Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Frances Brody

Frances Brody's Dying in the Wool--the first of the Kate Shackleton books--debuts in the US in February 2012.

From the author's Q & A at Book Chick City:

Hi Frances, thank you for being here today and for answering my questions, it's a pleasure to have you. For those who are unfamiliar with your Kate Shackleton books can you tell us a bit about them?

Kate Shackleton is a First World War widow turned sleuth. She’s been described as a young Miss Marple! Her sidekick is ex policeman, Jim Sykes. The books are murder mysteries with plots that set a puzzle for the reader.

Is Kate based on any body in particular or is she completely fictional?

We have family albums bursting with old photographs that go back a century. Kate stepped from there with her 1920s bobbed hair and carrying a camera. She’s fictional and has qualities I would like to have. She’s quick witted, tenacious and ahead of her time. I’m now writing book three and the great thing is that I’m still finding out about her: how she acts and reacts in different situations. Kate received the familiar wartime telegram about her husband, Gerald: ‘Missing presumed dead’. Part of her still hopes that one day she’ll find him.

What gave you the inspiration to set your books in the 1920's?

It’s a very ‘modern’ period. Those who could afford it (like Kate!) owned cars. People drove motorbikes, listened to jazz, learned new dances, joined camera clubs, drank cocktails and wore great fashions. I was...[read on]
Visit Frances Brody's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 30, 2012

John Yow

From a Q & A with John Yow, author of The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds:

Q: What is an "armchair birder"?

A: An armchair birder is a person too lazy to get up and "go birding," which can be pretty exhausting, or a wannabe naturalist who somehow made it through school without taking any science courses, which can be pretty demanding. But really, being an armchair birder is okay. It means you're content to look at the birds that come to you, but motivated enough to take a close look. And of course, it means you're willing to read to fill in the blanks. One idea behind the book is that the natural world is close by; you don't have to go find it. Thoreau, whom I quote often, never went anywhere, but he saw everything there was to be seen.

Q: I admire your ability to pay close attention to the habits of birds in order to reveal their secret lives. What is the first step in tuning in to the birds around us?

A: The first step is getting outside your own head (or your own i-Pod or cell phone). For some of us, like me, that's easy, because what's inside of our heads is profoundly boring. Other people are endlessly fascinated by their own thoughts, feelings, relationships, and agendas, and about all we can hope for from those folks is that they do as little harm as possible.

Q: How is this book different from other birding books?

A: This is a different bird book because the concept is different. The purpose of bird "guides" is to help you identify birds you haven't seen before, and in most cases, that means helping you identify hundreds of species you will never see. That's fine. Everybody needs a bird guide. But after you've identified the species, the guidebook has done its job. My idea was to take the birds we've already identified and talk about what they're up to.

The great advantage of this concept was that it...[read on]
Visit The Armchair Birder website.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

S. J. Watson

In Before I Go To Sleep, S. J. Watson's debut psychological thriller, an amnesiac who, following a mysterious accident, cannot remember her past or form new memories, desperately tries to uncover the truth about who she is—and who she can trust.

From the author's Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write Before I Go To Sleep?

I was reading about a man called Henry Molaison who suffered severe amnesia following an operation he underwent when he was 27. He died at the age of 82, and for all that time could form no new memories. I was struck by the image of that old man waking up and looking in the mirror, fully expecting a 27-year-old to be gazing back at him. I realised how vital our memories are to our sense of self, and from that seed the whole novel began to grow.

What was most difficult about it?

I decided to tell the story in the first person, from the point of view of someone who has severe amnesia. That presented some tricky technical challenges, particularly as I edited the book. I had to keep a close eye on the things my character knew at any given time, and the things she didn't.

What did you most enjoy?

The whole process was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jonathan Watts

Jonathan Watts is Asia Environment Correspondent for The Guardian and a former president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

His 2010 book When a Billion Chinese Jump tells the story of an unfolding ecological crisis as seen from the ground.

From Watts's Q & A with Sam Geall:

SG: So, could China become the world's first green superpower?

I wanted to ask that question in [When a Billion Chinese Jump]. We are heading into a difficult 30 or 40 years for our species. We are over the limit already by just about every ecological measure. And yet our population is probably going to rise by another two billion in the next 40 years. We need to get through this rough period and over that 40-year hump: after that, populations should start to fall and there should be better technology and economic models too. But now, the country that is in the best position – and the worst position – is China.

China is in the best position because its economy is growing so quickly that it does have a lot of resources. It's in the worst position because it's reached this supercharged phase of growth at a very unfortunate time in terms of the history of global development. China can't outsource its problems like other countries have been able to do. This is a country that has to reinvent itself.

The big contrast between China and the United States, particularly in renewable energy for instance, is that China is trapped by momentum, it has to keep moving forward. By contrast, the US is trapped by inertia – it's trying to protect what it already has. This is also why China is in a better position to become a green superpower.

SG: One intention of your book seems to be to introduce a note of scepticism amid much western optimism about China's ability to save the world economy.

JW: There is still a widespread assumption that one model has proven itself again and again over the past 200 years: the get-rich-first, clean-up-later model. But what worked for Britain in the nineteenth century, for the US in the twentieth century and for Japan and South Korea in the late twentieth century, may not work for China, because of scale and because of timing.

