Sunday, September 30, 2012

Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith's new book is Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy.

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

How did you first get interested in this story?

It was back in 2005 when I was writing a book on the scandalous love affair between Count Nicholas Sheremetev and his serf Praskovya Kovalyova, the famous opera singer who performed as “The Pearl.” I got to know some of the descendants of the count, now living in the United States, and became fascinated by their stories of what had happened to the family after the revolution. Their tales of loss and emigration, of desperate escapes from the Bolsheviks and the destruction of their ancestors’ way of life captured my imagination. I started reading everything I could find on the subject, but nothing seemed to satisfy my curiosity. It wasn’t long before I knew I had to write this book.

Why do you think no one had ever written such a book before?

I think there are a few reasons. For most of the past century the subject was taboo in the Soviet Union. It simply didn’t exist as a topic. The nobles themselves had been too traumatized to discuss these things publicly and the Soviet historical profession had no interest in even mentioning the subject. It was only with the reforms begun under Gorbachev in the 1980s that Russians began to uncover this repressed past. I was fortunate to come to this subject at just the right moment after a great deal of material had finally been published, the archives had been opened, and noble families were keen to talk about their experiences.

How did you do the research for the book?

Former People draws on...[read on]
Visit Douglas Smith's website.

The Page 69 Test: Douglas Smith's The Pearl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 29, 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 Debs Carr at Novelicious:

When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?

My heroes are scientists and explorers, so I use them as models for some of my characters. In The Explorer’s Code, the character of Cordelia is based on a real marine scientist who works at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. When I wrote the book, I consulted with her on how a marine scientist would think and act. I frequently stop by at Woods Hole to meet her and talk to the other scientists. Another character in The Explorer’s Code is Thaddeus Frost, a botanist (who is also a spy). I took a course on botany at the New York Botanical Garden’s graduate school to gain insight into this kind of expert. In writing The Stolen Chalice I met someone who is an Egyptologist at The Brooklyn Museum who inspired my character Carter Wallace. I don’t copy these people in great detail, but they inspire me to create my own characters.

What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?

I must say Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen is my favourite women’s fiction book. A narrative by a strong woman, it creates all the romance and mystery of the early years of the colonization of Africa, with deep sensitivity to the indigenous culture. I also love...[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

Friday, September 28, 2012

Attica Locke

Attica Locke's latest novel is The Cutting Season.

From her Q & A with Irene Lacher for the Los Angeles Times:

Is there a story behind your first name?

Yes, I was named after the prison riot at Attica prison in New York.

Because you were such an adorable baby?

All I know is I was born three years later, in '74. [My mother] has since said it's a fit for my personality. I guess I'm fiery or righteous, but she felt right away that's what she wanted her child to be named. It's late '60s, early '70s politics. Both my parents were activists in Texas, starting in college at the University of Houston and for a few years after.

I gather that your new book was inspired by a visit to Oak Alley Plantation.

I went to a wedding at the Oak Alley Plantation in 2004. It's in Vacherie, La. We were bused from New Orleans, and you basically drive through rural poverty and all of a sudden these majestic columns shoot up along the Mississippi and it is a stunning sight. And I immediately felt my stomach turn over, because I was confused by the mix of the beauty and what the place represented. When we disembarked from the bus, I burst into tears. I was there with my white husband — it was 2004 — and the couple getting married there was an interracial couple. So I didn't understand if our presence there was a sign of...[read on]
Read more about the book and author at Attica Locke's website.

Learn about Locke's hero from outside literature.

The Page 69 Test: Attica Locke's Black Water Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 27, 2012

George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos is a screenwriter, independent film producer, award-winning journalist, and the author of bestselling novels set in and around Washington, D.C.

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

You’ve had a number of jobs before writing: woman’s shoe salesman, line cook, dishwasher. How do these various jobs color your work as a writer?

I started working in my dad’s diner at 11, so I had 20 years of blue- and gray-collar work experience before I wrote my first novel. I had fun. It wasn’t like I was an undercover artist masquerading as a worker. I was paying the bills. I mine those experiences for my fiction to this day. But I think the greatest influence those jobs had on me was that they gave me my work ethic as a writer. I treat this as a job. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I say, “I’m a professional writer.” In a way, I think of myself as a small business owner. My office has doors on it, and I open my business every morning, just as my dad turned the key on his diner each and every day.

Your work has been described as quintessential of, and about, D.C. What do people mean when they say that? Did you set out to chronicle your hometown, or did it happen organically?

I realized from the beginning that there was a hole in Washington fiction. I had no interest in the political novel or the spy thriller, or the Georgetown novel set in the milieu of Washington society. Others could do that better, because I was not of that world. Washington is a city with its own language, culture, music, style, and racial politics. As a young Greek American straddling many different quadrants here, mainly because of work and sports, I thought I might write about the city from a different perspective than had been done before. After awhile, I started to see the chronicling of this city as my life’s work. The crime novel gave me...[read on]
Learn about the fictional character which Pelecanos thinks most resembles him.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Martin Amis

Martin Amis's latest novel is Lionel Asbo: State of England.

