Monday, October 31, 2011

David Abulafia

David Abulafia is Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University.

From an Amazon Q & A about his latest book, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean:

Q: What role did Greek mythology and Homeric poetry play in creating a lasting conception of the Mediterranean?

A: The seas described in Homer's Odyssey are a strange amalgam of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, of east and west. Circe the sorceress seems to live in the east, where the sun rises, while Scylla and Charybdis are often identified with the straits between Sicily and mainland Italy.

Despite those muddles, Homer does provide fascinating testimony to knowledge of the seas among the Greek colonists in Ionia (what is now eastern Turkey), whose dialect was the basis of Homeric Greek. He knew about Phoenician sailors and was not very complimentary about them. Above all, he placed Odysseus' kingdom at the western limits of Greece, on Ithaka, which he portrayed as an island where it was natural to know how to handle boats. What we see is a dawning conception of the extent of the Mediterranean and of the importance of the sea to the early Greeks.

Q: Beyond the historical, military significance of the Mediterranean, what happened culturally that we tend to overlook?

A: The Mediterranean has been a meeting place of many different ethnic and religious groups, inhabiting its shores and islands--in remote antiquity, Greeks, Etruscans, Phoenicians; in later centuries, Jews, Christians and Muslims. Gathering in the port cities around the Mediterranean, such as ancient Marseilles, medieval Palermo and Alexandria, modern Livorno and Smyrna, these groups have interacted not just at the level of high culture but in everyday life. On the one hand you have the transmission of medical and astronomical knowledge from east to west in the Middle Ages, often via Muslim and Christian Spain, and on the other hand you have...[read on]
Read more about The Great Sea at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Great Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sandra Spanier

Sandra Spanier is general editor of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Vol 1 1907-1922.

From her Q & A with Melissanne Scheld at the Cambridge University Press blog:

CUP: Fifty years later, why is Hemingway still such an important figure in American literature?

SS: Hemingway revolutionized English prose style, and for that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He used the American vernacular language and wrote prose so lean and beautiful that at times it approaches poetry. He also was a sensitive and astute observer of his times, so that his published work—and his letters—are a narrative of the 20th century.

Hemingway is unique among literary figures in the magnitude of his popularity–even celebrity–outside academe, and this new book is sure to be of great interest as well to the legions of Hemingway readers and enthusiasts worldwide. His appeal transcends politics and national borders.

CUP: You’ve spent the better part of the last decade collecting Hemingway’s correspondence which will be available for the general public for the first time this fall. What can we learn about Hemingway from these letters that we haven’t seen before?

SS: In contrast to the painstaking craftsmanship of his fiction, Hemingway’s letters are unguarded, spontaneous, informal, and very garrulous at times (in contrast to his lean, stripped-down published prose). He once wrote to an editor, “The spelling and construction of my letters is careless rather than ignorant.” He did not consider letters to be a serious form of writing and he said that if he took as much care with this letters as he did with his “real” writing, too much of his energy would go into the letters rather than into the writing that mattered.

He took a different tone with each of his correspondents, and his correspondence with each person has a unique flavor that reflects his unique relationship with that person.

What the letters show is that Hemingway was a far more complex, sensitive, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Anne Tyler

From Anne Tyler's Q & A at the Man Booker site:

MBI: Some of your most well-known characters are male. Is it harder or easier to write from that perspective?

AT: Male characters are more of a challenge to me, because I think men generally are less willing to express their emotions. I'm conscious of a feeling of constraint when I'm looking at things through their eyes.

MBI: Many of your novels centre around family dynamics. What is it about amily life that make such rich matter for your writing?

AT: I like the fact that family members can't so easily walk away from each other when the going gets tough. They're forced to stay at close quarters and grate along together, and that provides wonderful material for novelists.

MBI: Today's writers are under increasing pressure to be online, with publishers encouraging writers to tweet, blog, and so on. What advice would you have for those writers who don't want to create this kind of very public profile?

AT: Well, of course I would say, "Don't do it," but that's because I can't imagine doing it myself. It feels like a physical impossibility.

MBI: Can you recommend any novelists (or poets) who you would like to see
finding a wider audience?

AT: I've been telling everyone to read...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 28, 2011

John Harvey

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

His latest book is a collection of short stories, A Darker Shade of Blue.

From his Q & A with PBS:

You’re a fan of American crime fiction and jazz. What about the American aesthetic appeals to you?

You’ve got to understand that, growing up in Britain in the 1950s as I did, an austere place where food rationing persisted for some years after the end of WW2, most things American seemed particularly exciting. And, as a young man who developed a love of jazz and blues and of American cinema and literature while still at school, it was only natural that American culture – and popular culture, in particular – seemed far more interesting than anything that was being produced in the UK. Brash, bright and, yes, exciting.

I can remember, for instance, the first time I ever heard Elvis Presley – I would have been 17 or so and his recording of “Heartbreak Hotel” came on the juke box in the 2Is coffee bar in London’s Soho. When my friend Jim and I were around the same age, and having just read all of Raymond Chandler, we used to walk around trying to make up perfect first lines for a “new” Chandler novel.