In a sense...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kathryn Stockett

Kathryn Stockett is the author of the novel The Help. From her Q & A with Elizabeth Day at the Observer:

You started writing The Help the day after 9/11. How did that affect you?

It can be really powerful to write something when you're sad. I've always felt that Aibileen [one of the main characters in the book] had this really deep sadness that I would never understand, being a privileged, spoilt little white girl. Maybe when 9/11 occurred and I was in downtown New York, maybe that's the closest I'll ever be to understanding that sadness.

As a child of divorced parents growing up in Mississippi in the 1970s, you were partly raised by a black maid employed by your grandparents.

Yes, she was called Demetrie. I started writing in her voice because it felt really soothing. It was like talking directly to her, showing her that I was trying to understand, even though I would never claim to know what that experience was like. It's impossible to know what she felt like, going home to her house, turning on her black-and-white TV. And I'm not saying I feel sorry for her, because she was a very proud woman.

Did you have to think long and hard about writing in a black voice?

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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ian Rankin

From Ian Rankin's Q & A with Janette Currie:

J:- The Impossible Dead is set in contemporary Scotland with much of the plot looking back to the social and political scene of the 1980s, the same time that you published your first novel, The Flood. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

IR:- Don’t drink so much. A lot of blank spaces back then where memories should be. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t remember all the domestic Scottish terrorism that was going on. A lot of the period 1980-85 seems to have passed me by.

J:- Who would you invite to your Come Dine with Me Dinner and what would you serve them?

IR :- I watch that show. I’m not a great cook but I do have a few ‘bankers’. Maybe a rich beef and wine stew. Or a chilli con carne. Plenty of good white and red wine. To start: smoked salmon. Cheese and oatcakes for afters. Around the table would be arranged Robert Louis Stevenson (so I can ask him about the first draft of Jekyll and Hyde – the one he’s supposed to have thrown on the fire), Frank Zappa (he might even play a few licks – I never got to see him in concert), and Billie Holiday.

J:- Your house is on fire! Your family and record collection are safe but you only have time to save one book – what is it?

IR:- My...[read on]
Learn about Ian Rankin's five favorite literary crime novels and the best selling book he wishes he'd written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Colin Thubron

Colin Thubron is an acknowledged master of travel writing. His first books were about the Middle East—Damascus, Lebanon, and Cyprus. In 1982 he traveled in the Soviet Union, pursued by the KGB. From these early experiences developed his great travel books on the landmass that makes up Russia and Asia: Among the Russians; Behind the Wall: A Journey through China; The Lost Heart of Asia; In Siberia; Shadow of the Silk Road; and most recently, To a Mountain in Tibet.

From his Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write To a Mountain in Tibet?

Uniquely for me, it originated in mourning. With my mother's death, the last of my family had gone, and I wanted to embark on something slow and contemplative. I chose to walk to Mount Kailas, the holy mountain in Tibet. It was an irrational instinct, a kind of secular pilgrimage. I didn't even know if I'd write about it.

What was most difficult about it?

The fear of altitude sickness. I was going up to 18,600 feet.

What did you most enjoy?

The sheer beauty of the land. I was following the valley of the Karnali river in Nepal, the highest source of the Ganges; then over the border onto the plateaux of Tibet, which have a strange, empty beauty – a frozen desert three miles above sea level.

How long did it take?

The whole journey (from Kathmandu) took...[read on]
See Colin Thubron's 6 favorite books about Asia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take on Each Other and the World is a series of letters by Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq. From the former's Q & A at the Observer:

Did you learn things about yourself from writing this book?

First of all I learned that the great egomaniac I'm supposed to be had never spoken about himself, until now. My main compulsion is secrecy. I do not regret anything that is in this book, but I would not write these things again. The right to secrecy is a human right as important as freedom of speech or habeas corpus.

Do you consider phone-hacking to be particularly egregious?

Phone-hacking is one of the most disgusting things to happen to your country for a long time. It's the very highest level of attack on human integrity. Murdoch has lost the right to be part of the democratic contract that is the basis of this country.

In France, public figures have been afforded greater levels of privacy by the press, but in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, some journalists have said they should have delved more.

They are wrong. Not speaking of the private life of a politician until he commits a crime is a good position. Which, by the way, includes...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chuck Palahniuk

From Chuck Palahniuk's Q & A with Euan Ferguson at the Observer:

Rather than your usual homeland settings of the Portland/Seattle area, your latest, Damned, is set a little further afield – in Hell. And you write in the voice of a 13-year-old girl. An easy job?

It sucked. It was absolutely a misery because I was writing the book while taking care of my mother who was dying of cancer. On her medication she became much more herself as a child; a child I never would have known. I was playing in effect the role of parent. It was a terrible time and perhaps that's why Madison's such a glib person. She's covering up a bunch of horrible circumstances and pain.

I thought Madison, your antiheroine, was more resilient than glib.

Well, yes, maybe. I needed to express somehow my grief at having then lost both of my parents [Palahniuk's father, Fred, and his girlfriend were murdered in 1999 by her ex-husband] and I knew that would not make a very entertaining or particularly funny book, so I inverted the situation and made it this very plucky dead child, who could mourn her parents while they were still on Earth – but still...[read on]
Damned is on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on hell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 23, 2012

T. J. English

T. J. English's latest book is The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge.

From his interview by Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: You describe New York as "The Savage City" in your book's title. What do you mean by that?