From his Q & A with Irene Lacher at the Los Angeles Times:

The subtitle of your new novel, "Lionel Asbo," is "State of England." But I think your story of a sociopathic criminal who wins the lottery and becomes a tabloid celebrity could easily have happened here.

Yeah, it could. But it's not just for that reason the subtitle is there. It's the whole imagined world of Diston [Asbo's home borough in London]. It's just so English. Put it this way: It's true that anything can happen in America, but it's almost impossible to imagine a microcosm of America. Henry James said America was more like a world than a country, and you couldn't imagine a novel with a subtitle "State of America," could you? There has been John Dos Passos' "U.S.A.," and many ambitious American novelists have tried to contain a huge amount of America in this or that novel, but I don't think they for a minute think they've got anything close to the essence of it — it's too various. England is small enough, homogenous enough so that you can have a shot at writing a novel with that subtitle, whereas in America it would be a vast undertaking.

So Lionel and his girlfriend, "Threnody," have real-life inspirations?

In Lionel's case, I did read a charming book written by a dustbin man, a young man who won the lottery, and it wasn't nearly as much as Lionel — 10 million or something. And I read his book, thinking this will be full of good stuff, but when I closed it, I realized I couldn't use a single idea or notion, because that is the usual cliched story. Whatever else you say about Lionel, he isn't a type. He isn't a cliche. So you abandon the real-life model very early on. The same with [celebrity and former topless model] Katie Price; my character "Threnody" is a Katie Price wannabe, but she can't pull it off in the way Katie Price has done. All you get out of that kind of research is the setting, not the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Enid Shomer

A widely published fiction writer and poetry, Enid Shomer is the author of seven books. Her work has been collected in more than fifty anthologies and textbooks, including POETRY: A HarperCollins Pocket Anthology, Best American Poetry, and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best.

Shomer's new novel is The Twelve Rooms of the Nile.

From her Q & A with Lauren Bufferd:

With a novel like this, you know there was a historical fact that provided the initial spark to your imagination. What was it?

The initial spark was learning that Flaubert and Nightingale traveled the Nile at the same time. I’m not talking about approximately the same time. They were towed from Cairo to the navigable part of the river through the Mahmoudieh Canal on the same boat. That day, Flaubert wrote a description in his journal of a woman in a “hideous green eyeshade,” and we know that Nightingale had such a contraption that she wore attached to her bonnet. Their itineraries throughout their Nile journeys were almost identical. It’s kind of a miracle that they didn’t meet!

Did you know a lot about Florence Nightingale and Flaubert before you started the novel? Do you think readers need to know about them before they read the novel?

I did not know a lot. My sense of Nightingale at the outset was based on Lytton Strachey’s book Eminent Victorians, which depicts Nightingale as a shrewish and eccentric control freak. (He claims she actually worked one of her friends to death.) The more I read about and by her, the more I came to reject this depiction. She was, for one thing, blessed with a fabulous wit, a virtue Strachey ignored completely. Other early biographers painted her in saintly sepia tones. I set out to find out who the real Nightingale was.

I knew that Flaubert was...[read on]
Visit Enid Shomer's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Twelve Rooms of the Nile.

Writers Read: Enid Shomer.

My Book, The Movie: The Twelve Rooms of the Nile.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hanna Rosin

Claire Zulkey interviewed Hanna Rosin, the author of The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.

Part of the Q & A:

After completing your book, did you consider changing your parenting tack in order to raise sons who not only do right by themselves but also do right by women (particularly after you worked on your "hookup culture" chapter)?

My concern about raising my sons has more to do with teaching them to meet whatever demands school places on them without making them frustrated or miserable or think they have to be just like girls. I try to be realistic — I can't make my sons into people they're not. I think the "William wants a doll" fantasy of the '70s is a proven failure. But I can't put my head in the sand and pretend that school does not demand a level of organization and verbal acuity that doesn't come 100 percent naturally to them. So I try and teach them to cultivate the skills they have — to nurture their inner secretary, as I put it. One example is I make a list for my son that he reads every morning of what he needs to do — put his lunch in his backpack, remember his PE shoes, etc. — in the hopes that eventually he'll internalize those organization skills.

As for the hook-up culture, I won't teach my sons and daughters differently on this front. Young people are aiming for different kinds of connections than I had, ones that aren't crude but aren't entirely settled, either. But at their best they are respectful. Here is what one woman I interviewed told me. As a guiding principle, I think it's not half bad:

"We want a relationship of freedom — the freedom to be there for each other and available sexually when it suits the both of us, and also emotionally when it suits the both of us. We want it to be fun and maybe involve some dates and long talks over coffee. But we certainly don't want these "relationships" to be entered into with an expectation of long-term, or to get in the way of the other important things in our lives. Compatibility isn't even all that important. Amusement, affection, affirming attention, sexual fulfillment, the ever-elusive "fun" — that's what we're after. We (both women and men) are putting ourselves first. Some might call that selfish; we call it smart and independent and secure."

