Saturday, June 30, 2012

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer is a former elementary school teacher whose Artemis Fowl series has become an international bestseller. The new novel in the series is Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian.

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

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

William Boyd... He expresses the inner working of the human mind so beautifully, it makes me want to quit.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

The Woody Allen character in films like... 'Annie Hall'. The kind of neurotic person who has to fill the silence.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

My father. He was the first person from his [fishing] village to go to university. He taught me at school, when physical punishment was encouraged – but he refused to hit children. Then he did a doctorate and has become one of the foremost authorities on Irish medieval history.
Read the complete Q & A.

See--Eoin Colfer's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 29, 2012

Richard Ford

Richard Ford's new novel is Canada.

From his Q & A with Tim Adams at the Guardian:

In the book, Canada becomes a sort of promised land, a refuge. There is a line characters cling to: "Canada was better than America and everyone knew that - except Americans." Is that how it feels to you?

I never had much conceptual idea of Canada being better. But whenever I go there, I feel this fierce sense of American exigence just relent. America beats on you so hard the whole time. You are constantly being pummelled by other people's rights and their sense of patriotism. So the American's experience of going to Canada, or at least my experience, is that you throw all that clamour off. Which is a relief sometimes.

How does that sentiment go down among American readers?

Last night, I was in New Orleans at this book party full of local oligarchs, a charity group. I was trying to tell them why I called the book Canada, and I said this stuff about America beating on you and I saw a lot of unfriendly faces in the room. There is this very strong "If you are not for us, you are against us" feeling in America just now. Perhaps there always has been. You are not allowed to complain. Or even have a dialogue. But if a novel is there for anything I believe that is what it has to induce.

I was intrigued by something in your acknowledgements, a thank you to your doctor, Jeffrey Karnes, for solving "the novelist's dilemma". Can you explain?

Jeff is the guy I go to for check-ups every year. When I was trying to finish the book I was due to see him but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagels earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in classical studies at Stanford, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. She is the author of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent; The Origin of Satan; and The Gnostic Gospels, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and National Book Award. Her latest book is Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.

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

Q: The images of the Book of Revelation remain major touchstones in our culture. Why do you think that is?

A: It's very visceral. It doesn't appeal to the brain. It appeals to the bloodstream, as the Muslims say of the devil. It's a book of dragons, seven-headed beasts, monsters, whores, armies of insects fighting, angels and demons, and pits of fire.

Q: What was going on in the author's mind?

A: A lot of people say, "Is this guy on hallucinogenics or what?" But it's not an individual's fantasy. These are imaginatively transformed versions of ancient prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah.

It's a book of prophecy. It's supposed to inspire people who have given up hope on any justice in the world. John wants people to hold onto that hope.

Q: He wrote the Book of Revelation at a time when there was intense debate over the future of the church and whether it was something different from Judaism. Where did John of Patmos fit in?

A: He's not somebody who'd call himself a Christian. He's somebody who's very proud of being a Jew – but one who knows who the messiah is – and sees himself in the line of the prophets.

He's a fierce, angry, conservative, passionate prophet. He's ferocious, with a kind of puritan sense of the importance of sexual purity and ethnic purity, compared to Paul, who's willing to eat unkosher food and eat with Gentiles and open up the movement to everybody. John doesn't think so.

Q: What do people misunderstand about the Book of Revelation?

A: A lot of liberal people think...[read on]
Learn how Pagels became interested in writing about the Book of Revelation.

Pagels's The Gnostic Gospels is one of Mary Beard's five best books about religious cults in antiquity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh's books include The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, and Sea of Poppies.

From his May 2012 Q & A at the Independent:

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

My favourite authors change week to week. I've just finished a reading Philip Hensher's 'Scenes from Early Life', about his partner's childhood. It is distantly like Gertrude Stein's book on Alice B Toklas.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

When I was growing up, I identified with Tintin. I love travel and he could go anywhere he wanted.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Aung San Suu Kyi. I've written at great length about her. Her patience and her willingness to work towards compromise are great contributions to modern life.
Read the complete Q & A.

Ghosh's The Glass Palace is one of Ahmede Hussain's five top titles in recent South Asian literature.

Read Ray Taras's review of Ghosh's The Hungry Tide.

Learn about the novel Ghosh would give to his own children to introduce them to literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

William Faulkner

In 1956 Jean Stein interviewed William Faulkner for The Paris Review. The start of that interview:


Mr. Faulkner, you were saying a while ago that you don't like interviews.


The reason I don't like interviews is that I seem to react violently to personal questions. If the questions are about the work, I try to answer them. When they are about me, I may answer or I may not, but even if I do, if the same question is asked tomorrow, the answer may be different.


How about yourself as a writer?


If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us. Proof of that is that there are about three candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. But what is important is Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, not who wrote them, but that somebody did. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said. Shakespeare, Balzac, Homer have all written about the same things, and if they had lived one thousand or two thousand years longer, the publishers wouldn't have needed anyone since.


But even if there seems nothing more to be said, isn't perhaps the individuality of the writer important?


Very important to himself. Everybody else should...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 25, 2012

John Irving

From John Irving's Q & A with Athena McKenzie about his twelfth novel, Last Night in Twisted River:

Is it true that a Dylan song was the beginning idea for this novel? How?

No, it’s not true. I had been thinking of a story about a cook and his son for more than 15 years. I knew it began in a northern New England logging camp; I knew it was a fugitive novel, that both father and son were on the run. In Jan. 2005, I was driving in Vermont to a doctor’s appointment when I heard Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” on my car CD player; this stanza jumped out at me, though I’d heard it many times before. “I had a job in the great north woods/working as a cook for a spell/but I never did like it all that much/ and one day the ax just fell.” By the time I got to my doctor’s office, I’d thought of the novel’s last sentence; seven months later, I got the first sentence. I always work that way — back to front. The Dylan song was enhancing, but hardly the beginning idea.

Why do you start with the last line or paragraph?

In twelve novels, that’s how it goes. I write endings first, then work my way backwards through the plot to where the novel should begin. When I get the first sentence, which comes last, I can then begin writing the book. By then, I know the whole story; it is as if the story has already happened and I am simply remembering it. That way, I can concentrate on the language. I’m not distracted by what’s going to happen — I know what’s going to happen! I can just concentrate on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Stephen King

Wallace Stroby interviewed Stephen King for Writer's Digest magazine in 1991.

Part of the Q & A:

STROBY: C.S. Forester, the British writer, once described his story-developing process as dropping assorted objects into the water of his subconscious and letting them sit there for weeks or months or years. Eventually, he said, he would feel them merge and meld and take some sort of shape until an idea surfaced and he could start writing. How does that process work for you? Is it more subconscious?

KING: Yeah, that's the way it works. Except that I have never felt like I was creating anything. Actually, when I feel that I'm creating, I feel that I'm doing bad work. The best work that I've ever done always has a feeling of having been excavated, of already being there. I don't feel like a novelist or a creative writer as much as I feel like an archaeologist who is digging things up and being very careful and brushing them off and looking at the carvings on them.

I don't work from an outline, or anything like that. It's just that these ideas will connect with me on some level. On the "Dark Tower" series, which is a sort of quest cycle, the first one was written when I was 22 and the most recent one was written when I was 42. That's 20 years later and all the connections are still there, they happen effortlessly. All this stuff is there waiting to be developed from the first book. Believe me, I remember writing the first book and I was not planning (sequels). It's just that the proper connections are there, because the story exists. Only sometimes you get a little pot out of the ground, and that's like a short story. Sometimes you get a bigger pot, which is like a novella. Sometimes you get a building, which is like a novel. In the case of "The Dark Tower," it's like excavating this huge fucking buried city that's down there. And I'll never live to do it all. (NOTE: King did complete the seven-book "Dark Tower" saga in 2004.)

The thing is, for me, I never get all that stuff out unbroken. The trick and the game and the fun of it is to see how much of it you can get. Usually you can get quite a lot.

But I love it. I mean, when the stuff just shows up at the right time. You say to yourself: "Well, I know what's gonna happen for the next 30 pages, but after that I'm fucked, I don't know." Then it's like a door opens and somebody ambles in and says: "You called for me." And I say: "I don't remember it, but come on in and help me 'cause this is where you're supposed to be. You fit right in here today. Thank you for coming." And that's it.

And they pay you for that. But it's like what they pay you for is...[read on]
Also see: Top 10 works of literature: Stephen King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Elizabeth Zelvin

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York psychotherapist, a three-time Agatha Award nominee, and author of the mystery series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler, starting with Death Will Get You Sober. The third book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, is now out, and “Death Will Tank Your Fish” was a 2011 Derringer Award nominee for Best Short Story.

From Zelvin's Q & A with The Stiletto Gang:

Where does your new book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, pick up the story of Bruce Kohler?

Bruce got sober at Christmas at the beginning of Death Will Get You Sober. In fact, waking up from a blackout in detox on the Bowery on Christmas Day was his wake-up call, or as they call it in AA, hitting bottom. The short story, “Death Will Clean Your Closet,” takes place when he’s 90 days sober, which is a big milestone in recovery. He’s still in early recovery in “Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down.” There’s an unpublished novella (formerly a novel) that covers Bruce’s first sober summer. Death Will Help You Leave Him takes place in the fall. “Death Will Trim Your Tree” covers his one-year anniversary Christmas. And his sobriety is well established in the latest story, “Death Will Tank Your Fish.” So Death Will Extend Your Vacation tells the story of his second sober summer—long enough for him not to worry much about drinking again, no matter what’s going on, and ready for a girlfriend, if he can only get to first base with Cindy, the attractive and slightly mysterious woman who’s one of his housemates in the clean and sober group house in Deadhampton (Dedhampton on the tax map) where everybody has at least one secret. Bruce’s, by the way, is that the beautiful housemate whose body they find on the beach is the first girl he ever almost slept with when he was fifteen. Actually, he’s keeping another secret from his best friends Jimmy and Barbara, because he thinks they’d kill him if they knew. But you’ll have to read the book to spot it.

Has your writing routine changed since the publication of your first book, Death Will Get You Sober? Tell us about a typical day.

The nice thing about my typical day is that there’s nothing typical about it. I have, not one, but two careers that let me spend the day at the computer in my jammies: writer and online therapist. I usually say “sweats and bunny slippers,” but in fact, it’s usually one of a collection of ankle-length sleep T-shirts—very, very comfortable. My prime writing time is in the morning, but since the morning is my best time overall for anything that requires a lot of focus, I don’t always use it to write. I see my therapy clients regularly, but none of them is on a fixed schedule. One of the advantages of online therapy is...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Death Will Get You Sober.

The Page 69 Test: Death Will Help You Leave Him.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 22, 2012

Meg Howrey

Meg Howrey was a professional dancer and actress. Her new novel is The Cranes Dance.

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

Did you draw upon your own experience in the ballet world for “The Cranes Dance”?

I drew on some personal experience, of course, although much more so on things and people I observed. The ballet company in the novel is fictional. What I was after was a probable world, rather than an imitative one. There’s no book (or film) that can capture what it’s like to be a ballet dancer. Although dancers go through the same training, dance many of the same ballets, deal with the same issues, it’s such a private experience in many ways. I tried to press my face up as close as I could to my protagonist, Kate, and get as close as possible to how she saw herself and her world.

The book is told in a first-person, often sarcastic voice, which is somehow striking in a book about ballet.

Kate’s sense of humor fueled the book. I think many people are afraid of ballet – it seems so alien and impregnable. You have to know something very, very well to be able to mock it. The interesting thing about Kate to me was that at the same time she’s making fun of what’s going on around her, she’s basically killing herself to stay in it. Dancing is a strange drug. The things...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Patricia Hampl

Patricia Hampl's books include A Romantic Education, Virgin Time, Blue Arabesque, and The Florist’s Daughter, which received the Minnesota Book Award among many other honors.

From her ShootingStar* interview with Maureen Vance:

What writing do you consider to be of quality? What in other people’s writing strikes you, or what sort of writing do you like most to read?

I read in all the genres: I read poetry, I read fiction, short fiction, long fiction, I read a lot of nonfiction, of course: memoir, essays, research nonfiction, lots of different things. Inevitably, I probably… Well, no, I was about to say I probably read more memoir, but I don’t think I do, actually. For me, what really matters is — I know this will sound strange, because it isn’t like I exactly think of it consciously, but as you asked the question the way you did… I think that I really look for really strong sentences. I have to have a feeling that there’s somebody in the driver’s seat, that they understand… and in a way, it’s back to music again: I have to feel that they have a sense of the musicality of language: they’re not just giving me info, or even giving me feelings; I don’t want that. I want a deep engagement with language, as if you threw yourself on language because it could be your other self, and it could explain what you yourself interiorly can’t. So it’s that quality of some kind of deep, and intense, and maybe even struggl[ing] relationship with language that I love. That doesn’t mean I like only complex writing; I mean, if somebody said: “What would you like to sit and read?” I would probably reach for Chekhov. I love short stories in general. My favorite two writers in English at the moment are William Trevor and Alice Monroe, and they’re both largely short story writers.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Florist’s Daughter is on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on mothers.

"Hampl is our purest memoirist," declares Robert Wilder. "In [The Florist’s Daughter], she effortlessly (and associatively) weaves the story of her parents, herself, St Paul, Fitzgerald, her father’s sadly wonderful floral business and the deep heart of America. Her work is like a rich tapestry: one can barely find any threads of structure or shape yet all of her stories and ideas blend beautifully."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jill Dawson

Jill Dawson is an award-winning poet and the author of several novels, including Fred and Edie, which was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Orange Prize, and Lucky Bunny.

From her Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write Lucky Bunny?

I've long been interested in writing about the appeal of risk-taking, destructive behaviours such as relationships with dangerous men. When I was living in Hackney about 20 years ago, before I'd published my first novel, I tore something out of the Guardian about a traffic-stopping funeral that had gone through London of a major woman thief. She'd had condolences from the Krays and one of the great train robbers attended in person. I then read The Profession of Violence – the biography of the Kray twins by John Pearson – and lots of other books about London's underworld. They rarely mentioned the women, except to say things like (describing a terribly bloody murder in Stoke Newington) "a blonde cleaned up the place". So I started to think about women who belonged to this criminal underworld and what their role might be.

What was most difficult about it?

I wanted to write a novel that read like a convincing memoir by a criminal – a boastful romp – and at the same time, underneath, was something else.

What did you most enjoy?

I loved, as I always do, reading...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

David Crystal

David Crystal is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the English language. His latest book is The Story of English in 100 Words.

From the author's Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Among languages, what makes English stand apart? What can it do that most other languages can't or don't?

A: Every language expresses a unique vision of the world, and I find them all equally interesting. Having said that, English does have a larger vocabulary than other languages, because of its history as the primary language of science and its global reach.

Q: Now to the reverse question: What can most other languages do that English cannot? In what ways is English distinctively limited?

A: There are innumerable differences. One notable feature is that English doesn't have much of a system for expressing relative social status.

Many Oriental languages, for example, have a complex system of honorifics, identifying the relative status of the participants in an interaction. English is much more egalitarian in this respect.

Another example is the use of a single second-person pronoun form, "you." Most languages make a distinction between a singular and a plural (and sometimes other) forms.

Q: Is English more likely than other languages to accept words from other countries?

A: Yes. It is simply a matter of language contact, and English - because of its political history -- has been in contact with more languages than any other, notably in its period of colonial expansion. Several hundred languages have "loaned" their words into English. And there is a general tolerance of loans which not all languages share.

Q: Despite all the anti-immigrant fervor that America has had back into the 19th century, we haven't gotten to the point where anyone gets upset about foreign words sneaking into the language.

How did we (Americans and more widely, people who speak English) end up not having as much of a purity streak as, say, the French?

A: Difficult to say. Certainly there was never...[read on]
The Stories of English by David Crystal is one of Michael Quinion's five best books on language.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon is the author of the international bestseller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year award; and the New York Times bestseller A Spot of Bother. In addition to The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and The Village Under the Sea, a collection of poetry, Haddon has also written and illustrated numerous award-winning children's books and television screenplays. His new book is The Red House.

From his Q & A at the Independent:

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

Virginia Woolf. I get something different from books such as To The Lighthouse, Jacob's Room and Between The Acts every time I read them. I like ensemble books and she is an ensemble writer.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

There's a bit of you in every character you write. If there isn't, then something has gone a little wrong.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Having a hero is a dangerous business. All the best people have the most terrible failings. You're waiting to find out their dark secret. Being regarded as a hero by society is an unhealthy situation to be in.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2012

David Eagleman

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action as well as the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. His scientific research has been published in journals from Science to Nature, and his neuroscience books include Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia, Why the Net Matters, Live-Wired, and the newly released Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. He is also the author of the internationally best-selling book of fiction Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives.

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

What is your favorite course to teach?

“Neuroscience and the Law.” It’s a course I’ve built from scratch over several years, and the students are grad students, med students, law students, undergrads, lawyers, judges, and ethicists. That makes for shockingly rich discussion and debate. The material is where the rubber really hits the road in terms of applying the lessons of modern neurobiology to the way we think about building social policy and living together.

You are particularly good at making complex ideas accessible to the widest possible audience. Not all professors can do this. Is there a conscious translation of complex idea to accessible analogy that goes through you, or would you explain your approach in another way?

I just follow the rule I tell all my students: if you can’t explain it to an eighth grader in a way that he/she would understand it, then you don’t understand it. As a corollary, one must understand the importance of narrative. Our brains have evolved to care about story. If you want to penetrate the brain of a listener, wrap the information in things they care about.

You have written fiction and non-fiction, as well as academic texts. How does your approach differ between genres?

In academic texts there is a particular landscape of facts that needs to be surveyed. In nonfiction one chooses a particular path through that landscape, taking the reader on a special journey of your choosing. In fiction one takes off into the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Alice Kaplan

Alice Kaplan is the author of French Lessons: A Memoir, The Collaborator, and The Interpreter, and the translator of OK, Joe. Her books have been twice nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, once for the National Book Award, and she is a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.She holds the John M. Musser chair in French literature at Yale.

Her new book is Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis.

From Kaplan's Q & A with Marjorie Kehe at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: You follow Jackie Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis through the year each spent in France. Which young woman was most profoundly impacted by her Parisian sojourn?

They were impacted in so many different ways that it’s hard for me to choose. [But] Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy got the intellectual sense of self that she would call on more in her life.

Susan Sontag got freedom. She got freedom from a marriage she never should have made. Paris was a place that gave her permission to live out her sexuality. She got a model of how to be an intellectual without being in a university. That was really key for her. What she had was like a model of a way of life.

Then Angela Davis, her case is very different than the other two. I would say that France had a profound impact on her in that she learned in France that racism is not confined to Birmingham, Ala. That it was an international phenomenon, that the French were extremely racist toward the Algerians. That opened her up to all sorts of analysis. She’s been very important in the American scene for having really had a very broad and nonparochial perspective on issues of race. That was important to her. But I would say that in general she was more important to France than France was to her.

Q: Could these young women have had an equally profound experience in Rome or Madrid?

Paris was then and remains the world capital of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yvvette Edwards

Yvvette Edwards is the author of A Cupboard Full of Coats, her highly acclaimed first novel.

From her Q & A at the Man Booker Prize site:

Was it always your ambition to be a writer?

I have always written. My two equal passions are reading and writing, always have been. I don't think I ever thought that writing for a living was realistic or achievable, but it has always been a dream and a hobby. I lacked the confidence and self-discipline to see any of my earlier projects through to the completed, edited end. In addition I've always worked full time, so I never really had the time to have a serious go at making a career of it.

What was the turning point that encouraged you turn this dream into a reality?

It was probably my 39th birthday. That was definitely the most reflective year of my life. Suddenly I became aware that I might have arrived at the halfway point in my life, or even, unbeknown, passed it. I wondered that year about the dreams I'd had since childhood, and recognised that if they continued to remain unfulfilled for much longer, I might pretty much just as well accept they were never going to happen. I went on that year to have what has been the only truly 'selfish' year of my life. I worked two days a week and wrote on the others. I left the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning, ignored my phone and wrote till my novel was finished.

Do you have an ideal writing environment?

I'm not that precious about the environment I write in. I often write on a laptop, so I end up wherever I fancy on that particular day, sometimes in the garden in the summer, or in my bedroom in the winter. But I do need to be...[read on]
Learn more about A Cupboard Full of Coats, and visit Yvvette Edwards's Facebook page.

Writers Read: Yvvette Edwards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is the author of critically acclaimed Dust and Shadow and the newly released The Gods of Gotham.

From her Q & A with novelist Michael Connelly:

Michael Connelly: I think the first question is about the challenge you gave yourself with this book. Re-creating New York City circa 1845. The question I ask is, Why then? But what I am really asking is why you took the difficult path. Why not New York in 1945, or even now? I read this book and from the writer’s standpoint, kept asking myself, Why did she take this path? Wow!

Lyndsay Faye: Ha! Yes, absolutely—in a certain sense, the project was very difficult. My hubris in trying to write a novel set in 1845 New York was about the fact that I specifically wanted to do day one, cop one of the NYPD. Origin stories are very compelling. And when you think about how renowned the world over the NYPD is today, for reasons both positive and negative but all of them highly dramatic, you find yourself wondering what such an organization looked like at inception. It’s almost mythical, the fame they’ve achieved and the advances they’ve made, and I was deeply curious to know how they started out. I wanted to take a historical event and turn it into a legend, in the sense of making something iconic and resonant, and when I discovered that the NYPD was founded in 1845, my time period chose itself.

In another sense, I should add that I was once on a library panel where a very clever author said we don’t write historicals to choose the difficult path, but rather the lazy one. It’s almost impossible to commit a decent crime these days, what with CCTV and the Internet and credit-card tracking and forensics and ballistics and security cameras and such everywhere. I have a simple bachelor’s in English lit, not an advanced degree in criminal science, and to be honest, I find the complexity of modern-day crime solving much more intimidating when it comes to plot. I know that TV shows like CSI, etc., make it all look more magical than it is in fact, but I’m interested in how people solved crimes before forensics was even a line of study. How did the first cops go about it? What tools did they employ? I greatly enjoy reading modern mysteries, but I’m constantly staggered by the omnivorous technical know-how they require.

Michael Connelly: What’s most impressive about this work is how the world of New York is so full and real. Can you walk us through the research that goes into a project like this? How long were you putting this part together before you actually sat down to write the book, or do both things happen at the same time?

Lyndsay Faye: Thank you very much indeed—I want all of my historical fiction to be...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lyndsay Faye's website.

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye (May 2009).

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye (April 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 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 Susan Bordo:

SB: We all know that any work of imagination has to go beyond the recorded facts. But do you think that there is a point at which historical fiction can go too far? What historical standards do you hold yourself to?

HM: First let me say I don’t want to defame other authors for their choices. I don’t want to prescribe for them or defend them. I don’t think there’s a right way of creating historical fiction, but I think some ways are more honest than others. I am probably less comfortable about ‘making up’ than most authors. I never knowingly distort facts, and even if they’re difficult to explain or for the reader to grasp, I try to find a way round that doesn’t falsify or sell short the complexities of a topic.

I must see myself as part of a chain of literary representation. My Cromwell shakes hands with the Cromwell of the Book of Martyrs, and with the trickster Cromwell of the truly awful but funny Elizabethan play about him. I am conscious of all his later, if fugitive, incarnations in fiction and drama.

I am conscious on every page of hard choices to be made, and I make sure I never believe my own story. (Bring Up the Bodies) raises the whole question with the reader, hands it over if you like: points out the power of gossip once it gets going, the difficulty of separating rumour from facts, the difficulties of bearing witness and assessing evidence. I don’t talk about these problems in a narrative overview, I make them part of the plot. I don’t think AB [Anne Boleyn] was brought down by facts, but by the power of rumour. That’s a slippery and insubstantial thing to describe, and almost impossible for historians to tackle. By its nature, conspiracy is off the record. The important conversations probably leave no trace. I think this is why historians try again and again to disentangle the mystery of AB’s fall, without ever sounding entirely convincing. There’s always something that is left over, something unaccounted for, a piece of territory that vanishes when you try to map it. I think this is where fiction operates best, and can possibly contribute to our understanding of the past. I can’t explain the events better than historians can, but I might be able to evoke what it was like to live through those days.

That’s the...[read on]
Learn about the book Mantel wishes she had written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Catherine Hakim

Catherine Hakim is a social scientist and a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Policy Studies, London. Her publications include over 100 papers published in British, European and American refereed academic journals and edited collections, four textbooks, and over a dozen books and monographs on the labour market, changing patterns of employment and working time, women’s employment and women’s position in society, occupational segregation and the pay gap, self-employment and small firms, social engineering, models of the family, work orientations and lifestyle preferences, changing social attitudes, voluntary childlessness, social and family policy, research design, social statistics and cross-national comparative research in all these fields.

Her latest book is Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.

From Hakim's Q & A with Jessica Grose at Slate:

Slate: In your book, the main argument seemed to me more geared toward women—how they should be using their erotic advantage over men more than they are. I wanted you to expand on that.

Hakim: Just to correct that understanding, the reason I focus at the end of the book on women exploiting their erotic capital is because of the evidence in chapter 7 that shows that men are getting a higher return on their erotic capital. The whole book is about how valuable erotic capital is for men and women, but the main problem is there's sex discrimination and that women are not getting the kind of economic returns that men are getting. They're getting lower economic returns. And therefore, the argument is women need to do some catching up, and women need to make sure that they get the kind of return that men are already getting. That's really the key point about this.

Slate: You argue that women don't get the same returns on their erotic capital as men do. How can women fix this?

Hakim: The key point is for women to be aware that there's a sex differential and a sex gap in returns and rewards, and to be aware that they should therefore not be holding back or feel embarrassed about seeking to get value for their contribution, for their attractiveness. As I see it, patriarchal men, but also to a larger extent, radical feminist women, which women seem to listen to more than men, say that beauty is only skin deep, it's trivial, it's superficial, it has no value, and you should be ashamed of yourself for trying to exploit it. And the whole purpose of my book is to say, for men and for women, there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed of exploiting it and no reason at all for you to be embarrassed at saying this has value. Having erotic capital isn't...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Catherine Hakim's website.

The Page 99 Test: Erotic Capital.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2012

Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth is the New York Times bestselling author of Divergent and Insurgent, the first two books in a trilogy that she began writing while still a college student.

From her Q & A with the Jacket Copy blog:

Jacket Copy: "The Hunger Games," "Divergent" and dozens of other titles in this burgeoning dystopian genre showcase strong female protagonists. Do you see a new shape of feminism emerging here?

Veronica Roth: That's a complicated question. What's interesting about these characters is that a lot of their strength is expressed in a physical way. Tris is physically weak but she learns how to be skilled in a physical way. Katniss isn't super buff, but she knows how to defend herself. I think that's something that needs to be explored more. Characters like Tris and Katniss, their worth and strength is not limited to their physical abilities. They're very much in control of their own destinies. In "Insurgent," Tris says, "Where I go, I go because I choose to." That element of "I can do it. I can control my life," that everything that happens, good or bad, happens because of the choice of the main character, that's sort of a new thing.

Jacket Copy: How would you describe your personal adolescent experience, and how did it inform "Divergent"?

Veronica Roth: As a teenager, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and a lot of that, for me, was about finding a moral high ground. As I've grown up, I've decided to abandon that because it made me judgmental and also stressed me out. There's really...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Michael Sims

Michael Sims is the editor of The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories.

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

How did you come to be such a voracious reader?

I grew up in rural Tennessee. There were no bookstores in the town, but the school had a little library and the town had a little library, each with a patient and enthusiastic librarian, and I raced into both as if they were doorways to another world. And each week my teacher would unpack our box of mail-ordered Scholastic Book Club paperbacks—books such as The Great Whales and Mystery of the Haunted Hut. No Christmas will ever top the weekly anticipation of watching from my desk as the teacher took handfuls of books out of the box and matched them with their order slips and called out our names.

What about Victorian-era writing appeals to you?

Primarily the sense of texture and detail and atmosphere, as well as the feeling that you are in a world far enough away from our own to be exotic and close enough to be familiar.

Describe your approach to making selections for this volume.

The challenge for me in editing an anthology is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is the award-winning author of Shadow Season, The Cold Spot, The Coldest Mile, A Choir of Ill Children, and many other titles. He’s won two International Thriller Writers Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire. His new novel is The Last Kind Words.

From Piccirilli's Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

The original psycho-noir: the Bible.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

A 12-year-old Tom Piccirilli with endless potential. My mother tells me he once existed but she’s entering her dementia years.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

I don’t have any guilty pleasures. I have only guiltless pleasures.

Most satisfying writing moment?

They’re all a tie for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 8, 2012

Margaret George

Margaret George's historical novels include Mary, Called Magdalene.

From her Q & A about the book at her publisher's website:

The Bible hardly mentions Mary Magdalene. What other primary sources did you turn to for information on this historical figure? How much did you rely on the Gnostic Gospels, specifically the Gospel of Mary?

Scanty though they are, the four canonical gospels remain our main source of information about Mary Magdalene. They recount her early possession by demons, her cure by Jesus, the fact that she was financially able to support Jesus's ministry, that she remained with him during the crucifixion, and, in coming to the tomb on Easter morning, became the first to see the risen Christ.

The Gospel of Mary, discovered in 1896, does not add any biographical information about her; it does stress her spiritual and visionary wisdom, her primacy among the disciples, and her closeness to Jesus. I wanted to bring these elements into the novel. They explain why she became so "famous" among the early Christians, which she certainly was.

Further details about her life appear in apocryphal writings in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, but some of those facts are unreliable. She is also mentioned by church fathers in the early church, such as Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Origen, Pseudo-Clement of Rome, Augustine of Hippo, and Pope Gregory the Great.

How did you research the historical times in which this novel is set? Did you travel to the Middle East? If so, what was your experience there? Do you draw any parallels from the current violence in the Middle East to the conflict between the Romans and Jews at the time of Jesus?

Many excellent studies on the first-century world are available, and, in addition, I also did seven years of Bible study that covered sixty of the sixty-six books of the Bible.

I have traveled in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey. I lived in Israel as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Roger Smith

Roger Smith's thrillers Dust Devils, Wake Up Dead and Mixed Blood are published in seven languages and two are in development as movies in the U.S. His books have won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Fiction Award) and been nominated for Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel awards. His novella, Ishmael Toffee, is available and a fourth novel, Capture, will be out in mid-2012.

From his Q & A with Mike Nicol for South Africa's Crime Beat:

Crime Beat: You have written elsewhere that you ‘heard’ the voice of your character, the CIA operative Bobby Goodbread, talking about capturing Mandela before the rest of the story occurred to you. What were you reading that led to the CIA connection? Or had this idea been around for some time?

Roger Smith: Years ago I stumbled upon an obscure web interview with an ex-CIA operative who was undercover in South Africa in the early 1960s, based at the US consulate in Durban. He claims he got wind that Nelson Mandela – on the run from the South African security police – would be in the Durban vicinity on a certain day. The CIA guy alerted the SA cops and Mandela went to prison for 27 years. True story, or so the man says. This stayed with me, and became the catalyst for my Goodbread character in Dust Devils.

Crime Beat: Once you’d got the premise for your story did the rest of it tell itself fairly quickly? Were you aware of an end point?

Roger Smith: Well, it’s always about the characters, isn’t it? The notion of some ex-CIA black ops type, now in his seventies and dying of lung cancer, was appealing to me but only in relation to his son, a forty-something journalist who had been very much of the Left during the apartheid years, but is now battling to place himself in a country that has become (to him) the graveyard of idealism. When he is framed for the murder of his wife and children, and on the run, his only ally is his oldest enemy: his father.

I like that old saw that you should make your characters suffer. And then make them...[read on]
Learn more about the author at Roger Smith's website.

Read about Roger Smith's top 10 crime novels.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Wake Up Dead.

Writers Read: Roger Smith.

My Book, The Movie: Dust Devils.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paul Ingrassia

Paul Ingrassia won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 (with Joseph B. White) for reporting on management crises at General Motors. He is the author of Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster and the newly released Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars.

Highlights from his May 2012 NPR interview:

On what the Chevy Corvette represented in America during the 1950s

The 'Vette was actually introduced in 1953, and it was a remarkable watershed year in American history. If you think about it, it was the year that Elvis started recording music, it was the year that Hugh Hefner started Playboy, it was the year the Korean War finally ended. And you had this generation of Americans that had for the past quarter-century really grown up knowing the privation of the Great Depression, and the hardship and death and dislocation of war, but all of a sudden in 1953 it was peace, it was prosperity, and a generation of Americans really wanted to let loose. And here comes this car that, you know, is really designed for letting loose and living it up.

On how the Volkswagen Beetle — Adolf Hitler's pet car — became an icon for the peace, love and granola culture

This car was invented by Ferdinand Porsche, but it was sponsored by Adolf Hitler. Just as pre-war production was about to begin, the war broke out, so production was suspended. After the war, it was saved by a British army officer who fell in love with the car and got the factory going again. American GIs drove Beetles, they brought them back, and it just sort of took off slowly, and more and more people bought it. What really happened, though, the intervening thing that happened here was that in the America of the '50s when, you know, the big tail-fin era, the Beetle was a way to show your disdain for that American conspicuous consumption culture.
Read more highlights from the interview, or listen to the story.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Junot Díaz

Junot Díaz's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories. His debut story collection, Drown was a national bestseller and won numerous awards. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao “a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.”

From a Q & A at his publisher's website:

How has your life changed since the publication of Drown a decade ago? Was the sudden acclaim energizing or disorienting?

We’re talking eleven years ..., so of course one’s life is bound to change plenty. But Drown acted like an accelerant, it put things into overdrive. To be honest, in real terms, the publication of my first book really didn’t produce much acclaim. I was known among the story-writing nerds and the MFA types and the New Yorker crowd (whoever they are) and in certain sectors of the Dominican community, but that was about it. Still, even that little bit of “fame” was a lot for an anonymous immigrant kid from central Jersey who’d worked his way through school. As for its real effects: I sure wasn’t ready for that kind of attention (by which I mean any kind), so after the book was published I found myself withdrawing deeper into my core of friends (most from childhood), into my students, into my work. I was (and am) super-self-conscious, but Drown made me even more so. Don’t know why. But my God: I’ve seen the world because of my writing, and met the most extraordinary people. Drown has given me a contemplative life and allowed me to support the causes I am most passionate about, and help other writers and shine light on a minute fraction of the New Jersey Dominican experience. It’s been a source of joy in spite of my discomforts, and that’s the way of most good things, I suppose.

Why do you think people responded so strongly to that story collection, and still remember and talk about it?

Man, even my publisher calls my first book a short-story collection! Okay, for the record: Since its inception, Drown was neither a novel nor a story collection, but something a little more hybrid, a little more creolized. Which was why we didn’t put “Stories” or “A Novel” on the cover. We wanted folks to decide what it was, as long as they didn’t foreclose that it could also be something else, ¿entiendes? Okay, enough about my categorical anxieties...

Regarding your question: I’ve been really fortunate. Drown is one of those little-known books that...[read on]
Learn about the book that Junot Díaz says changed his life.

See Junot Díaz's most important books and the Page 99 Test: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pam Houston

Pam Houston divides her time between her ranch in Colorado and the University of California at Davis, where she is director of the Creative Writing Program. She has been a frequent contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine, and her writing appears regularly in More and other publications. She in the author of the best-selling Cowboys Are My Weakness.

Houston's new novel is Contents May Have Shifted.

From the author's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I love the whole idea of your new book, that problems are part of life, and what we do with our “baggage” affects our life. Is this hard-won knowledge or is this something you’ve always known?

That’s such an interesting way to describe my book. I think in order to more accurately reflect my own experience I would have to change the language just a bit. First I was numb, then I went to therapy and learned to feel my feelings, which included a lot of extremely unpleasant ones, then I learned to feel the difference between what felt good and what felt bad, and that, more than anything else, changed my life. Not that I don’t still carry about fifteen suitcases and a couple of trunks of nonproductive sludge around with me, maybe a snowboard and a guitar or two…one of those wedding dresses they won’t let you hang up in the closet on the airplanes anymore…but I digress.

As I tell my students over and over, we only love the flawed characters, by which I mean the realistic ones. It is like Ruby says in Contents, ““Oh, Pam, Sofree lives in a hole. You…me…everybody lives in a hole. But what’s great is if you go over and tap on the wall of your hole, you find out we’re all connected.”

What struck me so much about your novel was the voice, which felt different to me than in your other novels (all of which I’ve loved.) Was this a conscious choice? How do you usually find your way into character?

I would be interested in hearing in what ways you think this voice is different. I’ve grown up some more, I hope. One always hopes for that. When I asked myself how I wanted this book to be different I knew what I really wanted was for the language to work harder than ever before. I read a ton of...[read on]
Read--Coffee with a Canine: Pam Houston and Fenton Johnson.

The Page 69 Test: Contents May Have Shifted.

My Book, The Movie: Contents May Have Shifted.

Writers Read: Pam Houston.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Paul French

Paul French's new book is Midnight in Peking.  It is the true-crime tale of the murder of a British diplomat's daughter in Peking just before World War II.

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

Q: What was happening in Peking – now Beijing – in early 1937, when the young woman was so viciously murdered?

A: This was absolutely the last gasp of old China. The Japanese have surrounded Peking, and it's not really a question of if Japan is going to invade China, but when.

Q: What did her murder mean in the larger picture?

A: In January 1937, she became a great symbol for foreigners and citizens alike in Peking about how bad things could get. If this could happen to a foreign privileged girl, what chances would anybody else have?

Later in 1937, the Japanese would invade and occupy Peking, bomb Shanghai, and commit the Rape of Nanking. That would leave the British Empire weak in facing the Japanese, and in a year Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaya would be gone to Japan. And we know what happened then.

Q: How did you come across this story?

A: I learned about it by reading a footnote in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark (1 February 1918 – 13 April 2006)[1] was an award-winning Scottish novelist. Her many novels include Memento Mori (1959), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), The Girls of Slender Means (1963), and A Far Cry From Kensington (1988).

From the transcript of an interview Spark did with the BBC:

I want to talk about the emphasis I think you've always put on experience and the search for experience and the need to have experience. I mean, you left Edinburgh because you wanted different experience, didn't you?

I left Edinburgh to get married. I went to Africa, where my fiancée was already in Zimbabwe - it was then Southern Rhodesia . And I went there really to get married... and also I had the happy prospect of not having to do housework, I was told. And really I often wonder if that was the only thing, because when I got there it wasn't long before I didn't like my husband. However, I had to stay there for quite a time because war broke out.

But were you looking for experience? I mean, somewhere else you've said that actually the reason you got married to your husband was that you wanted sex.


Now, that's a... God knows that's a kind of experience.

Yes, the only way a girl could - a respectable girl - could have sex, in those days.

But were you also looking for something which wasn't Edinburgh life, something which brought you in touch with the world outside?

Oh yes. I wanted... I wanted to go abroad in any case. I would have gone to Paris , New York . I would have gone there if I hadn't gone to Southern Rhodesia, to Africa . I didn't intend to stay there.

But is the search for experience something that's been a constant theme in your life? The need to have things that you've lived through?

Yes I've always looked for experience when I've got bored or anything, in any situation. I've very often had to put up with a lot of boredom, for jobs and things like that. But I've found more and more as time goes on that experience comes to me... If I want... If I have an idea and want to experience something connected with it, it somehow happens - it's like a magnet. One is...[read on, or listen to the interview]
Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of Ian Rankin's best books and appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best teachers in literature. The Ballad of Peckham Rye is on Mullan's list of ten of the best devils in literature, and The Abbess of Crewe is one of Mullan's ten best nuns in literature. Memento Mori is one of Paul Bailey's top ten stories of old age. The Girls of Slender Means is one of Simon Doonan's five best books about fashion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 1, 2012

Melinda Moustakis

Melinda Moustakis is the author of Bear Down, Bear North, a collection of connected short stories set in rural Alaska.

From her interview with the Kenyon Review:

KR: What internal or external factors have the biggest influence on your creative process?

MM: I know that I learned to write voice and dialogue from listening to my uncle and his fishing buddies tell fishing stories on the river. Fishing and fishing stories taught me how to structure tension, how to have that element of risk and surprise. I also love to sit around a campfire and listen to stories and often I have to hear a voice, a perspective, the rhythm of it, in order for story to take hold. Another influence has been the stories I grew up hearing about Alaska and hunting and fishing and my grandparents’ homestead. Often there is this small diamond of truth I know I want to include in a story and I have to write the coal, wrap the whole story around this diamond in order to make it glimmer. By the end, what I started out with has completely changed and become something else. I often use the process of how one tells a fishing story to explain how I write fiction. You go out on a fishing trip. You catch a decent rainbow trout, maybe 28 inches, and the weather is fine. Every time you retell that story the fish gains a few pounds and inches, one day the trout turns into a king salmon, then a moose appears on the bank, and a bear, and suddenly the story has grown and stretched. The fish stretches, the story stretches. I like to write in that...[read on]
"I loved Bear Down, Bear North," wrote novelist Ed Lin. "It's a collection of connected short stories set in rural Alaska. The people have gone feral and it's up to the animals to maintain order and dignity. The experience of reading the book was like feeling my teeth go crooked and scrape the insides of my mouth until I tasted blood. Fuck all the pretty shit. This is for real."

--Marshal Zeringue