The book deals with the period from 1963 to 1973 in which the crime rate in the city soared. And more importantly, an atmosphere of fear, paranoia and dread would come to characterize New York in many ways. This is the period in which New York began its descent into this level of darkness.

The book details quite specifically the manner in which the dynamics of race – particularly in relation to the criminal justice system – began to play themselves out in a way that it had never had before in the city's history. They created a level of turmoil, violence and hostility that was unprecedented.

"Savage City" is a sort of a play on the phrase "The Naked City" [the title of a TV series and film noir], which was about New York in the postwar era: a place that had crime and eight million stories. It was an urban jungle, but ultimately the cops were good and there was a pretty good sense of good and evil. The Savage City was a little bit darker. The issue of race – hardly evident in "The Naked City" – becomes front and center, and the police department is revealed to not be the benevolent institution that it had been perceived to be.

Q: Do TV shows and movies set in that period reflect the New York City of that time?

We all do have a cinematic vision in our heads of the New York of this era, movies like "The French Connection" and "Serpico" and a number of others that were filmed on location in the city. You can...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Charles Kenny

In Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--And How We Can Improve the World Even More, the economist Charles Kenny argues that many people have overlooked the enormous improvements in human well-being over the last few decades.

From his Q & A with David Leonhardt:

Q. You write that Africa, like the rest of the world, has escaped the Malthusian trap. What do you mean by that?

Mr. Kenny: Parson Malthus’s miserable vision of the world was that each country’s output was pretty much limited by the amount of land available. That meant if more kids were born, the same output was spread amongst more people — so average incomes would fall. In turn, Malthus argued that would push up mortality as people died from malnutrition or famine or disease.

In Malthus’s time, output worldwide was indeed pretty much static — for most of history, global G.D.P. had expanded by much less than half a percent a year. But since then, output has exploded — everywhere. Between 1960 and 2000, only one country worldwide -– the Democratic Republic of the Congo — saw G.D.P. growth slower than 0.5 percent per year, and only 11 countries saw output grow at less than 2 percent a year.

And looking at African countries in particular, while populations have been rising, there is no significant link between population growth and income growth. Furthermore, population increases have been associated with better health, not increasing mortality — between 1960 and 2005, the proportion of children in the region dying before their fifth birthday fell from 26 to 15 percent. So, the Malthusian trap is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wade Davis

Wade Davis's latest book is Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.

From his Q & A with Jeff Glor:

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Wade Davis: My interest in this story began in the spring of 1996 as I completed a 4,000-mile overland journey from Chengdu in western China through southeastern Tibet to Lhasa and on to Kathmandu. Leading that ecological survey was a good friend, Daniel Taylor. Raised in the Himalaya, son and grandson of medical missionaries, Daniel had grown up with tales of George Mallory; his father was a close friend of Howard Somervell who climbed with Mallory on Everest in 1922 and 1924. The British climbers were Daniel's heroes and role models as a boy, intrepid men who had walked off the map for hundreds of miles just to find a mountain that no European had encountered at close quarters. Their Everest was the mountain of his imagining, not the disappointing commercial scene of today.

In late fall 1997, Daniel and I returned to Tibet, intent on photographing clouded leopards, among the most elusive of the great cats. Our journey took us from Kharta south into the Kama Chu along the same trails traveled by the British expeditions of the 1920s. Compared to the British expeditions, our month-long sojourn in the Kama Valley was a trivial undertaking. Nevertheless the extremes of altitude took a toll, as did the blizzards and cold. From our camp at Pethang Ringmo, at the base of the Kangshung Face, we stared up at a mountain that has killed one climber for every 10 that have reached the summit. It is a formidable sight. Though we were standing on ground higher than any in North America, the mountain rose two miles above, fluted ribs and ridges, gleaming balconies and seracs of blue-green ice, shimmering formations ready to collapse in an instant. The thought of those early British climbers, "dressed in tweeds" as Daniel put it, and "reading Shakespeare in the snow" as they confronted such hazards, filled me with admiration, curiosity and awe.

From the start I was less interested in...[read on]
See Wade Davis's list of six notable books about World War I.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 20, 2012

Alan Taylor

Born and raised in Maine, Alan Taylor teaches American and Canadian history at the University of California, Davis. His books include The Divided Ground, Writing Early American History, American Colonies, and William Cooper’s Town, which won the Bancroft and Pulitzer prizes for American history.

From a Q & A at his publisher's website about his latest book, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies:

Q: Why did you decide to use the phrase “civil war” in the title of your new book? Most people think of the War of 1812 as a fight between the United States and England, not as a civil conflict.

A: I came to see the War of 1812 as a civil war between kindred peoples, recently and incompletely divided by the revolution. To call the War of 1812 a “civil war,” now seems jarring because hindsight distorts our perspective on the past. We underestimate the fluid uncertainty of the post-revolutionary generation, when the new republic was so precarious and so embattled. We imagine that the revolution effected a clean break between Americans and Britons as distinct peoples. In fact, the republic and the empire competed for the allegiance of the peoples in North America: native, settler, and immigrant. On both sides, the people thought of the war as continuing the revolutionary struggle between Loyalists and rebels. And the war divided the British Empire as Irish refugees fought for the United States but faced trial for treason if captured."

Q: In your opinion, why has the War of 1812 become a relatively forgotten piece of U.S. history (aside from inspiring the “Star Spangled Banner”)?

A: The War of 1812 looms small in American memory: forgotten as insignificant because it apparently ended as a draw that changed no boundary and no policy. At best, Americans barely recall the war as a handful of patriotic symbols: for inspiring the national anthem; for the victories of the warship dubbed “Old Ironsides”; for the British perfidy in burning the White House and the Capitol; and for the pay-back taken by Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee riflemen at the Battle of New Orleans. This highly selective memory recasts the war as a defense of the United States against British attacks—and screens out the many defeats suffered by American invaders in Canada.

Q: Would it be fair to say that Canadian memory of the conflict is much sharper?

A: The war...[read on]
Read Taylor's list of five books about America at war in 1812.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sabrina Benulis

Sabrina Benulis graduated with a master’s in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University. She currently resides in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania with her husband, Mike, and her spoiled cockatiel, Caesar.

Last year's Archon is her debut novel.

From her Q & A with Jessica Strider:

What drew you to writing about angels?

I always wanted to write a story that was more about angels and demons as they are truly portrayed in history and religion: powerful, otherwordly beings, that are in very many ways both similar to humans and utterly beyond us. It was that mix of beauty and ambiguous morality that attracted me. Many people do not think of angels as aliens, but in their strictest definition, they very much are.

What's special / different about your angels?

My angels are sexy, seductive, creepy and terrifying all at the same time. 'Terrible beauty' is what immediately comes to mind. The Books of Raziel really shows just how awesomely dangerous the supernatural can be. Yet at the same time, these angels can be very human. Their morality is not ours, but they can be so human--damaged, emotional, with a very mortal kind of love as the driving force behind their most sublime or terrible actions.

What made you want to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer merely so I could share the visions of the worlds I create. For me, that's what it's all about.

Who is you favourite character in the book and why?

My favorite character in the novel is probably Troy. Sadly, she does not have a ton of 'screen time' in ARCHON, but her role expands very much in the following books. Troy is a character who comes off as typical demon--at first. Eventually...[read on]
Visit Sabrina Benulis's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Archon.

Writers Read: Sabrina Benulis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan's books include The Invisible Circus, which was released as a feature film by Fine Line in 2001, Emerald City and Other Stories, Look at Me, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2001, The Keep, and A Visit From the Goon Squad, a national bestseller, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the LA Times Book Prize.

From her interview by Killian Fox for the Observer:

[A Visit From the Goon Squad] ranges backwards and forwards in time, between San Francisco in the 70s and a futuristic New York, and has a big cast tangentially connected to one another. Did it require meticulous planning?

No: the opposite, I write totally spontaneously. I actually write fiction by hand – that always seems to startle people. I think the reason I do that is to bypass the thinking part of me and get to the more unconscious part, which is where all the good ideas seem to be. I've tried working on a word processor because I would love to be faster but it just doesn't seem to work. Goon Squad took about three years to write and that's the short end. My second novel, Look at Me, took six years.

Most of the characters in the book are linked to the music industry. How much time have you spent in that world?

Not as much as you might think. People who read this book tend to think I'm a music geek – but I never really write about my own life. I did once get a journalistic assignment to write about a pair of identical-twin female rappers called Dyme, but it came to nothing – although there's a bit of their DNA in the Stop/Go sisters in the book: they also lived in Mount Vernon, and had an orange shag carpet in the recording studio that their dad built them, so I got something out of it.

But the rest came from your imagination?

I did do a fair amount of...[read on]
Look at Me and A Visit from the Goon Squad appear among Julie Christie's seven favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jodi Kantor

Jodi Kantor is a Washington correspondent at the New York Times. From a Q & A about her new book, The Obamas, with Elizabeth Day at the Observer:

One of the most interesting chapters in your book deals with the discomfort faced by the Obamas when they realised most of the staff in the White House are of African-American descent. Has their tenure improved race relations in the US?

It's way too early to tell. When I wrote the book, I felt that that question was still beyond our grasp. The question I focused on was: what is the day-to-day experience of being the first African-American president and first lady? For example, when the invitation came for Michelle Obama to appear on the cover of Vogue, her advisers were split by race. The African-American advisers really wanted her to do the cover because not that many African-American role models had done so. On the other hand, the white advisers were far more cautious because the country was in terrible economic straits and Vogue is a pure luxury magazine – the newsstand price alone is something like $5. In fact, she chose to do the cover and there was very little criticism. To me, that is one tiny look into the real mosaic of what's going on.

Have the Obamas read the book?

I don't know. I haven't heard back.

You say in your acknowledgements that you became a political reporter for the New York Times at the same time as you became a mother, did you ever find it hard to balance the two?

At one point during the 2008 campaign I got called up and screamed at by an Obama aide. It was 7pm and I'd just got home. My daughter was about two and she was sitting on my lap and she took control of the cell phone and began singing the Barney song down the phone: "I love you, you love me. We're as happy as can be." It was just surreal and kind of amazing on her part. In a way, it was the best thing to say to an over-agitated campaign aide.

Your book makes it clear the Obamas have distinct personalities – you say he's more cerebral, finds it difficult to connect with the public, whereas she's warmer and more feisty. Do you think it's the differences rather than the similarities that make their marriage work?

Absolutely. I don't think he would be president without Michelle Obama because she's the one who connects him with other people.

Can a marriage ever truly be one of equals when one partner is the leader of the free world?

The answer to that is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 16, 2012

Krys Lee

Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in California and Washington, and studied in the United States and England. She was a finalist for Best New American Voices in 2006, and her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Narrative Magazine, California Quarterly, Pacific Ties, The Korea Times, and Asia Weekly.

Viking will release her debut short story collection Drifting House in early February.

From a Q & A at the author's website:

DRIFTING HOUSE is a beautiful collection of short stories that portray life in South Korea, North Korea, and as a Korean-American in the US. They depict a fractured world. Where did the stories come from: personal experience, observations, or something else?

The stories arose from personal experiences as well as my observations and reactions toward the societies around me. Fractured is an interesting, important word for me; being animmigrant in the United States with parents who were afraid of America lends itself to a kind of fracturing. Our house was a Little Korea, and I was fascinated by the homes of American friends that I’d visit because their way of being was so culturally different. There were other, more violent and painful fractures that influenced my life and inevitably, my stories. But my sense of story is usually more Jamesian; the autobiographical impulse is buried in character and thematic obsessions rather than in the plot.

The world around me was also a large influence. When I wrote “The Salaryman’, for instance, I was in a relationship with a Korean man who was diminishing as a personality while working inhuman hours at a Korean conglomerate. “Drifting House’ was written after I became friends with activists and North Korean defectors. I cried many times, hearing and reading stories about people I knew, before this sadness changed into anger at a regime that destroys its own people. “The Goose Father’ was also written after people I knew personally began departing South Korea, leaving their husbands behind to fund their family’s flight to an overseas education for their children. Though all sacrifice in this situation, my sympathies were with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 15, 2012

David Vann

David Vann's latest novel is Caribou Island.

From his 2010 interview by Matt Scheiner:

WSJ: How did your own life experiences help to shape the narrative of “Caribou Island”?

There were two family stories in the background that were true stories. One right on the opening page is the suicide of my Grandmother’s mother on my mother’s side. It happened in British Columbia and it is unclear how it happened, because there is so much shame around a suicide, she never really talked about it and my mom’s story has shifted over the years. The other true story in the background is the murder-suicide of my stepmother’s parents. My stepmother’s father told his wife that the last 15 years of marriage had been a lie, and he had been having an affair with another woman and was moving on without her. So she killed him before killing herself, and that was always a very disturbing event for me from when I was 12.

All of the characters in “Caribou Island” seem so real and identifiable, especially the frayed relationship between Irene and Gary, the unhappily married couple of 35 years.

It wasn’t until six months after writing the book that I realized that I was Irene in many ways, and that was actually a shock to me. I have this long legacy of suicide in my family like she does, and I have some of the same views of men in my family as she does of Gary. But I also think in some ways that I am Gary, too. This book was the first time that I realized that an author is...[read on]
Visit David Vann's website.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jeff Abbott

From author Jeff Abbott's interview by Paige Crutcher:

AUTHORLINK: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

ABBOTT: I wanted to be a marine biologist or an astronomer, which is weird, because I was never that good at science. I was more just curious about the world. When I was about ten I decided I wanted to be a writer and I never really wavered from that ambition, even if it was a secret one.

AUTHORLINK: What do you believe makes a great story? Is there an element that you believe must be present?

ABBOTT: Conflict. And it seems so obvious but I meet a fair number of aspiring writers who think conflict is unnecessary, or worse, somehow beneath them. There has to be powerful internal and external conflict facing your protagonist for readers to care about reading your story.

AUTHORLINK: JT Ellison has called you “a writer’s writer.” Will you share a little about your writing process?

ABBOTT: It is not really a glamorous process. I think first of either an interesting situation or a character; either can come first. And then I start to wonder, what happens next? I'll scribble some notes, maybe write down some ideas for scenes. If I let the idea brew long enough, one of two things happen: I decide I don't want to write it, or I do. Then I will sketch out the major scenes of the book — the critical turning points, the biggest moments of choice for both the protagonist and the antagonist. With those as a framework I can start to write. Often towards the final part of the book I'll craft a careful outline to make sure I'm resolving everything in a way I like, giving the reader the emotional payoffs for the rest of the story.

AUTHORLINK: Characters are often the heart of a story, and in your novels suspense acts as its own character. How do you create such authentic anticipation?

ABBOTT: Well, I think you have to...[read on]
Visit Jeff Abbott's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me.

The Page 69 Test: Adrenaline.

Writers Read: Jeff Abbott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sarah McCoy

Sarah McCoy's new novel is The Baker's Daughter.

From her Q & A with Lisa See:

Lisa: [The Baker's Daughter] moves back and forth between two vastly different settings: present-day America on the Tex-Mex border and Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. What inspired you to pair the two?

Sarah: It does seem obscure, and that’s why I found their association so captivating. I spent a portion of my childhood in Germany where my dad, a career military officer, was stationed. My husband also grew up in Germany, speaks fluent German, and worked there during his summers in college. When we moved to El Paso, the local magazine asked me to write a feature article on the German community. “There’s a German community?” I asked. Yes—a thriving one. Way out on the corner of Texas, barely clinging to the edge of the United States, is a sizable German air force base. Apparently the Luftwaffe has trained fliers in the United States since 1958. In 1992, they consolidated their troops at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, just up the road from El Paso.

Not long after that article ran, I went to a local farmer’s market and met an 80-year-old German woman selling bread. I was completely smitten by her, and all that I imagined she might have experienced in her life. While picking out my brötchen, I asked how she came to be in El Paso. “I married an American soldier after the war,” she told me. Voila! Elsie, my 1945 protagonist, was born. My memories of living and traveling in Germany served as my imaginative landscape and fueled my...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Sarah McCoy's The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ben Kane

Ben Kane's books include The Forgotten LegionThe Silver Eagle, and The Road to Rome. He lives in North Somerset, England.

From his Q & A with Boyd Tonkin at the Independent:

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

Rosemary Sutcliff. I was probably no older than nine or 10 when I read 'The Eagle of the Ninth' and it had a huge influence on me; it's one of the reasons I ended up writing about Rome. I was so struck by her imagery of Hadrian's Wall and the wilds of Scotland, and the idea of the soldiers disappearing there.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Probably Romulus, the main character in my first trilogy ['The Forgotten Legion Chronicles']. Everyone who writes probably puts a lot of their own feelings and beliefs into their characters.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Ellen MacArthur. Because she had an ambition to do something completely out with her life experience, and she went and....[read on]
Visit Ben Kane's website and blog.

Writers Read: Ben Kane.

My Book, The Movie: The Forgotten Legion trilogy.

The Page 69 Test: The Road to Rome.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Deborah Harkness

From a Q & A with Deborah Harkness about her novel, A Discovery of Witches:

Diana is an appealing heroine, determined, accomplished, and yet aware of her own weaknesses. In what ways, if any, does Diana reflect your own experience or personality?

There are some similarities—Diana is also a historian of science, also interested in the history of alchemy, and shares some of my passions (including television cooking programs, tea, and rowing). Really, all the characters have some element of me in them. I think that's how authors create imaginary people who nevertheless feel real. The rest of Diana's character comes from a combination of qualities I admire in others, wish fulfillment, and my completion of the following statement: "Wouldn't it be great if a heroine in a book was…"

How did you become interested in the intersection of alchemy, magic, and science? Historically, what do you see as the relationship between science and religion or mysticism?

In college, I had a wonderful professor who taught a class on these subjects. To kick off the class, he asked us, "How do you know what you think you know?" I've spent the last quarter century trying to answer that question. Because the world is a mysterious place and our relationship to it is not always clear, people have often turned to science, faith, and magic for answers. They help people find responses to the questions...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rick Mofina

Rick Mofina's latest novel is The Burning Edge.

From his interview by L.J. Sellers for The Big Thrill:

How much and what kind of research did you do with the FBI to write [The Burning Edge]?

I’d written to the FBI’s New York Field Office, with a request for help. The office was extremely busy but agreed to try to accommodate my request. It was during ThrillerFest when I was in New York City that I set up the appointment to visit 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan. I had already submitted my questions in advance. At the office, I met with a few agents who made time for me and responded to my questions and my follow-up questions. They also gave me a little tour and were extremely pleasant, professional and helpful.

During other trips to New York I also spent a lot of time on the street talking to people. I befriended a NYPD officer who I stayed in touch with. He was also extremely helpful. There is nothing like face-to-face contact and live, on-the-street research. You just gain so much more.

This story features your recurring reporter Jack Gannon, but you also have a series about another reporter, Jason Wade. How are these characters different and what are the creative advantages of having both?

I have three series actually. The first, a five-book series, features Tom Reed, a reporter with the San Francisco Star who is mid-career and struggling to keep his marriage and family together. Then came the Jason Wade trilogy. Jason is a rookie with the Seattle Mirror, who put himself through college. Then we meet Jack Gannon, blue-collar guy from Buffalo, New York, who realizes his dream to work at a major newswire service based in Manhattan. All three are...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Rick Mofina's website.

The Page 69 Test: Every Fear.

My Book, The Movie: A Perfect Grave.

The Page 69 Test: Six Seconds.

The Page 69 Test: Vengeance Road.

Writers Read: Rick Mofina.

My Book, The Movie: The Panic Zone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 9, 2012

Susan Sherman

From a Q & A with Susan Sherman about her debut novel, The Little Russian:

The Little Russian is such an impressive debut novel and certainly does not fall into the category of “write what you know.” What was your inspiration for the subject matter of the novel?

Sherman: The Little Russian is based on the experiences of my grandmother in Ukraine, which was called Little Russia at the time. Hers is an amazing story of survival, strength and courage during the Russian Civil War. Everyone in my family has a version of her story and everyone thinks their version is the right one. An inevitable part of any family reunion is the traditional running argument over which story is right.

How old were you when you first heard your grandmother’s story? Who told you? How did you feel about it? Were you old enough to understand the concept of being a part of living history?

Sherman: I was seven or eight when my father first described how my grandmother bribed a peasant to hide her in a hay wagon and smuggle her and Sam over the border. I changed it to a river crossing in the book. After that I heard snippets of stories from my father and uncles; the time she was caught in the middle of a battle between the Whites and Reds, traveling the countryside by rail as a peddler, and finding out that my grandfather was looking for her from a rag dealer. But it wasn’t until I was actually working on the book and doing extensive research, did I come to understand what horrors my grandmother had lived through and what an amazing woman she had been. I don’t think anyone in my family realized the kind of strength it took to survive the Russian civil war and what a tiger she had to become to keep her children alive.

When did you decide you wanted to tell the story as a novel?

Sherman: For years I wanted to tell this story, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Alexis M. Smith

Alexis Margaret Smith grew up in Soldotna, Alaska, and Seattle, Washington. She attended Mount Holyoke College, Portland State University, and Goddard College, where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing.

From a Q & A with the author about her debut novel, Glaciers:

How long have you been working on Glaciers? Do you remember how it began? How has it evolved from the beginning?

I have been working on Glaciers for the last five years, with some breaks. It began as a series of prose poems about my childhood in Alaska. I was in my second or third semester of the MFA in Writing program at Goddard College. During the winter residencies I would fly out to Vermont from Portland for a week of true winter. Walking through the snowy woods to the library, listening to the creaking trees and feeling the cold on my face, really brought me back to being a kid on my grandparents' homestead outside Kenai.

The story has evolved a lot. When I started writing I was a footloose twenty-something bookseller, and now I'm a homebody thirty-something single mom. In the early days of writing, there was so much more angst--mine and Isabel's. The first year as a mother knocked the impulse to navel-gaze right out of me. My focus, and Isabel's, turned outward, to other people's stories.

Many writers have a few practice novels in the drawer. Is this your first novel?

No other novels in the drawer--just drafts of this one. This was my practice novel, in many ways. I learned so much about writing and being a writer from this book. Practical things like, how to write at the laundromat (and other unlikely places), and how to trick your brain into forgetting the internet (key: keep a big dictionary handy). And, other things, too--structural and stylistic and thematic things--but the most important thing being that writing a novel is more about getting shit done than about being a certain kind of thoughtful, articulate, creative person.

Why did you choose to have the novel take place over only one day? What benefits do you have as a writer with this structure?

I'll admit to being a big fan of Mrs. Dalloway, so that was a huge influence. I love how Virginia Woolf uses...[read on]
Visit Alexis M. Smith's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Michael Erard

Michael Erard's new book is Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners.

From his Q & A with Nataly Kelly at the Huffington Post:

Nataly Kelly (NK): Why did you write this book?

Michael Erard (ME): The changing linguistic world needs polyglots! We need to know what makes them tick so we can find out how to reproduce or mimic what they are able to do. We also need to get a grasp on our own fascinations (and suspicions) of massive multilingualism. This was a topic that had never been covered from a scientific perspective. In hyperpolyglots you have people who are running in essence a natural experiment into the limits of language learning, but no one, until now, has examined the results of that experiment.

NK: What exactly is a hyperpolyglot?

ME: I started my investigations with the definition that a hyperpolyglot is someone who speaks six or more languages, based on work by Dick Hudson, a University College London linguist, but that ought to be revised upward, to 11 languages or more.

NK: How fluent does one have to be in each language to be considered a hyperpolyglot?

ME: There's a myth that hyperpolyglots have all of their languages to an equally high, native-like level, but this isn't the case, just as it's relatively rare to find bilinguals who are perfectly balanced in both of their languages. Hyperpolyglots have varying degrees of proficiency in their languages, depending on lots of factors. To be clear, the...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his writing at Michael Erard's website.

The Page 69 Test: Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 6, 2012

Michael Cannell

Michael T. Cannell's new book is The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit.

From his Q & A with Jeff Glor:

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Michael Cannell: Photographs drew me into this story originally. While working as an editor at The New York Times I saw a compilation of photos from the European racing circuit in the 1950s. Back then many drivers came from prominent European families. Wives and groupies sat in the pits wearing Capri pants and tight cashmere sweaters. But the glamour was closely accompanied by a dark aspect. First I was seduced, then obsessed.

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

MC: Today we live in a safety-conscious culture. It's hard to fathom the dangers that drivers routinely faced half a century ago. For the most part, they drove without flameproof coveralls and roll bars. Their helmets were flimsy cork constructions. Believe it or not, they did without seat belts; the drivers wanted to be free to leap from the car if it burst into flames. Most shocking of all, they often raced with brakes so depleted that they would hardly have stopped a bicycle.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

MC: My first job out of college was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Samuel Park

From a Q & A with Samuel Park about his debut novel, This Burns My Heart:

This novel is based on your mother’s story. What inspired you to write it down?

Something really extraordinary happened to my mother the day before her wedding: another man tried to get her to choose him, instead. She was equally attracted to him, but what woman in her right mind goes off with a stranger the day before her wedding? So she said No, and once her own marriage turned into shambles, she began to wonder, “What if.” As a writer, I thought that was an irresistible hook for a novel, and couldn’t resist fictionalizing it. Who was that man? What was their relationship like? Did they ever see each other again? The question that kept coming back to me was, What are the consequences and reverberations of our choices? What does it mean to pick X, instead of Y? Do you still have the life you were supposed to have, or is it another life altogether?

