Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stella Rimington

Stella Rimington joined Britain’s Security Service (MI5) in 1969. During her nearly thirty-year career she worked in all the main fields of the Service’s responsibilities—counter subversion, counter espionage and counter terrorism—and successively became Director of all three branches. Appointed Director General of MI5 in 1992, she was the first woman to hold the post and the first Director General whose name was publicly announced on appointment. Following her retirement from MI5 in 1996, she became a nonexecutive director of Marks & Spencer and published her autobiography, Open Secret, in the United Kingdom. Her novels include At Risk, Secret Asset, Illegal Action, Dead Line, and Rip Tide.

From her interview with Boyd Tonkin at the Independent:

Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him

Dorothy L Sayers: I really like her characters, particularly Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. I also enjoy her plots, which are comparatively simple but described in great detail.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Harriet Vane, because she's thoughtful and analytical. Things happen to Harriet, but she likes to analyse them rather than reacting in a hysterical way.

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

I don't go in much for heroes and heroines – but Winston Churchill, because of his capacity to use words to inspire people. I remember queueing to see his lying-in-state [in 1965]. It was a really important moment for people of my generation.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the author's answer to the query: How is the MI5 that Liz Carlyle [Rimington's protagonist] joins different from the agency you joined in the late 1960s, particularly for women?.

Also see Stella Rimington's 6 favorite secret agent novels, five best list of books about spies in Britain and a 2009 list of her six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 30, 2011

David Detzer

From Randy Dotinga's Christian Science Monitor interview with historian David Detzer, author of Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861:

Q: What did the North and South misunderstand about warfare as this battle began?

A: Both sides were innocent, and both sides were clueless about war would be like.

Q: That seems so remarkable. How did they manage to be so out of touch?

A: I've read the kinds of things they’d read about war. The books romanticized things, No book or magazine told of reality at its rawest. They only told of war from the point of view of officers and, occasionally, heroic soldiers.

There were no stories about how the vast majority of people who died in the Mexican War, the previous war that they were familiar with it, died of various diseases without any glory or romance at all.

And two-thirds of the people who died in the Civil War – 400,000 out of 600,000 – would die of disease. They died, but they weren't killed.

When you begin to realize the realities from an up-close perspective, you become awed by how awful and ungenteel war is. None of the things that were written in that era gave that fact justice.

Q: What about US President Abraham Lincoln?

A: He...[read on]
Also see: Ten best novels about the American Civil War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 29, 2011

Kyle Minor

Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of short fiction, and co-editor of The Other Chekhov. His work appears in The Southern Review, Surreal South, Best American Mystery Stories 2008, and Random House's Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.

From his Q & A with Charles Dodd White:

CW: Your stories frequently chart the quiet spaces of the characters’ background, the private experiences. There also seems to be a regularly repeated theme of secrets kept and the way this fidelity to self can actually limit one’s ability to seek…what, happiness, fulfillment? How do you consider perception as a dynamic in your stories? Is this the entry point for your work, or is this something that seems to manifest of its own accord? Talk as much as you would like about these qualities. I think it’s one of the most fascinating things about your work.

KM: Those characters come from a culture — Southern fundamentalism — in which people talk about unconditional love, but in which, in practice, there are huge conditions not only on love but also on anything resembling relationship. If you want to be part of the community, if you want to be in right fellowship with even your own family, you have to at least outwardly conform.

One thing I noticed, growing up in communities like these, is that it is always forgivable to do the “wrong” thing, repent, say all the right things, do the wrong thing, repent, say all the right things, etc. And you can get away with doing the wrong thing, but hiding it, saying all the right things, acting in the community-sanctioned ways, talking the right talk, not saying the things you know will make people angry, and nothing makes people angrier than saying that the received story of how the world works isn’t working, so you continue to recycle the same language, the same common wisdom, the same pieties and truisms, and in so doing, people know you’re a part of the tribe in more or less good standing. What’s not forgivable, whether you’re doing “wrong” or not, is to stand up and say: A lot of this talk is bullshit. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re all walking around, operating out of guilt, granting authority to undereducated people whose reasoning is invariably circular: (How do I know it’s true? Because the Bible tells me so. How do I know the Bible is a reliable authority? Because the Bible tells me so. How can I trust the Bible when it tells me so? Because the Bible tells me so.)

I don’t mean to imply, either, that....[read on]
Learn more about Kyle Minor and his work at his website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Kyle Minor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Peter Spiegelman

From a Q & A with Peter Spiegelman about his new novel, Thick as Thieves:

Q: Was there a specific event or idea that gave rise to this new novel?

A: Thick as Thieves arose not so much from a specific event, but from my longstanding love of caper flicks—movies like The Thomas Crown Affair, The Anderson Tapes, The Italian Job, Topkapi, Heat, Ocean’s 11, Inside Man, Thief, The Getaway—the list goes on and on. For me, the pleasure of these stories resides in watching the crooks work—the exercise of technique, the grace under pressure—and in watching the often uneasy relationships between them as they work.

Q: Your previous novels have all been set mainly in New York City and featured detective John March. Thick as Thieves is your first departure from that series. What brought on the change?

A: I was actually in the midst of what would’ve been my fourth John March novel when I started thinking about Thick as Thieves. The March book was actually going pretty badly—progressing slowly, and not turning out to be the book I wanted it to be. I just couldn’t seem to find my way into the heart of the story, and the more I tried, the more this other idea, about a fractious crew of thieves and their reluctant leader, kept asserting itself. After a while it became hard to ignore this other tale, and I spent some time thinking about characters and settings, and making notes. It quickly became apparent that this story would be a bigger and more complicated undertaking than anything I’d tried with March—which of course made it irresistible!

