Friday, August 31, 2012

Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke's latest novel is Never Tell (Ellie Hatcher Series #4).

From her Q & A with Lauren Katz for the Washington Independent Review of Books:

You have experience in police work, as a prosecutor, and you are a professor of criminal law at Hofstra Law School. How did you decide to start writing novels? Was it your experience in law that encouraged that decision? Or something else entirely?

Yes, it was very much my experience at the District Attorney’s Office that brought me to writing. I was reading two or three crime novels a week. At one point, I realized that I spent every day at work in an atmosphere I really didn’t see portrayed in crime fiction. Law enforcement is a separate culture, but every city’s a little different. By the time I left the D.A.’s Office in Portland, I knew the feel and the sound and the voice of that city’s courthouse and police cultures. I knew I had the material for a book. I spent years thinking about a possible story, but it wasn’t until I left the D.A.’s Office and had a summer off to study for the New York Bar Exam that I decided to start writing. It turns out that making stuff up is a lot more fun than studying for a bar exam. By the end of the summer, I passed the New York bar and had about a third of a book finished.

The sequence of events in Never Tell seemed extremely realistic. I could see why each change in the case occurred and how it led to a new conclusion. Were the events in Never Tell based on your own life experiences in the field of law? How did you get the idea?

Sometimes ideas have come from real-life cases. Other times from a character whose voice starts to dominate my imagination. In the case of Never Tell, the idea started with a desire to explore a certain privileged slice of youth culture. As a law professor, I hear stories from my students about the incredible pressures they are under to succeed. At the same time, they’ve often been raised being told that everyone is above average, nothing is ever their fault, and that there’s always a ready fix to every problem. Increasingly, the ready fix comes from prescription drugs. So I knew I wanted the next Ellie Hatcher book to pull her into the world of extremely privileged, overly precocious, underparented New York City prep school students.

I also wanted the book to be about Ellie Hatcher. That sounds like a dumb thing to say since it’s obviously an Ellie Hatcher novel and she’s the lead investigator. But I didn’t want her to be merely the investigator. I wanted the case to...[read on]
Visit Alafair Burke's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Connection.

The Page 69 Test: Angel’s Tip.

The Page 69 Test: 212.

Writers Read: Alafair Burke.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Deanna Fei

For Fiction Writers Review, Kate Levin interviewed Deanna Fei about her debut novel, A Thread of Sky. Part of the Q & A:

You noted in an earlier interview that celebrity gossip sites are rich in stories. You make a similar observation in a piece for the Huffington Post, “Why Every Writer Should Watch Jersey Shore.” Thanks to blogs and Facebook and the million reality shows on TV, it seems like a story-hungry mind has more windows than ever into the lives of other people. It seems, too, that all of these narratives, all this information, could really impinge on the mental quiet needed to write. How do you cultivate the concentration it takes to work on a novel?

It’s true that I honestly believe my gossip habit serves as a little warm-up for writing, a way to step out of my own life and into the lives of others. But you’re right: writing doesn’t happen without that final phase, the whiting-out of everything but the one story before you. And sometimes that takes a lot of tricks. I have two laptops—one that’s so old that it crashes if I do more than word processing and maybe looking up a few references on Wikipedia, and one that I use for everything else. When it’s time to write, I put my other laptop in another room and close the door. I turn my phone to silent mode and put on noise-canceling headphones. And I don’t let anyone interrupt me. Maybe it seems self-indulgent, but writing is creating a whole universe for your characters and your readers, and you have to protect the process.

The idea for A Thread of Sky grew out of a package tour of mainland China that you took with your own sisters, mom, aunt, and grandmother. In your acknowledgments, you write: “…while this book was, in part, inspired by them, it is not about them; it does not depict their histories or their personalities. I offer them my apologies for potential misunderstandings, and my lifelong admiration.” Did it complicate things that the story was rooted in a recognizably real family experience? Or did it feel like the work of creating any fictional characters?

There was a part of me that deeply regretted the fact that...[read on]
Read an excerpt from A Thread of Sky, and learn more about the book and author at Deanna Fei's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Thread of Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Meg Donohue

Meg Donohue has an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Dartmouth College. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she now lives in San Francisco with her husband, daughters, dog, and a weakness for salted caramel cupcakes.

Her first novel is How to Eat a Cupcake.

From Donohue's December 2011 Q & A with Johanna Burke at Publishers Weekly:

You write about the professional and personal problems involved in starting a cupcake business. How did you learn about the culture of bakeries?

I’m not a baker, but I’m a very avid cupcake eater! I came up with the idea for the book in part because I feel like I’m surrounded by cupcakes. I had a year-old daughter when I started writing and was pregnant with my second daughter, so between birthday parties and playgroups and play dates—and adult functions—there were a lot of cupcakes. From there, I started to do a little research. I had a friend whose sister is a pastry chef, so I invited her over, and we baked cupcakes and talked about the culinary scene. I quickly learned it’s a very small and incestuous world. I also learned about the hours that you have to put in to running a bakery and the number of people who would be in the kitchen and what relationship they would have to each other.

What piqued your interest about the differences in best friends Julia and Annie?