You touch upon many pop culture references in the book. What are some of your personal favorite movies/TV shows/books that portray male/female relationships in a realistic yet progressive manner?

We seem to have thankfully passed through the era of the Judd Apatow irresponsible man-child who needs to be rescued by his shrill girlfriend. One positive example right now is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tony Horwitz

For Chapter 16, Christopher Hebert interviewed Tony Horwitz about his book Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War.

Part of the Q & A:

Chapter 16: Midnight Rising is not your first book about the Civil War. You also wrote the bestselling Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (Pantheon, 1998), in which you explore the thrall in which Americans, especially in the South, continue to hold the war. I’m curious about how you developed your interest in this period. And what made you decide to pursue John Brown?

Tony Horwitz: I was a Civil War nerd almost from birth and rediscovered my boyhood obsession when my wife and I settled in rural Virginia in the 1990s. I felt surrounded by the War—battlefields, fights over memory, crazed reenactors—and that’s what led me to write Confederates in the Attic. While researching the book, I visited Harpers Ferry, only fifteen miles from my home, but it didn’t dawn on me to write about John Brown and his raid until I’d moved a decade later to New England. Go figure.

One reason I was drawn back to this period is that I’d always dwelled on the Civil War proper, from 1861 to 1865, without really understanding how and why the conflict came about. John Brown’s Raid seemed like a good place to start. Also, it’s a writer’s dream, a tense, sweaty drama with an unbelievable cast of characters—not just Brown but Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, the Transcendentalists, Frederick Douglass, John Wilkes Booth, and many others.

Chapter 16: In the popular imagination, the historical figure of John Brown has often been reduced to the heroic abolitionist that Henry David Thoreau exalted as Brown was being martyred in Harper’s Ferry. But as becomes painfully clear in your book, the real John Brown was far more complicated than the historical myth. How did the John Brown you discovered through your research compare to the Brown you thought you knew before you undertook the project? What surprised you most about the real John Brown?

Horwitz: Before writing this book, most of what I knew about Brown...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Drew Gilpin Faust

Drew Gilpin Faust's books include This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.

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

Q: How did the death toll of the Civil War – an estimated 620,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians and perhaps even more, according to a new estimate – change us as a nation?

A: We learned about our obligations to the dead. If we are to understand ourselves as a nation made up of citizens, and if we ask people to fight in defense of that democracy, there are obligations owed to them.

Before the Civil War, there were no national cemeteries, no processes for identifying the dead in the battle. There weren't any dog tags, and there was no next-of-kin notification.

You didn't necessarily even hear what the fate of your loved ones had been. It was up to their comrades to write and inform you.

Those kinds of practices were transformed by the recognition of what the country owes to the citizen in the way of an honorable death and the responsibility for the remains and for the kin of those who have died in war.

Q: How was the government itself transformed by its new responsibility to take care of soldiers who lived and those who died?

A: It had never had so much work as was represented by the bureaucracy necessary to rebury the dead, with more than 300,000 Union soldiers relocated and buried in national cemeteries.

That was an enormous logistical undertaking. And the pension system that was set up to take care of the relatives required...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 21, 2012

Goce Smilevski

Goce Smilevski was born in 1975 in Skopje, Macedonia. He was educated at Charles University in Prague, Central European University in Budapest, and Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, where he works at the Institute for Literature. He has won numerous prizes for his writing, in Macedonia and abroad; his novel Freud's Sister won the European Union Prize for Literature and is being published in more than twenty-five languages.

From his Q & A with Ann Mayhew at Publishers Weekly:

Why do you think it’s important to investigate history’s “forgotten” characters, and why Adolfina?

In The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera wrote that “historiography writes the history of society, not of a man,” while the art of the novel has the ability to examine “the historical dimension of human existence.” Historiography remembers only the influential people; its selective memory neglects the lives of ordinary people. Adolfina Freud is one of those billions of forgotten people, and we are certain of just a few facts of her life and death. We know nothing about her joys and sorrows. On the other hand, many things about her brother Sigmund have been well recorded, including those that are trivial, such as where he bought cigars. Writing a novel narrated by a relative of one of the most influential people in history was, for me, a symbolic act; I was giving a voice to one of those forgotten people whose lives, happiness, and tragedies have been lost.

What kind of research did you do to reimagine Adolfina’s life?

My main research was about 19th-century and early 20th-century life, the Holocaust, psychoanalysis, and her brother’s works.

How did Sigmund Freud’s work influence how you novelized his sister’s life and death?

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

John Kelly

John Kelly is the author of the acclaimed bestseller The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, Three on the Edge: The Stories of Ordinary American Families in Search of a Medical Miracle, and The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Can you talk about the title?

The title comes from William Butler Yeats's play, The Countess Cathleen. In the first scene, one of the characters says:
They say that now the land is famine struck
The graves are walking
I choose it as title for two reasons. One, It's a haunting image in and of itself, and two, I thought it would give the reader a feel for what I was trying to do in the book, which was to convey a sense of what the famine looked like and felt like for the people who lived through it.

What was the research like? What surprised you?

The research was exhausting. Combined, I estimate I read about 8,000 letters, government documents, and contemporary newspaper accounts. However, the hardest part was the writing. How do you turn all that documentation into a compelling narrative history for the general reader? There were days I was so frustrated, I felt like taking out a restraining order against the book.

What surprised me is how sophisticated the international economy was in the 1840s. With nothing but letters and ships, merchants were able to guide an economy that stretched from the Ukraine to the Ohio Valley. It was a remarkable...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

William Boyd

William Boyd's books include A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year; and Ordinary Thunderstorms.  His latest novel is Waiting for Sunrise.

From his Q & A with Sybil Steinberg at Publishers Weekly:

Would you describe Waiting for Sunrise as a psychological thriller or an espionage novel?

I think of my first novel, Restless, and this one, as adventures in the manner of John Buchan and Somerset Maugham, yet with our modern hindsight. In the ’20s and ’30s they wrote about Englishmen embroiled abroad. That was my starting point.

Why did you make your protagonist, Lysander Reif, an actor?

I work so much in film and TV, and I have many close friends who are actors. It’s a profession I’m very close to. I knew from the beginning that he was going to get into trouble and his profession was going to be very helpful to him.

Why did you choose to start the novel in pre-WWI Vienna?

I’m fascinated by that city at that time [1913–1914]. Everything was happening there: art, philosophy, psychoanalysis. It was a ferment of intellectual ideas, a well of creative talent.

What or who inspired Lysander’s nemesis, the unscrupulous sexpot Hettie Bull?

In my mind she’s a bit like...[read on]
Learn who Boyd would invite to his dream dinner party and his hero from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin is a #1 international bestselling author. Winner of an Edgar Award and the recipient of a Gold Dagger for fiction and the Chandler-Fulbright Award, he lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

From his May 2012 Q & A with the Guardian:

Who's your favourite writer?

I don't think I have one particular favourite writer. I have many whose works I will always buy or reread – Muriel Spark, Anthony Powell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ruth Rendell, James Ellroy, William McIlvanney, Kate Atkinson, John Burnside, Louise Welsh, Iain Banks …

What are your other inspirations?

Inspiration comes from many places: I find stories in newspapers, and sometimes someone tells me an anecdote in the pub that gets me thinking. People also write to me suggesting ideas for novels and characters. In the early days, I just had a hunger to get published. Later, there was the hunger to...[read on]
Learn about Ian Rankin's five favorite literary crime novels and the best selling book he wishes he'd written.

Read J. Kingston Pierce's 2000 interview with Rankin at January Magazine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ken Follett

Thriller writer Ken Follett has sold 100m copies of his 31 books worldwide. His first major success was Eye of the Needle (1978).

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

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

I'm very fond of Edith Wharton. She's a great storyteller... but she's also unapologetically intelligent. Her analysis of people's motivations always strikes me as brilliant.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Dr Watson. He tells us about someone braver and cleverer than he is.
* * *

Who is your hero/ heroine from outside literature?

Willie....[read on]
Read about the book that changed Follett's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Michelle Gagnon

Michelle Gagnon has been a modern dancer, a dog walker, a bartender, a freelance journalist, a personal trainer, and a model. Her bestselling thrillers for adults have been published in numerous countries and include The Tunnels, Boneyard, The Gatekeeper, and Kidnap & Ransom.

Don't Turn Around, her first novel for young adults, was published this summer.

From Gagnon's Q & A with Noah Charney at The Daily Beast:

You’ve mostly written adult thrillers, but now have a young-adult (YA) book coming out. How did you approach writing for a younger audience?

I find YA writing to be very similar, by and large. I did hit a few stumbling blocks, because in my other series the main characters were an FBI agent and security consultant, adults with resources and training at their disposal, and the authority to back up their actions. Teenagers don’t have those advantages. One of the reasons I switched to YA for this series was that a friend pointed out that I’ve had a strong teen character in nearly all of my adult thrillers, and he suggested I try writing an entire thriller from that point of view.

The most striking difference was during the editing process. According to my editor, I couldn’t have any scenes from an adult perspective. In Don’t Turn Around, I had originally written a few scenes through the eyes of a character who served as a sort of surrogate older brother for my hero. We ended up excising those. There was also a scene between a Boston fire chief and a security guard that had to be shifted so that Noa, my heroine, observed what happened (rather than using an omniscient narrator). I don’t write a lot of sexual situations in any of my books, so I didn’t have to edit out anything like that. In thrillers, I always find that those scenes slow down the action. Clearly, I’m never going to write "50 shades of" anything…

What has to happen on page one, and in chapter one, to make for a successful thriller that urges you to read on?

That’s usually the only part of the book that, when...[read on]
Visit Michelle Gagnon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Tunnels.

The Page 69 Test: Boneyard.

The Page 69 Test: Kidnap & Ransom.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Turn Around.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's new novel is NW.

From her Q & A with Ted Hodgkinson for Granta:

Technology in the novel can act as a portal to fantasy, in Natalie/Keisha’s case, but can also prompt a ‘level of self-awareness literally unknown in the history of human existence’, to borrow a phrase from the book. Does being at such a historical moment signal a potential sea change in human behaviour and what kind of challenge does that pose to a novelist?

What it does to the novelist is only of concern to novelists; more interesting is what it does to people. Only two hundred years ago it was physically impossible to see yourself doing something you had done yesterday, that is, to see it in three dimensions, speaking and moving. It’s a miracle! It’s really unprecedented. The ancient myths thought that if we stared at ourselves in this way too long we’d fall in the water and drown. The myth preceded the technological reality (as seems to happen), but now we’re really here, relating to ourselves as objects. My daughter takes it completely for granted that the day after we go to the park I can show her a video of herself in the park. Two hundred years ago she would have thought she was having a dream, or losing her mind. Four hundred years ago she would have screamed and wept, denounced me to the elders of the village as a witch and dedicated herself to the Lord...

How has living and teaching for stretches in America impacted on your view of London? Was being away one of the things that led you back, in your fiction, to the place you started from?

It has made me weep with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 14, 2012

Alice LaPlante

Alice LaPlante has written four books of nonfiction and the novel, Turn of Mind.

From her Q & A with the Guardian:

How did you come to write Turn of Mind?

My mother has Alzheimer's, so it's a topic we've been dealing with as a family for nearly a decade. I'd tried writing about it, privately, but had trouble getting "at" the material. I tried a short story, and that went nowhere. One night my partner and I were watching the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series on TV, and he asked, "Do you think you could ever write a mystery?" I said, "Of course not!", but a moment later said, "Wouldn't it be funny to have a detective with Alzheimer's who couldn't remember the clues?" He said, "write that!" I knew I couldn't – I know nothing about detectives or detecting … but I thought I do it from the point of view of the suspect. I wrote the first section that night. The mystery provided me with enough of a framework to get at what I considered the really important stuff: the characters and emotions.

What was most difficult about it?

Nothing was difficult about writing it. I was lucky. I was obsessed, and it all came out very easily. It was a very...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Nick Dybek

Nick Dybek is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He is the recipient of a Hopwood Award for Short Fiction, a Maytag Fellowship, a 2010 Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, and a Granta New Voices selection. He lives in New York City.

Dybek is the author of When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man.

From his Q & A with Ted Hodgkinson for Granta:

TH: One of the things that fascinated me about ‘When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man’ is the slight blurring between the family’s reality on Loyalty Island and the fictions that the son (and our narrator) is captivated by, particularly Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Would you say that his fascination with ‘doomed pirates’ and their fates is his way of making sense of the violence and chaos of his young life?

ND: In children’s books the villains are usually doomed while the heroes make it to the end; in Treasure Island, for example, the reader knows Jim Hawkins will survive because he’s telling the story, but there’s no such guarantee for John Silver. It’s Silver that you need to fear for. Perhaps because of this, I was always more interested in the villains than the heroes when I was a kid.

I imagined Cal, the narrator, to be similarly fascinated by the villains of Treasure Island, by the tension they produce whenever they step on the page. As your question suggests, anxiety and apprehension are familiar feelings for Cal; his father (and all his male role models) live with constant, excruciating risk, a sword always hanging over their heads. Because of their jobs, they are imperilled – just as a book’s villains are in the mind of a child-reader. It made sense to me, therefore, that Cal would identify his father with the endangered and yet dangerous pirates; at the same time, I thought he would want to see his father as a hero. I think the Captain Flint stories resonate for him in part because...[read on]
Visit Nick Dybek's website.

Writers Read: Nick Dybek.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds’s latest book of poems, Stag’s Leap, has just been released this week.

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

What is your approach to writing poetry, as opposed to writing journalism or memoir or fiction?

I’m trying to be accurate but what I’m trying to be accurate to is experience – emotional, physical, soul, social. Experience of an ordinary-enough person: myself. I don’t write from the “I” so much because I think I’m interesting. I certainly didn’t think I was smart. But just, this is my only chance. This vessel to experience with the senses and imagination, what it’s like to be alive for me.

You’ve been living in New York for more than 40 years. What brought you here?

I had heard about New York City from when I was maybe seven years old. I had seen pictures of it in Life Magazine. Life Magazine was all black and white and I saw it and I said, “What place is that?” to someone. And they said, that is a place where no decent person would wish to live, and I thought, there’s a home for me. There’s a place for me where the other not-decent people live. And there’s no question ever in my mind from when I was really, really young, where I was going, because they told me. It turned out to be of course deeply false in terms of human decency but ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Howard Jacobson

An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Howard Jacobson is the acclaimed author of The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), No More Mr. Nice Guy, The Act of Love, and the Man Booker Prize-winning The Finkler Question.

His latest novel is Zoo Time.

From Jacobson's Q & A with Elizabeth Day at the Observer:

Your new novel, Zoo Time, features a publisher who has committed suicide, an agent in hiding and a novelist harangued by book groups. Is publishing doomed?

It's not my experience that my publisher shot himself or my agent is always hiding from me but I wouldn't have written it if I didn't think there was something worrying about, not so much publishing, but the state of the book… some of the things that I play with, some of the jokes I make, attack things that need to be attacked.

You write acerbically about genre fiction…

I'm contemptuous of genre things... You go into a good bookshop like Foyles and see a kind of "vampire room". I was sitting in the American Embassy a while back, trying to get a visa, and every woman in the room was reading the vampire series – you know, the one with the black cover and the bit of blood. Now people are reading soft porn! What happened to the fun of reading a good book? There are people who, when they say they prefer Henry James to Fifty Shades of Grey, they do actually mean that.

Your protagonist, middle-aged novelist Guy Ableman, gets collared by a furious woman at a book group. Did that happen to you?

Reading groups should be the most wonderful things but every time you go to one you...[read on]
Read about who Jacobson would most like to sit next to at a dinner party.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lee Child

Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel is A Wanted Man.

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

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

Joseph Kanon. He sets his books in periods of recent history – they're inherently fascinating, plus he adjusts his style to reflect the period in subtle, satisfying ways.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Little John from the Robin Hood legends: slightly thick, a faithful sidekick, more given to action than thinking.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Richard Dawkins: lonely, brave and, above all, rational.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the crime novel Child would most like to have written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 9, 2012

David Owen

David Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse.

From his Q & A with Belinda G at Galvanize Press:

I know nothing of science and have to trust what I'm told about the environment--how we have damaged it and how to limit our damage. An introduction for your book, The Conundrum, says, "Everything you've been told about living green is wrong." How can the average citizen, like me, know what information to trust for a green, sustainable future?

You shouldn’t necessarily trust me, either, of course. But I think we should all be generally suspicious, especially of approaches that seem easy or that consist primarily of substituting one product for another. It’s easy to look busy on a long list of environmental issues; it’s much harder to have an unambiguously positive impact. The measures that even environmentally enlightened Americans and Australians favor tend to be either ones that are cost-free and easy to implement (more recycling, different shopping bags) or that seem like lifestyle upgrades (a new car, a remodeled kitchen, better-tasting tomatoes). A good test of any activity or product that’s described as sustainable is to multiply it by 9 or 10 billion (the expected population of the world by midcentury) and see if it still seems green. This is not an easy test to pass.

Could you briefly explain how our efforts towards efficiency have exacerbated the problems they aim to solve?

It seems obvious that redesigning a machine to make it use less energy to perform the same amount of work should cause energy consumption to go down. In the long run, though, at the macroeconomic level, it has the opposite effect. Enthusiasts tend to talk about efficiency as though it were something we’d just invented—a promising new tool for addressing environmental problems. But it’s actually something we’ve been doing, quite successfully, ever since our species moved out of caves. Steady increases in efficiencies of all kinds have made us immeasurably wealthier, healthier, and more numerous, among other extraordinary benefits, but they have also created the environmental problems we’re wrestling with now. The main part of the Industrial Revolution was inaugurated by an increase in energy efficiency: James Watt’s invention of an improved steam engine. That technological breakthrough did not, in the long run (or even in the short run) cause overall energy consumption to fall. On the contrary. The problem with efficiency gains, from an environmental point of view, is that we reinvest them in additional consumption. As we get better at making things, we make more things. Worldwide, energy consumption is expected to at least double by mid-century. It’s growing faster than population, and it’s growing in every income category.

If total energy consumption is constrained in some way—by taxes, by legal caps, by rationing—then efficiency gains can...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Candice Millard

Candice Millard is the author of Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.

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

Q: How did you come across the little-known story of President Garfield?

A: I came in to this book without an interest in Garfield. I didn't know anything about him other than he'd been assassinated.

I was actually interested in Alexander Graham Bell and looking at a book with a lot of science in it. I stumbled upon the story of him trying to find the bullet in Garfield.

I wondered why Bell would do this. He's young, he just invented the telephone a few years ago, and he abandons everything he's doing to work night and day on an invention. I start researching Garfield, and I'm blown away by how brilliant he was and the huge heart he had.

It took me three years to work on the book, two years of doing research, and I was far into it by the time I wrote his death scene. I called my husband in tears.

I didn't want to write it. That's ridiculous: It's been 130 years since he died. But I felt like I knew him. I cared about him, and I admired him, and I was surprised by all of that.

Q: Four presidents have been assassinated, but we remember just two: Lincoln and Kennedy. Why have we forgotten Garfield?

A: We forget because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 7, 2012

D. E. Johnson

D. E. Johnson's new novel is Detroit Breakdown.

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

JKP: Your first couple of books are replete with information about automobile technology and operations. How did you come by such an education? Or were you simply making it all up as you went along?

DEJ: Mostly, I was learning it as I went along. I live in fear of people shooting holes in my history, so I research everything carefully. Of course, that’s not to say I’ve gotten everything right, but so far I have not had a fact challenged that I couldn’t defend. I know they’re out there, but nobody’s caught me yet.

You’ll note that I stay away from engineering even though Will has a degree from the University of Michigan. I don’t even know enough about engineering to be dangerous. I chose it for him because I think that’s what a boy in his position would have chosen to try to live up to expectations, which is a key motivator for Will.

JKP: Did you drive some of those old autos to get the details right?

DEJ: I did. I got to drive a Model T and have ridden in a Detroit Electric, and I’m really glad I did both. The Model T operates with a different logic than the cars of today, and I don’t think I’d have gotten it had I not driven one. I made sure to take lots of notes, which I refer to if I’ve got any extended travels for Will in Edsel Ford’s old “Torpedo.”

Through serendipity, I met a man in Ann Arbor named Jack Beatty who had restored a 1916 Detroit Electric coupe, and he was kind enough to take my wife and I out on the town in it, so I got to experience not only how it drives, but the stares he gets while...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Motor City Shakedown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Anita Desai

Anita Desai is the author of Fasting, Feasting, Baumgartner’s Bombay, Clear Light of Day, Diamond Dust, and The Artist of Disappearance, among other works. Three of her books have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

From her Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write The Artist of Disappearance, your trio of novellas about the influence of the past on modern India?

The ideas had planted themselves in me long ago. For "The Museum of Final Journeys", it was visiting the Museum of Oriental Art in Venice and, while there, recalling the crumbling old palaces in the hinterland of West Bengal that I had toured with my sister, then a district official. For "√ćTranslator Translated", it was the debates that used to rage about colonial versus indigenous languages in India in the 50s and 60s, when I first started writing. And for "The Artist of Disappearance", it was the hills of Mussoorie, where I had spent childhood summers. But they had to wait for the right season to come to life, which came when I was once again spending a winter in Mexico, for me the best place in which to write.

What was most difficult about it?

Recalling and recreating the events and atmosphere of the past and making them fresh and vivid and immediate once more.

What did you most enjoy?

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer is one of South Africa's top crime authors. His new novel is Seven Days.

From his Q & A with Alison Flood at the Observer:

Some might say that Griessel, your troubled but brilliant alcoholic detective, is a bit of a cliche. Was that a worry?

When I first wrote him, in Dead Before Dying, he was never supposed to become a major character. He was supposed to be the comic relief in a fairly dark book, but he had the knack of walking on to the page and making things happen. At the end of the book I realised I had to bring him back, if I could find a story that suited him. By then I had already created him as a bit of a cliche, so I had to work with that – I had to put a new and exciting spin on the typical cliche of a drunk cop. I thought: let's put him through the wringer. So his wife in Devil's Peak says he has a choice – if he wants to get his family back he has to stay sober.

Did you always want to write thrillers?

I always wanted to write, but I never thought in terms of genre. I always thought in terms of story, and still do. For me, the most important thing is to try to tell an entertaining story – let other people worry about what genre it is.

Why write in Afrikaans, when your English is so good?

Afrikaans is...[read on]
Devil's Peak by Deon Meyer is one of Michael Stanley's top ten African crime novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Elie Wiesel

From Oprah's 2000 interview with Elie Wiesel:

Oprah: In your memoir Night, you write of the Hungarian soldiers who drove you from your homes, "It was from that moment that I began to hate them, and that hate is still the only link between us today."

Elie: I wrote that, but I didn't hate. I just felt terribly angry and humiliated. At that point, our disappointment was not with the Germans but with the Hungarians. They had been our neighbors [before they joined forces with the Nazis and captured us]. The moment we left our homes, they became vultures. They came into our house and robbed us of everything. And I was terribly disappointed. I used the word hate because that was the strongest feeling I could imagine having. But when I think about it now, there was no hate in me. I grew up learning that hate destroys the hater as much as its victim. I didn't hate the Germans, so how can I hate the Hungarians?

Oprah: So you don't hate the Germans?

Elie: I do not hate them. I don't believe in collective guilt. The children of killers are not killers, but children. And they deserve my affection, my efforts to make them human, to give them a world that is worthy of them. Occasionally, I have students from Germany in my classes, and they are the best students I could have. They go back to Germany, and they become leaders who teach their generation the perils of hatred and the danger of indifference. In any society, fanatics who hate don't hate only me—they hate you too. They hate everybody. Someone who hates one group will end up hating everyone—and, ultimately, hating himself or herself.

Oprah: And isn't it true that to begin with, those who hate others really hate themselves?

Elie: Yes. They need to hate in order to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2012

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's new novel is Dare Me.

From her Q & A with Mark Coggins at The Rap Sheet:

MC: I read an interview you did for your previous book, The End of Everything, in which you said that part of the idea behind writing Dare Me was to set Shakespeare’s Richard III in the world of high-school cheerleaders. I can see the power struggle for leadership of the cheerleading squad being like Richard’s struggle for the throne, but I’m not sure I could say which character in Dare Me would be Richard, especially by the end. In your mind, is there a Richard, or are all of the central characters tainted or corrupted in some way by the struggle?

MA: Originally, I suspect I had a clearer match-up in mind, but it fell apart quickly. Mostly, I wanted to absorb the atmosphere of the play, the feeling of drive, desperation, treachery. And the way Richard, despite his bad behavior, draws us in. He is our guide, our vantage point and we are his confidantes, so as much as his actions alarm us, we find ourselves linked to him.

MC: When I went to high school, cheerleaders were more like “cheerlebrities,” to borrow a term used by Addy. They were all about looking good and rallying support for the school’s (male) athletes at high-school games and matches. The cheerleaders in Dare Me, on the other hand, pretty much view the high-school games as a venue for their performances. They don’t talk or think about the athletes on the school teams, and are not even concerned whether the team wins or loses. Why is it so different for them?

MA: This is, foremost, a change in...[read on]
Visit Megan Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bury Me Deep.

The Page 69 Test: The End of Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 2, 2012

William Landay

From Linda Yezak's Q & A with William Landay about his latest novel, Defending Jacob:

Q: Defending Jacob is an excellent psychological study of the impact of traumatic news on a family, in this case, not so much the fourteen-year-old defendant himself, but on his parents. Your characterization is amazing. For a prosecutor, you illustrate incredible powers of empathy to be able to step into the shoes of a defendant’s family and convincingly describe their side of the story. Did you allow yourself this empathy on the job? Do you draw on your experience as a prosecutor for your characterization?

A: Yes, absolutely I drew on my experience as a prosecutor in drawing Andy Barber and his world. That is the one irreplaceable advantage of having done the job for eight or so years: I know and understand that world intimately, I can speak the language fluently, I understand the process as an insider. No amount of research could replace that.

In some ways, it makes it daunting to move on to other sorts of stories after Defending Jacob. Of course I could keep writing about prosecutors and their cases, but I have no desire to write the same book over and over, to churn out the literary equivalent of TV’s “Law & Order.” I hate the idea of falling into a rut. As Orwell said of Dickens, “What people always demand of a popular novelist is that he shall write the same book over and over again, forgetting that a man who would write the same book twice could not even write it once.” Amen. So I will have to venture out of my comfort zone — it’s the only thing I’m comfortable with.

As for “allowing myself” to empathize with defendants and their families while I was a prosecutor, I’m not sure...[read on]
Visit William Landay's website and blog.

Writers Read: William Landay (May 2007).

The Page 69 Test: The Strangler.

The Page 69 Test: Defending Jacob.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Maria Semple

Maria Semple's novels are This One Is Mine and the recently released Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

From her Q & A with Greg Olear for The Nervous Breakdown:

When I teach, I stress the idea that when we read a novel, we should have an idea of what it is that we’re reading. Gatsby is Nick Carroway sitting in St. Paul jotting down his recollections of the previous summer; Catcher is a transcript of Holden Caulfield spilling his guts to a therapist in a sanitarium. Many if not most novels don’t concern themselves with this. You use it to great effect in Bernadette, which is a sort of a 21st century epistolary mash-up novel. Tell us about that process.

As soon as I realized the book was an epistolary novel, I wrote about twenty pages in a wild rush. But then something started to bug me. Who was putting these documents together? Me, the author? That seemed weird and indefensible. So I realized they had to be the work of someone.

Around that time, I was having a recurring conversation with my sister about some puzzling event in our childhood. One of those, “Remember the time we were in Squaw Valley and Mom’s friend Sally drove up from LA without stopping even thought she’d just broken her leg in three places? Now that you think about, wasn’t that kind of strange?” My sister, brother and I—all in our forties now—are still having these conversations about our childhood all with the same underlying question: what the hell was that all about?

Soon after, when I was sat down to write, I thought, Aha! The whole book can be the daughter’s attempt to figure out the truth about a murky event that nobody wants her to know the truth about. Once it became clear that the daughter Bee would be our archivist, I realized she had to be the narrator, too.

The eponymous Bernadette is an architect—the world’s most famous female architect in what has historically been, as you note, a male-dominated profession (“Even Ayn Rand’s architect was a man!”). Do you have architectural training? How did you research this?

I have no architectural training but I...[read on]
Read the CftAR interview with Maria Semple.

The Page 69 Test: This One Is Mine.

--Marshal Zeringue