Q: There is a long literary tradition in exploring the concept of honor among thieves—in fact you open this novel with a quote on the subject from Shakespeare. What appealed to you about this idea?

A: Again, I go...[read on]
Visit Peter Spiegelman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Red Cat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot's latest novel is Overbite, a vampire novel for adults that is a sequel to Insatiable.

From her Q & A with Barbara Chai at the Wall Street Journal's books blog:

So how did you construct your vampire character?

In “Overbite,” he is the son of Dracula, who was Vlad the Impaler. He’s the son of him, he is not himself a mass serial killer, but he’s the prince of darkness. So when you have that legacy, can you fight against it? I like to put something in the book that is something I’m kind of struggling with, with things going on in my family, and that’s at what point does somebody hurt you so many times that you kind of cut them out of your life? How many times you forgive them, because everybody does have some goodness in them, but there are some people who have some bad. In the book, there’s a demon-hunting unit from the Vatican. The Vatican and Catholicism is all about forgive and turn the other cheek. But in this story, the Vatican has to kill all the demons, and my heroine, who’s in love with the prince of darkness, says maybe some of these demons have good in them and the guy she’s dating does, but there’s a lot of bad in him too. She keeps asking well maybe we can try to redeem them. Isn’t Catholicism all about redemption? I don’t know if this is something that was very deeply explored in a lot of the vampire books that are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brandi Lynn Ryder

From a Q & A with Brandi Lynn Ryder about her new novel, In Malice, Quite Close:

Like your character Karen Miller, you dreamed of being a writer since childhood. What other traits of Karen Miller/Gisèle Mourault do you see in yourself?

I'm often asked if my characters and stories are autobiographical. Given the nature of some of my characters, I hesitate to go down that particular rabbit hole! I will say that I can relate very much to Gisèle's search for identity. She is as trapped in the role of Karen Miller as she later is as Gisèle Mourault. She moves from the dysfunction of her family to being Tristan's prized objet d'art. While my circumstances were certainly different, I was something of a chameleon as a teenager; I'd slip into various guises to suit my surroundings. Eventually, I was able to pinpoint this as a fear of self-revelation, a need to establish "identity" through the affirmation of others. Like Gisèle, my redemption was art. In it, I found honesty and authenticity to be the only signposts—pivotal to any true sense of self or deep relationship to others. Throughout the novel we see Gisèle only as she is defined by those around her, which is why she's given no point of view in the novel. But I think she was on the brink of the self-definition she sought in her art, that she would have continued down this path and ultimately succeeded. By the end, the truth has become something for which she's willing to face great risk and sacrifice.

You took your novel's title from a Rimbaud poem that also serves as the book's epigraph. How and why did you choose it?

I love the language and have long admired the emotional charge of Rimbaud's work. There is a lot of courage in his poetry, a raw honesty. In "First Evening," one finds an unabashedly objectifying seduction scene. There is a clear disparity between the speaker and the young woman, the object of his desire: probably in age, certainly in power and experience. He chronicles the effects of his actions on her as one might...[read on]
Visit Brandi Lynn Ryder's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 25, 2011

Imogen Robertson

Imogen Robertson is a writer based in London.

From a Q & A about her first book, Instruments of Darkness:

Writing any novel is a complicated endeavor, but a mystery brings particular difficulties, such as maintaining suspense and how and when to reveal details of the plot. How did you address these issues?

You learn by doing. As I plan and write my books, I am constantly asking myself if events are moving too fast or too slow; if I am leading readers into an unfolding story at the right pace; if the characters are developing; if they are acting, that is, making the story happen, or if things are just happening to them. I also read a lot of crime fiction and mystery and spend a lot of time thinking about what makes those books work. Writing is a craft, like furniture making. You serve an apprenticeship, study the masters, and one hopes, keep developing your skills.

At the end of the book, you mention a few authors whose works provided historical context for you while writing. Were there any mystery writers whose work was an inspiration?

Loads of them. I am a fan of golden age crime writing, particularly the later books of Dorothy L. Sayers. I also love modern psychological crime novels, such as those by Nicci French, fantastic, pacy reads that are beautifully written. I have devoured every Tess Gerritsen novel that appears. Tess was also an inspiration as I was beginning to write because of her incredibly honest and open blogging about being an author. I e-mailed her at the time to say so, then a few years later was able to send her the finished book. I was quite teary when I got her e-mail saying how much she liked it. In fact, I got a note from Nicci Gerrard, half of the husband and wife team that is Nicci French, saying how much she liked Instruments too. More excited teariness. It's an amazing thing when your writing heroes start turning round and saying, "You've done good." And...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Imogen Robertson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Instruments of Darkness.

Writers Read: Imogen Robertson.

My Book, The Movie: Instruments of Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg and now lives in Cape Town. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood (2009), was published in six countries and won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Prize). His second book, Wake Up Dead (2010), was a 10 best pick of the Philadelphia Enquirer, Times (South Africa) and Krimiwelt (Germany) and was nominated for the German Krimi-Blitz Reader’s Award. Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead were nominated for Spinetingler Magazine New Voice Awards in the U.S. and both books are in development as feature films.

His third novel is Dust Devils.

From Smith's Q &A with Daniel Musiitwa at Africa Book Club:

You focus exclusively on the crime genre. What has most influenced your writing?

I started reading American crime fiction long before I started shaving, but it was a book by Richard Stark (the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake) that really turned my head: The Hunter (1964). I still have it, a dog-eared little paperback with a plain silver cover sporting a bullet hole and the one-liner: a novel of violence. A tight piece of gutter existentialism – lean as a Brazilian supermodel – it follows Parker (no first name, no morals, precious little backstory) an ex-con out of prison and out for revenge. This is a sawed-off shotgun of a book, and Stark’s writing is cut to the bone, but he still produces hard urban poetry.

My next major influence was Elmore Leonard, whose slangy, street-smart parables have been imitated by many – including Quentin Tarantino – but never equalled. The world of fiction would have been immeasurably poorer without his incredible input, and he continues to produce brilliant novels well into his eighties.

Whenever anybody trots out the old saw that protagonists have to be sympathetic, I point them in the direction of Jim Thompson’s string of dark and subversive novels. My favorite is his classic The Killer Inside Me (1952). The unreliable narrator, Lou Ford, is a small-town sheriff who appears to be a sweet, dumb, hayseed, but is a cold-blooded killer. A Thompson classic. His characters aren’t nice, but they’re damn interesting.

Now that I’m a writer myself I still read a lot of crime, and a lot of it still inspires me. But living in South Africa...[read on]
Watch the Dust Devils trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Roger Smith's website.

Read about Roger Smith's top 10 crime novels.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Wake Up Dead.

Writers Read: Roger Smith.

My Book, The Movie: Dust Devils.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ross Raisin

Ross Raisin holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Goldsmiths College in London, England. He has lived for various short periods in Connemara, Grenoble, Nice and Paris, working as a dishwasher, barman and waiter. He is an avid football fan and Bradford City supporter. Out Backward is his first novel.  Waterline, his new novel, is out now in the UK and due for its US release in February 2012.

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

What is your daily writing routine?

For my latest book, I’d get up, have breakfast, watch an episode of Frasier, write from 9am until 6pm and finish with an episode of The Simpsons.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Peter Carey, Graham Greene, Doris Lessing and Thomas Hardy.

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

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. Just because it’s bloody good.

* * *
Can you remember the first novel you read?

The Rats by James Herbert, when I was 11 or 12. It freaked me out completely. It was not the rats that frightened me, more the people.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dawn Tripp

From Caroline Leavitt's Q & A with Dawn Tripp about Tripp's new novel, Game of Secrets:

I'm always interested in process. Game of Secrets has such an intricate structure, where information is slowly revealed. Did you plan all this out, or did it happen more organically?

This novel felt different from my first two—a literary thriller with a small-town murder at the heart of it—a mystery played out through a Scrabble game. But it didn’t start that way.
Late spring, several years ago, I was working on something else—a historical novel—and out of the blue, over the course of a month I wrote a series of forty poems. I haven’t written poetry since my twenties, although as a writing form, it is my primary impulse. And what I noticed is that those forty poems were all digging into things I couldn’t quite bear to write straight out in narrative, and so they surfaced, in bits and pieces, in those poems. I wrote about a mother and her son, a friend who died abruptly, a girl crossing over a bridge, a car accident, an illicit love and its consequence, a dream stubbed out, I wrote about an unconscionable act of cruelty, and a young man staring at a woman across a moving street while the rest of the world fell away. I wrote about the loss of a child.
It didn’t take much for me to see that those poems had a life, an emotional complexity that the novel I was working on did not. So I ditched that other book, almost 400 pages of it, because these were the stories I wanted to walk into, these were the lives I was on fire to tell.
Out of those fragments, there were three that I couldn’t stop thinking about: the image of a 14 year old boy driving fast down an unfinished highway in a borrowed car; the image of two women playing Scrabble; the image of two lovers, a man and a woman, meeting in an old cranberry barn. I did not know their names, but I could feel the charge of a threat and the desire between them—I knew that this would be the last time they would meet. I had already filled a notebook when an older man from town told me a story of a skull that surfaced back in the 60s out of a truckload of gravel fill, a neat bullet hole in the temple. The moment the story...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Dawn Tripp's website.

The Page 69 Test: Game of Secrets.

Writers Read: Dawn Tripp.

My Book, The Movie: Game of Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Carson Morton

From a Q & A with Carson Morton about his new novel, Stealing Mona Lisa:

Q: How did you come up with the idea to write Stealing Mona Lisa?

A: I had come across the story of the theft a few times in the past and stored it away in the back of my mind, not giving it much thought. It was while I was reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, where the incident is mentioned in passing that the idea sparked. I did some research and found the actual story was not all that interesting. Someone just walked in and took it off the wall. There was an apocryphal story about a mastermind trying to sell six copies, but there still wasn’t what I call a complete story. I set myself the task of turning all the existing information into a yarn with a beginning, middle, and end; and making sure it had all the necessary ingredients: a protagonist, an antagonist, allies, enemies, and most of all, a motive other than greed that the reader would be able to empathize with; and if that motive happens to be the love of a beautiful woman…

Q: Who is your favorite character in your novel and why?

A: Besides the obvious choice of the mastermind himself, the Marquis de Valfierno, I think my favorite is Julia Conway, the brash and beautiful American pickpocket who proves invaluable in the scheme to steal the world’s greatest painting and sell six copies to six American Robber Barons. Her only fault is...[read on]
Visit Carson Morton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Clare O'Donohue

Clare O'Donohue worked on the HGTV show, Simply Quilts for four seasons, eventually becoming the Supervising Producer, and has written and produced for a lot of other shows as well. In the last twelve years, she worked on shows for The History Channel, truTV, Food Network, A&E, Discovery, TLC, and others.

In 2008 she published The Lover’s Knot, the first in the Someday Quilts series, and followed the debut with A Drunkard’s Path and The Double Cross. The Devil’s Puzzle, the fourth novel in the series, arrives in the fall of 2011.

O'Donohue's new novel is Missing Persons.

From her Q & A with Julia Buckley:

Your hero, Kate Conway, must investigate the death of her estranged husband, which creates plenty of drama beyond the standard murder mystery. Did you like this premise because of all the possibilities for conflicting emotions?

In a divorce, the tendency is to focus on the negative aspects of the former partner. But in death, the tendency is to focus on the spouse’s most positive traits. I loved the idea of Kate being caught between the two opposing narratives. Ignoring her feelings would be her first choice, but once she becomes a suspect, she has to deal with them – and solve two mysteries. The overload of emotions, plus her in laws, the husband’s girlfriend, a job she’s conflicted about – piling it all on her seemed like a great way to introduce her to the world.

Kate works for a company which makes exploitative television programs, and she is the first to admit that people’s pain makes for good tv. As a television producer, do you experience crises of conscience about whether or not your work is exploiting people?

Sometimes. Unlike Kate, I usually warn people how their interviews will be used. I don’t want to see anyone blindsided, and I don’t want to deal with the angry phone calls. On true crime shows, victim’s families are always treated well, and should be, but sometimes “suspects” aren’t. The shows are on the air, and available for viewing so I have the opinion that people know what they’re getting themselves into. While I am always respectful, even with killers, I...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Clare O'Donohue's website and blog.

Read about the crime novel O'Donohue would most like to have written.

The Page 69 Test: Missing Persons.

My Book, The Movie: Missing Persons.

Writers Read: Clare O'Donohue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Catherine Alliott

Catherine Alliott's books include A Rural Affair, One Day In May, and The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton.

From her Q & A at the Independent:

Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him

JD Salinger – not necessarily just 'The Catcher in the Rye', but everything else as well. I love the short stories – witty, sharp, perceptive. I find him something of a comfort read if I'm feeling a bit fragile.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I think in terms of mothers these days, and I'm trying hard not to turn into Mrs Bennet [from 'Pride and Prejudice']. I'd rather be like the mother in [E Nesbit's] 'The Railway Children' – calm and serene.

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

Ellen MacArthur. I'm not that wild about the sea. The idea of sailing round the world on one's own is just jaw-droppingly brave. I prefer an estuary on a calm day.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 18, 2011

Amor Towles

From a Q & A with Amor Towles, author of Rules of Civility:

Why did you decide to write a book set in the late 1930s, and how did you research the period?

I've always had a great interest in the period between 1900 and 1940—because it was a time of such incredible creative combustion.

In retrospect, the pace of change in the arts and industry in the nineteenth century seems pretty glacial. Painting, music, the novel, architecture were all evolving, but at a pretty observable pace. Then in the span of a few decades you have James Joyce, Cubism, Surrealism, jazz, Nijinsky, Henry Ford, the skyscraper, Sigmund Freud, the Russian Revolution, movies, airplanes, and the general upending of received forms in almost every area of human endeavor.

Over the years, I listened to the music, saw the movies, read the novels and manifestos, lingered in front of the paintings. So I really didn't do any applied research for the book. Rather, I tried to rely on my secondhand familiarity with the period to orient my imagination.

Why did you decide to write a book from the perspective of a young woman?

Some writers such as John Cheever and Raymond Carver, seem to draw artistic energy from analyzing the realm of their own experiences—their social circles and memories and mores. I'm one of those who draw creative energy from the opposite. I prefer to put myself in an environment that's further afield and look through the eyes of someone who differs from me in age, ethnicity, gender, and/or social class. I think a little displacement makes me a sharper observer. It's that challenge of trying to imagine what's on...[read on]
Visit Amor Towles's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rachel Machacek

Rachel Machacek is the author of The Science of Single: One Woman's Grand Experiment in Modern Dating, Creating Chemistry, and Finding Love.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

So what IS the science of single?

I think there are two parts to being single. Like, literally, learning to be single and enjoying your own company. The other part is learning to date, the inference being that one is looking for some sort of a relationship. I believe most of us are. Ultimately, it’s less of a science, more the art of delicate negotiation between embracing your singledom and being open to the possibility of something more. Seems like a no brainer, but sometimes it’s like opposing forces pulling you in two different directions, arm tendons straining.

What was really fascinating was how your relationship with Jeb actually suffered because of the book you were writing. Care to tell that story?

Oh Jeb. That relationship was going to suffer no matter what. When you get involved with someone and dig into their life, there’s always something. Some sort of issue, boundary, stuffed-to-the-gills luggage that you uncover, cross, unpack. And whatever it is that you find out about the other person, well, it’s either a dealbreaker or it’s not.

When Jeb found out I was writing a book about my dating experience, we weren’t even two weeks into dating each other and I hadn’t had a chance (found the nerve) to tell him yet. I still don’t know how he found out. But me writing about dating – writing about me and him – coupled with a number of difficult things going on in his life – it all became one big ole dealbreaker. I sort of understood. I sort of didn’t. He...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carsten Jensen

Carsten Jensen (b. 1952) is a Danish novelist, essayist, and critic who writes for the Copenhagen daily Politiken and serves as a commentator for Danish television. Born in Marstal in 1952, he studied literature at Copenhagen University. His three fictional works include Earth in the Mouth (1994), We, the Drowned (2010), and Sidste rejse (2007; The last trip). He has also authored a number of travelogues, of which I Have Seen the World Begin (2000) is available in English. In 2009 he was awarded the Olaf Palme Prize for outstanding achievement.

From his Q & A with Ray Taras at World Literature Today:

Ray Taras: Among favorite stories about the sea written by Scandinavian authors, you have singled out ones written by Hans Kirk (about whom you wrote a dissertation) and Knut Hamsun. Are there other Scandinavian novelists whose literary styles and narrative plots have influenced your writing?

Carsten Jensen: There is actually not a great tradition of maritime novels in Scandinavian literature, strangely enough because we are seafaring nations, especially Norway and Denmark. Writers were never recruited from among sailors, and sailors did not end up as writers in the way that Joseph Conrad did. If you take Kirk's novel The Fishermen, written in 1928, it is about a community of fishermen—and I really distinguish between sailors and fishermen because they lead such different lifestyles and have such different relationships with the sea. Hamsun didn't write maritime novels, but some of his so-called Nordland novels, which take place north of the Polar Circle, are about little ports where sea and ships and trade play a big role, and where sailors are always cosmopolitans—the "baddies"—because Knut Hamsun was very much attached to the soil and to traditions and, as we all know, tragically ended up having Nazi sympathies as well. In his novel August, sailors were not just cosmopolitans but something worse—they were Americanized. They were the symbol of modern soullessness and rootlessness.

In writing a maritime novel, I wanted to know what kind of tradition I was about to become a part of. So the few Scandinavian novels there were I did read. If there is a tradition of maritime novels, it is British and American: Herman Melville, Jack London, Joseph Conrad, and the South Sea tales of Robert Louis Stevenson. You cannot really imitate their style, and I didn't want to. But there are a lot of hidden literary quotes in my novel. Already on the first pages of We, the Drowned I refer to a Melville character who sailed on a man-o-war having the ridiculous name of "Never Sink." I have stolen that name from Melville's novel White Jacket. These allusions are intended as little winks at the knowing reader, though it is not really important whether all readers recognize the reference. I wanted to capture the atmosphere in these maritime novels. The part in my novel about the South Seas, which is the only part told in the first person, is actually...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 15, 2011

Matt Hilton

Matt Hilton is the Cumbrian author of the Joe Hunter thriller series, including Dead Men’s Dust, Judgement and Wrath, Slash and Burn, and Cut and Run, with further books in the series coming soon. He is a high ranking martial artist and has been a police officer and private security specialist, all of which lend an authenticity to the action scenes in his books.

From his Q & A with Barb Ettridge:

BE: How much of you is in Joe Hunter? He brings your experience from working in private security, being a police officer and your training in martial arts, but do you have the same views on life? Or do you find yourself writing thoughts and principles that you personally don’t hold, but that Joe does?

MH: Joe Hunter is a younger, fitter, better-looking version of me. Though he’s not as charming. Seriously, though, he is possibly an idealized version of myself – in some, but not all respects. He is more right wing in his attitudes to how to treat the bad guys, but in the respect of hating bullying in any form, or in standing up for those weaker than himself, Joe and I are very alike. I was bullied as a child, and learned early on that the only way I could personally defeat the bullies was to fight back. I’m not advocating violence – certainly not – but I am about standing up for one’s character and rising above the insults and such that I had to endure. I took up martial arts to not only learn how to fight, but to also strengthen my confidence, in order that I did not have to fight. In one respect, Joe is a metaphor for everything that I stood for. I first got into private security work, and then the police force, through my desire to help people in need. Sounds corny, and sounds like I was viewing the world through the proverbial rose tinted spectacles, but it is true. So, yeah, at a basic level, Joe and me share the same principles; it’s just about how we put our actions into motion that we differ. For the record, I’ve never killed a bad guy.

BE: You’re a focused writer with the schedule of publishing a new title every six months. Has the discipline that you learnt from studying Kempo Ju-Jitsu given you skills that you apply to achieving this output?

MH: Definitely. With martial arts training, you’re...[read on]
Visit Matt Hilton's website and blog.

Writers Read: Matt Hilton.

The Page 69 Test: Judgment and Wrath.

My Book, The Movie: Judgment and Wrath.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 14, 2011

John Dalton

From a Q & A with John Dalton about his new novel, The Inverted Forest:

Q. Your first novel, Heaven Lake, was set in Taiwan and featured a disgraced missionary who journeys to the desert province of Xinjiang, China. The new novel, The Inverted Forest, is set in a Missouri summer camp—a camp where the staff of new counselors must care for 104 developmentally disabled adults from the state hospital. That seems like quite a change. Is it?

A. Not as large a change as you might think. My primary interest in novel writing still comes down to vivid and original characters matched to an engaging plot. At least that’s what I strive for everyday at my writing desk. It’s also what brings me the most satisfaction as a reader. And the preoccupations of both novels are probably similar—how to manage being alone in the world, what does true moral courage look like, how to deal with the thorny problem of desire.

Q. The characters in The Inverted Forest felt well-honed and authentic. Were some of them easier to create than others?

A. There are three main point-of-view characters: seventy-eight-year-old Schuller Kindermann, founder and director of Kindermann Forest Summer camp; Harriet Foster, camp nurse and single mother and the only African American employee at camp, and counselor Wyatt Huddy. They were all tricky to write in their own particular way. Odd as it may seem, Harriet Foster is probably the character I have most in common with. She’s well-intentioned but unsure, qualities that define me, especially as a young man. Schuller Kindermann was the most fun and in some ways the easiest to write. He’s such a prissy, judgmental, foolish man—a real case of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Melanie Benjamin

From a Q & A with  Melanie Benjamin about her new novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb:

Tell us about how you first discovered Vinnie.

A: I first heard about her—or rather, read about her—in the pages of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. She had a brief scene with Harry Houdini, a major character in the book. She was feisty, even in that!

Fast forward and I'm halfway through my next book for Random House, when I realize that I can't finish it. It just wasn't interesting to me, and of course—how can an author then expect the reader to be interested? But I knew that before I told my wonderful editor that I couldn't finish it, I needed to have a couple of preliminary chapters of something else. So I did what I always do—I spent long hours reading histories, timelines, Googling, anything that might spur my interest. This consists of looking through a lot of lists, too. I knew the era in which I wanted to write, and I also knew that this time I wanted to write an American story (since Alice was set in England). On one of these lists, the name "Lavinia Warren Stratton—AKA Mrs. Tom Thumb"—came up, and I remembered that scene in Ragtime. So I did a quick Google search of her name, and was immediately entranced by her story.

As a child (and even now), are you a fan of the circus?

A: Not really as a child, but yes, now I enjoy the pageantry. I am really interested in the performers, though—I always find myself wondering how they chose this life, and why, and what it's really like.

What did you find most provocative about Vinnie's life as you researched the novel? What surprised you the most? What still resonates with you? Tell us a little about the research you did on Vinnie: where and what were your primary sources?

A: The primary sources were...[read on]
Learn about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Janet Reitman

Janet Reitman is the author of Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion.

From her Q & A with Jessica Grose at Slate:

Slate: Let's go back to Scientology's origins. From the way you describe founder L. Ron Hubbard's book, Dianetics—which is called "book one" by Scientologists—it seemed focused on erasing pain. Dianetics was published in 1950, and it makes sense to me that something that emphasizes positivity gained popularity in Eisenhower America. Can you explain to me, as you do in the book, why that moment was a perfect breeding ground for L. Ron Hubbard's philosophies?

Reitman: One thing you have to understand about L. Ron Hubbard: He was a product in many ways of World War II. He was a Navy officer, though it is debatable as to what degree he fought, because he suffered from ulcers and claimed numerous other physical disabilities, and he seemingly came back from the war suffering from some kind of PTSD. His Navy records never revealed that he was exposed to the injuries he claimed. And the Church of Scientology claims that he was sort of undercover, and actually an Intelligence officer, so he had other sets of records. I've never seen evidence of this. Nonetheless, he clearly was suffering from something, and had appealed to the navy for psychiatric help. And within a few years, he came up with something to cure himself of his trauma. He called it "Dianetics."

It was appealing to people because we're talking about an era where there wasn't really psychiatry. It was very expensive and only available in a major city like New York, Washington, L.A. Other forms of psychiatry...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 11, 2011

Téa Obreht

Téa Obreht is the author of The Tiger's Wife.

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

What book changed your life?

TC Boyle’s Descent of Man. The book of short stories was gifted to me at a time in my life when I had hit a wall with my own work and reading it was like being handed a wrecking ball.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Isak Dinesen, Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel García-Márquez, Roald Dahl and Mikhail Bulgakov.

* * *
What book do you wish you had written?

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 10, 2011

David Peace

David Peace’s books include the "Red Riding Quartet."

From his Q & A at Declan Burke's blog, Crime always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE GLASS KEY by Dashiell Hammett.

* * *
What fictional character would you most like to have been?

George Smiley.

* * *
Worst / best thing about being a writer?

Every day I thank God I can still write; so nothing bad, everything good....[read on]
See David Peace's Literary Top 10.

Read Ali Karim's interview with David Peace at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gwendolen Gross

Caroline Leavitt put some questions to Gwendolen Gross about her new novel, The Orphan Sister, including:

What is it about sisters that is so compelling?

Sisters! Well, first of all, I have three, one of whom has a different mother and who is 20 years younger than I. She was the first baby for whom I fell, completely; people asked if she was my first (thinking she was my baby), and I said, "No, I have two other sisters!"

Anyone who has sisters knows you share many things: frame of reference, in-jokes, adolescent contempt for parents, deep and sometimes jealous love of those same parents. Sisters give you a model, a mold, for many of life's relationships. Shared experience and competition, both. I think of my sisters daily, but viscerally, rather than intellectually. My son smells like my older sister, Claudia, when he wakes up (a wonderful smell, not morning breath). If I make an absurd nonsequiteur no one gets, I think: Becca would understand, or: I have to tell my friend Cindy (with whom I don't share parents or childhood, but somewhere, historically, we must share genes). Since so much of sisterhood is collective circumstance, adoptive sisters might have their own shared frame--but different matting or something. That could be another book!

What I loved about this novel was how different it seemed from your previous ones (not that I didn't love them, as well.) Did you feel that you were treading new ground and how terrifying was that to contemplate?

First, thank you so very much! As you know, someone who has read your book is someone you have loved, even if only a little, even if you'll never meet (though I've been lucky enough to meet you).

I think writers tend to have both infinite stories and finite truths--the truths emerge in the exploration of character, place, plot. With this book I hoped to...[read on]
Visit Gwendolen Gross's website and The Orphan Sister website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rebecca Wolff

Rebecca Wolff is an award-winning poet and founding editor of Fence and Fence Books. She received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and is the author of three books of poems; her work has appeared in The Nation, The Paris Review, and A Public Space.

From a Q & A about her new novel, The Beginners, with Barbara Chai for the Wall Street Journal:

What was the seed for this novel?

The very most original seed was a drive I once took through central Massachusetts, around the Quabbin Reservoir, on my way from Amherst to Boston. Some of my ancestors had moved to that area from Salem (now called Danvers) after their matriarch, Rebecca Nurse, had been hung in the witch trials in 1693. So I was driving around looking for graveyards, and when I found one I would look for headstones with the family name (I found a few). I was also driving through towns, small, isolated towns that to my eyes (those of a New Yorker) appeared inexplicable: Who in the world could be from here, and of what might their lives consist. This was an outsider’s awe of the inside, but eventually these turns of mind reversed and I wondered: Why, or how, on earth could anyone ever choose to move here? And at that point I began devising a story.

Your descriptions of the town of Wick are at once literal and fantastical. Did you borrow details from any of the actual towns involved in the Salem witch trials?

Wick is quite closely based on several small villages, even hamlets, that are nestled along the east side of the Quabbin Reservoir. I amalgamated them into one town, and borrowed the entirely factual story of how next to them there had used to be a very active valley full of towns and villages before they were evacuated, razed, and flooded to create a reservoir that still supplies the water for Boston. So these towns, and the fictional town of Wick, were left behind on high ground, and therefore acquired...[read on]
Visit Rebecca Wolff's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bill Crider

Bill Crider's latest novel in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series is The Wild Hog Murders. From his Q & A at Vince Keenan's blog:

Q. What can you tell us about THE WILD HOG MURDERS?

Well, it has wild hogs in it. It's estimated that there are 2.5 million of them on the loose in Texas, and they’ve become a real problem. They’ve even started to invade major suburban areas. Since I’ve included at least a passing reference to them in every book in the Sheriff Rhodes series since that very first one, I thought it was time to give them the center stage.

Q. Have you had any personal run-ins with feral pigs?

It depends on how you define “run-ins.” I own some land in Limestone County, and I’ve seen hogs there, from a distance, but that’s about it. My brother is the overseer of the property, and he’s had plenty of encounters. He’s trapped them and shot them, and he sees them all the time. He’s not fond of them.

Q. Sheriff Dan has been around since 1986. What have been the biggest changes that the character has had to deal with in terms of doing his job?

The sheriff...[read on]
Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, and Murder in the Air, as well as an excellent write-up about Dan Rhodes on the big screen at "My Book, The Movie."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Christine Sismondo

Michelle Rafferty of The Oxford Comment met with Christine Sismondo at The Ginger Man in New York City to discuss the latter's new book, America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops. From the transcript of their conversation:

Christine: American bars are much more interesting for the large part than Canadian bars and they have better selection of drinks because of where I live in Ontario. We are first of all, the equivalent of a control state, like Pennsylvania where it’s very hard to get interesting liquor in.

Michelle: What does that mean, a “control state”?

Christine: In the liquor legislation there are some control states in the United States, which are states where the sale and importing and distribution of alcohol is controlled by the actual state. New York State is not one of them. That’s one of the reasons why New York is relatively cheap, fairly vibrant, has a lot different selection. Pennsylvania on the other hand, it’s a much tighter control over the type of liquor. And Ontario, where I live, is absolutely atrocious, and it’s just starting to get a little bit better. For example, we didn’t have legal cocktails in bars until 1947. And I can remember when I was a kid you could never just walk through a store to buy your liquor or your beer. You had to go up to a counter, just like you were getting a prescription at a drug store, and put in your order, and then somebody would go to the back and get you your little mickey of gin and sell it to you. And you had to have ID, and some places they even had a passport kind of thing so they could look at how much you bought over the year.

Michelle: Really?

Christine: Yeah.

Michelle: So if someone was buying a lot what would happen?

Christine: Well, in Ontario until sometime in the 1980s they had, and this is terrible, what they called the “Indian List.” And the “Indian List” applied...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: America Walks into a Bar.

Writers Read: Christine Sismondo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson has received high praise for his Sheriff Walt Longmire novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins, and The Dark Horse, which received a superfecta of starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and was named one of Publishers Weekly's best books of the year (2009). Keir Graff, in a Booklist starred review of last year's Junkyard Dogs, called Johnson "a born storyteller if ever there was one."

His latest novel is Hell Is Empty, the seventh Walt Longmire mystery.

From Johnson's Q & A Julia Buckley:

Your new Walt Longmire mystery, HELL IS EMPTY, is a fascinating read, especially, for me, because of all of its literary parallels. Dante’s INFERNO plays an important role in the story. Did you have the idea that you wanted Walt to go, symbolically, through many levels of hell?

It’s a novel that I’ve had in the works for a few years now, and it took that long to get all the pieces into place. I knew when I introduced Virgil White Buffalo in Another Man’s Moccasins that I was committed to the idea of an allegorical tale that would utilize Inferno. I knew that Walt was going to return to the Bighorn mountains, specifically to the area where he ventured in my first novel, The Cold Dish—but I didn’t want the book to simply be another manhunt in the snow (I figure that’s been done to death), so I started thinking about which works of literature explored the things I’d be dealing with in Hell is Empty.

Two things most people aren’t aware of are that there are only one or two sentences describing hell in the Bible--that the majority of the images we have of hell actually come from Dante, and that the further you go down into Dante’s hell, the colder it gets, the epic poem finally ending in a frozen lake with snow and wind. The parallels were there--I just had to find a way to use them so that people who were familiar with Inferno weren’t bored and so that readers who weren’t wouldn’t be intimidated.

Even though you reference Dante continually, the title is taken from a line in Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, one of my favorite plays. I see many parallels between your book and that play—specifically the recurring theme of illusion versus reality. On Shakespeare’s magical island, one can rarely tell what is and what is not. Did you try to use that idea in your mystery?

Yes, illusion and reality is...[read on]
Visit Craig Johnson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Page 69 Test: Kindness Goes Unpunished.

My Book, The Movie: The Cold Dish.

The Page 69 Test: The Dark Horse.

The Page 69 Test: Junkyard Dogs.

The Page 69 Test: Hell Is Empty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 4, 2011

Donald Ray Pollock

Donald Ray Pollock's writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, the New York Times, Third Coast, The Journal, Sou’wester, Chiron Review, River Styx, Boulevard, Folio, and The Berkeley Fiction Review. His 2008 book is Knockemstiff.

His new novel is The Devil All the Time.

From Pollack's Q & A with Lydia Fitzpatrick and Kate Levin at Fiction Writers Review:

Writers are always reading about worlds and people that are foreign to them, and some of us even try to write about worlds to which we’re not personally connected. How do you balance the “write what you know” adage with what you actually want to write about?

When I was starting out, I tried writing about everything except what I knew. I’d read Andre Dubus and try to write a story about a lapsed Catholic; or John Cheever and try to write about a suburbanite having an affair with another suburbanite. On and on, doctors, nurses, lawyers. Unfortunately, none of that stuff turned out any good. Then I wrote a story called “Bactine” and it was as if someone turned the lights on. I hate to admit it, but I know those kinds of people, the ones in my book, better than anyone else. Now, I don’t prescribe that for anyone. I mean, if that was the case, that everyone just wrote about what they knew, then fiction would be pretty boring. Maybe I just don’t have the ability to make that imaginative leap into another world, at least not yet. I guess I’d rather suggest that you write about what you’re interested in.

In your Acknowledgements [to Knockemstiff], you take care to reiterate that “all of the characters are fictional,” despite the boilerplate language on the copyright page about how all resemblances to “persons, living or dead” are coincidental. You add, “My family and our neighbors were good people who never hesitated to help someone in a time of need.” For whom did you write those lines?

I wrote those lines mainly for my publisher, who seemed a bit more concerned than I did about a mob of locals hanging me from a tree. I knew...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Donald Ray Pollock's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Knockemstiff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 3, 2011

David S. Reynolds

David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of Walt Whitman’s America, John Brown, Abolitionist, Beneath the American Renaissance, Faith in Fiction, and Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize.

From a Q & A about his new book, Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q. What did [Harriet Beecher Stowe] understand the most about slavery?

A: She understood that African Americans are human. That sounds pedestrian, but in that era, African Americans were perceived as subhuman, or different from whites. Her novel is all about how African Americans can be as loyal to their families and devoted to their homes, parents and children, and each other, as white people can. They also have the capacity to be religious, which to Harriet Beecher Stowe was very important. They weren't just beasts that could be whipped, chained, sexually exploited, and sometimes tortured. She made Americans feel the pain and agony that slaves were going through, made them feel the real humanity of black people in a way that nobody had done before.

Q: What else made her book so effective?

A: Before she wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin," she had written for popular magazines for 15 years, so she had a good sensitivity to what the popular audience wanted. It almost became part of her unconscious mind. When she wrote the novel, she produced these scenes that rang all these popular-culture bells for the audience of that time. The book became an international sensation as well and was translated into 16 languages and sold about 310,000 copies in America and at least 1.5 million abroad.

Q: What did she miss?

A: James Baldwin ...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Mightier Than the Sword.

Writer's Read: David S. Reynolds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín's book include The Master, Mothers and Sons, and Brooklyn.

From his Q & A with the Independent:

Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him

I am not sure about favourite - but maybe Hemingway (for his style), Henry James (for his style), George Herbert (for his style), George Eliot (for her wisdom), Jane Austen (for her perfection).

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Daniel Deronda.

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

Kathleen Ferrier. I like her singing voice, her immense seriousness, how she used her talent. Maybe I like her in Mahler best, but also Brahms. In another life, I would like to be a contralto.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 1, 2011

Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith is the author of Dawn of the Dreadfuls, the best-selling prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. He also writes the “Holmes on the Range” mystery series.

From his Q & A at The Zombiephiles about his latest novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After:

Q. Why a Jane Austen classic? What in particular caused you to imagine zombies in the world of Miss Bennett?

I can’t take credit for that stroke of genius. If I could, I’d be typing my reply on the veranda of my new vacation home in the Bahamas. It was actually Jason Rekulak, associate publisher at Quirk Books, who dreamed up the zombie/Austen connection. He was looking for a way to mix goofy pop culture with a classic novel in the public domain. I’m just thankful he went with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and not Romeo & Juliet & Giant Transforming Robots or whatever.

Q. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this series?

That I could write a series like this! I’d never tried my hand at romance or horror, so it was a little daunting taking on a project that mixed both. I had plenty of experience with humor, historical fiction and blending genres, though, so in the end it wasn’t that much of a change of pace.

Q. Tell us about the upcoming movie being made from the first book. Are you involved with the production?

This is...[read on]
Visit Steve Hockensmith's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dreadfully Ever After.

--Marshal Zeringue