Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of numerous novels, including Wolf Hall, which won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

From her Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal:

In developing Thomas Cromwell as a sympathetic and in many ways admirable and influential figure, you’re going against the grain of how he’s historically been portrayed by academics and writers. Traditionally, Cromwell is painted as the villain while the Catholic scholar Thomas More is the hero. What made you want to redeem Cromwell?

He always gets such bad press, it made me think there was a huge untold story here. Cromwell seemed to me like a figure out of time — the ambitious politician on the make, the man who rose from very humble origins to be the king’s right hand man. It seemed like an archetypal story. What I tried to do was scrape away at the accretions of prejudice. It was an act of imagination. A challenge I’m throwing out to my reader all the time is, I’m telling you what the circumstances are as we’re moving through his life, this challenge, this dilemma, and I’m asking the reader, what would you do if you were Thomas Cromwell, and your imperative was survival and to get on and make your mark in life? I think that often the reader will be compelled to say, in all honesty I would have done exactly what he did. Once you start to put yourself in his place, then this idea that he’s a double dyed villain, it starts to evaporate. You start to see that he’s a man struggling alongside other men to serve a capricious, neurotic, whimsical monarch, who made the best of circumstances both for himself and for his country.

The voice you use is very unique. It’s a very close third person that is clearly Cromwell’s perspective, which you emphasize by mostly referring to him as “he” rather than Cromwell. How did you develop that voice and was it something you struggled with?

I didn’t think about it or calculate it at all. When I sat down to write the first paragraph of “Wolf Hall,” I thought I’d write a page or two to see how it sounds, and that was the voice that came out. The first scene was, he’s a boy on the ground and his father’s standing over him and about to bring his foot down. And I thought, well, we’re looking through his eyes. And it can’t be a first person narrative, but it’s not as detached as third person. And I felt that since I’m behind his eyes, I can’t really start calling him Thomas Cromwell, as if I’m across the room and able to point at him. So I evolved this other way of doing it, which has now become...[read on]
Learn about the book Mantel wishes she had written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Edward O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s preeminent biologists, is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Sociobiology, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Ants, and the best-selling novel Anthill. His latest book is The Social Conquest of Earth. A professor emeritus at Harvard University, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

From Wilson's Q & A with Liz Else:

You've recently been involved in a high-profile academic row over what drives the evolution of social traits such as altruism. Why should non-specialists care?

That is one of the main points of my new book. Scientific advances are now good enough for us to address coherently questions of where we came from and what we are. But to do so, we need to answer two more fundamental questions. The first is why advanced social life exists in the first place and has occurred so rarely. The second is what are the driving forces that brought it into existence.

Eusociality, where some individuals reduce their own reproductive potential to raise others' offspring, is what underpins the most advanced form of social organization and the dominance of social insects and humans. One of the key ideas to explain this has been kin selection theory or inclusive fitness, which argues that individuals cooperate according to how they are related. I have had doubts about it for quite a while. Standard natural selection is simpler and superior. Humans originated by multilevel selection—individual selection interacting with group selection, or tribe competing against tribe. We need to understand a great deal more about that.

How will a better understanding of multilevel selection help?

We should consider ourselves as a product of these two interacting and often competing levels of evolutionary selection. Individual versus group selection results in a mix of altruism and selfishness, of virtue and sin, among the members of a society. If we look at it that way, then we have what appears to be a pretty straightforward answer as to why conflicted emotions are at the very foundation of human existence. I think that also explains why we never seem to be able to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tiffany Baker

Tiffany Baker has a graduate degree in creative writing from UC Irvine and a PhD in Victorian literature.

Her latest novel is The Gilly Salt Sisters.

From her Q & A at The Debutante Ball:

Talk about one book that made an impact on you:

I first read Jane Eyre when I was nine years old, and at various points in my life, I’ve gone back to read it again. When I was kid, I was mesmerized by Jane’s tragic childhood. As a teenager, I was smitten with Mr. Rochester, and now, as a novelist, I appreciate the narrative arc and Jane’s voice.

I have a doctorate in Victorian literature, and I’ve come to believe that one is either Team Jane Eyre or Team Wuthering Heights. Generally, most scholars are pro-Wuthering Heights, and although I love both books, I have to say that my heart belongs to Jane Eyre. I think it’s more of a reader’s and a woman’s book. For one thing, there’s no prissy Mr. Lockhart telling the story, just Jane, herself. Also, Heathcliff is sexy, but he’s too much of a brute in the end. Mr. Rochester does have his awful side (the fact of the mad wife in the attic is emphatically Not Good), but he’s not quite as savage as Heathcliff. And the end is happy. I love a happy, if imperfect, ending. Finally, is there any better sentence than...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Tiffany Baker's website.

Baker is also the author of the New York Times bestselling The Little Giant of Aberdeen County.

The Page 69 Test: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County.

Writers Read: Tiffany Baker.

The Page 69 Test:  The Gilly Salt Sisters.

My Book, The Movie: The Gilly Salt Sisters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2012

Megan Mayhew Bergman

Megan Mayhew Bergman grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and attended Wake Forest University. She has graduate degrees from Duke University and Bennington College. Her stories have appeared in the 2010 New Stories from the South anthology, Ploughshares, Oxford American, One Story, Narrative, PEN American, The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, Gulf Coast, Greensboro Review, and elsewhere.

Her new story collection is Birds of a Lesser Paradise.

From the author's Q & A with Anna-Claire Stinebring at Full Stop:

You’re originally from North Carolina, though you now live in Vermont. Would you consider yourself a Southern writer?

I spent 30 years in the South, and three in Vermont. I feel like a Southern writer, and yet I already feel ties to New England. What I value most, I’ve realized, is not geography, but proximity to the natural world. I am a girl from the sticks if nothing else. I guess what I can understand, and perhaps feel most at home in, is a small town. (Cue Mellencamp.)

Sometimes I feel like the contemporary Southern writing that gets the most attention capitalizes on being grotesque: decay and trailer parks. Do you find there are tropes that come with writing about a certain place that you have to combat?

I go back and forth on this, and I think the success of writing Southern narratives and Southern characters rests on the skill of the author. I certainly wrote some early stories that stirred up tired ideas, stories I’d like to forget about old people and biscuits and church.

The thing I find most difficult to read in bad “Southern” writing is phonetic dialect; nothing reveals a tin ear like bad Southern. If an author has given us good characters, a palpable setting, and strong word choices, we get it — authors can...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chad Harbach

Chad Harbach is the author of the novel The Art of Fielding.

From his Q & A with Noah Charney at The Daily Beast:

Do you follow a favorite baseball team, and any specific player?

I’ve been a Brewers fan since birth. My favorite player is the great Vinny Rottino.

What is your earliest baseball memory?

My earliest memory of playing (and maybe my earliest memory, period) is of my dad pitching me Nerf balls in our living room when I was barely old enough to stand. As a fan, I have all-too-vivid memories of the Brewers’ loss in the 1982 World Series, when I was 6 years old.

What do you do when you are stuck or have temporary writer’s block?

Walk. Or drink. But walking is more helpful.

What is something you always carry with you?

My ancient, crappy cell phone that gives a busy signal whenever anyone calls me, but which I for some reason refuse to relinquish. (Either I’m too cheap or don’t like getting phone calls or both.)

If you could bring back to life one deceased person, who would it be and why?

One writer I’ve always been eager to hang out with is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert is a John Evans Professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He is the author of Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens, Democratic Individuality, and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?

His new book is Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence.

From Gilbert's Q & A at 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: Your new book Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence came out in March. Can you say what the thesis of the book is and if there are political lessons to be learnt from this history?

AG: Sixteen years ago, I started working on blacks escaping and soldiering in exchange for emancipation during the North American Revolution. After many downs - nothing like entering a new field, the writing of history, and in America, its most sacred area, the Revolution, and telling a tale in which blacks from below liberate themselves, but, nonetheless, most escaped to and were taken to freedom by the Crown. As a lifelong anti-racist, this story is threaded from the introduction – a dedication to my grade school classmate and friend Andy Goodman, murdered during Freedom Summer, along with James Cheney and Michael Schwerner – and concludes with the defiant speech of Gabriel, a black artisan who almost led the burning down of the wooden city of Richmond in 1800. Gabriel likened himself and his cause to George Washington (Washington would be a greater leader if one could liken him to Gabriel or Toussint L’Ouverture). The story is of how courageous individuals, with insight into the wrong of slavery, travelled lonely paths to move the mountain. For instance, John Woolman in the 1750s among Quakers began with a refusal to write wills which bequeathed slaves and then walked throughout the South talking with Quakers about the evil of holding men in bondage. John Laurens was the scion of an influential slave-owning family in South Carolina, whose father was a Christian opponent of slavery in the abstract but also, when blacks rose up, stuck at them viciously. John studied Rousseau in Geneva in the early 1770s, and came back the leading elite abolitionist in the Revolution. An aide to Washington, his name is on the Laurens proposal, passed by the Continental Congress in 1779, freeing 3,000-5,000 blacks in South Carolina and Georgia in exchange for fighting. Thomas Peters was a prince in Africa, kidnapped and sold into bondage in South Carolina and branded twice for trying to escape. Peters then succeeded, fought as a sergeant in the Black Pioneers, went to Canada with the defeated British and led a movement among those not given land for redress. He travelled to London, and became the leader of a democratic expedition to and experiment in Sierra Leone. The book explores how through many such stories, then and afterwards, individuals contributed to forging the movement which finally outlawed bondage in the Empire in 1834 and rose to a crescendo in the American Civil War. Often small or not initially determined efforts which achieve, over time, deeper purposefulness can...[read on]
Learn more about Black Patriots and Loyalists at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Black Patriots and Loyalists.

Visit Alan Gilbert's "Democratic Individuality" blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 25, 2012

William Dietrich

William (Bill) Dietrich's historical and action thrillers have been translated into 28 languages. Dietrich is also a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, nonfiction author, and college professor of environmental journalism. He has won the Washington Governor Writer's Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award.

His Ethan Gage Adventures feature an imperfect American adventurer who is not only a protege of the late Benjamin Franklin—but also a gambler, sharpshooter, treasure-hunter and romantic, who manages to get into plenty of trouble with women. Ethan's story entwines with Napoleon Bonaparte's, whom he first meets in Napoleon's Pyramids and is later allied to and odds with in The Rosetta Key and The Dakota Cipher. The newly released The Emerald Storm is the fourth novel in the series.

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

Q: Ethan in retirement! I don’t believe it.

A: Our hero is perfectly ready to settle down, except that ambition, vanity, greed and treachery gets in his way.

Q: Fortress de Joux sounds forbidding. Why would Napoleon put a black hero, Touissant L’Ouverture, there?

A: This castle, which can be visited today, was the Napoleonic Alcatraz, one of the worst places to be imprisoned and particularly harsh for a captive from the tropics, given its alpine locale. But Napoleon wanted to return slavery to Haiti, and hoped imprisoning the black leader would accomplish it. Instead, it made the slave revolt worse.

Q: The Caribbean must have been a nice place to do research.

A: Somebody has to do it. It WAS nice, of course, but the islands we think of as paradise today were considered hellish then: hot, diseased, and thronged with insects. I had to imagine the setting from a very different perspective.

Q: Did the Aztecs really have flying machines?

A: No one saw them flying, but golden artifacts have been found that look oddly like airplanes. Perhaps they were representations of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at William Dietrich's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Emerald Storm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins is co-author (with the late Mickey Spillane) of Lady, Go Die!

From his Q & A with J. Kingston Pierce at The Rap Sheet:

J. Kingston Pierce: In an opening note in Lady, Go Die!, you explain that you didn’t immediately recognize this novel as Spillane’s second, unfinished book, but thought that it was an early version of his 1966 Hammer work, The Twisted Thing. How long did it take you to discover its true importance, and what finally tipped you off?

Max Allan Collins: When I began reading it, that Lady, Go Die! was a different story became immediately apparent. But understand that I have a file cabinet drawer of unpublished, mostly unfinished Spillane material, and it took me a while to go through everything. The manuscripts of The Goliath Bone, The Big Bang, Complex 90, Kiss Her Goodbye, and King of the Weeds were clearly, obviously substantial Hammer manuscripts. There were a number of other, shorter Hammer manuscripts that I felt would either make short stories or possible novels, once those five were completed.

The other factor was that Lady, Go Die! began with Chapter 2--Chapter 1 had been lost--and was more on the order of 80 pages, rather than the 100 or more of those first, easily identifiable, unfinished Hammer novels. So even when I discovered how significant it was--as the follow-up to I, the Jury--I decided to set it aside. It was shorter, and I’d have to write the first chapter myself, and that all seemed to relegate it to a later slot, after I’d become really comfortable with this posthumous collaboration.

JKP: Can you speculate on why Spillane put this novel aside in the 1940s and never came back to finish it himself?

MAC: I have two theories. I think he may have started a sequel only to have an editor discourage him from submitting it, until sales reports for I, the Jury came in. And of course...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Julianna Baggott

Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott also writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. She has published seventeen books over the last ten years.

After receiving her M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Baggott published her first novel, Girl Talk, which was a national bestseller and was quickly followed by Boston Globe bestseller The Miss America Family, and then Boston Herald Book Club selection, The Madam, an historical novel based on the life of her grandmother. She co-wrote Which Brings Me to You with Steve Almond, a Kirkus Best Book of 2006.

Baggott's new novel is Pure, her first horror novel, which divides future humans into two classes: those cataclysmically merged with animals, toys, and other people, and the dome-dwelling, authoritarian “Pures.”

From her Q & A with Roxane Gay at The Rumpus:

Rumpus: Pure, your latest novel, feels very timely and is nothing if not a cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear weapons. How did the idea for this trilogy come about?

Baggott: My childhood was marked by the great fear of nuclear holocaust. We practiced our Civil Defense Drills, lining up in hallways, curled to the floor, but we knew we’d die or, worse, survive only to suffer radiation and slow death. Pure comes from that deep well of fear—a renewed fear these days. Later in the drafting, I started doing research on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When people say that Pure is too bleak for them, I refuse to apologize. What we’ve done to our fellow man is far more horrific than anything I wrote. That said, Pure isn’t about the apocalypse. It is about what endures—hope, faith, love.

Rumpus: I read that you wrote Pure for your daughter. Do you always write books toward someone in your life? How does that shape your writing?

Baggott: You want the greatest trick for writing a novel? Here it is: imagine urgently whispering your story into one person’s ear—and only one. This one visualization will clarify every word choice you make.

Rumpus: What does it take to write a dark story? Do you ever fear darkness in your work?

Baggott: I don’t know when I’m writing dark. I don’t know when I’m writing funny or even heartbreaking. I’m always just trying to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Julianna Baggott's website and blog.

Baggott also writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode.

The Page 69 Test: Bridget Asher's The Pretend Wife.

The Page 69 Test: Pure.

Writer Read: Julianna Baggott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde (a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize), and the New York Times bestsellers The Falls (winner of the 2005 Prix Femina Etranger) and The Gravedigger’s Daughter. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. In 2003 she received the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature and The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement, and in 2006 she received the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her recent novels include Little Bird of Heaven, Dear Husband, A Fair Maiden, and Mudwoman.

From her Q & A with Jacqueline Mroz for New Jersey Monthly about New Jersey Noir, which Oates edited:

Is New Jersey a perfect setting for noir?

Perhaps many states of the United States are perfect settings for the noir sensibility—California, New York and Louisiana certainly come to mind—but New Jersey seemed ideal, as my preface suggests.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s story in the collection is set in Princeton. Does he capture the essence of your town? What is the essence of Princeton?

The university is comprised of thousands of individuals, many from foreign countries. Jonathan’s story is primarily about estrangement within the too-near real and could be set virtually everywhere; but since Jonathan knows Princeton from having been a student here for four years, he set it here.

How do you think an outsider’s view of New Jersey differs from that of New Jerseyans?

I have no idea how people in Idaho regard us. Most people’s views of others are cliches and not really worth investigating. That is why art attempts some complexity of portraiture.

You’ve lived in New Jersey for many years. Do you feel like a New Jerseyan?

I feel like...[read on]
Learn about the book that changed Joyce Carol Oates's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2012

John Irving

John Irving's latest novel is In One Person.

From his Q & A with Joy Shan at the Yale Daily News:

Q. You come from an academic background: college and then an MFA program at the University of Iowa. What made you decide to get an MFA instead of just jumping into writing?

A. I think the choice to go to an MFA program in creative writing was guided by the fact that I was a very young father. I became a father in my early 20s … before I graduated from college. And in those days, there were really only two MFA programs in creative writing. I know that sounds inconceivable, but the only two that had any kind of credibility were in Iowa and Stanford. And Iowa had a better reputation because they put more of an emphasis on your writing and there were fewer academic requirements … If you were accepted at those programs at that time, you’d go to Iowa if you cared about your writing.

Q. Your academic life didn’t end there — you went on to teach creative writing. What made you decide to teach the craft as well as practice it?

A. I knew at a young age that I wanted to write novels, and I wanted to write long novels. The prospect of writing journalism in order to support my writing habit was very unappealing because I felt certain that I would have less time to do the writing I cared about in that circumstance than I would have if I had a college teaching job. And I also had a background as a wrestler, so I could enhance my teaching position with a coaching job. So between the coaching and the teaching, I didn’t have to worry about money. That was huge … there was no commercial burden. I could take as long as I wanted to write a book. The fact that I didn’t have to associate writing with making money means that I could write novels as ambitious as I wanted … I didn’t find teaching distasteful, I didn’t dislike coaching, I was in both cases talking about something I thought I knew. I felt...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Alex Grecian

After leaving a career in advertising, working on accounts that included Harley-Davidson and The Great American Smokeout, Alex Grecian returned to his first love: writing fiction. He created the long-running and critically acclaimed graphic novel series Proof, which NPR named one of the best books of 2009. The series stars John “Proof” Prufock, a special-agent-sasquatch.

One of the Proof storylines is set in the 1800′s and inspired Alex’s debut novel The Yard. It is the first in a projected series about the famous London Murder Squad. The second reportedly will focus on the development of photography in criminal investigation.

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

There has been much written about Jack the Ripper—both fact and fiction—but your debut novel, THE YARD, actually begins after the failed investigation of those grisly murders by Scotland Yard has been laid to rest. What is THE YARD about?

It’s about the men who continued to try to clean up London after they’d already failed with the Ripper murders. During those murders and for some time after they stopped, the people in London were terrified and angry, and they took a lot of those emotions out on their police, whom they felt had failed to keep them safe. There was a lot of thinly veiled contempt for authority.

When The Yard begins, a detective has just been murdered. His body’s been found folded up in a steamer trunk, his eyes and mouth sewn shut, and the newest detective on the squad, Walter Day, has to solve the crime. He’s just arrived in London, has absolutely no confidence, and yet still lands the biggest and hardest case he could possibly get.

It’s daunting.

But he’s able to turn to the first forensic pathologist in England for help. Dr Bernard Kingsley has some unconventional scientific ideas about how to catch the killer, and Inspector Day is willing to listen to him. They’ve got to hurry to catch the killer, though, because he hasn’t stopped killing. Between this and the Ripper murders, Inspector Day begins to realize Scotland Yard is facing a whole new breed of criminal: men who kill because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Alex Gilvarry

Alex Gilvarry is a native of Staten Island, New York. He has been a Norman Mailer Fellow and has written for The Paris Review, among other publications. He is the founding editor of the website Tottenville Review, a book review collaborative.

From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant is his debut novel.

From Gilvarry's Q & A with Doretta Lau for the Asia Wall Street Journal:

What inspired you to write this book?

Mr. Gilvarry: I was working in SoHo, which is the most fashionable neighborhood in Manhattan. We were always surrounded by fashion people, by boutiques, and on lunch breaks I’d see models — especially during fashion week there would be models on the street going to and from their castings.

Ashley, my girlfriend, also worked in the industry, so I had already gone to a lot of fashion parties and watched her in shows and stuff like that. I had no purpose being there. I was really just there observing, having a laugh at what I thought was these ridiculous people. Me making fun of them was a defense mechanism, because I didn’t belong there.

During 2004 to 2007 — some of the novel takes place in that timeframe — I just became really obsessed with Guantanamo Bay and the imprisonment of men, sometimes innocent men, and not even being labeled “in prison.” There were so many things to ease the situation that America had done, like “detainment.” The word detainment is very neutral. It’s a good term.

As I started writing the book, the two worlds just converged in my mind and made sense as a narrative. I invented the character Boy, a fashion designer.

Why is Boy Filipino?

I wanted to write about Filipinos and the Philippines. I always had, because my mother’s from the Philippines. I had been there a few times, and Manila’s a very mixed-up place. I always wanted to set something there, and so Boy was this character, was this opportunity to write about something that I wanted to do for many years. But also, by him as an...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alex Gilvarry's website.

The Page 69 Test: From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 18, 2012

Adam Haslett

Adam Haslett is the author of You Are Not A Stranger Here, a short story collection, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, and won the PEN/Winship Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Zoetrope, and Best American Short Stories as well as National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts.

His debut novel Union Atlantic was published in 2010.

From the author's 2010 Q & A with Kate Levin:

Your story collection, You Are Not A Stranger Here, was published in 2002. You’ve said in an earlier interview that you begin a short story by hearing a voice or catching hold of a certain sentence rhythm. Do you summon a voice or a rhythm when you’re sitting down at your desk? In other words, do you write your way into a certain voice? Or do you hear it first and then try to nail it down with words?

It’s more the former. The reason you have to spend so long at your desk is because you need to be there when it happens. It’s nice to think that you’d walk down the street and something would come to you whole cloth, but it doesn’t happen much. It has to do with a certain calming of the mind, quieting the voices of distraction. I meditate every morning before I work, and that’s a process of getting rid of a lot of the things that block out those quieter, subtler voices in your own mind. So, I don’t know if I can say that I can summon those voices, but maybe I can hear them better. It’s sort of a negative skill, the skill of concentration. It’s the skill—increasingly difficult, it seems to me—of blocking out a manic culture, in order to be able to listen to something that, when you first hear it, is a wisp of a nothing of an echo. And if it’s ever going to have life, you have to pay attention to it, take it seriously, let it be more...[read on]
Visit Adam Haslett's website.

See Adam Haslett's five best deathless accounts of mourning.

The Page 69 Test: Union Atlantic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hesh Kestin

Hesh Kestin is a recovering foreign correspondent who reported on local wars, global business and exotic mayhem in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for such publications as Forbes, Newsday and the Jerusalem Post, and wrote for US magazines as diverse as Playboy and Inc.

His novel The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats is Stephen King’s recommended read for World Book Night.

From Kestin's Q & A with novelist Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

‘Exodus’, and not the one by Leon Uris. In this shrewdly penned thriller, an Egyptian nobleman takes it on the lam after knocking off one of Pharaoh’s brutal overseers. Then, after discovered the secret of his birth, he blackmails the bossman himself by hitting him with plague after plague until the big hood finally relents: In history’s greatest heist, the newly minted but fast-thinking yid walks off with the equivalent of a couple billion quid [figuring the average slave was a cool thou] plus livestock and uncounted treasure. And that’s only the caper. What happens next would make a hell of a movie. Wait a minute, they may have already done it.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Hesh Kestin. When I was a journalist the CIA had me down for a Mossadnilk, the Mossad thought I was CIA and -- for the three years I was based in London -- MI5 interviewed me entirely too often. Alas, my only secret was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gary Krist

Gary Krist's new book is City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.

From his Q & A with Julie Zarlenga of the Gapers Block Book Club:

In the early 1900's things were changing across America as a whole. Why did you choose Chicago as a focus for this change?

I'm really interested in big cities and how they change over time, how they evolve, because it's always a very tumultuous, almost Darwinian process with groups being in competition with each other. I wanted to look at it as almost a test case of the whole American idea of can we build a Democratic society based on this collection of people of all colors, races, creeds, nationalities. And so the question was, could this group of people from all over the world come together and put aside racial hatreds, put aside ethnic hatreds, and cultural differences, and build the city into an economic powerhouse. We know now that the answer is yes, but there were times as in 1919 when it looked like the experiment was not going to work.

Your previous book The White Cascade focused on the early 1900's as well. Is there a particular fascination with this time period?

I think of this era, the Progressive Era, the first two decades of the twentieth century as really being the adolescence of modernity. Technologically I think it was an adolescence, and also socially. I think cities were growing and they were growing faster than they could really adapt. That's what really interests me about this era. It really seems that change is happening so quickly and our ability to control the change has not gotten there yet so you get all kinds of excitement.

Why did you decide to make Chicago's mayor William Hale Thompson, or Big Bill as he was known, the focus of your book?

First of all, he is God's gift to any narrative history; he is just so colorful, so corrupt, with the big cowboy hat, and he was the leader of the city. I think he...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Gary Krist's website.

Before turning to narrative nonfiction with The White Cascade and City of Scoundrels, Krist wrote three novels--Bad Chemistry, Chaos Theory, and Extravagance--and two short-story collections--The Garden State and Bone by Bone.

The Page 69 Test: The White Cascade.

Writers Read: Gary Krist.

The Page 99 Test: City of Scoundrels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Anne Enright

Anne Enright's novels include The Gathering, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, and The Forgotten Waltz. She lives in Dublin, Ireland.

From her Q & A at the Independent:

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

Alice Munro. It's difficult to sum up why in one sentence. She's the kind of writer who lasts for a lifetime. I've been reading her for 30 years and she is as relevant, or more relevant, as she was when I started out.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Max from [Maurice Sendak's] 'Where the Wild Things Are'. I think he resembles most writers. He's in his room, on his own, being "king of all wild things".
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

George Mitchell, the US Democratic senator who arbitrated the Northern Ireland peace agreement. He's the quiet type but with endless patience and diplomacy. And he listened to a lot of bullshit...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2012

Edward Humes

From a Q & A with Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, at Frugalista:

You always hear people talk about recycling, but that has its own set of issues. Is recycling a sham? Tell us more about “refusing” trend.

Recycling is no sham — it’s an important piece of the war on waste. It’s just not the best piece. Recycling itself creates waste — it’s a kind of last resort, better than the landfill, but only just. Compared to refusing, reducing and reusing, recycling is a very inefficient way of dealing with waste, and often can’t be done cost-effectively. Recycling actually encourages waste, easing the conscience of consumers who can feel free to buy wasteful products such as bottled water (which really is a sham), knowing the empties will be recycled and believing, falsely, that recycling solves the problem of waste.

Refusing to buy wasteful products is a far better strategy. There’s nothing rude or wrong about saying no to disposable products and packaging, or to refusing unwanted catalogs and junky promotional giveaways. Refusing wasteful items creates a market force for being less wasteful; accepting the fruits of the disposable economy only encourages more waste. Here’s just two facts that should make anyone enthusiastic about refusing: 30% of what we throw away consists of containers and packaging — instant trash. And 43% of U.S. mail is junk mail. We are paying for all that waste, and getting nothing for it. The government even subsidizes junk mail by...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Humes's website.

Humes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 12 nonfiction books, including a trilogy of environmental works: Eco Barons, Force of Nature, and Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash.

The Page 99 Test: Force of Nature.

The Page 99 Test: Garbology.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lyndsay Faye

The beginnings of the New York City Police Department in 1845 are at the heart of Lyndsay Faye’s series debut, The Gods of Gotham.

From her Q & A with Lenny Picker at Publishers Weekly:

Where did this book come from?

I began with the concept of day one, cop one—the very first New York City police officer on his first day on the job. I knew nothing about the topic, and thus rolled up my sleeves and spent six months buried in the depths of the New York Public Library’s research library and the New York Historical Society. Much of the plot came directly from my research: the fire that decimated lower Manhattan, the formation of the police, the flood of Irish immigration due to the concurrent Potato Famine. Once I learned about all the incredible events that took place in 1845 New York, I had an enormous amount of historical drama to cull from.

What led to the formation of the NYPD at exactly that time?

New York City, which already had a population of 400,000, was growing exponentially during this period. But its system of peacekeeping was a joke. The night watch consisted of hard-working men with full-time day jobs who...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her novel at Lyndsay Faye's website.

See the crime novel Faye would most like to have written.

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye (May 2009).

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye (April 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick is the author of the novel Foreign Bodies and numerous other acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. She is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Man Booker International Prize. Her stories have won four O. Henry first prizes.

From her April 2012 Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write Foreign Bodies?

A novel can be set in motion by an incident, a character, a location, a mood – by anything at all. Sometimes the stimulus can be an idea, which will rapidly clothe itself in character and incident. Foreign Bodies came about through the contemplation of the contrast between post-second world war America and Europe. In 1952, I had gone to England on a literary pilgrimage, but what I also saw, even at that distance from the blitz, were bombed-out ruins and an enervated society, while the continent was still, psychologically, in the grip of its recent atrocities. Back home, McCarthyism was scaring us mightily, the Korean war was in the headlines, but the country was otherwise booming: the cars were growing huge fins, the arts were burgeoning like mad. I was more than halfway through the novel when it occurred to me that Henry James in The Ambassadors (published in 1903) had seen America and Europe in a different relation – Europe rich in cultural power, and America culturally naked and dependent; and that I had (subliminally?) reversed James's premises. Or, rather, that history had reversed them.

What was most difficult about it?

I most definitely hadn't wanted a character scarred by the Holocaust, but there Lili suddenly was: a survivor of Transnistria, a murderous Romanian sinkhole where thousands suffered and perished. I had no intention of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2012

Jassy Mackenzie

Jassy Mackenzie's third South African crime thriller featuring P.I. Jade de Jong is The Fallen.

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

Q: For people who haven't read your books, what can you tell us about your main character, private investigator Jade de Jong?

A: Although she'd been away for 10 years in the first book, she is quintessentially a South African. She has a deep love for South Africa in spite of all its failings and in spite of the crime; she loves the diversity and the people.

The crime in South Africa facilitates Jade in a lot of her work. It allows her more carte blanche than she'd have in a country that had fewer problems.

Q: South Africa is a major character itself in your books. To an outsider who's never been there, it comes across as an extremely violent place in which the rich live hidden behind security guards and electrified fences. How do you wrestle with your depiction of the country where you still live?

It's a case of being truthful and having an eye for detail.

I know that some readers initially see only the fact that it is a very violent country. You'd struggle to find anywhere else that has the same number of extremes because it's also a place that has an incredible heart to it.

There's an amazing generosity and wonderful spirit in the people who are here in South Africa, an unbelievable kindness and friendship that you can be shown by a complete stranger who may actually not even have a job.

It shows its faces and facets in so many ways, and yet you have this violent side. Then there's...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jassy Mackenzie's website.

Jassy Mackenzie was born in Rhodesia and moved to South Africa when she was eight years old. Her novels include Random Violence and Stolen Lives.

The Page 69 Test: Random Violence.

The Page 69 Test: Stolen Lives.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash is from western North Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and teaches English at Bethany College.

His stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Roanoke Review and The Carolina Quarterly.

Cash's first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, is now out from William Morrow.

From his Q & A with Julianna Baggott:

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was a big-time liar when I was a kid, and I’ve never been able to understand why. Perhaps I was into telling stories and experimenting with fiction before I realized that I wanted to be a writer. I’ll never forget the story I told my neighbor one summer evening while we shot basketball in my driveway. I was probably six years old at the time, and I was telling my friend about a recent trip my family had taken to Myrtle Beach. I told him that my sister had buried me up to my neck in the sand, but she had to dig me out when I felt a crab trying to pinch off my toes. I told the story as if a real emergency situation had descended upon Myrtle Beach. My sister, my parents, and even complete strangers were digging and clawing away at the sand to save my toes from that murderous crab.

Unfortunately, it was a cool summer night and the windows were open. My sister was waiting for me when I went inside the house once it got dark; she was probably fourteen years old at the time. She said, “I heard the story you just told out there. None of that happened. Why did you lie?” I didn’t know what to say. She asked me the same question several times, and I was never able to give her an answer. I still can’t.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

I think of myself as more of a professional reader than a professional writer. I studied literature in college and graduate school for what seems like forever, and I’ve been teaching American literature for the past several years, so I really feel like I’ve dedicated my life to reading, and to be honest, I can’t think of anything I’d rather spend my time doing. I probably spend twice as much time reading as I do writing.

Lately, I’ve been really drawn to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Wiley Cash's website.

Writers Read: Wiley Cash.

My Book, The Movie: A Land More Kind Than Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of numerous novels, including Wolf Hall, which won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

From her Q & A with Foyles:

What is it about this period of history, and Thomas Cromwell in particular, that fascinates you?

The reign of Henry VII is so gruesomely fascinating that it's irresistible material for novelists and dramatists, offering the perfect mix of political and personal themes. But of course it's been done so often. I wouldn't have been drawn to it, except that Thomas Cromwell led me. I wanted to understand his stealthy but spectacular rise in the world, his enigmatic personality. When you look through the familiar history and personalities through Cromwell's eyes, they come up fresh and new.

Did you always plan a follow up to Wolf Hall?

I have always planned to tell Thomas Cromwell's whole story, from his obscure birth through his rise to power and his sudden fall and execution in 1540. I hope to follow Bring Up The Bodies with a third and final book, The Mirror & The Light.

How did the novelist and historian come together - or clash - in historical fiction?

I think the novelist has to build on the historian's work, and go to work at the point where the biographer stops operating. Until very recently in human history, private life was harder to access and reimagine than public life. By the nature of the thing, hard evidence about it is difficult to come by. Also, conspiracies are...[read on]
Learn about the book Mantel wishes she had written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alan Ehrenhalt

Alan Ehrenhalt was the executive editor of Governing magazine from 1990 to 2009. His new book is The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City.

From Ehrenhalt's Q &A with Will Doig at Salon:

The revitalization of cities seemed to come out of nowhere, but you write that it was actually the result of deliberate efforts and policies. For instance, Chicago laid the groundwork for a resurgence, while other Midwestern cities missed out. What did Chicago do that, say, Cleveland did not?

In Chicago’s case there were two factors: One is that Chicago is simply the biggest, so it inherits the title of Magnet City of the Midwest. That gave it an edge. But it’s just as true that Mayor Daley the First had a clear idea that people would want to live downtown, and he made it possible for developers to acquire land there. Similarly to what New York City and Philadelphia did, he offered tax incentives to help the city center come back. Now, you can waste a lot of money on tax incentives if no one wants to live downtown. The market has to be right.

Of course, the flip side is more immigrants and working-class families now living in the suburbs, which has complicated politics in places like Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta, because all these different immigrant groups have a harder time uniting on issues. Are we looking at a future of the ungovernable suburb?

Gwinnett County is interesting because the residents are now a nonwhite majority, yet it’s still all white Republicans on the council. It’s fairly common for a traditional white power structure to remain when diversity comes in. In Chicago, you had an Irish power structure in neighborhoods long after they became majority black. But yes, one myth is that Asians are Asians when it comes to politics, but each ethnic group is different, politically speaking. And another thing that’s clear is that African-Americans and Hispanics go their separate ways — the immigrants tend not to move into the African-American areas.

The suburbs themselves break down into different factions, too. You’ve got the outer suburbs, like Gwinnett County, which are seeing a true inversion, and the inner suburbs, which often still suffer from high poverty and high crime. I would think that as the inner cores of cities become more and more expensive, these inner-ring suburbs would inevitably gentrify completely. Is that too simple an assumption?

I think it’s a little too simple. The...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 7, 2012

Jerrold Seigel

From a Q & A with Jerrold Seigel, author of Modernity and Bourgeois Life: Society, Politics, and Culture in England, France and Germany since 1750:

What inspired you to research this subject?

I've long thought that making sense of the relationship between modernity and bourgeois life is crucial to understanding how the world we live in came about, how it differs from the past forms of life out of which it developed, and the roles particular kinds of people play in it. A great deal of work by historians and others has recognized this in one way or another. I was already trying to deal with these questions, less explicitly and with less awareness, in some of my earlier writing, especially my books on Marx (who assigned bourgeois people a crucial role in modern history) and on French bohemianism (which rested on a much closer relationship to bourgeois life than has often been supposed). I have also had to confront these questions often in my teaching, which came together with my research and writing to give me a deepening dissatisfaction with the ways they have usually been dealt with. Reading Georg Simmel's brilliant book The Philosophy of Money turned on a kind of light bulb in my head. Simmel's notion that money is a "social tool" allowing people to act through "long chains of connections" led me to think about modernity and bourgeois life in relation to the growing weight of distant relations in people's lives, and thus to the extension and thickening of what I call the "networks of means" that provide vehicles for them.

What did being ‘modern' mean to Europeans in the nineteenth-century?

Many things of course, depending on who was talking and in relationship to what. The term had long simply called up what belonged to the present in contrast with some real or imagined past, and for many nineteenth-century people it still did. The shocking and exciting political and economic changes at the end of the eighteenth century made the world appear to be changing very fast, leading some thoughtful people to associate "modern" with rapid, constant change; the "all that is solid melts into the air" of The Communist Manifesto or the "ephemerality" Baudelaire saw as the essence of le moderne. But applied to particular things, such as industry or politics or society, the term referred to specific techniques, institutions or attitudes, such as machine production, party organization or some kind of liberated individuality. "Modern" could have negative connotations as well as positive ones, for instance having a kinship with decadence or moral decline. A certain number of nineteenth-century people recognized that modernity had much to do with the spread of distant relations of one or another kind, a perspective to which I give some emphasis, since it is close to the one I try to develop in the book. Modern is a very slippery term and I think we can only use it well if...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller grew up in Philadelphia, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin and Ancient Greek from Brown University, and has been teaching both languages for the past nine years. She has also studied at the Yale School of Drama, specializing in adapting classical tales for a modern audience. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Miller's first novel is The Song of Achilles.

From her Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write The Song of Achilles?

Almost accidentally. Although I'd always loved writing and Classics, it never crossed my mind to combine the two until my senior year of college. A friend asked me to codirect a production of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare's Trojan War play, and the experience was a complete revelation. I realised that I wanted not just to read these ancient texts, but to participate in telling them.

At the same time I found myself fascinated by that terrible moment in the Iliad when Patroclus dies and Achilles is overcome with grief and rage. It was so moving to me, and mysterious too, because Patroclus has been a fairly minor character up to that point. I wanted to understand who he was, and why Achilles was so lost without him. The Song of Achilles was my way of answering that question.

What was most difficult about it?

Finding Patroclus's voice. I originally started off by writing very much in epic mode, but realised about halfway through the process that though the story was epic, Patroclus's vision of the world was essentially lyric. Ancient lyric poetry is the poetry of the personal: of love and friendship, beauty and pleasure. Once I understood that Patroclus saw the world more like Sappho and Catullus than Homer, things...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Madeline Miller's website.

See Madeline Miller's top ten classical books.

My Book, The Movie: The Song of Achilles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Beatriz Williams

Beatriz Williams is the author of the new novel, Overseas.

From her Q & A with Martha Schulman at Publishers Weekly:

You say the novel combines the two worlds you know best, Wall Street and the British experience in WWI. How did you come to know early 20th-century Britain?

I’ve been studying it all my adult life, starting from when I read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. The war was such an incredible waste of brilliant young men... it’s as if every young man in the Ivy League today went off to war and got killed. And with Downton Abbey coming out, the rest of the world is starting to realize what a fascinating time it was. I had a vision of one of these extraordinary young men who died in the war walking the streets of Manhattan. It was my way of saying they didn’t actually die; they were taken to another place. And then there’s the new trauma of adjusting to this other world. That was a challenge as a writer, trying to convey the enormity of what happened, but doing it through Kate’s eyes.

It’s a time travel novel in some ways, yet that’s not really the focus.

I didn’t want to make it about time travel, that’s just the way it occurs. I thought of it more in terms of circularity: it’s all sort of existing in this universe; the past is with us. You can go to a WWI battlefield and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dan Barden

Dan Barden is the author of the novels John Wayne and The Next Right Thing.

From his Q & A with Jennifer Haupt:

Jennifer Haupt: I love how you wove in the themes of recovery in your novel. How did you go about your research?

Dan Barden: I am an alcoholic who doesn’t drink. I’m an alcoholic in recovery. I hate the way that sounds, but there’s no better way to describe it. I drank way too much and now I don’t drink anymore. One day at a time, I don’t drink or take drugs, either. There’s a piece of that experience in all the characters in this book. Beyond that, I have always loved alcoholics and addicts—recovering and otherwise. They’re my people. And they’re really the best people—except when they’re not. I was born to love them, and I doubt that will ever change.

JH: Where did you start this novel with a character, a scene, a plot line? And how much did the plot change over the course of completing the story?

DB: I had this experience of losing a close friend to a heroin overdose, and I realized one morning—while reading the New York Times—that my relationship to his death was a lot like a crime novel. In the months after his death, I became obsessed with finding out what had happened. Who was he with? Where did he get the drugs? What exactly had happened in that week before he died? I wanted to know because I was angry. I wanted to blame someone. What I realized that morning reading the paper was that I had imagined myself as some kind of hard-boiled detective. I was going to figure it out and kick some ass. Which is ridiculous, if you know me. What I realized that morning is that I could create a character, a guy nothing like me except for his grief over his friend, who could stir up some trouble. So, yes, the whole thing started with this character, who was a projection of what I might do if I were a different person.

The essential plot never really changed. Randy was always a well-meaning bull in a china shop. Over the years of hard work, though...[read on]
Visit Dan Barden's website.

See Dan Barden's six notable stories of addiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens is the author of The O'Briens and The Law of Dreams (which received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and was published around the world to wide acclaim) and Night Driving, a collection of short stories. His stories and essays have appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic and Tin House. Honors he has received include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program.

From his Q & A with Jeff Glor about The O'Briens:

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Peter Behrens: My own family history: all that I knew and didn't know about my grandfather J.J. O'Brien. He was very much the inspiration for the novel's main protagonist, Joe O'Brien.

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

PB: There is a scene in the novel where Joe O'Brien physically attacks his beloved son. Joe speaks to him with violent language then bashes him over the head with a tennis racket. When that scene began, I had no idea Joe was going to do that, although there was a tennis racket propped against the wall in a corner of his office, where the attack takes place. It belonged to his youngest daughter Frankie and he had picked it up from a sports store where it was being re-strung. I thought the scene, which takes place in October 1939, was going to be about Frankie's carefree heedlessness--playing tennis while Europe lurched into war---but it turned out to be about something else.

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

PB: Well, my last job-job was...[read on]
Read more about the novel and author at Peter Behrens' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Law of Dreams.

My Book, The Movie: The Law of Dreams.

Writers Read: Peter Behrens.

My Book, The Movie: The O'Briens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gary Krist

Gary Krist's new book is City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.

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

Q: What happened in Chicago in 1919?

A: You had a city going from a state of high optimism about the future to the brink of civil collapse and martial law.

The war was over, the influenza epidemic was tapering off, the crime rate was low, and people had this plan for Chicago in view.

[Architect and urban planner] Daniel Burnham had this visionary plan that was going to turn Chicago into the Paris of the prairies, and people were very optimistic about this.

Then the postwar pressures just set in. And what started out looking hopeful disintegrated into this 12-day period when the city descended into chaos.

It started with a blimp crash, the first major aviation disaster in American history. And even before people had time to digest that, a child disappears from the North Side of Chicago, which created this hysteria about whether our children are safe from our neighbors.

The real mayhem began when a pretty minor incident at a South Side beach spiraled into one of the worst race riots in American history. As if that weren't enough, a transit strike was called.

Q: How were the ordinary people of Chicago affected by all this?

At a certain point, people wondered if Chicago would...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Gary Krist's The White Cascade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender is the author of four books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) which was a New York Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000) which was a Los Angeles Times pick of the year, Willful Creatures (2005) which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year, and the newly released The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010).

From her interview at The Rumpus:

Rumpus: You frequently write from the perspective of kids or teenagers, which is interesting because these voices are often absent from literary fiction. What do you love about young narrators? Is there something about this perspective that allows you to do things you can’t do with an adult narrator?

Bender: I know, a lot of people really don’t care for younger narrators but I’ve never understood that; as a reader, I really like a kid’s POV and when writers really submerge themselves in that limitation, often there are such rewards. I just reread The Sound and the Fury, (which was kind of like reading it for the first time since it was a high school assignment years ago and I think I took in about two pages of the whole) and the Benji passages are so amazing to read, really stunning, because of how deeply Faulkner is able to skip over the ways we see the world and show a new view. How light looks, how flowers look. He’s not a kid, but he’s also a kid. I love Cruddy, Lynda Barry’s fantastic novel, because of how she nails a teenager’s voice, and it’s true in her comics as well. She rearranges sentence order in such a totally pleasing way. Also I really like listening to how kids speak in general, so when a writer can capture a young voice realistically, I appreciate being reminded of those voices.

Rumpus: In your writing, you often juxtapose disparate elements, like a humorous tone with sad content, or magical elements with realistic situations. This adds a lot of depth to your work, and I’ve always felt that it makes your writing feel very unexpected. How do these elements come together for you?

Bender: Thanks! You know, it’s not really planned, but I think juxtaposition in general can be...[read on]
Visit Aimee Bender's website.

The Page 99 Test: Willful Creatures.

Writers Read: Aimee Bender.

--Marshal Zeringue