My interest, in part, came from having a nanny who was from Colombia. She had several daughters she would bring with her to play with my daughter. That helped me think about the relationship between these girls. They’re just having fun as children, but what would happen if they grew older and kept—or didn’t keep—in touch, and how would their lives be different? I’m interested in writing about friendship, and how women come together and fall apart over time. I’m more interested in that than specifically...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Donohue's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: How to Eat a Cupcake.

Writers Read: Meg Donohue.

My Book, The Movie: How to Eat a Cupcake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Paul Barrett

Paul M. Barrett is the author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion and The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America.

His latest book is Glock: The Rise of America's Gun.

From Barrett's January 2012 Q & A at The Daily Beast:

The Glock is a relatively new gun, compared with Smith & Wesson and Colt. What set it apart?

Gaston Glock, who manufactured window fittings in a garage workshop outside Vienna, initially designed the pistol for the Austrian Army, which wanted a light, reliable, large-capacity weapon to replace its World War II–era Walther P-38. His innovative design, making heavy use of injection-molded plastic, fit all the criteria; plus it had a gentle, consistent trigger pull that turned poor shooters into accurate ones. Herr Glock then cleverly marketed these attributes to police departments in the United States.

How did Glock make the leap to the larger civilian marketplace?

Many gun owners like to use what their local cops are using. Plus, the Glock became an overnight star in the movies and television—tons of free advertising.

How did Glock score in Hollywood?

Not through paying for product placement, as many assume. Hollywood prop masters began...[read on]
Visit the official Glock: The Rise of America's Gun website.

Writers Read: Paul M. Barrett.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Paul M. Barrett & Beau.

The Page 99 Test: Glock.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 27, 2012

Valerie Frankel

Valerie Frankel is the author of Thin Is the New Happy and such chick lit favorites as The Accidental Virgin, The Girlfriend Curse and Hex and the Single Girl. The former articles editor at Mademoiselle, Frankel has contributed to the New York Times, O, Glamour, Allure, Self, Good Housekeeping, among many other publications.

Her books include the memoir It's Hard Not to Hate You and the novel Four of a Kind.

From her Q & A with Belinda G @ Galvanize Press:

Your characters [in Four of a Kind] are thrust together on a school committee, but get to know each other through playing poker, with the high stakes of secrets. Would you say they were driven by a desire to be understood by sharing their own secrets, or by the desire to be privy to someone else's and maybe feeling a little better about their own lives?

We all know from airplane travel, that it’s often easier to spill your secrets to near strangers than to confide in your closest friend. So when the characters met for the first time, sat down and, as a lark, decided to play for secrets instead of money, the context allowed that to be possible. An objective listener can be the most helpful, which is why therapy works. The characters definitely took the opportunity to share without caring too much about the others’ reaction (later, however, as they go to know each other better, caring about each other influenced their lives tremendously). None of the characters used the experience in order to feel better about their lives, although when you realize that everyone, no matter how seemingly perfect, has her share of problems, that can be a relief.

We have an innate desire for intimate relationships, yet we are often thwarted in our attempts to be known and understood. Why do you think that is?

It’s scary to put your thoughts and feelings out there! People fear judgment, rightly so. People do judge. They can’t help it. If you express your deepest feelings and fears in order to be understood, you risk being misunderstood and rejected or humiliated in the process. The characters in Four Of a Kind took big risks to reveal themselves to each other. Each woman was so isolated in her own life, though they were in “share or die” mode. The risk was...[read on]
Visit Valerie Frankel's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: It's Hard Not to Hate You.

Writers Read: Valerie Frankel (September 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shon Hopwood

Shon Hopwood is a law school student at the University of Washington School of Law who, prior to law school, served over ten years in federal prison for a string of bank robberies he committed as a young adult. While in prison, he learned the law and he wrote legal briefs for other prisoners, two of which were granted by the U.S. Supreme Court—the equivalent of winning the legal lottery. His book Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption is the story of his prison term, legal successes, and the romance of his now wife while he was still incarcerated.

From his Q & A with Tim Challies:

One of my favorite themes in the book is the quiet work of Christians in the background of your life, whether that was your mother sending you books, people in your town praying for you, or fellow prisoners who were serious about studying the Bible. How do you interpret all of that, looking back on it now?

If you look back at how things unfolded, you can really see God’s design in everything. At the time, I didn’t realize the cumulative effect of what people were doing. I realize now that every little thing, from my mom sending me A Purpose Driven Life to my next-cell neighbor in prison turning from drug dealer to Christian, was all a part of God’s plan to show me his love and grace. And it made me understand that I had a choice about what my life would be like moving forward. I could keep trying to punch God away or I could hug him closer. Hence the James Weldon Johnson quote in the front of the book: “Young man, young man, your arm’s too short to box with God.”

When in prison you read a lot of law books and then prepared a petition for the Supreme Court that was accepted. Honestly, that doesn’t sound all that impressive to me, but I think that’s because I just don’t understand how unlikely it was that anyone would pay attention to that kind of a petition. Can you give me a little context or give me an analogy that helps me understand what this means?

Getting the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case is one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the legal field. The Court receives around 8,000 petitions a year and only hears around 80 of them. So the odds are low even for attorneys. When you add in the fact that this was the second legal brief I had ever written and it was filed by an indigent prisoner, not an attorney, the odds of us winning that case were astronomical. The fact that I was able to have it happen twice while I was in prison is...[read on]
Learn more about Law Man at Shon Hopwood's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Law Man.

The Page 99 Test: Law Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Adam Brent Houghtaling

Adam Brent Houghtaling is the author of This Will End in Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music.

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

Q: What makes sad songs unique?

A: Sad songs are a really intimate thing. They're not something you listen to with all your friends at a dinner party or when you're hanging out at a lake house with your buddies. You're doing it by yourself.

If you're listening to a lot of sad music, it's because you're not in a great state of mind. You've just gotten your heart broken or suffered some kind of loss. It becomes intimate, but it's also comforting in a way.

Q: Can sad songs actually be good for us when we're feeling down?

A: There's this idea that listening to sad songs may drag us deeper into our despair. But it may also help us go deeper into a despair and focus on whatever the problem is that brought us to that point.

Q: Do you mean a kind of catharsis?

A: I found catharsis to be a very tricky topic, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 24, 2012

Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway was inspired by her Japanese mother's experiences when she wrote The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, and especially by a book her father had given to her mother called The American Way of Housekeeping.

From Dilloway's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I adored the heroine of your new novel. She really starts off so prickly, and then gradually, she begins to unfold, much like a flower, and I ended up being totally in love with her. Where'd she come from?

I had the idea to write a book about rose breeding, so I began research. When I found out that many rose breeding hobbyists are retired scientists or engineers, the voice of Gal popped into my head. She always thinks she’s correct, she loves order, and she has a very methodical way of doing things. But, she’s extremely passionate and wants what’s best for everyone. She’s partially based on my late sister-in-law, whose lifelong struggle with kidney failure ended last Christmas. I think Gal has developed a take-no-prisoners attitude toward life because that very attitude is necessary for surviving her chronic illness.

The details, both about roses and kidney dialysis, were fascinating. Can you tell me about the research process? What surprised you?

For rose breeding, what surprised me most was the amount of chance involved. So much of it depends on luck. The breeder who helped me most, Jim Sproul, breeds many Hulthemia roses. He told me his child got a perfect specimen on the first try. Jim was the first one to get Hulthemias to the consumer market this year—they’re called the Eyeconic Lemonade and Pink Lemonade.

For the dialysis/kidney stuff, the biggest surprise came with how many times medical doctors...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Margaret Dilloway's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns.

The Page 69 Test: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kitty Pilgrim

Kitty Pilgrim worked as a CNN correspondent and news anchor for 24 years. As a New York-based reporter her normal beat included politics and economics but her assignments also have taken her around the world – Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, the Middle East, Korea and South Africa. Pilgrim anchored her own CNN morning show, Early Edition in 1998-1999 and was anchor for prime time broadcasts at CNN from 2001-2010. Pilgrim is the recipient of an Overseas Press Club Award, a Peabody Award, an Emmy, and New York Society of Black Journalists Award. She is a member of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations and the Explorer’s Club of New York.

The Stolen Chalice is Pilgrim's latest novel featuring archaeologist John Sinclair.

From her Q & A at Miss Literati:

MISS LITERATI: When was the first time you realized you wanted to become a writer?

KITTY PILGRIM: I never wanted to be a “writer” per se. From early childhood I always wrote as a pastime: stories and poems, plays and riddles. No one ever suggested I become a writer. So I sort of stumbled into journalism and loved it. Even then I didn’t think of the career as being a writer, even though I wrote my reports and broadcast scripts every day. Suddenly now with my novels I have become a genuine recognized “writer” and it feels wonderful. But now I realize I have been a writer all along.

MISS LITERATI: How has your journalism career helped you become the person and writer you are today?

KITTY PILGRIM: The job of broadcast journalist consists of experiencing events and narrating them to others. I went to many places all over the world and was able to see and experience different viewpoints and cultures. That breadth of experience helps me construct internationally based thrillers like THE EXPLORER’S CODE and THE STOLEN CHALICE. When I write scenes for the book, I first “report” the location by traveling there and learning all about the place. Then when I sit down to write a scene in Egypt or Scotland or the Norwegian Arctic I can recall vividly all the details. My goal in writing these novels is to inform as well as to entertain. So my journalistic discipline of researching every detail had served me well in writing fiction. I try very hard to have all my information...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Kitty Pilgrim's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Stolen Chalice.

The Page 69 Test: The Stolen Chalice.

Writers Read: Kitty Pilgrim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tracey Garvis Graves

Tracey Garvis Graves lives in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, two children, and hyper dog Chloe.

In On the Island, her first novel, two people stranded on an island struggle to survive—and slowly fall in love.

From the author's Q & A at The Daily Quirk:

TDQ: On The Island deals with some rather unique subject matter. What was your inspiration for telling this story?

TGG: I remember watching the movie Castaway and wishing there had been another person on that island with Tom Hanks. If they could sell the idea that a man could have a meaningful relationship with a volleyball, why couldn’t I convince readers that true love conquers all and age is just a number?

TDQ: Did you know you wanted there to be a significant age difference between the characters from the start?

TGG: Yes, definitely. The premise rested on the challenge of taking two characters who really shouldn’t be together and creating a relationship that the reader would not only understand, but come to root for.

TDQ: It seems like it would be difficult to write from the perspective of a teenage boy – did you do any specific preparation to help you get inside T.J.’s head?

TGG: Well, I hope it’s not indicative of my maturity level, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Tracey Garvis Graves's blog and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: On the Island.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor is the award-winning author of a number of novels, including the Lydmouth and Dougal crime series, psychological thrillers, and the groundbreaking Roth Trilogy. He is the only author to receive the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award twice, the first time for The Office of The Dead, the third novel in the Roth Trilogy, and the second time for An Unpardonable Crime (published in the UK as The American Boy). His first novel won the John Creasey Award, and he has also been shortlisted for the Gold Dagger and the Edgar. In 2009 he was awarded CWA's Cartier Diamond Dagger, the international lifetime achievement award in the genre.

From Taylor's Q & A with novelist Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY by Patricia Highsmith.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Like any storyteller, I’m tempted to say God but on the other hand He might have the last laugh.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

PG Wodehouse, Josephine Tey.

Most satisfying writing moment?

When...[read on]
Writers Read: Andrew Taylor (September 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 20, 2012

Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald's newly released novel-in-stories is When It Happens to You.

From her Q & A with Lianne Stokes at Interview Magazine:

LIANNE STOKES: As a Brat Pack icon, is it a challenge for you to be taken seriously as an author? If so, how do you overcome that?

MOLLY RINGWALD: I don't have control over how people choose to perceive me. The only thing I have control over is my writing. I think that people who care about books and like the kind of books that I write will respond to it. I don't want people thinking it's a dishy celebrity book; that's not what I wrote.

STOKES: The title of your book, When It Happens to You, is telling: You're never too big to have someone betray you or to feel unloved. What inspired you to write about what you did?

RINGWALD: When I was thinking about the themes that connect us, love, hate... [laughs] If I could think of one thing that connects us all that's not talked about, it's betrayal. At my twins' preschool, I made two friends, and out of the three of us, I'm the only one who is happily married. The other two are now divorced as a result of cheating spouses. Everyone has been betrayed, turned on someone, or been their own worst enemy. I tried to write about betrayal from as many angles as I could understand.

STOKES: What struck me as profoundly sad was the moment one of your characters, a father, cheated, and his six-year-old daughter blamed her mother for what he had done.

RINGWALD: Yeah, I think kids do that. They...[read on]
Learn about Molly Ringwald's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ariel S. Winter

Ariel S. Winter is author of The Twenty-Year Death, "the brand-new and quite extraordinary crime novel" (according to crime fiction maven J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet).

From Winter's Q & A with Pierce:

JKP: This new novel is really three books in one, evoking the storytelling styles of Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. Whose style did you find the most enjoyable to work in?

ASW: I know the answer “all of them” is not very satisfying, but I don’t think I preferred one to another, really.

JKP: Have you long been a reader of crime and mystery fiction?

ASW: I’ve always been a mystery reader, though without considering myself a mystery reader. When I was a kid I read Sue Grafton, but really I was (and am) a die-hard comic-book reader. Most superhero fiction is actually detective/crime fiction, and I was especially a Batman fan, which is all detective/crime fiction. That, along with books like Sin City and One Hundred Bullets, fueled my interest in the hard-boiled aesthetic.

Then in the summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college, a friend and I set ourselves the goal of watching all 100 of [the American Film Institute’s] best American films. We made it through about 60 of them, and many of those films are noir crime films: The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Chinatown, The Godfather, etc. So when I had the opportunity to take a hard-boiled fiction and film noir class in college, I signed up. That cemented my interest in classic hard-boiled crime: Simenon, Chandler, and Thompson, obviously, but also James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Patricia Highsmith. The only modern I have read in depth is James Ellroy, but he’s working in the same milieu; and I love Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon, who’ve both written within the hard-boiled aesthetic as well.

As an aside here, I’ve recently become...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ariel S. Winter's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Twenty-Year Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Andrew Nagorski

Award-winning journalist Andrew Nagorski's books include The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II and Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power.

From his Q & A at the EWI website:

Who were the Americans in German in the 1920s and 1930s, and how did you get their stories?

There was a broad range of Americans: diplomats, military attach├ęs and foreign correspondents, along with a stream of visiting writers, students, professors and Olympic athletes. In a few cases, I was able to interview them directly, but most of them are no longer living. Which meant that I had to scour every possible record I could find—their published and unpublished memoirs, diaries, reports and letters. I found many of these source materials in archives, libraries and private family collections; in some cases, there were records that had been sitting in a family’s attic and almost forgotten.

What drew these Americans to Berlin?

Berlin in the 1920s was a wild place, where everything about life played out on the extremes. Against the backdrop of Germany’s defeat in World War I, its economic collapse and hyperinflation, politics often turned to violence. Even the sex was wild, as normal inhibitions all but evaporated. At the same time, Berlin—more so than Paris or London—was the cultural capital of Europe, boasting celebrities like Bertolt Brecht, Marlene Dietrich, George Grosz and Albert Einstein. The Americans who came to Berlin were swept up in all this excitement.

How were these Americans treated?

In the 1920s and early 1930s, most American felt very welcome in Germany. Of course, the United States had helped defeat Germany in World War I, but its involvement came late. And the Americans were far more....[read on]
Writers Read: Andrew Nagorski (February 2008).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 17, 2012

Alex Preston

Alex Preston's first novel, This Bleeding City, was published by Faber and Faber in March 2010 in the UK, and across twelve further territories. It won the Spear’s and Edinburgh Festival first book prizes. His second novel, The Revelations, which came out earlier this year, is about what happens when a religious movement becomes more important than the lives of its followers.

From Preston's Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write your new book?

It was difficult following up This Bleeding City. It had done much better than I (or, I suspect, Faber) had expected and with that came a vaguely paralysing sense of pressure. Long nights in front of a blank computer screen. The trash in the bottom-right corner of the desktop overflowing with scrapped drafts.

So I went back to a novel I'd loved as a teenager for inspiration. Donna Tartt's The Secret History was the book that made me want to be a writer. I remember devouring it when it first came out, aged 13. There was something about the group of friends, the sense of gothic mysteriousness, of life lived at high pitch. It also reminded me of some strange, rather beautiful people I'd met at Oxford who belonged to a secretive evangelical movement. I started with that idea of an extraordinarily close-knit group of friends and a tragedy that tests their loyalties. It didn't come easily after that, but it came.

What was most difficult about it?

Getting inside the heads of these young evangelicals. I attended a number of religious movements while researching the book, most interestingly the Alpha Course. It was fascinating and rather frightening. I didn't have a clear idea what these places did, but I was astonished to find the members speaking in tongues, having the extraordinary spiritual revelations, their priests forbidding any kinds of sexual high-jinks. I spoke to a large number of former and current members but I still found...[read on]
See Alex Preston's top ten list of fictional characters struggling with faith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Michael Grunwald

Michael Grunwald is a Time senior correspondent. He has won the George Polk Award for national reporting, the Worth Bingham Award for investigative reporting, and many other prizes. The Washington Post called his first book, The Swamp, “a brilliant work of research and reportage,” and the New York Times called him “a terrific writer.” His new book is The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.

From the author's Q & A with David Plotz at Slate:

Slate: What possessed you to write this book?

Grunwald: I fled Washington for the public policy paradise of South Beach while writing my last book, about the Everglades and Florida, so in 2010 I was only vaguely aware of the Beltway consensus that President Obama’s stimulus was an $800 billion joke. But because I write a lot about the environment, I was very aware that the stimulus included about $90 billion for clean energy, which was astonishing, because the feds were only spending a few billion dollars a year before. The stimulus was pouring unprecedented funding into wind, solar, and other renewables; energy efficiency in every form; advanced biofuels; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; and factories to make all that green stuff in the U.S.

It was clearly a huge deal. And it got me curious about what else was in the stimulus. I remember doing some dogged investigative reporting—OK, a Google search—and learning that the stimulus also launched Race to the Top, which was a real a-ha moment. I knew Race to the Top was a huge deal in the education reform world, but I had no idea it was a stimulus program. It quickly became obvious that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the formal name of the stimulus) was also a huge deal for health care, transportation, scientific research, and the safety net as well as the flailing economy. It was about Reinvestment as well as Recovery, and it was hidden in plain view.

So I decided to do a piece for Time about this untold story. But my editors thought I was nuts. The stimulus was old news. Unemployment was 9 percent; what else was there to say? I actually flew up to New York to make my case. I told my bosses I felt like a reporter in 1938, trying to convince them to do a story on this initiative called “The New Deal.” They looked at me like I was that blogger in The Newsroom pitching his story on Bigfoot. To...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Swamp.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books. She teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her latest novel is Small Damages.

From Kephart's Q & A with novelist Caroline Leavitt:

You are now the diamond in the sky. A rave NYT review, praise everywhere, and rightfully so, for a novel that is as luminously moving as it is smart. You and I have talked about the struggle to be published well, to find the right home with a publisher, to feel appreciated, and the absolute joy when that happens. So tell us about it, the struggle and the joy. Did you know when you were writing this novel that it was somehow different in some way, and that you were going to shine?

You and I have talked, first of all, because you are such an incredibly generous and open writer who yields so much to others. So that first.

Second, Small Damages is my fourteenth book. It arrives after five memoirs (in which life’s big questions were examined, as opposed to Epic Personal Tragedies), an uncategorizable foray into poetry and history, a twisted corporate America fairytale (which became corporate Everywhere fairytale after a dozen translations), and several young adult novels that have primarily been read by adults. In short, I have not been an easy writer to peg, my work hasn’t always been easy to shelf, and I fear I’ve been more of a conundrum than anything else. I have not made for easy publishing fodder.

Through all these years I have been working on Small Damages, a book inspired by my travels to Spain, where my brother-in-law lived for a long time. Place is story to me. Seville and its rural outposts was a world I could not leave in my imagination. I read, I thought, I dug deep into history, I took photographs, I interviewed people, and I wrote eighty drafts of a novel that kept changing its foreground, but never its background. A few times this book seemed close to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Beth Kephart's website.

The Page 69 Test: Small Damages.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart's latest novel is Super Sad True Love Story.

From his 2010 Q & A with Emily Greenhouse for Granta:

Who would win in a ‘Great American Novel’ Celebrity Death Match – you or Jonathan Franzen?

Tony Blair.

Do you think Chelsea Clinton would have converted, had she married you?

To atheism? She’d better!

George Steiner said that the ‘genius of Judaism’ is its history of Diaspora: wandering, powerless homelessness that rendered the Exiled Jew universal, ‘unto the elements … free.’ Do you think assimilation and an established ‘homeland’ have weakened the historic Jewish relationship between exile and identity? Does it matter? You once said, ‘Saul Bellow was an immigrant like I’m an octopus.’ Are you saying that the Jewish immigrant narrative is no longer authentic?

Well, I don’t know how it is with Jews in Britain, but out here in America we ...[read on]
Avi Steinberg, a former prison librarian, thought Lindsay Lohan should read Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story in jail.

Read about Shteyngart's heroine from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 13, 2012

Edward Humes

From Jason Zasky's Q & A with Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, at Failure Magazine:

Landfills are America’s preferred method for disposing of trash. But what are other countries doing?

Waste energy is a component of the European model. Germany landfills less than one percent of its waste, as opposed to sixty-nine percent for the United States. Germany recycles fifty-six percent of its material, versus about twenty-five percent for us.

Denmark is about fifty-fifty waste-to-energy versus recycle. And they are net energy exporters on the backs of their waste-to-energy plants and wind farms. They also have more of a community-based solution. They don’t build what we would call utility-scale power plants. The idea is that trash is a local phenomenon so a community should deal with its own trash. Their plants are relatively modestly proportioned and they provide heating as well as electricity through a system of underground conduits.

In the U.S. it’s never a distributed community-level approach. We build these enormous facilities that are almost prohibitively expensive, and many communities are reluctant to have these facilities close by. We fail on that score because if you can make smaller, more cost-effective plants that are a source of community pride, then you avoid a whole set of problems that the Japanese and Europeans are avoiding.

What’s wrong with our emphasis on recycling?

Recycling is a better-than-nothing solution. The problem with recycling is that for most materials it is incredibly inefficient. Some materials, like aluminum, you get a lot of bang for your buck, but for many things, like plastic bags, there isn’t much market. The most recycled content you can put into a plastic grocery bag is thirty percent, because the polymer chains break down when they are recycled and are not as strong.

The go-to solution for waste should first be...[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, August 12, 2012

Zheng Wang

Zheng Wang is an Associate Professor at the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. His research seeks to explain China's political transition and foreign policy behavior through the exploration of the country's indigenous culture, identity and domestic discourse.

His new book is Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations.

From the author's Q & A at the Columbia University Press blog:

Question: What is historical memory? Why did you use “never forgot national humiliation” as the title of this book?

Zheng Wang: Let me give you an example, while only some Americans actually witnessed the fall of the World Trade Center towers on September 11th, future generations of Americans are undoubtedly becoming connected to this national trauma through its retelling in the news, family stories, and classroom lessons. Historical memory is recollections and representations of past historical events shared by a particular group. For a group of people, their collective historical memory can be linked to both a single event as well as their national experience. It is collective memory of the past that binds a group of people together. For example, the National Mall in Washington D.C. reminds Americans of the glories and traumas of the United States. Each year millions of students visit their nation’s capitol to see these grand symbols and hear the stories that define what it means to be an American.

For the Chinese, their historical consciousness has been powerfully influenced by the so-called “century of humiliation” from the First Opium War (1839–1842) through the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1945. Chinese remember this period as a time when their nation was attacked, bullied, and torn asunder by imperialists. “Never forget national humiliation” is the English translation of a Chinese phrase Wuwang Guochi. In this book, I refer to it as the “national phrase” of China. The Chinese characters associated with this motto were engraved on monuments and painted on walls all over China. In general, this book examines how the discourse of national humiliation became an integral part of the construction of national identity and nation building in the different periods of China. It also explains how today’s Chinese youth engage with the phrase and how this informs...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Never Forget National Humiliation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Joshua Henkin

Joshua Henkin's new novel is The World Without You.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Your subject seems to be family. So what was yours like? Do you draw on it at all?

Ron Carlson said that he writes from personal experiences whether or not he had them. I feel the same way. Good fiction has to be emotionally autobiographical. The writer has to be at risk; you have to be very close to your material. That’s quite a different thing, however, from saying that the work is narrowly autobiographical or that your characters are based on people you know. I come from a complicated family in that, though both my parents were Jewish and raised in New York City, their backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. My paternal grandfather was a famous Orthodox rabbi who lived on the Lower East Side for fifty years and never learned English. He lived exclusively in a Yiddish-speaking world. My mother was raised in the Bronx, on the Grand Concourse, in a secular Jewish home. She went to a progressive private school with no walls between the classrooms and everyone campaigned for Adlai Stevenson and believed that someday we’d be speaking Esperanto. So I know a lot about both the religious Jewish world and the secular Jewish world, and absolutely—my knowledge of those worlds....[read on]
Learn more about the novel and its author at Joshua Henkin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Matrimony.

Writers Read: Joshua Henkin (August 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tabish Khair

Tabish Khair is an award-winning poet, journalist, critic, educator and novelist. A citizen of India, he lives in Denmark and teaches literature at Aarhus University.

His latest novel is The Thing about Thugs.

From the author's Q & A with Visi Tilak:

At what age did you start writing? When did you discover you wanted to become a writer?

TK: Pretty early, according to my parents. They collected poems I had written from the age of seven or eight. I think I managed to steal and burn most of them later on. What a relief! My parents did not want me to be a writer -- they were afraid I would starve -- but they were quite proud of my precocious scribblings.

Do you consider yourself a poet or a fiction writer? Which one is your passion?

TK: I am a writer. I think the theme, idea, effect etc indicate the genre. One listens to the book in formation and writes accordingly. It sounds mystical, but it is a hard, solid fact of writing: you need to listen to the book you are writing.

How do you switch hats from poetry to prose writing? That must be tough to do.

TK: Only to the extent that it is always hard to get into poetry in a world that ...[read on]
Visit Tabish Khair's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Thing about Thugs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman's new novel is And When She Was Good.

From her Q & A with Rosalind Sykes at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

Lolita. I read it for the first time when I was 12 because I heard it was really dirty. It has allusions to Edgar Allan Poe and it actually plays by the rules of a detective novel.
* * *

Who are your literary influences?

Anything I read between the ages of eight and 20 because that’s when your mind is really sponge-like. I began reading Philip Roth as a teenager, and I loved dirty novels by Jacqueline Susann [Valley of the Dolls]. And any book about girls who want to be writers, such as Little Women.
* * *

Which literary character most resembles you?

I think of myself more as being that archetype in movies, the snappy, dry-witted actress who played Doris Day’s best friend.....[read on]
Visit Laura Lippman's website and blog.

Laura Lippman's top 10 memorable memoirs.

The Page 69 Test: Another Thing to Fall.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Know.

The Page 69 Test/Page 99 Test: Life Sentences.

The Page 69 Test: I'd Know You Anywhere.

The Page 69 Test: The Most Dangerous Thing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 8, 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 latest novel is Contents May Have Shifted.

From the author's Q & A with Gary D. Swaim at Pony Express(ions):

Gary: Writers, historically, had been cited (especially in ancient times) as something akin to prophets. It appears the singer/songwriter has taken much of that role from the writer. Do you agree? Why or why not? Are there areas a serious writer almost has a responsibility to address today, as a “prophet?”

Pam: I love singer songwriters. Deeply. But I don’t see them as prophets, any more than I see writers as prophets, which is really not at all. Record keepers, yes. The best writers are able to represent what it means to be alive on this planet in all of its emotional and psychological complexity (not always by recounting that complexity in painstaking detail but by gesturing at it extremely effectively) and that often looks like prophecy, only because we as a culture are so very bad at seeing ourselves. Didn’t Ray Bradbury say, “I was not predicting the future, I was trying to prevent it.”

Gary: What do you regard to be the serious writer’s primary responsibilities to be? To the self? To the reader?

Pam: Emotional honesty and artistic rigor. Complexity of mind and heart.

Gary: Would you dare to “prophesy” where fiction might go next? Subject matter? Styles?

Pam: I think the most interesting thing that is happening in literature right now is...[read on]
Visit Pam Houston's website.

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Louise Welsh

Louise Welsh is a writer living and working in Glasgow, Scotland.

She is the author of five novels: The Cutting Room (2002), Tamburlaine Must Die (2004), The Bullet Trick (2006), Naming the Bones (March 2010), and The Girl on the Stairs (August 2012).

From her Q & A with the Independent:

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

Robert Louis Stevenson because I read him before I could read him – his work was read to me as a child and I'm still going back to him.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Winnie the Pooh – this simple bear trying to go through life.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

At the moment, Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery, escaped it, and became....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 6, 2012

Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson is the author of several bestselling books, of which the first, Touching the Void, won both the NCR Award and the Boardman Tasker Award. His later books include This Game of Ghosts, Storms of Silence, Dark Shadows Falling, The Beckoning Silence and two novels.

From his Q & A with Peter Leggatt at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

The White Spider [first published in 1959] by Heinrich Harrer. It is about the first ascent of the north face of the Eiger. It’s an odd book to call inspirational, as it’s a pretty grim list of deaths and not particularly well written. But it made me think that if someone’s prepared to go through that, there must be something fantastic about climbing.
* * *

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

I have just read a whole series of books about Genghis Khan, and I was going to say him but it might be a bit bloody worrying actually. If he didn’t like the cut of your jib, you could be dead before the end of the first course.
* * *

Can you remember the first novel you read?

If anybody could say they remember their first novel, I suspect they’d be lying....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ann Bauer

Ann Bauer is the author of the novels A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards and The Forever Marriage.

From her Q & A with writer Caroline Leavitt:

What I loved so much about The Forever Marriage is the character of Carmen. At first, I didn’t know how I felt about her because she was so prickly, so relieved about her husband’s death. But then, as she begins to look at their shared pasts, and her own choices in life, she begins to transform and take new responsibility for what her marriage was like. And as she transforms, so does they way she sees their shared past. And I fell in love with her. Was it difficult writing the earlier Carmen when she wasn’t so instantly sympathetic? What were the challenges for you?

I started this book in 2007 because I had a very close friend who was facing Carmen’s dilemma: She had a husband she never really loved who’d been slowly dying of cancer for 9 years. The truth is, I was struggling with my friend’s situation. I was watching this woman I adored become frustrated and bitter because her husband just kept hanging on. It was so uncomfortable. I sympathized with her but I was also really horrified that a marriage could turn so empty. That a man could die with his wife at his side, rooting for him to go.

So I already loved Carmen despite all her sharp edges. The biggest hurdle for me was the actual death of the husband so I started there. I think I was faking myself out, trying to get through the worst of it and imagine what had not yet happened (my friend’s husband would actually live for another three years). I needed to get through that scene in order to work through the rest of the story. But it means that readers meet Carmen when she’s behaving pretty unforgivably, when she’s the least likable. Then my job, as the writer, was to make people see who Carmen really is and come to understand her and fall in love with her over the course of the book.

Without giving away too much, I think my biggest challenge was her husband, Jobe. He’s based in part on my own very sweet husband—this quiet, brilliant mathematician. So I kept wanting to make him perfect but, of course, he couldn’t be. No interesting character is... It was really deep into the writing of this novel that I finally “found” Jobe’s weaknesses and flaws and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Anthony Quinn

Anthony Quinn is an Irish author and journalist. He has written short stories for years, winning critical acclaim and, twice, a place on the short list for the Hennessy Literary Awards for New Irish Writing. He also placed as runner-up in a Sunday Times food writing competition. Disappeared is his first novel.

From his Q & A at Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Anything by Graham Greene, because his shading of good and evil still resonates strongly today. Has there ever been a better writer of noir?

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn - a life spent constructing hayricks and reading poetry in the hedgerows, with a pitchfork to hand for devilment at night.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Social media websites are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 3, 2012

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman's new novel is And When She Was Good.

From her Q & A at the Independent:

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

Philip Roth. With a lot of writers, I can say 'I'm done now', like you would in a relationship. With Roth, I'm in it for the long haul.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, whose love of writing and reading saves her from grim poverty. My most valuable lessons have come from books.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine outside literature?

My babysitter without whom I couldn't work, and a Baltimore couple, Brendan Walsh and Willa Bickham. He's a former priest, she's a former nun. They've run a soup kitchen for 40 years....[read on]
Visit Laura Lippman's website and blog.

Laura Lippman's top 10 memorable memoirs.

The Page 69 Test: Another Thing to Fall.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Know.

The Page 69 Test/Page 99 Test: Life Sentences.

The Page 69 Test: I'd Know You Anywhere.

The Page 69 Test: The Most Dangerous Thing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kurt Andersen

Kurt Andersen is the author of the novels Heyday and Turn of the Century, among other books. He writes for television, film, and the stage, contributes to Vanity Fair, and hosts the public radio program Studio 360. He has previously been a columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time, editor in chief of New York, and co-founder of Spy.

His new novel True Believers is about an attorney, Karen Hollander, who withdraws her name as a Supreme Court candidate and confesses to participation in a 1960s radical plot.

From his Q & A about True Believers, with Joel Stein for TIME magazine:

Had you read a lot of Ian Fleming novels, like your characters? You don’t strike me as a James Bond guy.

That’s correct. I had not read a single one until I decided to write this book. Then I read about half of them. I was a pretty big junior spy guy, however: Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Prisoner, Secret Agent. I tried eavesdropping on my neighbors and buying miniature cameras.

I heard your nickname in high school was Explodo.

It was a family nickname at age 11 or 12, because I was a pyromaniac. I once took an interstate bus from Nebraska to Missouri just so I could buy fireworks.

Did that make you feel connected to this character?

In the liking-secret-cameras-and keeping-dossiers-and-pretending-I-was-a-spy in an 11- or 12-year-old way, sure. I never made the transition that Karen and her friends made to becoming a fight-the-power radical. Because I was a wussy. And because I was born after her. The big ’60s radicals actually were born before, in the ’40s or late ’30s.

Were you thinking of any real-life people for Karen?

No. After I was done and people would ask, “What’s your book about?” and I’d give the 10-word description, they’d say “Oh, like Bernardine Dohrn.” I’d say, “No, exactly not like a Bernardine Dohrn.” Not one of these super-committed lifelong radical fugitives. I started realizing that the thing to say is it’s...[read on]
Learn about Kurt Andersen’s 5 favorite ’60s books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dave Cullen

Dave Cullen is considered the nation's foremost authority on the Columbine killers, and has also written extensively on Evangelical Christians, gays in the military, politics, and pop culture.

From his July 2012 Q& A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What lessons can we learn from the Littleton community and how it's dealt with Columbine for 13 years now?

A: The victims want you to know one thing: Don't rush to healing. Give the victims time and space. The longer it goes on, the more profoundly they feel that, and the more angry they are with the public and the media.

The first week, the whole country is in mourning for them. And within, say, six months, we hear these inspiring stories of the kid in the wheelchair who's learning to walk again. We want to hear the inspirational stories of overcoming adversity.

But the survivors feel like the public doesn't want to hear any more "whining." The victims start to hear that as "How can I make you shut up. I want you to get over this so you're done, and we're done with you."

The victims resent that. They feel, "I'm not ready to heal, I don't want to process this just to please you."

Some victims need forever to be sad about it. They want time to heal and space to do it in their own way, and they don't want a lot of well-intentioned help.

Q: It's amazing how victims are often so willing to talk to the media after these tragedies. Is that good for them?

A: The jury is still out on that.

We used to think it's healthy to talk about these things, and it can be, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue