Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alice Fahs

From a Q & A with Alice Fahs about her new book, Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space:

Q: You state that we know more about a few mid-nineteenth century women journalists than we do about the hundreds of female journalists writing at the turn of the century, despite the amount of published writing they left behind. Why is this the case?

A: Many of the newspaper women I write about were well known in their day--some were even syndicated nationally--so I imagine they would have been pretty surprised that they have been so thoroughly forgotten. But there is a perfect storm of reasons why they have been neglected. Not only do we tend to undervalue the types of newspapers they often worked for (so-called "yellow" or sensational newspapers), but we undervalue the kinds of work newspaper women did--especially if their stories appeared on the much-maligned woman's page. So we simply haven't looked for these women's writings.

By the way, even newspaper women themselves often undervalued their work (one of the reasons there are so few collections of their papers or letters in archives). Women journalists who aspired to political reporting or police reporting were understandably resentful that they were often forced to work for the woman's page instead. They talked scornfully of being stuck in the "hen coop." But a big surprise for me was how lively their writings were for the woman's page--how much fun they were to read.

Q: Out on Assignment mentions many "stunts" or "adventures" performed by female journalists. What are some examples, and what caused these stunts to be simultaneously popular and controversial?

A: Lots of people remember that Nellie Bly made a newspaper sensation by going...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John Ashbery

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet John Ashbery was awarded the National Book Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

From his Q & A with Belinda Luscombe in Time magazine:

You were banned from Poetry magazine for a while. Why?

My school roommate was a frustrated poet, and he took some of my poems and some of his own, which were terrible, and sent them to Poetry, and then I sent my poems some time after that. And they sent back a one-word note--"Sorry." It wasn't until six months later, when I saw my poems in Poetry, I realized what had happened. I was now down in their books as a plagiarist. That was really depressing.

You grew up in an era when it was considered shameful to be gay. How would your work change if you grew up now?

There is a school of criticism that says that my poetry is so torturous and obscure because I've been trying to cover up the fact of my sexuality all these years, and I think that's an interesting possibility. But I'm not sure whether that's the generating force in my poetry. I think I would have been attracted to the surrealists anyway.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 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 Kim Saulse at The Big Issue:

[TBI] Your debut Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead are being adapted for the screen, with Samuel L Jackson starring in the film version of Mixed Blood. How do you feel about that?

[RS] It all happened in a couple of weeks. It was so disorientating for me, there’s no way of describing it. From me reading the book, to the person closest to me reading it and then Samuel L Jackson reading it — it was way crazy! It looks quite possible that they’ll be shooting in Cape Town. I’ve read the script of the second book and it is a very interesting interpretation.

[TBI] Do you have any anxiety about handing your work over to screenwriters?

[RS] As a screenwriter I’ve adapted other people’s books and I know that the demands of a book and script are different. Clearly the density of a book can never completely be transposed to a script for film. I think you are an idiot if...[read on]
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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Anne Rice

Anne Rice's novels include Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, and the forthcoming werewolf novel The Wolf Gift.

From her Q & A with Marlow Stern at The Daily Beast:

How did you develop your set of vampire “rules,” so to speak?

I went along with what I inherited from Hollywood—that vampires burn up in the sun. I didn’t know that wasn’t part of the original Dracula. And the rest I sort of made up. I thought if they responded hysterically to garlic or crucifixes, that was not as interesting as their being nihilistic and atheistic, and not having a “magical” response to something but having definite limitations and rules.

So what’s your take on the Twilight series? It really does seem to go against the grain in its depiction of vampires.

I think the concept is so rich in itself. It’s like the concept of the cowboy or the detective. Vampires have become almost like a genre, like the Western. What I see happening, with writers like Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer, is the domestication of the vampire. I was more interested in a powerful, Old World figure that had a lot of knowledge, experience, and was surrounded by a lot of glamour and mystery. I wanted to keep the romance. I loved the idea of these people gaining wisdom as they aged, and how that might cause them to be ever more tormented by the fact that they don’t really belong in the world and they prey on human beings, who they’ve really come to appreciate. Charlaine Harris is doing something different by imagining what it’s like if vampires are legal and you have them living in your Southern town, and I think she gets a tremendous amount of energy out of that. She’s very witty—there’s a lot of satire there—and on the HBO show True Blood, there’s even a romance with Vampire Bill.

True Blood is set in your native Louisiana, and it really uses vampirism as a metaphor for outsiders, including the gay community. What are your thoughts on using vampirism as a metaphor for the disenfranchised?

It’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz’s new Sherlock Holmes novel is The House of Silk.

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

What music helps you to write?

Music by Philip Glass.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Gordon Comstock in George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It’s his constant striving for contentment. I drink less though.

Who are your literary influences?

Charles Dickens, George Gissing, Ian Fleming, Hergé.

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

Tony Blair. I would love to know how he lives with himself.
Read the complete Q &A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2011

David Baldacci

David Baldacci's latest novel is New Day.

From his Q & A with Janice Kaplan at The Daily Beast:

Janice Kaplan: I once heard Joyce Carol Oates say that she’s not prolific—everybody else is just lazy. Given how many books you’ve written, I assume the same holds?

David Baldacci: Very funny, but I might get in trouble with that. Some people take 10 years to write a book and some can do one in under a year. About four years ago, I did two books in a year, and that became what the publishers expected—one in the spring and one in the fall. But if I worried too much about publishers’ expectations, I’d probably paralyze myself and not be able to write anything.

Thriller and mystery writers often get famous for a single character. Given that you have several popular characters—and series—already, why start a new series now?

It keeps me fresh. I like John Puller because I’ve never really written about the military before. A lot of Virginians will recognize his last name from Chesty Puller, who was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He had some bumps along the way, and he was in some ways the model for my character’s father, John Puller Sr. I was also intrigued by the idea of a loner character being sent...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is also Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at the Woodrow Wilson School, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, and a fellow of the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics.

From his Q & A with Belinda Luscombe at Time magazine:

In your book Thinking, Fast and Slow, you frame the way we think as two different systems. What are they?

Slow thinking has the feeling of something you do. It's deliberate. It gives you a sense of agency. That's not at all the way it happens when fast thinking operates, like when you brake a car suddenly.

You say we often believe we're thinking slow when we're not. What are the biggest mistakes we make as a result?

We are normally blind about our own blindness. We're generally overconfident in our opinions and our impressions and judgments. We exaggerate how knowable the world is.

What's your favorite experiment that demonstrates our blindness to our own blindness?

It's one someone else did. During [the '90s] when there was terrorist activity in Thailand, people were asked how much they'd pay for a travel-insurance policy that pays $100,000 in case of death for any reason. Others were asked how much they'd pay for a policy that pays $100,000 for death in a terrorist act. And people will pay more for the second, even though it's less likely.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mary Gabriel

Mary Gabriel's Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution is a 2011 National Book Award Finalist.

From her interview by Megan Gilbert:

Megan Gilbert: Love and Capital illuminates the private family life of Karl Marx. How do you think the professional lives of great thinkers are influenced by their private lives?

Mary Gabriel: The majority of men and women live at least two lives, which they strive to keep separate in order to do justice to both. We are one person with our family and assume another face—sometimes another personality—in our professional life. But that separation is an illusion. The joys and sorrows and preoccupations of one life inevitably spill over into the other.

This intrusion through the barrier we have so carefully constructed results in a simple distraction for most of us; an inexplicable smile or a furrowed brow. What it means, however, is that for the space of that smile or frown we are giving less to the task at hand. Again, most of us can afford that lost moment. But for the great thinker, who above all else seeks clarity of mind in order to create, any distraction of whatever magnitude can cost something much bigger than a moment: It can cost an idea. At best, that idea is altered. At worst, it is lost. There are few things more fragile than thought.

I would venture to guess that less than a handful (if that many) of the men and women we would call great thinkers have lived such a cloistered existence that their private lives did not impinge upon their professional ones. It seems clear then that the ideas we have come to celebrate from men such as Marx are the result of long study and careful deliberation, but that such ideas are also inevitably affected by the personal tumult, the daily circumstances around them.

When, as in the case of Marx, a great thinker's personal life is one of poverty, ill-health, and family tragedy, his or her ideas must be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Philip Roth

Philip Roth, winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2011, was interviewed by Benjamin Taylor in May 2011. Part of their dialogue:

BT: For more than half a century now, you have been the most protean of American fiction writers. The talented comic performer of Goodbye Columbus, your first book, gives way to the Jamesian craftsman of Letting Go and When She Was Good - the second and third books. That gives way in turn to the outlandish farceur of Portnoy's Complaint and it only gets more interesting from there; in the 70s we meet David Kepesh and Peter Tarnopol and then in the 80's the great sequence of the Zuckerman novels begins.

I wonder, looking back on this metamorphic career, this series of transformations, what it's like for you to re-read your books. Was it a feeling of dissatisfaction with what you'd accomplished that was driving you forward?

PR: No, what was driving me forward, certainly in the beginning, was trying to figure out two things, one, how to write a novel; after all, nobody had taught me that in school, and two, where my talent was, I didn't know that either. And so I wrote three or four books at the beginning, each very different from the other, not so as to show off my expertise, but rather trying to find out where I could be strongest. What kind of subject would stir my verbal energy and what I sounded like on the page, I didn't know that. After that, things did change from time to time and I found myself, I guess, writing one book in response to another. To give you one example, I would say, two books that appeared successively in the 1990's were Sabbath's Theater and American Pastoral. Sabbath's Theater is a hellzapoppin book; has a very comical and mean main character and when I finished that book I'd had it with that, and I wanted to write about a good man, the opposite of my hero in Sabbath's Theater. So I came up with Levov, the hero of American Pastoral. Now, many more things went into it of course, having to do with primarily the subject - but I did bounce from one on to the other. I think what may happen is that when you finish a long book, that you stage a rebellion against that book and write a different kind of book.

BT: You once said that you feel The Counter Life was, in particular, an important moment of renewal for you. I wonder if you can think back to that moment.

PR: Yes I think...[read on]
Learn about who Roth considers to be his peers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eliot Pattison

Eliot Pattison has been described as a "writer of faraway mysteries." In the late 1990's he decided to combine his deep concerns for the people of Tibet with his interest in venturing into fiction by writing The Skull Mantra. Winning the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery--and listed as a finalist for best novel for the year in Dublin's prestigious IMPAC awards--The Skull Mantra launched the Inspector Shan series, which now includes Water Touching Stone, Bone Mountain, Beautiful Ghosts, and The Prayer of the Dragon.

From Pattison's Q & A with PBS:

What first moved you about Tibet?

Here’s a snapshot of my first encounter with Tibet and China: as a longtime student of Buddhism I visited the centuries old Lama Temple in Beijing (long time Tibetan temple used by the emperors) not long after it opened to foreign tourists in the 1980’s. I looked forward to a serene hour or two experiencing the temple, and found a quiet corner to sit in as a ritual was about to begin. A monk entered, then three policemen, then another monk, then three more policemen. When the monks tried to make eye contact with me the police would tap them, none too gently, with their batons. It was wrenching to see this, and a later episode that day when a monk was hit more brutally with a baton because he was apparently not following the official script. I vowed to myself to learn more about the Tibetan experience in China. I have seen more, and worse, examples in traditional Tibet, but it was the experience of that afternoon that launched me on the path to write six novels highlighting the plight of the Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese government.

Who inspired the Inspector Shan character?

Shan, who is like an old friend to me now, is an amalgam of several Chinese of his generation I have known, all intelligent, sensitive, deeply moral people who in the past decades have had to hide, even deny, those qualities just to survive. As I try to demonstrate in my books, the persecution of the Tibetans has...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall is the author of Haweswater, which won the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel, a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award, and a Lakeland Book of the Year prize.

In 2004, her second novel, The Electric Michelangelo, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia region), and the Prix Femina Etranger, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Her third novel, The Carhullan Army, was published in 2007, and won the 2006/07 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, a Lakeland Book of the Year prize, and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction. Her fourth novel, How To Paint A Dead Man, published in 2009, was longlisted for the Man Booker prize and won the 2010 Portico Prize.

Hall's latest book is the short story collection The Beautiful Indifference.

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

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

Cormac MacCarthy. Very few novelists have the ability to terrify me – and he does. It isn't so much the violence in his books as the menacing quality that comes from the dark possibilities that lie within human beings. He taps into that in a non-Gothic and highly realistic way. It's very real, and very frightening.

* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I'd like to think it would be someone like Ree Dolly in [Daniel Woodrell's] 'Winter's Bone': looking after a family, and being tough and practical. She has durability, and I would like to think I have that.

* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

I'm always impressed when I come across a story of an ordinary person who does something extraordinary: a random passer-by who has jumped into a frozen river to save someone else, or a pensioner who wallops a mugger.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy's new book is Walking with the Comrades, an account of her travels into the forest with India’s Maoist indigenous communities at war with the government.

From her Q & A with Parul Sehgal at Publishers Weekly:

How did you earn the guerrillas’ trust?

When the Indian government declared war against the Maoists, Indian liberals, for the most part, took a very safe, neutral position: “The government is bad, the Maoists are bad, the poor people are sandwiched in the middle.” I am no Maoist, but I thought that was a profoundly dishonest position. It elided the fact that the government had secretly sold lands belonging to indigenous tribes to mining and infrastructure companies. This is illegal and unconstitutional, and yet it was being done brazenly. Hundreds of thousands of paramilitary police were closing in on forest villages to clear the land for the corporations. About 600 villages had been emptied; some 300,000 people had fled their homes and had either moved to police camps or were hiding, terrified, in the forest. Many had joined the guerrilla army and were fighting back. The government and the media, campaigning for corporations, labeled them terrorists and called for them to practice Gandhian nonviolence. I wrote that Gandhian nonviolence was political theater that could be effective provided it had a sympathetic and empowered audience; how could people in remote forest villages, far from the gaze of the media or a hostile middle class be Gandhian while they were being raped and murdered? How could the starving go on hunger strike? How could those with no money boycott goods? My writings made their way into the forest, and one day a note was slipped under my door, inviting me to walk with the comrades.

What surprised you most about them?

I believed that when people take up arms, the violence would inevitably turn against the women in the community. In the forest I was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 18, 2011

Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus's new book is The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years.

From his Q & A with Jeff Makos at Publishers Weekly:

Your full-length appreciation of the Doors flies in the face of many of your fellow music critics, who have not been kind to the band since lead singer Jim Morrison died in 1971.

Well, it’s an interpretation, not a reinterpretation—it’s the first real thinking by me about their music. I had always remembered Jim Morrison saying that the Doors first album was “only a map of our music.” That was an extraordinarily eloquent thing to say about any album. As I began listening again to their reissued CDs with alternate takes and studio conversations, as well as countless bootleg concert recordings, I thought more about that “map,” and the book made itself—the project chose the book.

Unlike most books about Jim Morrison and the Doors, you don’t focus on anything biographical about the band.

I never had the idea of using anything except their music, which really told their true story. The Doors had a seriousness of intent during the 1960s. You could not be a thinking person during that time and not be overwhelmed with dread, with fear, with terror. And to be at a Doors concert was to be in the presence of a group of people who accepted the present moment at face value. The best of their music, especially live, confronted that moment. Morrison himself said that a Doors concert “is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi is from Finland and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he is a director of a think tank providing business services based on advanced math and artificial intelligence. He holds a Ph.D. in string theory and is a member of the same writing group that produced Hal Duncan. He wrote The Quantum Thief in English.

From his Q & A at the Guardian:

Who's your favourite writer?

In terms of contemporary science fiction, I am in awe of Ian McDonald. Other names I could mention are Michael Chabon, Haruki Murakami and the Finns Mika Waltari and Tove Jansson.

What are your other inspirations?

The Quantum Thief drew heavily upon some of the strange architectural ideas in Geoff Manaugh's wonderful blog BLDGBLOG – both for strange futuristic cities and architectural ideas applied to the mind. Frances A Yates's book The Art of Memory, on the method of memory palaces, was also an important influence.

Writers tend to be like thieves or magpies – inspirations are stolen and accrete around some core concept until they snowball into something that starts moving on its own. For my next book, The Fractal Prince, the loot so far includes The Arabian Nights and Douglas Hofstadter's ideas on consciousness.

Give us a writing tip.

One of the most useful tips for me was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo's novels include Falling Man, Libra and White Noise. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Jerusalem Prize. In 2006, Underworld was named one of the three best novels of the last twenty-five years by The New York Times Book Review, and in 2000 it won the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction of the past five years.

From his Q & A with Rafe Bartholomew at Grantland:

Can you explain how Underworld came together? The prologue was first published as a novella, "Pafko at the Wall," in Harper's Magazine in 1992, but Underworld wasn't released until 1997. When you wrote Pafko were you already planning to use that scene as the beginning of a long novel?

One day in October 1991, I learned from a newspaper story that this day marked the fortieth anniversary of a famous baseball game played in New York, in the old Polo Grounds, Giants vs. Dodgers. The event was located somewhere at the far reaches of memory, mine and many other people's. But some lingering aura persisted and finally sent me to the library, where I discovered news that startled me: on that same October day, the U.S. government announced that the Soviet Union had recently exploded an atomic bomb. The two events seemed oddly matched, at least to me, two kinds of conflict, local and global rivalries. In time I went to work on what I believed would be a long story and at some point well into the enterprise I began to suspect that the narrative of the ballgame and the atomic test wanted to be extended — well into the last decades of the Twentieth Century. I was eager to make the leap.

When I was working on the novel, I decided that each part's title would derive from an already existing cultural artifact — painting, book, film, musical composition, etc. So I exchanged "Pafko at the Wall", now the novel's prologue, for the title of a Bruegel painting referred to in the text — "The Triumph of Death."

Do you remember where you were on October 3, 1951, during Game 3? Were you a Dodgers or Giants fan (or Yankees, since you're from the Bronx)? What do you recall about the pennant race, that game, Bobby Thomson's home run, and the feeling in New York that day?

I was at the dentist's office. Dr. Fish....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker's new book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

From his Q & A with J.P. O'Malley at the Christian Science Monitor:

What made you want to write a book exploring the subject of violence?

It was an interest in human nature. I had written two books previously on human nature, and I faced criticism that any acknowledgment of human nature is fatalistic. I always thought this objection was nonsense. For one thing, even in theory, human nature comprises many motives and even if we have some motives that incline us to violence, we also have some motives that inhibit us from violence, and so just positing human nature doesn’t force you to claim that one side or another must prevail.

You equate Marxist ideology with violence in the book. Do you think that capitalist values have contributed to the decline of violence?

I think that communism was a major force for violence for more than a 100 years, because it was built into its ideology: mainly that progress comes through class struggle, often violent, and it lead to the widespread belief that the only way to achieve justice was to hurry this dialectical process along, and allow the oppressed working classes to carry out their struggle against their bourgeois oppressors. However much we might deplore the profit motive, or consumerist values, if everyone just wants i-Pods we would probably be better off than if they wanted class revolution.

How do you view democracy in terms of how much violence it creates?

Democracy is...[read on]
Read about Pinker's five best books on the decline of violence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 14, 2011

Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson's books include Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers and The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life, which won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize.

From a Q & A about her latest book, How to Survive the Titanic: The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay, with Randy Dotinga of the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What drew you to Ismay's story?

A: I'm drawn as a writer to complicated people and to trauma, and what struck me about Ismay was the extraordinary strangeness of his behavior, that he behaved in the exact opposite of the way that other men of his background were expected to behave.

I wondered what it was like it for him, why he made that snap decision to save his own life.

Q: What did he do when the ship sank?

A: His version of events is rather different from other people's versions. Ismay says he helped to load eight lifeboats on the starboard side of the ship, filling the last lifeboats with women and children. When the deck was completely empty, he jumped in.

What some other people say is that he fought his way in, had to battle his way in. People say he got into first lifeboat and didn't help fill any lifeboats. And some people say he was ordered into a lifeboat.

What interested me was not judging him. He was very judged at the time. I was trying to understand how he judged himself, in the story he told himself about whether he justified his actions.

Q: What was the American public's reaction to his survival?

A: The American reaction was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 13, 2011

John Grisham

John Grisham's new novel is The Litigators.

From his Q & A with Christopher John Farley at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

How did you come up with the characters in “The Litigators”?

Certainly Wally and Oscar are compositions of many lawyers. I got the idea for the guys from watching all this really sleazy TV advertising done by lawyers. It’s epidemic all over the country. You see these guys on television appealing for injury cases and all these drug cases and most of them are not the least bit attractive or good on television but they think they belong there. They just think because they’re lawyers they should be on TV begging for cases.

Did you come away with more sympathy for ambulance-chasing lawyers after writing this book?

I don’t think there’s a lot of sympathy. Because I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the unrestrained ambulance chasing that you see today in the law. I finished law school thirty years ago and I only practiced for ten years. But when I finished there was still this stigma against lawyers who actively solicited cases. This was before advertising on TV, before billboards, before all the crap you see now. But there were lawyers who were known to go out and aggressively pursue case. And thirty years ago, we didn’t like those guys. We had a certain ethical structure to the practice of street law as I call it. Over time that’s been completely eroded. Now it’s just this non-stop TV advertising that to me is just so unseemly and so sleazy I can’t stand to watch it but it’s getting worse every day. That and the frenzy when there’s a new bad drug, it’s like a bunch of vultures or sharks. Everyone starts advertising. When the BP oil spill happened last summer, in Mississippi and Louisiana, the advertising by the lawyers was disgusting. They were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 12, 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 Carolyn Kellogg of the Jacket Copy blog:

JC: You have such tremendous skill for really evocative detail – I was wondering how you access those memories. In one scene, I don’t even know whose point of view it is, somebody looks and the pull on a shade is like a life preserver --

JE: It’s Mitchell, when he’s seeing the priest for the catechism. I have a good memory for early life. My visual memory is good about childhood and adolescence, and less good in the last 10 years. I could probably tell you less what happened in the last 10 years. I remember what houses looked like, sometimes they just pop into my head.

JC: You’ve said in interviews that writing autobiographically, you put too much in.

JE: I put too much in in the one section about Mitchell in India. Because that’s the part that I actually lived. My memories were competing with the fictional story of Mitchell -- it made it difficult to write, because I had many more episodes that I remembered that seemed significant to me. When I looked at it as a novel, I realized those things didn’t need to be there; they were just there because they happened to me. Whereas when I was writing the Leonard or Madeleine section, even though some of the things that happened to them would come from my life as well, I knew...[read on]
Read why Eugenides decided to use his alma mater, Brown, as a setting.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stephen King

Stephen King's new novel is 11/22/63 [the date of the JFK assassination]. From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

You’ve never written historical fiction before. What took you in this direction?

I like doing different things because they keep what I do fresh and you get out of the rut a little bit. There’s a real challenge — I started to say there’s a real danger, but there’s no danger sitting in a room, the only danger is when the critics start to sharpen their little claws — there is a real challenge in trying to keep the story in front of the history. It’s exciting to take a real person like Lee Harvey Oswald and say, I want to give him some dimension, put some flesh on his bones, and I want him to be a real character.

Are you hoping this novel will attract new readers, maybe historical fiction fans?

I do hope for it….I always thought this might be a book where we really have a chance to get an audience who’s not my ordinary audience. Because you’d always like to say to people, ‘Well, if you try this you might like it.’ They’re a little bit like children with their vegetables. I ran into a lady in the supermarket in Florida. Old lady. There’re lot of old people in Florida; it’s like the law. I was coming up the house wares aisle and she said, “I know who you are, you’re that writer, you write those horror stories,” and I said, “Yes, ma’am, I guess,” and she said, “I don’t read that kind of thing. I respect what you do but I don’t read those. I like uplifting things like that ‘Shawshank Redemption.’” I said, “I wrote that one, too,” and she goes, “No, you didn’t,” and...[read on]
Also see: Top 10 works of literature: Stephen King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik’s new book is The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.

From his Q & A with David Haglund at Slate:

Slate: Your background is in art history. In what ways is writing about food like writing about art? In what ways is it not like that at all?

Adam Gopnik: The job of trying to make first-hand sensual experience—this picture, that plate—into second-order sentences (“It looks like…” “It tasted nearly as if …”) is approximately always the same. You wrestle with association, metaphor, analogy, trying to get it right, and then usually discover that the barest hint sends the strongest message. (Look at Hemingway’s descriptions, or M.F.K. Fisher’s—almost never anything “sumptuous” or even particularly extended in either, but the experience registered in one or two small surprising adjectives. Whitney Balliett’s capture of Monk’s piano playing—”vinegary, dissonant, gothic”—is a favorite of mine.)

You also discover that assertion—what a cook says about a taste, for instance (“Birthday cake is the most denatured thing on earth,” another favorite of mine, from a young pastry chef)—is often oddly more effective, just as evocation, than detailed description.

But then all writing poses that same predicament: Whether Updike trying to pin down the pubic hair of a suburban housewife or the poor food writer trying to capture the quiddity of a plate of bouillon, there’s always a struggle, and then a space that can’t quite be spanned. Sentences are always like bridges between the first-order world and the second, and they always shake in the wind of reality, like the ones over Amazonian abysses in Indiana Jones movies. Of course, art historians usually evade the problem entirely by not really writing about the art, but rather about the social history that surrounds it—and too many gastronomic historians, I add grumpily, do the same, making food history into a series of tableaux of clichéd scenes (the housewife in the ‘50s, the French chef in the 1920s) that leave the actual experience outside. That’s why—eerily anticipating your next question!—I wanted to include emails that included real recipes. The greasy facts of lemon and chicken and anchovies and bacon are the basis on which even the airiest food writing rests.

Slate: The Table Comes First includes email messages you wrote to the American writer and cookbook collector Elizabeth Robins Pennell—never expecting a reply, as Ms. Pennell died in 1936. What prompted the epistolary format? And why email, instead of old-fashioned letters?

Gopnik: When I discovered Pennell I thought that the key thing about her, easily missed, were not her...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joan Didion

Joan Didion's new memoir is Blue Nights, her account of "losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion examines her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old."

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

JC: Part of the book deals with parental guilt, or parental failure. You write: "I do not know many people who think they have succeeded as parents."

JD: Just as we can't know our children, I don't see how we can be successful as parents.

JC: When you say "successful as parents," what do you mean?

JD: The ideal thing would be that the child is happy and satisfied with what life eventually brings. I certainly can't say that Quintana was ever satisfied with what life was bringing her, or that she was particularly happy. In fact, she was dramatically unhappy much of the time. I often think I didn't give her credit for that. What I mean is that I didn't take it seriously enough, because I just thought that was the way children were.

JC: That's a tendency with all parents, I think. Not quite to see your children, to minimize their concerns ...

JD: You think of them as little children, and they're cute and they're funny, and you don't take them at all seriously. The adults pay no attention. And we may not even want them to pay attention.

JC: In "Blue Nights," you say that writing no longer comes easily to you. But you've never given the impression that writing was the easiest act.

JD: It...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Banana Yoshimoto

From an Amazon Q & A with Banana Yoshimoto about her novel, The Lake:

Q: Facing difficulties with courage is one of the themes of your latest novel, The Lake. In it the character Nakajima is struggling to overcome sometimes paralyzing emotional trauma that stems from a very unusual ordeal. What compelled you to tell this story?

A: In this novel, I indirectly took up the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea, which was the biggest news at the time I was writing. Having heard the words of sorrow from the parents whose children had been abducted and who still had no promise of getting their children back, I created a fable of my own, with my own ideas, in my own way. I also looked into the lives of the children who had been in the cult called Aum Shinrikyo (Aleph) and I thought about their immeasurable trauma as well.

Q: The Lake is, among other things, an unconventional love story, and it makes you question the definition(s) of “romantic love.” How do you define it?

A: The relationship between the main characters of this novel falls far short of romantic love. They are only supporting and leaning on each other, because they would crumble otherwise.

On the other hand, you could say that they are definitely the one and only couple for each other in a way, because wounded people can best be understood by others with the same wounds. Perhaps, they believe that they have the deepest possible bond and mutually feel each is the only person the other can trust. This is one of the most passionate emotions, I guess. By visiting the holy people in the precincts of the Lake, they are entering the world of the subconscious.

Q: Though she has her doubtful moments, and is certainly no push-over (especially when it comes to artistic integrity), Chihiro is almost unfailingly conciliatory and optimistic--a worthy heroine in these cynical times. Who was the inspiration for her character?

A: The character of Nakajima had been the central figure from the beginning, so I thought...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mindy Kaling

The 32-year-old Emmy-nominated writer/actress/producer Mindy Kaling plays Kelly, the ditzy, pop-culture-obsessed customer-service rep on NBC’s The Office.

Kaling’s new book is Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

From her Q & A with Jessica Bennett at The Daily Beast:

When did you find time to write a book? You write about working 16-hour days.

One of the ways I unwind is by writing—and I’ll often do it in the form of an email to myself. So when I get home at night, I’ll open up an email, and I’ll put the date in the subject heading, and I’ll write myself something funny that happened or an observation I had. And that’s sort of how it started.

What’s your favorite way to waste time when you’re supposed to be writing?

I love online shopping. Online browsing more than anything. I don’t have an iPhone, which is good, because I love apps and games and things like that. Like I know there’s crazy shopping apps, and I’d be bankrupt.

Did you always know you wanted to do comedy?

I was always writing, even as a really little kid, like 5 or 6, I would write little plays on my parents’ typewriter. But I didn’t know it was comedy really until like high school.

Who were your role models as a teen?

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

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman's new novel is The Dovekeepers.

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

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

Emily Brontë, and 'Wuthering Heights' is my favourite book. I think she was a psychological genius. If I had to choose someone living rather than someone dead, it would be Toni Morrison. I feel I could read just one sentence and know it was her. She creates a world in the most spectacular language that you know is hers.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

The four women from 'The Dovekeepers' [Hoffman's latest novel] who all resemble some piece of me, although they are very different - one is a witch, one a warrior, one has lost her child, and one has a father who doesn't want to have anything to do with her. I feel the character is a piece of me with every book.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Anne Frank. She is the voice of someone trying to....[read on]
Learn more about The Dovekeepers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Megan Abbott

Part of Jeff Glor's Q & A with Megan Abbott about The End of Everything, her novel about a thirteen-year-old girl named Lizzie who goes on a search for her missing friend, and finds many things she never expected:

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Megan Abbott: I always wanted to write about those magical families we all want to be a part of. I think we all knew one, growing up--one of those families where the big sisters seem nicer, the mother more glamorous the father more dashing, and everyone seems to be having a marvelous time, together.

I had one in my neighborhood, growing up--the family of my best friend. Everything about them had this enchanted quality. Even her house seemed more exciting, filled with hidden corners and alcoves. But, over time, things fell apart for them. It struck me that, when something goes wrong in one of those "perfect" families, it goes very, very wrong. Their "lightness" is so intense, that when dark things happen, they are even darker. Unlike the rest of our varyingly dysfunctional families, these families are not built to last. That crash-and-burn that seems inevitable when something blazes so brightly.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

MA: The narrator is a thirteen -year-old girl and at first that seemed daunting. But I was taken aback by how easy it was to slip back into that febrile mind. I found myself drawing on memories of my own that I wasn't even aware I had--these intense, physical memories. That pressing sense of mystery and painful discovery.

I think for many of us, and maybe women in particular...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Megan Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bury Me Deep.

The Page 69 Test: The End of Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 4, 2011

Scott McCrea

Scott McCrea is a drama professor at Purchase College, State University of New York, and the author of 2005's The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.

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

Q: When did people start wondering if Shakespeare was actually Shakespeare?

A: In the mid-19th century, when there was a guy who wrote a book and claimed that Shakespeare lacked erudition and could not have been very well educated, so it must have been [famed writer] Ben Jonson must have been the real writer of the plays. He writes these plays about dukes and earls, yet he was a commoner, a son of a glover. How could he have written these plays? Then people thought it must have been Francis Bacon. He was the most learned man of his time, and Shakespeare was the most learned man of his time, so they must have been the same guy.

Q: Why was his real identity so important to people?

A: Shakespeare had became almost a god of sorts. He became great, he became idolized, and he became a superhuman because of his impact on the culture.

We do this: There's a psychological need for people to displace in some way people who seem to be superhuman.

Q: For it to have been worthwhile to create a fake Shakespeare, it seems like he would have had to be incredibly appreciated in his own time. Was that the case?

A: There's this assumption that people knew during his own time that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 3, 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 Jennifer Haupt at the Psychology Today's One True Thing blog:

JH: I love the central question of your book: What price are we willing to pay to completely possess another? Do you think it's human nature to want to become obsessed with someone or something we can't have?

AK: Absolutely. And I think this urge is strongest when we're young and every experience is new to us, e.g. how strongly we feel the first time we fall in love. Another form of obsession-maybe one that's more readily understood-is collecting, which is a recurring theme in the book. I think many people go through a phase when they become mad for something, whether it's shoes or antique toys or automobiles. On one hand, collecting can be one of life's simple pleasures. On the other hand, carried to extremes, it can be a way to try to fill a need in your life, whether in the hope of finding a replacement for the thing we want but can't have (as is the case of Lanny, the heroine in The Taker) or, when we feel powerless, to be able exercise control in one area of our lives. For instance, I knew a woman who, on a clerk's salary, collected designer purses that cost thousands of dollars. Her friends might've questioned the wisdom of going into debt for a somewhat transitory pleasure, but it filled a need for her. Learning when a personal choice goes from being harmless to harmful is part of the maturing process, which is why some of us-but not all-find it easier to resist temptation as we get older. And that's Lanny's journey in The Taker.

JH: The Taker is a unique story -- part historical romance, part suspense thriller. What books and which authors have been your inspiration?

AK: Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire might be the most predictable inspiration, but I think that's because it's a seminal book that influenced the way a lot of writers think about the human experience, inside and outside of the horror genre. The biggest influence-and a book I reread several times in the course of writing The Taker-was Casanova in Bolzano by Hungarian novelist Sandor Marai. That novel is an exploration of the complexities of love, the transcendent and the profane. I wanted Lanny's experience of love to run from the rather black-and-white way we think of it when we're young, to our understanding of love when we're older and we've learned that our actions have consequences. Marai's novel explores the meaning of love to its fullest, in the most entertaining and clever way.

The other great influence on The Taker is...[read on]
Writers Read: Alma Katsu.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

James Garner

The actor James Garner is now out with a memoir, The Garner Files.

From his Q & A with crime fiction maven J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet:

J. Kingston Pierce: Is there anything about Jim Rockford, who you played in The Rockford Files, that you wish was true of you, as well?

James Garner: I wish I could have quit smoking as easily as Rockford did: During the first season he smoked, but we decided it was a bad example so we had him quit. Aside from getting beat up by thugs and stiffed by clients every week, Rockford didn’t have a care in the world. That’s the difference between television and real life.

JKP: You say in your book how much you loved the relationship between Jim Rockford and his father, Rocky, played by Noah Beery Jr. What was so special about that relationship?

JG: Our head writer, the late Steve Cannell, based it on the loving relationship he’d had with his own dad, Joseph Cannell. “Pidge,” as everyone called [Berry], was perfect in the role of Jim Rockford’s dad because he was not onlya fine actor, he was also a gentle man. I think the relationship between them was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gerald Elias

A graduate of Yale, Gerald Elias has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

His novels include Devil's Trill, Danse Macabre, and Death and the Maiden.

Raymond Taras is Willy Brandt Professor at Sweden's Malmö University for 2010–11. He was director of Tulane University's world literature program before Hurricane Katrina forced its closure. He is the author of numerous scholarly books on nationalism and identities in Europe.

Taras and Elias's exchange over Death and the Maiden:

Taras: What literary purpose is served by making Jacobus blind, in addition to his being both a crank and a legend in the classical music world?

Elias: When I created the Jacobus character I had two things in mind by making him blind. The first idea was pragmatic; the second, metaphorical.

As is pretty common knowledge, when someone loses one of his senses, very often the slack is taken up by the others. In Jacobus's case, his sense of hearing, already finely-honed as a superior musician, becomes absolutely super-acute. Combined with his highly analytic mind, he can draw conclusions, whether about music, personalities, or solving mysteries, by calling upon his non-visual senses.

The metaphorical aspect of having him blind has to do with his renunciation of the classical music world. He believes that external pressures imposed upon the performance of great music compromises its artistic integrity. Though the "show biz" factors are not necessarily visual, Jacobus's blindness enables him to understand music as it was intended, as a purely aural experience. In a way his blindness enables him to "see through" the artifice of the concert world.

How do think through his reaction to various situations, like being on stage in Carnegie Hall and not seeing the audience--and tactfully spice it with great humor?

By having Jacobus blind I created an unanticipated challenge for myself. I want the readers to perceive Jacobus's reality through his blind eyes. As a result, whenever he is in a chapter (most of the time), I have to minimize any visual descriptions of his surroundings. In order to do this I've spent time putting myself in his shoes by closing my eyes and letting my other senses take over. Or, for example, in Devil's Trill, Jacobus is confident when he will arrive at a street corner in Manhattan because he knows how many footsteps are required to get from one corner to the next. The reason he knows this is that when I was in the city I counted out my own footsteps.

I related to Jacobus's situation on stage at Carnegie Hall in a more personal way. Back around 1980, while a young member of the Boston Symphony, I performed the Mozart A Major Violin Concerto with John Williams and the Boston Pops. Unlike playing in an orchestra, as a soloist you feel the eyes of the entire audience fixed upon you. It can be a very intimidating experience for someone not used to performing in that capacity day in, day out. Some of the thoughts that went through my head while I performed the Mozart were: "Why did I think I wanted to do this?" "What's the next note?" "I still have thirty minutes to go!" and "I knew I should have been an anthropology major!" Jacobus's reactions to the situations in which he has been placed, and those of other characters as well, are reflections of my own real-life experiences, so I'm not making anything up out of the blue. And that includes the humor!

Your attention to technical detail, whether related to the murder plot or to how the bow is being held by the violinist in the Schubert quartet, stands out in the Jacobus series. Can a writer who's enjoyed a long successful career as a classical musician playing with leading orchestras and with acclaimed soloists ever escape the imperative of precision?

You're absolutely correct that in order to be a professional classical musician, especially in any kind of ensemble, requires an extraordinary degree of physical and mental precision. I think by the time a musician achieves that level of ability so much of it has become ingrained that the musician is hardly aware of the first 99% of what he's doing. In one of my early drafts of Danse Macabre, for example, I wrote an entire chapter about the thought process that goes into playing just the first note of the Beethoven "Kreutzer" Sonata! Eventually, I was convinced to pare it down to make it a better fit with the rest of the story, but I think the readers will still get the idea.

The challenge, though, in music as well as writing, is to make sure that the details don't drown out the message. Both music and literature, after all, are means of communication, and if the listener and reader don't go away from their experience emotionally effected, then all the precision in the world is just a meaningless exercise.

I'm impressed by your convincing depictions of characters coming from various ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, in Death and the Maiden, for example, from Russia, Peru and, well, New York City. These portraits avoid stereotypes but nevertheless capture the essence of what it means to be Slav or South American or Jewish or, for that matter, a young Japanese female musician. How did you develop these extraordinary observational skills?

If one is to write a legitimate story about classical music, it's absolutely essential to have characters from diverse backgrounds, because the international quality of the profession is one of its fundamental characteristics. Orchestral musicians, for example, work everyday with other musicians, guest artists, conductors, and of course the music itself, from every corner of the world. And don't forget that one important component of a professional career is touring, where one meets not only other musicians but people of all walks of life. I can't count the number of countries where I've concertized; plus, I've had the good fortune to have traveled for extended periods in Japan, Italy, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. In developing international characters in my books I try to create a balance between some of the general cultural characteristics I've observed and specific individual personality traits, all in an effort to make every character interesting and three-dimensional.

Given the wealth of experiences you have had as a professional musician and the ability to capture them with words, have you considered writing an autobiography?

If I did that I think I would take Mark Twain's approach and not have it published for a hundred years. But by then, unlike with Mark Twain's autobiography, I don't think there'd be all the much demand.
Learn more about the book and author at Gerald Elias' website.

Interview: Gerald Elias.

The Page 69 Test: Devil's Trill.

Writers Read: Gerald Elias.

The Page 69 Test: Danse Macabre.

My Book, The Movie: Devil's Trill and Danse Macabre.

The Page 69 Test: Death and the Maiden.

--Marshal Zeringue