You’re a prolific writer across multiple genres and media. Do you approach writing differently when you’re working on a poem versus a script, versus a piece of music—or do you have a common approach to all?

Poems tend to get written – when they get written at all these days – in the odd spaces between the bits and pieces of the day. Scripts – more likely to be for radio these days than for TV – are written in short bursts over the length of a day. Writing fiction – the real work, as far as I am concerned – happens...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scott Spencer

Scott Spencer's books include Man in the Woods, Endless Love, and A Ship Made of Paper.

From his 2010 Q & A with Cynthia Crossen at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: You live in a small town? what makes that appealing as a writer?

Mr. Spencer: It's like being a painter--you paint what's outside the door. There aren't so many of us here, so we don't have to protect ourselves from each other as much. People aren't as guarded. I can see the lives of others fairly close-up.

One of the pivotal characters in "Man in the Woods" is Shep the dog. You obviously have a dog.

I have three rescue dogs, one of them is named Shep. When I got him he was about two years old. I don't know the adventures Shep had, but he looked like he'd been kind of banged around. I imagined the terrible person who had given Shep such a hard time in the first part of his life.

What was the seed of "Man in the Woods"?

I was wondering about my...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block's many books include Getting Off.

From his Q & A at Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

I never know how to answer the question. There are any number of books I admire hugely, but I can’t say I yearn to have written them; what makes them work is that they were written by their own authors. So now my answer is THE DA VINCI CODE, on the basis not of its text but of its royalties.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Archie Goodwin, exc. for all the dancing.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Almost anything Charles Ardai publishes at Hard Case Crime.

Most satisfying writing moment?

I don’t believe I’ve ever had more sheer enjoyment writing than I did with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead's new novel is Zone One. From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

Speakeasy: Most of us secretly think that in the face of a massive disaster we could summon the necessary survival skills. How do you think you would make out in a zombie apocalypse?

Mr. Whitehead: I’m used to 24-hour bodegas where you can get whatever you want, so adjusting to a couple of hours of foraging a day would be a little bit of a pain. I probably wouldn’t do very well.

You mentioned you got the idea for this novel from a dream. What was it?

I had house guests out on Long Island, and I woke up and hear them making breakfast and talking and laughing. I think I just wanted to be alone. But of course you can’t just kick people out. So I went back to sleep and had a dream that I wanted to go into my living room, and I was wondering if they had swept the zombies out. I woke up and I go, Oh, I guess in the apocalypse that’s a logistical concern – who’s going to sweep the zombies out when the end of the world has come and you’re rebuilding.

There are some very brisk action scenes, like when Mark Spitz jumps on the hood of a car and guns down 70 zombies. Were you going for a more cinematic feel?

In tackling this kind of story, I wanted to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lee Child

Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher adventure, The Affair, the 16th book in the series, is now available.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Either THE DAMNED AND THE DESTROYED by Kenneth Orvis, or DADDY by Loup Durand, or THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris. In the same way that people who like a) skiing and b) skateboarding and c) wearing baggy clothes invented snowboarding, I try to use the planetary pulls of those three novels to create my own orbit. Which will be completely incomprehensible to anyone who has actually read my books, but that’s what’s happening in my head.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Little John from the Robin Hood legend. Cheerful, tough, and a bit thick.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Barbara...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Charles Leerhsen

Charles Leerhsen is the author of Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500.

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

Q: How soon did auto racing begin after the invention of the car?

A: The joke goes that the first auto race started as soon as the second car was made. It began as soon as there was something to compete with: "Mine is better than yours."

Q: Were the races very impressive in the beginning?

A: There was a race in Wisconsin, I think in the 1850s, when they used steam-powered buckboards [a kind of wagon]. They raced at 6 miles an hour, and it was a 200-mile race.

It was totally lacking in spectacle. It was such a success that the second race didn't happen for 17 years.

Q: Auto racing picked up in the early 20th century as cars became more common. Did manufacturers make speed part of their sales pitch?

A: There was this idea of competing, and competition was part of marketing the cars. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nathaniel Philbrick

From Why Read Moby-Dick? author Nathaniel Philbrick's Q & A with Barbara Chai at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

“Moby-Dick” was written amid the backdrop of slavery in the U.S., yet it still resonates. What lessons can the novel teach us today?

The great lesson I get from “Moby-Dick” is that when the times are bad, when there is great foreboding, there are still ways to go about living. It’s through Ishmael that I find a kind of overall cosmic approach to a meaningful life in this meaningless world. That said, the one of the other lessons we get from “Moby-Dick” is the creepily transitional state of evil. Ahab is clearly on a deranged quest that’s going to lead to the destruction of his ship and the crew save for Ishmael, and yet there are elements about him that are inspirational. You gotta hand it to him, he’s trying to figure out what this world is all about. Yet on the other hand, what he’s doing is just insane. When you look around the world today and whether it’s a Middle Eastern dictator, someone like Gadhafi, where we had this love/hate relationship with him, was he evil? Was he good? It seems to change with the times. I think “Moby-Dick” provides a very disturbing and ultimately useful betrayal of how that all works.

So we can draw comparisons between Ahab and Gadhafi?

I think Ahab is one of those iconic figures that will compared to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 21, 2011

Moni Mohsin

Moni Mohsin's latest novel is Duty Free.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I deeply admired the multi-layered structure of the book, especially the way you put headlines at the beginning of every chapter, which throw the heroine's plight into satiric relief. How did this all come about?

Duty Free's origins can be traced back to a column called The Diary of a Social Butterfly which I wrote in The Friday Times, a national Pakistani paper. The column's primary purpose was to gently mock the foibles of Pakistan's disassociated wealthy elites, but since it was in a diary format and appeared in a weekly newspaper, it was always linked in some way to the news of the week. So for instance if there had been heavy rains and floods, the column would be about my fictitious Social Butterfly's response to the floods. When I first conceived of a novel centred around the characters from the column, I wanted to retain the idea of situating it in real time because it enabled me to highlight the disconnect between their lives and events unfolding in the country but I didn't know quite how to do that without weighing the book down with tedious explanatory notes. It was my editors who came up with the idea of using national headlines -- one serious and one comic -- to achieve that purpose.

Was it fun to write such a basically out-to-lunch heroine or did you have moments when you wanted to throttle her?

Actually I found it bracing to write her. My challenge was to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, a gothic tale of desire, obsession and the need within us all for redemption.

The Taker has been described as "an epic supernatural love story" and compared to The Historian," Interview with the Vampire, and Twilight even though it doesn't have one vampire in it.

From her Q & A with novelist Todd Ritter:

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

The TAKER is slightly indescribable. On one level, it’s about a young woman who falls in love with a young man that she cannot have. She’s loved him at her own peril and she is about to pay for it, when she falls in with a seductive, mysterious man who offers her the power to win her lover and bind him to her forever. She accepts this offer and then finds out she has made a terrible bargain and she has to figure out how to save her lover and herself from damnation. Love is at the heart of the book, but it’s an exploration of how little we really know about what drives us to love someone, how we are capable of selfishness, and how hard it is to really change. On one hand it’s very much like a fairy tale, and on the other hand, it’svery dark. If you like stories that sweep you away, you’ll like it. If you like stories where the hero and heroine wait until the very end of the book to have their first chaste kiss, you’ll probably hate it.

The other thing is that while it’s very gothic and compared to INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE a lot, there are no vampires in it, and that has disappointed some readers.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

There are, basically, two worlds in the book: one is New England in a funny period — post-Revolutionary War era — and the other is medieval central Europe, including attitudes toward religion, magic and alchemy. The book isn’t intended to be a historical with a capital H; I’m not a historian. Even though I grew up in a historical area of Massachusetts, I ended up doing a lot of research on the colonial American side of things, along the lines of “What did they eat for breakfast?” and “When did they start using the St. John waterway to float logs for the timber industry?” You know, questions that everyone wants to know the answer to. Oddly, I had a good working knowledge of...[read on]
Writers Read: Alma Katsu.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lauren Myracle

Lauren Myracle is a New York Times best-selling young-adult author; she is the first author to be nominated for the prestigious National Book Award before having that nomination revoked.

From her Q & A with Brett Berk for Vanity Fair:

VF Daily: Walk me through what happened with the National Book Award nomination.

Lauren Myracle: On Monday of last week, I got a call from Harold Augenbraum, who told me that I was a finalist for the National Book Award. And I said, “You’re fucking kidding me!” He said, “That’s not usually the response we get.” But we went through the whole back and forth confirming that it was my book, and my name, and my publisher, and then he said, “Keep it to yourself until the official announcement on Wednesday.”

On Wednesday, they did a live-stream announcement from Oregon Public Radio, and I watched it online. There was this drama of pulling books out of black sleeves. And they got to Shine and my heart was so happy. Then, a couple hours later, I got this e-mail from an editor at the School Library Journal, who asked, “What’s this Shine/Chime business?” And I didn’t know. But she wrote back, “Do some Googling. I’m so sorry.” And I started Googling, and what was written from the National Book Foundation was that they’d added a sixth book to the list—Chime, by Franny Billingsly—that there was an error in communication, but they’d decided that there were going to be six nominees this year.

I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet. So I called Harold, who was a darling, and he said, “I’m so sorry this happened. Yes, there was a miscommunication. But the judges unanimously would like to keep all the books on the list.”

Then the next day, I got the bad call, and it was Harold again. And he said, “Well, we’ve got a problem.” He was diplomatic, but he more or less said that the position was being changed and that people wanted Shine off the list. And how did I feel about that? I felt gutted. I felt embarrassed, and ashamed that I had the gall to believe that this book was worthy. So over the weekend came the question of, Do I withdraw, or do I let them strip it from me? I first thought: They made the mistake; they can clean it up. Then I realized that I had a chance to either be classy or be seen as someone gripping with white knuckles to something they didn’t want me to have. And I was going to be taken off the list regardless.

So I decided to step down, and that’s when we thought it would be nice to ask the National Book Foundation to make a donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation—I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is where Matthew was medevac-ed after his assault in Wyoming, and he came to the hospital where all my kids had been born, and is right around the corner, all of which was very much in my mind when I was writing Shine. [Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, died of injuries sustained in a notorious anti-gay hate crime in October 1998.] And they graciously agreed to donate $5,000 to the foundation. And that’s the one unsullied good thing that’s come out of this for me. And that’s more tangible good than a shiny gold sticker any day.

When people hear this story, they can’t help but wonder if Shine’s subject matter had something to do with the decision to pull the nomination. What do you think?

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides's new novel is The Marriage Plot, a complicated college love story set in the early 1980s.

From his Q & A with Jessica Grose at Slate:

Slate: What made you decide to use your alma mater, Brown, as a setting?

Jeffrey Eugenides: I was going to set it at a different college. At a fictionalized college. Then I started writing it, and it seemed too much trouble for what it was worth. I knew Brown better. Who would I be kidding if I fictionalized it and called it B college. I figured there’d been lots of novels about Harvard and other places so why not Brown.

Slate: There’s a set of cultural expectations that people have when you namecheck Brown—like the obsession with semiotics, which was still in full effect when I attended. Did you major in modern culture and media when you were there?

Eugenides: It was called the program in semiotics studies, and it wasn’t a department. It was just starting out, really, which is partially why the craze seemed so at its height, with people taking sides whether this was an appropriate discipline or not.

Slate: The novel seems to gently mock the study of semiotics, but...[read on]
Discover which book changed Jeffrey Eugenides's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lauren Redniss

Lauren Redniss is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for Nonfiction for Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout.

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

How did you conceive of “Radioactive,” a graphic novel about Marie and Pierre Curie?

Can I just say, I don’t think of it as a graphic novel. I have so much respect for people who do graphic novels. My model is not the comic strip form. I don’t think in panels and I’m incapable of drawing a figure over and over that looks the same. My hope was to find a different way to tell stories, to create a form that’s not a graphic novel but a different way of combining artwork and written text to tell a story. I don’t even think of them as illustrations. I would never want to create an image that was redundant to what is being said in the text. I want them to each say something distinct and in the interplay, there’s a meaning that emerges that couldn’t happen without one or the other.

How were you drawn to the story of Marie and Pierre Curie?

I thought there were many possibilities for addressing issues that are pressing in our world today through this love story of Marie and Pierre Curie. Their work has led us to part of a series of discoveries that has led us to the world as we know it today where we grapple with nuclear-weapons proliferation, nuclear medicine – radiation treatment, nuclear power and all the dilemmas that raises.

How did you physically create “Radioactive” – did you write or draw first?

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jonathan M. Hansen

From a Q & A with Jonathan M. Hansen about his new book, Guantánamo: An American History:

What are the most significant things you’ve uncovered?

When I took up this project, I expected to focus on America’s century-long occupation of the bay. What I discovered instead was a little-known but essential piece of American history that dates back centuries.

In discovering historical Guantanamo, I feel like I’ve come across a sunken ship, now dredged really for the first time. The history of Guantanamo is full of unexplored treasures and ignored insights that illuminate the American past.

Let me give you some examples:

First of all, the history of Guantánamo exposes a fundamental paradox at the heart of American national identity between liberty and coercion. The American Revolution was not a war against empire. Rather it was the announcement of the arrival of a new empire on America’s shores. This was to be an “empire for liberty,” in Thomas Jefferson’s words, a notion fraught with contradiction and paradox that haunts us to this day.

The paradox is inherent in America’s liberal political economy. On the one hand, our liberalism makes us generous: anybody can be a member of the great liberal project, at least theoretically; on the other hand, our liberalism is potentially coercive: what’s good for us is good for you, whether you realize it or not.

This tension is visible in America’s recent wars in the Middle East, it’s there in our historical interaction with Latin American states, it’s there in conquest of the N. American continent, it’s there in our historical interaction with Cuba, it’s there in our occupation of Guantánamo Bay.

Geographic expansion has been a fundamental tenet of liberalism. With its emphasis on individual wealth and well-being—the very things that make it so appealing—liberalism has an unslakable appetite for land, resources, and labor. From colonial times, America’s founding fathers (and mothers) understood the country as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Terry Pratchett

Sir Terence David John Pratchett, more commonly known as Terry Pratchett, is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels. Pratchett's first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971, and since his first Discworld novel (The Color of Magic) was published in 1983, he has written two books a year on average.

The new Discworld novel is Snuff.

From Pratchett's Q & A with the Independent:

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

A favourite since my teens has been the late Paul Jennings, who used to have a slot in the 'Observer'. I think I admire him because of the curious lopsided but delightful way he looked at the world.
* * *

What fictional character most resembles you?

James Dixon as in 'Lucky Jim' by Kingsley Amis. Failing that, Rincewind [from Discworld].
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Kneejerk? Nelson Mandela. But I like the guys who change the world from their sheds, like James Dyson and Clive Sinclair.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lee Child

Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher adventure, The Affair, the 16th book in the series, is now available.

From Child's Q & A with Erik Spanberg at the Christian Science Monitor:

"The Affair" deals with the early part of Reacher’s career and why he left the Army. Why did you want to tell this story?

Because readers have always wanted to know two things, essentially. They’ve gotten used to Reacher as he is now and they’ve always had two questions.

What was he like when he was in the Army, and that was answered in the eighth book, called "The Enemy," which was a prequel and it was set during his military service. And the other question I’ve always had, of course, is why did he leave the Army. So that is the question this book answers. It’s the 16th book, people have been asking this questions for years and they deserve to find out.

You had lost your job in television when you wrote the first Reacher book. Given what’s going on in the economy now, it’s somewhat of an uplifting story, but how concerned were you in 1995 when that happened?

You’re right, it’s happening all over again. There was a wave of it back then and there’s a wave of it now. I was pretty concerned. With one-half of my brain I was terrified, basically, because I was just coming up to 40 years old. That’s not a great time to be out of work and I felt too old and too tired to start at the bottom of something else. And I didn’t want another boss and that kind of thing.

The other half of my mind, I just played a psychological trick on myself. I knew that you couldn’t do this if you were worried about it, so I just assumed that it would work. I just made myself 100 percent convinced that it would work. Which is a ludicrous thing to do because saying that you’re going to make a living writing fiction is a bit like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hilary Mantel

From a Q & A with Hilary Mantel about her novel, Wolf Hall:

Wolf Hall is the retelling of Thomas Cromwell's life - the blacksmith boy who became Henry VIII's right-hand man. Was he someone you had wanted to base a novel around for some time?

I've wanted to write this novel for many years. It was one of my earliest projects, but I never got beyond thinking about it. As a result of my novel A Place of Greater Safety, about the French Revolution, and my novel The Giant, O'Brien, set in London during the 1780s, my imagination became embedded in the eighteenth century. I had to wait until I thought I had the mental freedom and energy to tackle a new era, and learn it from scratch. I'm not a historian by background, so it was a challenge, and needed time. I had to clear a space for it.

The Tudors seem to offer novelists and scriptwriters a never-ending source of material. What is it about this era that makes it so alluring to writers?

Almost all the stories you might want to tell are lurking behind the arras. You have to nerve yourself to tackle it, because so many have gone before - not just on the page, but in the theatre and and on film. My particular focus, Thomas Cromwell, was vital to me. There's no one else at Henry's court I'd have wanted to write about, no one else's eyes I was tempted to look through. And if you look through Cromwell's eyes, you see these frequently-rehearsed events...[read on]
Learn about the book Mantel wishes she had written.

Wolf Hall made Lev Grossman's list of the top ten fiction books of 2009 and is one of Geraldine Brooks's favorite works of historical fiction; Matt Beynon Rees called it "[s]imply the best historical novel for many, many years."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bruce DeSilva

Bruce DeSilva is the author of the acclaimed crime novel, Rogue Island.

From his Q & A with novelist Timothy Hallinan:

What did you bring to ROGUE ISLAND from your years in print journalism?

Hundreds of things, really, but I’ll limit my answer to this: Journalism taught me how vital reporting – especially investigative reporting – is to the health of the American democracy. Investigative reporting is time-consuming and expensive; and as newspapers continue to shrivel, no other institution (certainly not TV or news Websites) has demonstrated the will, the ethics and the financial commitment required to do it consistently, honestly, and well. The hero of ROGUE ISLAND is an investigative reporter at a dying newspaper. I hope that as readers see the dedication and skill with which he works, they will better appreciate what is being lost as great local and metropolitan newspapers pass into history. I tried to make the novel both a compelling crime story and a lyrical epitaph for the business that I love.

There’s a long and often unfortunate tradition of punning mystery titles, probably most often in cozy and comic mysteries — Murder in the Roux Morgue for a cooking mystery, for example. (I made that up, so don’t go scouring Amazon for it.) ROGUE ISLAND is a punning title, and I’d like you to explain what it means and why you made the choice to pun in the title.

One of the many quirks of Rhode Island history is that no one can say for sure where the state’s name came from. One theory is that it got the name because it resembles the Isle of Rhodes. The problem with that one is that it doesn’t. It isn’t even an island. There are several other competing theories, but my favorite is this one: “Rhode Island” is a bastardization of “Rogue Island,” an epithet the God-fearing farmers of colonial Massachusetts bestowed upon the swarm of heretics, smugglers, slavers, and pirates who first settled the shores of Narragansett Bay. Real-life rogues still swarm there, and a lot of fictional ones appear in my novel; so the title was an obvious choice. Everyone...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Bruce DeSilva's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Rogue Island.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sandra Novack

Sandra Novack’s new book is the story collection, Everyone but You.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

How is writing a short story collection different, especially coming after such a raved-about debut novel? Do you like writing short stories better--or novels?

Short stories are more severe. In essence, too, these stories were mostly written before PRECIOUS, my debut. EVERYONE BUT YOU was part of a two-book deal that my agent brokered for the then-completed collection, along with an 80-page partial of my novel. The novel was published first with the collection to follow. After PRECIOUS came out, I didn’t return to short stories but dove into writing a new ‘big book’. So when it came time to revisit the stories, I had a very difficult time! I quickly realized I was a different writer than the writer I was in 2003-2005. I was a different person, too. I felt like I was ruining things, messing around too much, and lots of times I opted for the original version. It felt more honest that way.

I’m very hard on myself with writing, either when writing stories or a novel. People tell me the stories are funny and irreverent and moving, but it’s hard to get clarity of vision anymore. Interestingly, I also feel that way about PRECIOUS, despite any praise it received. When I read it now, I cringe. I’m told there are many writers like this, who are always hypercritical of anything they’ve ever done. And my perceived ‘best’ work is always my newest work, the story I’m in right now.

As for what I like better: I tend to think that writing short stories was prepping me for being able to juggle more threads, bigger worlds and more expansion--a preparation for novel writing. I don’t have plans to go back to short stories, at least for now. But I stand by them, because they are part of me. And they really are much more funny compared to PRECIOUS, which seemed to get everyone thinking I was this very, very serious, intense writer. I am that, but...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Sandra Novack's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sandra Novack’s Precious.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 10, 2011

Julie Klam

From a conversation at Amazon between Julie Klam, author of Love at First Bark, and J. Courtney Sullivan, best-selling author of Maine and Commencement:

Sullivan: One of my favorite parts of Love at First Bark is when you’re searching for an injured stray puppy in New Orleans and ask yourself a series of questions about how far you’d go to save a dog, which culminates with your jumping under a train to get the puppy. To date, is this the farthest you’ve gone?

Klam: It’s the farthest I’ve gone physically. Mentally, I’ve gone much further . . .totally off the deep end . . .on more than one occasion.

Sullivan: How many dogs do you have now? And how do they help or hurt your writing life? I love having my dog curled up under my desk while I’m working, but he always seems to want to go outside and play just as I’m reaching a critical moment in a scene.

Klam: I had four until last week, when we adopted out a foster. I would say, since I’ve written two books on my dog relationships, they help me quite a bit. In fact, Fiorello actually does a fair bit of copyediting. And Beatrice has consulted on all the dog dialogue. She frequently tells me, “A dog would never say that!” Or “No way--too human!”

Sullivan: I’ve only been a dog owner for nine months. One of the things that has surprised me the most is the way that our neighborhood has suddenly opened up to us—we know so many more people, and they all know us. (They may not know our names, but they know Landon’s!) Have you experienced the same thing? What is it about dogs that brings this out in people?

Klam: I wrote in my first book that when I got my dog Otto, I suddenly developed dog vision—I think the same thing happened when I was pregnant When something is suddenly appearing in your life, you relate to it everywhere. The thing about dogs is that, in most cases, they...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: Julie Klam's Please Excuse My Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Russell Banks

Russell Banks's new novel is Lost Memory of Skin.

From his Q & A with David Ulin at the Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog:

Jacket Copy: "Lost Memory of Skin" is a realistic novel, but it also plays with archetypes. None of the characters are named but rather go by more general designations: the Kid, the Professor. In some sense, even they don't know who they really are.

Russell Banks: I was trying to use the conventions of realism to tell the story but also to lift it off the page and make it a bit more universal and archetypal. Once I got going with the Kid and the Professor, I just felt this was going to work, that I could do this all the way through. It's the same reason I didn't call the city Miami, even though it clearly is Miami -- if I call it Miami, then I'm stuck in a level of social realism that I don't want to get held down by. Even though I love the conventions of realism and the tradition of it, I don't want to be limited by that. But on the other hand, I don't want to write something hyper-real or surreal or meta-real, or anything of that sort, which takes off from the page and never gets grounded in reality again. So I wanted it to hover somewhere in between the two, and tell a story that would have the flavor of a fable and the feel of a fable, and yet be rooted in our everyday, mundane reality. That was one reason why I never gave him a name. Once I had gotten 50, 100 pages in, and he still was called the Kid, I was quite comfortable with it, and that meant everybody else was going to be treated more or less the same way. It's funny the way names do that. Pretty soon, the person becomes the name. And by the time you get very far into it, it would be shocking any other way. So he is the Kid.

JC: It also allows you to play with the fabric of reality a little bit. There's that scene late in the novel when the Professor is driving in the eye of the hurricane for hours and hours.

RB: And the babes on blade...[read on]
Read about Russell Banks's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is an American author best known for his science fiction. His 1985 novel Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker for the Dead both won Hugo and Nebula Awards.

From his Q & A with Alec Ash at The Browser:

What would you say to a book lover who has never read science fiction, to persuade them to try the genre?

Written science fiction has as much variety inside it as all of literature has outside it. If you haven’t been reading sci-fi, chances are you know of it only through science fiction movies. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, sci-fi films resemble written science fiction of the 1920s and 30s – full of adventure, a gosh-wow attitude toward technology and characters who are paper-thin, there to have terrible things happen to them and somehow find a way to survive. Mostly they’re pretty empty.

Written science fiction, on the other hand, has gone through many generations since the 1920s, few of which show up in film. When they do, nobody thinks of them as sci-fi, but they are. The Time-Traveler’s Wife, Slaughterhouse-Five and Jurassic Park are all science fiction – they just weren’t marketed that way. Somewhere in Time is well within the time-travel sub-genre. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich are absolutely science fiction, with the reality-bending inventiveness of the 1960s new wave sci-fi.

That doesn’t mean you should pop into the sci-fi or fantasy section of Barnes & Noble and grab something off the shelves at random. What you’ll find there is an awful lot of vampire novels – Twilight is making its influence felt – and heroic fantasy. I don’t read vampire novels, so I can’t tell you much about that. In fantasy, there are good and bad works depending on your tastes.

What are the good ones?

It happens that fantasy is where the best work in speculative fiction is being done right now. Long before Harry Potter reared his bespectacled head, sci-fi writers had...[read on]
Ender’s Game is one of Rebecca Ford's favorite five fiction books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 7, 2011

Donna Hicks

Donna Hicks is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. She also works as a consultant to corporations and organizations, applying her dignity model to everyday business and relational situations.

Her new book is Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict in Our Lives and Relationships.

From Hicks's Q & A at the Boston Globe:

Q. Your book came out of your work trying to help political leaders in countries like Sri Lanka address international conflicts?

A. One of the disturbing aspects of my job is these conflicts are never resolved. It is emotional issues keeping these people apart. Nobody wants to say they’ve been emotionally wounded by the other side. There’s a stigma associated with that. We call these underlying emotional riptides “dignity violations.’’

Q. And then you realized that this is a universal human need - for what you term “dignity’’?

A. Everyone, when we come into the world, we have value and we’re worthy of being treated well. What is it about dignity that just makes it impossible for us to have a relationship with someone when our dignity has been violated by them?

Q. Is this a health issue? Can we be physically harmed by having our dignity violated?

A. The research is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Donna Hicks's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Dignity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Daniel Yergin

Daniel Yergin is one of the most influential voices on energy in the world and a highly respected authority on energy, international politics and economics.

From his Q & A with Alice Karekezi at Salon about Yergin's new book, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World:

You address an important question that has fazed many people: Is the world going to run out of oil? Some people say it will -- and quite abruptly. This is peak oil theory. You say otherwise.

The peak oil argument is that we are already halfway through the world's endowment of recoverable oil. The argument that I am making is that the endowment is much larger, and technology keeps enlarging what we can recover. Case study No. 1 is offshore Brazil where you have what is called presalt [oil found under a thick layer of salt lying just beneath the seabed]. It was inaccessible up until a few years ago. It is very large and will likely make Brazil one of the powerhouses of world oil production. Case study No. 2 is North Dakota. The Bakken formation [a rock formation yielding shale, or "tight" oil] was producing, a few years ago, 10,000 barrels a day. Now it is producing about 450,000 barrels a day. That came as a surprise. Five years ago, no one would have thought that North Dakota would be the fourth-largest oil-producing state in the country, but that's because of advanced technology.

There have been recurrent periods of great fear of running out of oil and it goes back to when oil was first developed as a commercial business in western Pennsylvania in the 19th century. It was always mysterious and people were predicting it would come to an end and we'd have to go back to using whale oil or coal or so forth. But each time there is this anxiety, what happens is new technology, new innovations, new areas open up, and the supply picture suddenly looks much better. So this current peak oil discussion is really the latest manifestation of what has been a recurrent feature since people started using and developing oil. But when you look at the numbers, we see that there is an additional supply coming in. My view is that rather than facing an imminent decline we'll see production of oil liquids continue to expand for a few more decades and then it'll come to a plateau. It won't necessarily fall off sharply.

But this is not to say that everything is fine because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides's new novel is The Marriage Plot, a complicated college love story set in the early 1980s.

From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

I understand this book started out as a different novel that you were working on. How did it come about?

When I started this book, it was about a debutante party. After “Middlesex,” I gave myself one directive, to write a book more tightly dramatized than “Middlesex.” Instead of encompassing 70 years of history, it might be a few days or maybe a year. I was going to have the events tightly contained and learn how to write that kind of novel, because I’d never done that before. I started writing about the debutante party, a big family and everyone was coming home to attend. My idea was to write it in fairly short sections from lots of different points of view. I was doing that, then I got to this point where one of the daughters was coming home, Madeleine. I started writing her story and somewhere around there I came to the line that’s in “The Marriage Plot,” which was, “Madeleine’s love troubles began at a time when the French theory she was reading deconstructed the very notion of love.” And then, as I did that, I started writing about different things, the 80s and deconstruction and semiotic theory, and this young woman who was dealing with it and had mixed feelings about it. Next thing I knew, I had about 80 pages of a section that should have been two or three pages… I followed her and that’s when I had to separate the two.

When was this?

The debutante party book I started when I was writing “Middlesex.” A long time ago, back in the 90s. All of the major characters who are in the marriage plot are...[read on]
Discover which book changed Jeffrey Eugenides's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

John Lithgow

The actor John Lithgow’s new memoir is Drama: An Actor’s Education.

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

Why did you decide to write a memoir?

In fact, there was another stage, the first thing that happened was the solo show. The experience was so intense and so important to me and it was all involved with the telling of a fantastically funny story. That’s the ironic thing. Reading P.G. Wodehouse to my father. So I did the solo show, which was very autobiographical, and it was only then at the suggestion of other people, that I had the impulse to write the memoir. I had never had the courage to write that frankly about myself and communicate it to people, and it really reached them, and it really moved them, and I thought well, yes, I think I can do this. That was three years ago, and there have been many moments in the intervening time when I thought nope, I can’t do it. [laughs]

Was it painful?

Not too painful, it’s just such a massive project to write a long-form book. The only way to do it is just go chapter by chapter and the book begins to take shape as you write it. I didn’t know that, I thought you had to know exactly where you were going. I discovered that’s not how it works. If you think you know where you’re going, then you’re wrong.

Some will read this book as an acting manual.

To a certain extent it’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stephen Wetta

Stephen Wetta is the author of If Jack's in Love.

From his Q & A with Rhett DeVane at the Southern Literary Review:

SLR: Is there an intended message in If Jack’s in Love that you wish readers to grasp?

SW: I never write with a message, and If Jack’s in Love doesn’t have one. If I believed a novel with a message could have some salutary impact on the world I’d feel more of a duty to moralize. Writing is a joyful experience. Even when I’m writing about murder and social injustice I’m doing it out of joy. Why did I write If Jack’s in Love? I don’t know, except to reinvent my boyhood, a fun time full of mystery and promise. I wrote the sentence “I think I belonged to the last generation that could play outside,” and took it from there.

SLR: What is your greatest challenge as a newly-minted published author?

SW: I’m a loner, and I’d prefer to write quietly while someone else promotes my work. I don’t want fame or celebrity. I would have enjoyed these when I was in my twenties, but it’s late in the day now, and I go to bed early.

SLR: What would you consider your greatest asset and how do you use this in your work?

SW: I’m improvisational, and I never pay much attention to literary dogma or theories about writing. I enjoy knowing them, but I don’t let them guide me. Each novel I write I approach as an individual task and trial. Every novel, every story, is experimental. There is no such thing as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver's So Much for That was a 2010 finalist for the National Book Award in fiction.

From her Q & A with Bret Anthony Johnston:

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

LS: I do plenty of research, because I’m writing in the realistic tradition. I make lots of things up, of course, but I like for my readers to be able to trust that the nonfiction backdrop of the story is accurate. I’m also a pretty prolific journalist, and through writing for newspapers have come to appreciate the importance of factual truth. So I was relieved when the Science Times section of the New York Times had a doctor review this novel, and that reviewer reported there wasn’t a single medical error in the book. Whew.

BAJ: Do you remember your original idea for So Much for That? How closely does the finished book correspond to what you first had in mind?

LS: I was reading a New York Times article on-line about the fact that 1) the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US is not, as my neighbors in Britain might imagine, flat-screen TVs, but medical bills, and 2) the majority of Americans who go broke from medical bills have health insurance. After I recovered from my usual morning bout of outrage, I thought: that sounds like a novel. And then I thought: why don’t you write it, dummy.

For at the time, one of my very closest friends was being treated for mesothelioma. Her illness and subsequent death hit me very hard, so medical issues were on my mind. But it was only when I came up with...[read on]
Read about two of Lionel Shriver's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is a writer and a multimedia artist, who describes all her work as "fairy tales in one way or another."

Her new book is The Night Circus.

From Morgenstern's Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

You also paint. Does that influence your writing?

It’s helpful for me to get ideas — the physical action of painting. Sometimes it frees up your writer brain. It’s nice for me now that the writing has become a serious career that painting can become more like a hobby.

In the past few months your novel has gotten a lot of attention at entertainment industry events like Book Expo of America and Comic-Con. What has that been like, going from writing alone at your computer to meeting Twilight fans?

Comic-Con was crazy, good crazy….Five minutes after I’m done, the cast of “Twilight” is where I was sitting… It was Summit that had me out there. It was very movie focused. The movie, it’s too much to even think about for me. I have a little bit of input. My agent [Richard Pine] is one of the producers, so there’s going to be a lot of back and forth. I’ve talked a lot to people from Summit. They’re really being thoughtful about putting together the right people. I think the book is in good hands. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue