 31, 2010

Grant Jerkins

From a Q & A with Grant Jerkins, author of the debut novel, A Very Simple Crime:

Where did the idea for A Very Simple Crime come from?

The seed of the story is an incident from my childhood. My bedroom was in the basement of our house, and one night I got up to go to the bathroom. I didn’t bother to turn on the light because I knew the way upstairs. I’d made the trip a thousand times. That night, though, I grew conscious of the pitch darkness and became disoriented. I got lost. I had a little panic attack, a mini freak out. I just stood there and screamed my head off until someone heard me and turned on a light. It was just one of those weird experiences we all have as kids. Somehow, in thinking about that incident, my mind latched onto the idea of a man who was never able to escape the darkness, that it infected every aspect of his life. And Adam Lee was born.

It took more than a decade for this book to be published – tell us about its history?

That’s a long story. Here’s the CliffsNotes: I submitted it to The Writer’s Network Screenplay and Fiction Competition and ended up winning the fiction category. They in turn submitted it on my behalf to agents and publishers, but there were no takers. After that, I was on my own. I burned through three literary agents and pretty much every publisher out there. They all said essentially the same thing: it’s too dark. There’s no one to root for. We need a rootable character. I grew to hate the word “rootable.” It sounded to me like something a pig would aspire to. So, I put the book aside and felt sorry for myself. Then...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Karen Russell

Karen Russel's debut novel Swamplandia! releases in early 2011.

From her Publishers Weekly interview:

The setting of Swamplandia! will be familiar to readers of your story "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," which kicked off your lauded collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. What was the journey from short story to novel like?

These people have been with me for a Methuselah's age. The story itself went through so many revisions that, before I hit on the sensual relationship between the siblings, it was a very redneck comic piece. Even the story that appears in St. Lucy's is gutted from 70 pages. So the story just spilled out everywhere, and I realized I was writing a novel.

Did you find any benefits of long form as opposed to short?

With a story collection, there's this sadness to setting up these circus tents that you have to collapse before moving on to the next town. So it was really nice to put down stakes and live in the place for years. It feels like a weird eviction not to be there anymore.

From having a crappy job to the death of a mother, there's much that's relatable in Swamplandia! despite the fantastic setting. Were you conscious of balancing gee-whiz wonder with the more concrete?

I was trying to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Matthew Gallaway

From a Q & A with Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case:

Q: So I have heard you, or read you, say that the world would be a better place if everyone who was behooved to write a book wrote one. What are some of the benefits, do you think, to sitting with yourself and sort of daring to do that? What did you learn-- or what does writing do for you, on an individual level, on a capital-S Self level?

A: For me, I think the major benefit of writing -- to put in psychoanalytical terms (I'm a big Jungian!) -- is that it offers the opportunity to connect with and interpret one's 'unconscious,' to have greater insight into why we act the way we do (because let's face it: it's often a mystery, particularly when we're young!), with the hope that by doing so, we become more 'human' and perhaps even more rational, i.e., less reactive. Of course I'm not saying that to write a book is the ONLY way to do this, but I think it would be very difficult on some level to write one (or at least a novel) without some understanding of who we are at a very fundamental level, which can also be important in terms of developing a sense of empathy both for ourselves and others. In my case, I grew up as something of a bookworm and always had urges to write -- I kept diaries and notebooks and things -- but it was not until I 'came out' (to give one obvious example) that I developed the patience to write anything cohesive, to really tell stories, so to speak, and I think that's probably because I was better able to decipher my own, if that makes sense. So when I talk about the world being a better place if more people wrote books, it refers to the idea that if more of us could afford the luxury (and unfortunately, it often is a luxury, given the demands -- often painful -- of daily life) of introspection and creation, I think it...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch was born near the piedmont town of Statesville, North Carolina in 1978. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2000 with degrees in English and Creative Writing.

His first two novels are Desert Places and Locked Doors.

Beginning in late 2005, and inspired by his relocation to Durango, Colorado, he researched and wrote a book set in the past and present in a remote mining town high in the San Juan Mountains. The resulting novel, Abandon, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009.

His novel Snowbound was released earlier this year.

From his Q & A at Dark Scribe about Abandon:

Dark Scribe: Your first two novels – 2004’s Desert Places and 2005’s Locked Doors – were both set in North Carolina. Why did you move the setting of Abandon to the Southwest?

Blake Crouch: I moved to Durango, Colorado a few years ago, and I was immediately inspired by the San Juan Mountains which are quite different from the Appalachians where I grew up. They’re so rugged and unforgiving and spectacular, I just had to write about them.

Dark Scribe: The geographical setting of your books seems important to the stories you are trying to tell. Do you envision becoming known for a particular region (i.e. Anne Rice/New Orleans, Stephen King/Maine) – or do you envision a more fictionally nomadic career? If so, which region do you think you’ll end up being connected to as a writer?

Blake Crouch: Wow, interesting question. Geography is very important to me, and I’m not completely sure why, but no, I don’t want to be known for writing about a certain region. I love the way you put it — I’ll very likely be fictionally nomadic for my career, but where I set my stories will always be very important to the stories themselves, because I do think geography plays a huge part in who we are, the choices we make.

Dark Scribe: What was your research methodology like for Abandon?

Blake Crouch: Brutal. I read a ton of books on...[read on]
Visit Blake Crouch's website.

Read an excerpt from Snowbound.

The Page 69 Test: Abandon.

Writers Read: Blake Crouch.

The Page 69 Test: Snowbound.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 27, 2010

Miles Corwin

Miles Corwin, a former crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, is the author of three nonfiction books: The Killing Season, a national bestseller; And Still We Rise, the winner of the PEN West award for nonfiction and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; and Homicide Special, a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

Kind of Blue, his first novel, debuted in November 2010.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Alejandro Stern in PRESUMED INNOCENT.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Sportswriters who write books.

Most satisfying writing moment?

When I...[read on]
Visit Miles Corwin's website.

Writers Read: Miles Corwin.

The Page 69 Test: Kind of Blue.

My Book, The Movie: Kind of Blue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Karen Tei Yamashita

Karen Tei Yamashita is the author of Through the Arc of the Rainforest, Brazil-Maru, Tropic of OrangeCircle K Cycles, and I Hotel, a 2010 National Book Award finalist in the fiction category.

From her interview by Bret Anthony Johnston:

Bret Anthony Johnston: Congratulations on I Hotel being named a Finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. This is your fifth book. How did the writing of this novel compare to the work you’d done previously?

Karen Tei Yamashita: Thank you. I’m very honored.

I think the work of the previous books made the I Hotel possible; that is to say that I learned while writing how to research, to create form, structure, and narrative voice, and to follow a writing practice intuitive to my own process. The research for Brazil-Maru, based on the history of Japanese immigration to Brazil, was similarly extensive, and I employed practices of interviewing learned from those years. In writing Tropic of Orange, I continued to experiment with voice and narrative perspectives. While researching Circle K Cycles in Japan, I became more confident about moving within a community as recorder and participant while building a contemporary archive. The archival research for I Hotel, however, was far more extensive than in the previous projects. I spent endless hours reviewing old underground newspapers, flyers, graphic art, literature, audio speeches, documentary radio and video, books, and music of the time.

BAJ: In the fiction category this year, each of the novels seems heavily researched. What role does research play in your writing process?

KTY: I began researching because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Salley Vickers

Salley Vickers' books include Miss Garnet’s Angel (2000), Mr Golightly’s Holiday (2003), Dancing Backwards (2009) and Where Three Roads Meet (2007).

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

What book changed your life?

Probably Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Jung, which I read before I was 11. It made me want to become a Jungian analyst.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ivan Turgenev, George Eliot.

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

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. She’s my hero. Her spare style is compelling and her humour is scintillating but never cruel. I’m a great believer in the late start and she was a late starter too.

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

I’d give a teenager The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve given it to many disaffected young people and it has often worked.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 24, 2010

Avi Steinberg

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

What would you say is the biggest difference between a prison library and a public library?

There's a much more communal sense around the prison library. It's like a community center.… People come there, not just for books, not just to get resources, and not even just to sit, but really to gather, to see other people, to feel there's some kind of continuity in their day....

What people read there and how it affects people's lives is very interesting and very important. But what's even more important is the conversations that happen around those books. The books literally create a space where people come together and tell their stories and share their own life experiences. You know, it's sort of like a live book. It's sort of like a book in real-time.... The drama happening in front of the bookshelves is as important as the drama in the bookshelves.

What were the most requested books, and were there differences in what male and female inmates requested?

The most popular genres were books on astrology and real estate.… I mention in the book that books on dream interpretation were often requested. This intrigued me – because of my yeshiva background, I always have the Torah and the ancient rabbinic texts in my mind. And of course, I remember that Joseph, who in the Bible was thrown into prison, becomes a dream interpreter.... So, I thought, there may be something about prison that lends itself to this desire for dream interpretation. As I described it, it's an “ancient prison literary genre.”

But mostly people asked for what they called...[read on]
See Avi Steinberg's list of what Lindsay Lohan should read in jail.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is the author of Cleopatra: A Life.

From her Q & A with Nora Dunne at the Christian Science Monitor:

You’ve done biographies on Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov (wife of “Lolita” author), Benjamin Franklin, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (of “The Little Prince”), and now Cleopatra. How do you pick your subjects?

It’s more accurate to say that they pick me. This was an idea I had a long time ago, in 1999. The idea kept reappearing on my list of potential subjects. This one was irresistible because of its all-star cast. You really can’t do better than Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra.

And I’m always fascinated by a world in transition. Here you have a very textured, very restive moment in which everything is about to change. It’s 30 years before the birth of Christ when Cleopatra dies. It’s the end of a dynasty, the end of Egyptian autonomy, the end of the Roman Republic, the end of the Hellenistic age. It’s a real turning point.

It’s also a look at a very powerful woman, of which there are not that many. Also the misconceptions really thrilled me. Say the name Cleopatra and we all think of Elizabeth Taylor. There was so much to clear away in terms of myth.

Much of what we know about Cleopatra comes from incomplete records and “tendentious historians” who never even met her. How was it possible then, to create a comprehensive and accurate book about the famed ruler?

In some cases you do have multiple sources who say the same thing. And there are things you can take with a degree of certainty, or with all certainty. For example, everyone is clear about the fact that Cleopatra was no great beauty, but irresistible in her charm.

I had to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mike Brown

Mike Brown is the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. In 2006 he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 People Who Shape Our World as well as one of Los Angeles magazine’s Most Influential People in L.A. His new book is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Did you like Pluto as a kid like so many people do?

I think my experience was typical for a kid who loved planets. I had a poster of the solar system on my wall that showed all of the planets and pictures of them. Pluto was always an incredibly appealing place: the little artist's pictures were crazy, and it was fabulous.

Q: How much influence do you think the Disney dog has on people's perceptions of Pluto?

That's part of the appeal of the word Pluto. As a kid, I'm sure that I heard "Pluto" as much from the cartoon from the planet, if not more from the cartoon. It becomes an even more integral part of your life.

Q: Pluto was discovered back in 1930. Why did astronomers think it was a big planet, not a tiny rock?

It couldn't be seen very well, and even with the biggest telescopes, you can't make out of the disc of it.

At the time, astronomers were convinced that it was massive, and it was hugging Neptune and had to be a planet. Once you get the idea...[read on]
Read more about How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Brian Greene

Brian Greene's new book is The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.

From his interview by Deborah Solomon:

In your forthcoming book, “The Hidden Reality,” you ponder the possibility of a “multiverse” composed of many universes. But what kind of worlds are we talking about? Clumps of subatomic particles in space? Or universes with restaurants and museums?

Some might have museums and restaurants. Some might have copies of you and me having a conversation similar to this one. Yet other universes would be vastly different. They could involve a gigantic expansive space that might be filled with other forms of matter governed by other kinds of physical laws. In one such universe, when the apple is released by a tree, it might go up instead of down.

All of this speculation seems so devoid of practical application. Why not just use your time to try to improve life on earth by coming up with a new source of fuel?

Which is vital,but I think that these ideas are just as vital in a different sense, because it’s these kinds of pursuits that ultimately allow us to understand how we fit into the cosmic scheme.

You grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, across the street from the Museum of Natural History.

I still live on the Upper West Side. I’ve moved 40 blocks in 40 years.

What did your dad do for a living?

He was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don Bruns

Don Bruns is a musician, songwriter, advertising executive, and award-winning novelist. His "Stuff" series includes Stuff to Die For, Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, and Stuff to Spy For.

His  latest book in the series is Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

I would have loved to have written GET SHORTY by Elmore Leonard. The right amount of humor, quirky characters and a story that really works.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Travis McGee, John D. MacDonald’s character, would be a great role. A former marine, pro football player, now retired with a 52-foot houseboat and a Rolls Royce converted to a pickup truck. What’s not to like about this guy’s life?

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

I’m not sure...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Don Bruns' website.

The Page 99 Test: Stuff to Die For.

My Book, The Movie: Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.

The Page 69 Test: Stuff to Spy For.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 19, 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 Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote. No doubt about it. And I know it’s not a ‘novel’ per se, but what the hell? That’s the one for me!

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Holmes. For the coke and the opium and the violin-playing. No, seriously, just for the sheer intellect of the man.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Anything by Annie Proulx. And it’s a guilty pleasure because I’m supposed to read Chandler and Hammett and Cain, not someone who writes homo-erotic cowboy stories!

Most satisfying writing moment?

When...[read on]
Also see Ali Karim's interview with R.J. Ellory at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Joanna Trollope

Joanna Trollope's books include Other People's Children, Marrying the Mistress, Girl from the South, Brother & Sister, Second Honeymoon, Friday Night and The Other Family.

From her interview by Boyd Tonkin at the Independent:

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

Rose Macaulay, and especially her last novel, 'The Towers of Trebizond'. She was a Christian convert who had this great yearning for liberty.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

[In my books], There's a teaspoonful of me in a great many of them...You can't help parts of yourself leaking into other characters.

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

I'm an enormous fan of people who have had a lot of faith in themselves, and been on a tremendous journey. Beethoven would be one, who knew that he was going deaf at 25. Or Didier Drogba, born in a village in Ivory Coast.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gary Corby

Gary Corby is a first time novelist, former systems programmer at Microsoft, and lives in Australia with his wife and two daughters.

His new book is The Pericles Commission.

From his Q & A with Douglas Morrison at The Novel Road:

Me: You hit the reader “sweet spot” in how you balanced the levels of historical fact vs. creativity. How hard was it to limit how much history you wanted include?

Gary: Of all the tough research problems a writer faces, the worst of all is leaving stuff out. You'd think it'd be the other way round, but it isn't so. I could write a couple of pages on the drainage system of Athens in 460BC, but no one's going to read it. People want to read story, and plot, and characters. Technical description is called exposition, and the rule for writers is, Research = Exposition, and Exposition = Death. What you can do, though, is write about the consequences of your research. For example, I know in Classical Athens sewerage pooled in gutters running down the middle of the street.

When my hero Nicolaos is dragged off by a couple of thugs, something squishy which doesn't bear thinking about gets caught between his sandal and his foot, and he has to hop on the other foot while shaking the first to get it clear. A whole day's research on drainage devolved into two lines of book text about a messy foot. That's good, because a foot with poo on it is story and character, a treatise on drainage is not.
That's the right way to do it.

The wrong way is what I frequently...[read on]
Read more about The Pericles Commission at the publisher's website.

Visit Gary Corby's blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Pericles Commission.

Writers Read: Gary Corby.

My Book, The Movie: The Pericles Commission.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Brian Clegg

Brian Clegg holds a physics degree from Cambridge and has written regular columns, features, and reviews for numerous magazines. His books include Before the Big Bang, Ecologic, The Global Warming Survival Kit, and Upgrade Me. His book A Brief History of Infinity reached #1 on Amazon in Popular Science (General) and Popular Maths, staying at #1 for ten further weeks.

His new book is Armageddon Science: The Science of Mass Destruction.

From Clegg's Q & A with Katherine Don for Salon:

Bioterrorism versus cyberterrorism: Which is scarier?

Cyberterrorism. In the U.K., the government just completed a new assessment of the requirements of the military, and cyberterrorism was one of the top three threats. Cyberterrorism is relatively easy to accomplish, and relatively easy to do remotely, in terms of hacking into the Internet.

Bioterrorism is much easier than a terrorist nuclear attack, but it's not that easy. For the terrorists, the difficulty is in making a large impact. The anthrax attack after 9/11 had an effect, but it killed a very small number of people. It's actually quite difficult to deliver biological weapons that will infect people properly.

How concerned should we be about the dangers of nuclear terrorism?

I don't think it's the most dangerous possibility in the sense of all-out mass destruction. A nuclear terrorist event would be small compared to what a superpower can do, but I think it has a larger probability of actually happening. A dirty bomb, which is a regular bomb that spreads radioactive material, is the most likely scenario. An actual nuclear bomb would be very difficult for a terrorist organization to construct. Their best bet would be getting one from a nuclear nation.

The U.S. government convened the Committee on Medical Preparedness for a Terrorist Nuclear Event in July 2009. It almost seems like a throwback to the Cold War. What was it?

It's a committee put together by the Institute of Medicine at the government's request. The purpose is...[read on]
Follow Brian Clegg at, and visit his website and blog.

Writers Read: Brian Clegg.

Coffee with a Canine: Brian Clegg and Goldie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Erin Blakemore

Erin Blakemore is a writer, entrepreneur, and inveterate bookworm.

Her debut book, The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, includes an exploration of classic heroines (such as Anne Shirley, Jo March, Scarlett O’Hara, and Jane Eyre) and their equally admirable authors (like Jane Austen, Harper Lee, and Laura Ingalls Wilder).

From her Q & A at the Christian Science Monitor:

How can characters like Lizzy Bennett or Jo March, who lived hundreds of years ago, inspire readers facing modern-day problems?

It’s the characteristics of a heroine, be it a really strong sense of self or an internal drive, I connect to modern day living.

None of us has been to a 19th-century country dance, but the situation can easily be extrapolated to a social event fraught with the tensions and anxieties that will always exist. For me, the way that Lizzy Bennett looks beyond those social pressures and remains herself throughout gives me a touch point for the next time I’m in one of those situations.

Several of your heroines (Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls) are from children’s lit. How do their stories remain relevant as you get older?

“Jane Eyre” is actually a good example. I read it when I was far too young. When I was little it was a story about a little girl being oppressed by authoritative people. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had my own romances and relationships and struggles, and I have come to see the book as the story of a young woman sticking to what’s important to her in really extraordinary and terrible places.

All of the children’s books I write about were written for the girl I was then, when I first encountered them, but they were also written for the women I am now, and hopefully the woman I will be as I age.

All of the authors you profiled had very difficult lives. Do you think that hardship breeds creativity?...[read on]
Visit Erin Blakemore's website and the official The Heroine's Bookshelf website.

The Page 99 Test: The Heroine's Bookshelf.

Writers Read: Erin Blakemore.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

James Thompson

James Thompson, eastern Kentucky–born and –raised, has lived in Finland well over a decade and currently makes his home in Helsinki with his wife. Before becoming a full-time writer, he studied Swedish and Finnish and worked as a bartender, bouncer, construction worker, photographer, rare coin dealer, and soldier. His debut novel is Snow Angels.

From his Q & A with author Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by Frederick Forsyth. The best procedural ever.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Belbo, from FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM. He experienced it all. Re-wrote history to his own liking, took part in a grand conspiracy surrounding the Holy Grail, even had a great unrequited love with the beautiful Lorenza Pellegrini. And ultimately failed at everything. I can’t picture myself as a winner take all as fictional character.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

I re-read old...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Snow Angels, and learn more about the book and author at James Thompson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Snow Angels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 13, 2010

Robert Coram

Robert Coram, a military historian, is the author of Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine.

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What drew you to write about Krulak?

A: I sensed there was something about the Marines: I wanted to write a book and capture their ethos. I think they carry the ethical banner for all the military services, and they're unbending in their rectitude.

Trying to find the right Marine was difficult. I wanted to find someone who at some critical junction in his or her career had to make a moral decision, and the consequences would be enormous.

He went to the White House and confronted LBJ over how the Vietnam War was being run. He had everything to lose and nothing to win. He risked it all on one turn of pitch and toss.

Q: You write that he spoke up about the value of a counterinsurgency strategy while other military leaders kept silent. You are not sympathetic to those who zipped their lips.

A: I should be hard on them. What they did was dereliction of duty. They should have stood up to the president or resigned, but they were only concerned about their careers.

Q: Krulak also spoke up against the military and political establishment after World War II. What was that battle about?

He went up against President Truman, Generals Marshall and Eisenhower, and even brother Marines. There were two issues: the survival of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stephen Dixon

Stephen Dixon's latest book is What Is All This?: Uncollected Stories.

From his interview at Bookslut:

I have never associated the word political with your various fictions, but in this book we are treated to several stories that address that thorny subject. "The Bussed" populates your familiar urban landscape with the terrors of a totalitarian regime, while "China" and "The Leader" offer up a military fable of sorts as well as a scabrous portrayal of Hitler. What was the impetus for these departures from your usual fiction making?

I wrote those during very political times, which I was strongly influenced by. You didn't mention "Mr. Greene," which was influenced by the assassinations of the two Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King and others. As for Hitler in "The Leader," I'd read an article about him in Psychology Today and thought that portrait of his sexual aberrations would make a good story if told from the prostitute's point of view. I wanted to write about a Hitler that hadn't been written about in fiction before.

I also wanted to write a story from the prostitute's point of view. How she reacts to Hitler's aberrational requests, and the whole operation in getting the right woman for Hitler. I also, odd as this must read, wanted to recapture a certain historical time.

In marked contrast to most contemporary fiction there has always been a very frank depiction of sexuality in your work; in this collection most notably in "Fired." Is this bluntness intrinsic, or just one of the mosaic of elements in your pared-back prose, or does it also refute the distinct lack of realism that permeates most fictional treatments of sex?

I write about sex the way it....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Anna Pavord

From Arifa Akbar's Q & A with Anna Pavord, author of The Curious Gardener:

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

Living here [in Dorset], Thomas Hardy still terrifies me with that awful sense that hung over his novels. I don't want to feel Dorset is like that, but what I rate him on more is as a writer of landscape - his description of the animal nature of tree roots, that almost suffocating feeling of woodland all around you.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I read so much more non-fiction that I don't have enough models in my mind.

* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Professor Richard Hoggart, who was my tutor at university and who wrote 'The Uses of Literacy'. He was the first person who tried to explain that you can't read George Eliot in isolation from her time or religion, that everything connects. I've tried never to forget that, even when writing about gardening.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 10, 2010

Matt Burgess

Matt Burgess, a graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens. 

Dogfight, A Love Story is his debut novel.

From his Q & A at Bookslut:

Often I find it more revealing when an author describes the plot of their book rather than when a publicist or copywriter summarizes it. So what would you say your novel is about?

I’m going to adapt the synopsis from my agent query letter if that’s okay with you. The book tells the story of Alfredo Batista, a street-corner weed peddler living in a cramped Queens apartment with his parents and his seven-months-pregnant girlfriend. When the book opens, he is looking for a package of drugs, a welcome-back present for his brother, who’s returning home from prison after an absence of over two years. But the more moves Alfredo makes -- he also needs to find a pit bull somehow -- the more trouble he gets himself into. The book covers roughly 48 hours in the lives of its characters. It’s sort of structured like a plot-driven suspense novel -- there are armed robberies and dead bodies and double crossings -- but the book is equally interested in rendering the interior lives of its characters, the kind of working class people consistently underrepresented in American fiction. How’s that?

Perfecto. The best fiction writers, one could argue, are able to inhabit the mindset of their protagonists, thereby believably portraying imaginary emotions and thoughts. In Dogfight, you, a reasonably clean-cut white boy and Ivy League graduate who I think has never been to jail, inhabit the personas and voices -- very successfully and very beautifully -- of a small-time drug dealer, his girlfriend, and a recently released convict. That said, what are some of the wildest costumes you’ve worn for Halloween?

For whatever reason, I went through a phase where I felt compelled to dress up like people with awesome mustaches: Freddie Mercury, Burt Reynolds, Keith Hernandez, my undergrad creative writing teacher Ernest Hebert, Luigi from Mario Bros. Who did you dress up as? I don’t remember a single costume you ever wore, except for the Jack “Pork Chop Express” Burton outfit.

Due to an unhealthy obsession with the homicidal haunter of dreams, I dressed up as Freddy Krueger in ’86, ’87, ’88, and ’03. But moving on. What methods did you use to get into the mindsets of characters so disparate not only from each other but also from yourself?

That is...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Dogfight, A Love Story, and learn more about the book and author at Matt Burgess' website.

The Page 69 Test: Dogfight, A Love Story.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 9, 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 her Q & A with Scott Butki:

Your promotional material mentions Lisa Lutz (whom I love) and Janet Evanovich (who I think is overrated), and I bet reviews and reviewers will mention those two as well. So what do you think of those two writers?

I’d be overjoyed to have either of their talent. Lisa Lutz’s books are hysterical, and I love the entire Spellman clan. The world she created is truly unique, and Izzy Spellman’s voice is so fresh and different.

I think Janet Evanovich is a stronger mystery writer, and I’m in awe of the way she’s managed to keep that series going and still be dependably good. It’s rare that a character can have sixteen adventures and not be running on empty.

Personally I thought of two other series as I was reading this, especially during the second half of it, the Fletch book series by Greg Mcdonald and maybe a little bit of Get Smart and Donald Westlake. Are you a fan of those late writers?

Oddly, I’ve never read the Fletch books. I was twelve when the movie version came out, and I went to see it in the theater three times. I was in love with that movie, but wasn’t old enough for the book. I was just starting to read adult mysteries, and my taste went more toward Agatha Christie. Later on, when I branched out from cozies, I somehow missed it. But you’ve inspired me, and I’m putting it on my nightstand.

Donald Westlake I have...[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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ellen Meeropol

Ellen Meeropol holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. Her stories have appeared in The Drum, Bridges, Portland Magazine, Pedestal, Patchwork Journal, and The Women’s Times. House Arrest, her first novel, is due out in February 2011.

From her Q & A at Publishers Weekly:

There's a lot going on in House Arrest: a cult called the Family of Isis; a child with spina bifida; the Klan and neo-Nazis; and the protagonist's father was an anti–Vietnam War activist jailed for the bombing of a recruitment center. How did you get all this into just over 200 pages?

Ten years ago I read a short article about a girl under house arrest who was pregnant, and a nurse had been assigned to her for prenatal visits. At the time I was a nurse practitioner in a children's hospital and I wondered what it would be like to be this nurse, to be mandated by the court to visit the young woman under house arrest. It became a sort of what-if in my brain. A couple of years later, I thought: this is the novel I want to explore. Also, Emily [the protagonist] was a character in a short story I had written, and it was like she kept raising her hand and saying, "Hey, I am the nurse and this is my story!" The Klan scene I observed when I was in college in Ohio. I was an antiwar activist—the Vietnam War, that is; I am 64—and passionate about civil rights, and I sneaked into a Klan rally. For the novel I had to do research to make sure that kind of thing is still happening, but sometimes things that happened to you or you heard about just find their way into your fiction.

There are several characters who hold conflicting sets of beliefs. Are we supposed to sympathize with them, or does it matter?

I really like novels that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Garry Disher

Garry Disher is one of Australia's best-known novelists. He's published over 40 books in a range of genres: crime thillers, literary/general novels, short-story collections, novels for adolescents and children, and writers' handbooks.

From his Q & A with PBS:

You’ve said you knew as a child that you wanted to be writer—what about it appealed to you?

I owe a great deal to my father. He made sure we kids were keen readers (later when I taught writing I discovered that many would-be writers are not readers), and I came to see it would be a fine thing to lead readers into imagined worlds and experiences. Also, my father didn’t read to us at bedtime but told his own stories, and seeing someone use his imagination to create characters, settings and situations was a powerful influence. Finally, he taught me a valuable lesson about pacing, for my bedtimes were a series of cliffhanger endings, my father stopping at a high point of tension with the words, “I’ll finish this tomorrow night, son”.

You’re prolific in a variety of genres—what do you like about crime fiction in particular?

Crime novels are often seen as cheap and quick and their virtues are overlooked. They tell a good story; the reading process isn’t passive; they’re a barometer of prevailing social tensions; we can’t deny the appeal of the hero; and we like to see order restored or good triumph over evil (though I do admire the ambiguous endings of good crime novels).

The protagonists of your two crime series are on opposite sides of the law. Do you relate to Hal Challis and Wyatt differently? Is one more difficult to get inside than the other? Is one more fun than the other?

Perhaps Challis represents...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 6, 2010

Peter Carey

Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America is a Finalist for the National Book Award in fiction.

From his Q & A with Bret Anthony Johnston:

BAJ: Do you remember your original idea for Parrot and Olivier in America? How closely does the finished book correspond to what you first had in mind?

PC: My original idea came from Tocqueville's Democracy In America where I found a much more qualified and complicated view of the young democracy than I had expected.

Tocqueville allowed me to walk through a door and imaginatively inhabit the country which had been my home for twenty years. I was not interested in ‘channeling’ Tocqueville but in imagining a parallel universe in which my aristocrat traveled, not with another aristocrat (as Tocqueville did) but with the son of an itinerant printer. The printer would be the aristocrat's reluctant servant. They would dislike each other, have different views and values. The book would be funny but not frivolous. Sparks would fly. They would come to like each other but never agree.

This plan still represents the final work, although the plan is more like a ‘mud map’, something scratched roughly in the earth. If the novel succeeds it is because of all the thousands and thousands of discoveries I made along the way involving people I had never known in places I had never seen.

BAJ: Parrot and Olivier in America is dedicated to Frances Coady. Do you have a reader in mind as you write?

PC: Frances Coady is not only a gifted New York publisher and editor. She is also my wife. She lived the book as I wrote it, day after day, many times over— not necessarily a relaxing second job to have – reading at all sorts of levels with all sort of intents, from providing simple encouragement to the close editorial questioning that writers once were able to take for granted. Her light touch is one of her...[read on]
Read a 2006 blog post on "Cultural cringe" and Peter Carey's Theft.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin's latest novel is Mary Ann in Autumn.

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

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

I would say Christopher Isherwood again because of the clarity of his voice and ever present wit. I have re-read 'A Single Man' many times, just to remind myself what beautiful writing looks like.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I don't identify with fictional characters. I've been trying most of my life to identify with myself!

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

Ian McKellen because of his generosity, and his complete willingness to sacrifice his time to the causes of gay rights, which is utterly inspirational. At the moment he is travelling around the schools of Britain telling kids they can live their lives honestly and openly.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about Armistead Maupin's favorite poem.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Douglas R. Egerton

Douglas R. Egerton is the author of Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War.

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga of the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: During the Republican nomination race in 1860, Abraham Lincoln – a guy from the Midwest without much of a reputation – came out of nowhere to beat back the frontrunner, a New York senator who was later appointed secretary of state by his former rival. This scenario sounds really familiar for some reason.

A: I was writing a lot of this book in 2008, and when I read letters to Senator William Seward from his supporters, I felt like I was reading Hillary Clinton's mail.

People were saying things like "this isn't fair" and "I don't know who this skinny guy from Illinois is." One person wrote, "I shed bitter tears when I heard the news. I shall not lift a finger to elect him. Let those who chose him elect him."

The reality is after being deeply hurt and disappointed for about three weeks, Seward did finally contact Lincoln and campaign for him.

Q: You write that Lincoln was the most anti-slavery of the major candidates in the presidential election, but his position was nuanced and not targeted at immediately eliminating slavery in the South. Do you think he was even more opposed to slavery at heart but moderated his position in order to be politically sensible?

A: The vast majority of Republicans like Lincoln weren't abolitionists. They were mostly restrictionists, who wished to encircle slavery, keep it in the South and allow it to die slowly.

He was being a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sam Meekings

Sam Meekings received his undergraduate degree in Modern History and English Literature from Oxford University, and his masters degree in Creative Writing from Edinburgh University. Originally from southern England, he now lives in China with his wife and two children.

From a Q & A at Publishers Weekly with Meekings about Under Fishbone Clouds, his first novel:

You are British. How did you end up working and living in China?

At the end of my university course in 2003 I would spend the days frantically revising in the library with friends, and everyone would talk about what they would do when all this was finished. Everyone had something to look forward to. Except me. So I ended up on the university careers Web site and stumbled across a short note from a girl who had graduated a year before. She had spent the last year teaching at a college in China, and had been asked to help find more native English-speaking teachers. Two months later I was on a plane to Beijing.

Was China what you expected?

I knew almost nothing about China when I got on that plane. I had heard of Confucius and Chairman Mao, but that was about it. I naïvely expected to arrive in Beijing and see pagodas and ancient temples all around, so I was a little disappointed to be greeted by a sprawling metropolis. I'd arrived with another two "foreigners," and we were driven to a place called Hengshui in Hebei Province. It was clearly a place few Westerners ever visited, since wherever we went local people would stop whatever they were doing and point at us in amazement. I spent the first couple of weeks trying to think of a way to get out of my contract and escape. However, the more I learned, the more I wanted to stay, and have been here for six years.

The novel is based on your wife's grandparents?

Yes. Those are even...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 2, 2010

John Burdett

John Burdett is a nonpracticing lawyer who worked in Hong Kong for a British firm until he found his true vocation as a writer. He has also lived in France, Spain, and Thailand. He is the author of A Personal History of Thirst, The Last Six Million Seconds, Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts and  The Godfather of Kathmandu.

From author J. Sydney Jones' interview with Burdett about the setting for his Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep novels:

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

Thailand is unique in so many ways, it is probably easier to refer to history. Although Siam was invaded briefly by the Japanese in WWII, and was subject to a British Resident during the colonial period, alone amongst its neighbours in SE Asia it was never colonised, its people never made to feel that their culture was inferior to that of invading imperialists. You end up with a traditional Buddhist attitude, with Buddhist values, bang in the middle of the 3rd millennium. Sure, you could cite countries like Bhutan or Nepal as being in similar circumstances, but what is impressive about Thailand is that it simultaneously nurtures a hip, high-tech, consumeristic culture in Bangkok : Bronze Age mysticism with silicon chips.

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

I don’t believe you can use Bangkok in a novel without it becoming a character. The power of the city is irresistible both to foreigners and to immigrants from the countryside, not to mention...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Godfather of Kathmandu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, Zodiac, and Anathem.

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

Quicksilver includes some of the most important events and people during a crucial nexus between historical eras. What compelled you to write about this particular time period?

Around the time that I was closing in on the end of Cryptonomicon, I heard from a couple of different people about some interesting things having to do with Isaac Newton and with Gottfried Leibniz. One person pointed out to me that Newton had spent about the last 30 years of his life working at the mint, which was interesting to me. In Cryptonomicon there was a lot of stuff about money, so I had been thinking about money anyway.

The other related thing that I bumped into about the same time — I was reading a book by George Dyson, called Darwin Among the Machines. He talked a little bit about the work of Leibniz with computers. He arguably was the founder of symbolic logic and he worked with computing machines. I found it striking at a time when I was already working on a book about money and a book about computers that there were these two people 300 years ago who were quite interested in the same topics. And not only that, but they had this big, famous rivalry that supposedly was about which of them had invented the calculus first, although it was really about a lot more than that.

I began to do a bit of reading about that era and immediately got excited about it because so many things were happening all at once during that time period. So, I decided that as soon as I got done with Cryptonomicon, I would turn all my efforts towards trying to write a historical piece set during that era.

So how does the high Baroque era relate to the Enlightenment, for those of us who are historically challenged?

I didn't really have a good grip on this either, and still don't, but it appears that the Enlightenment refers to a bunch of stuff that was triggered by a lot of thinkers who were active during the late 17th century. Work that was done by the Royal Society and other natural philosophers of the time, combined with other currents in politics and religion, led to this later thing called the Enlightenment, more of an 18th century phenomenon. It doesn't really enter in to the book that I'm writing here.

The Enlightenment, though it sounds really good, is and should be a...[read on]
According to Charlie Jane Anders of io9, Neal Stephenson is one of the twenty biggest science fiction movers-and-shakers.

--Marshal Zeringue