Was your mother involved in the writing process? How much is true, and how much did you fictionalize?

My mother didn’t know I was writing a novel inspired by her life. If I had told her, I would’ve become too self-conscious to continue. She turned out to be ok with it, which was a relief. My mother did ask, however, not to tell people which parts were true, and I’ve really stayed true to my word. It’s been a balancing act—being honest about my inspirations, but also respecting her privacy. I would say that this is a book that is inspired by my mother’s life and her spirit, but at the end of the day, it’s a work of fiction. The characters were borne out of my imagination, and all the real life events were rearranged for dramatic effect.

Did you have to do research on Korean language and customs? How much of your history and culture is a part of your life today?

I read a lot of books, and...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Samuel Park's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: This Burns My Heart.

Writers Read: Samuel Park.

My Book, The Movie: This Burns My Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Anna Funder

Born in 1966, Anna Funder is an Australian writer who grew up in Melbourne. She worked as an international lawyer and in public relations for a German overseas television service in Berlin. Her first book, Stasiland, won the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction in the United Kingdom.

Funder's new novel is All That I Am.

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

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

I'm obsessed with Tolstoy at the moment. The problem with reading 'Anna Karenina' is that everything else just pales. To be so rapidly and completely inside his characters' minds is incredible.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I don't think I'm like him but I like [Richard Ford's] Frank Bascombe. I like his tentative, meandering, allusive mind, the gentleness of him, the indecision and the wondering.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

The real Dora Fabian [on whom 'All That I Am' is based]. I' m very interested in the people who do the right thing. They deepen our understanding of what it means to be human, they show an extraordinary concern that prompts self-destructively brave behaviour.
Read the complete Q & A.

Anna Funder's Stasiland appears on Steve Kettmann's list of ten of the best books on Germans and Germany.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

John Lescroart

Bestselling author John Lescroart's new novel is The Hunter.

From his Q & A with J. Sydney Jones:

Let’s start things off with a discussion of your own crime scene. What’s your connection to San Francisco?

San Francisco has always been a special place for me. Growing up on the San Francisco peninsula, I always looked to the city as the location where everything important seemed to happen. I attended college there for a year, and have lived there on four separate occasions, always driven out by the weather. In spite of that, my wife and I are fortunate to have a pied-a-terre now on Russian Hill, and we try to get down there at least a few times each month.

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

While every place is unique, San Francisco has its own distinctive character that lends itself to fiction. Its topography is truly romantic, its politics Byzantine (to say nothing of just plain bizarre), its food miraculous. Additionally, it is large enough to give the novels a kind of universal spin, and small enough to feel personal.

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

I...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: John Lescroart's Betrayal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 2, 2012

Matt Rees

Matt Rees is an award-winning crime novelist and foreign correspondent. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed Omar Yussef crime series, including The Collaborator of Bethlehem. He is also the author of Cain’s Field, a nonfiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society. Rees lives in Jerusalem.

From Rees's Q &A with Jeff Glor about his new novel, Mozart's Last Aria:

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Matt Rees: I've always loved Mozart, but his music became more important to me when I was working as a foreign correspondent for Time magazine during the Palestinian intifada. The violence I witnessed and experienced disturbed me. I was in some ways traumatized. My reaction to trauma was to lose my temper to a crazy extent. When I listened to Mozart, I felt calmer. So I used to drive around the West Bank and Gaza listening to this beautiful music, not thinking about the killing and the threat that lay around the corner. I took a break from covering the intifada to visit Austria with my wife - we were looking for a place that was the anti-intifada, organized, peaceful and beautiful. We happened to pass through a small mountain village where, I learned, Mozart's sister, Nannerl had spent her married life. I visited her house and saw that she looked exactly like her brother. Naturally that got me thinking about plot opportunities. But I also felt called by her, as I stood at the edge of the lake at the bottom of her garden. Called by a talented woman who had been consigned to this backwater while her brother achieved fame in the Imperial capital. I wrote the book for her.

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

MR: I learned to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Mozart's Last Aria.

The Page 69 Test: Mozart's Last Aria.

Writers Read: Matt Rees.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Andrea Cremer

Andrea Cremer's books include the "Nightshade" trilogy--a "fantastical, feminist saga of witches and werewolves."

From her Q & A with Susan Carpenter at Jacket Copy:

Jacket Copy: One of the things readers relate to with "Nightshade" is the double standard applied to Calla and Ren. Ren's allowed to be a playboy, but Calla, whom he's supposed to marry, has to remain chaste. That's a double bind that doesn't only exist in fantasy but continues to thrive in the real world as we kick off 2012. Why is that idea alluring to you?

Andrea Cremer: I'm very much a feminist, and as a girl I was so needing strong young women to be heroines to me in the books I read. Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, I lived for the moment when she ripped off her helmet and said, "No living man am I!" I wanted a character with all those qualities, but the parameters of society were constantly around her telling her she couldn't do that. You're allowed to be a warrior but only to a certain extent before she would have to submit to someone else, and that someone else was always going to be a man.

JC: That brings up another idea you tackle -- society's fear of the powerful female and its desire to suppress her. Calla needs to prove she's the pack's alpha, but there are forces working against that.

AC: Sexuality and sexual awakening were key for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue