Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kenneth C. Davis

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don't Know Much about the American Presidents.

From his Q & A with Erik Spanberg at the Christian Science Monitor:

What surprised you most as you researched this book on the presidents?

Obviously, I know the history pretty well, having written about American history for more than 20 years, starting with "Don’t Know Much About History." A lot of the basics were familiar to me and certainly, some of the more notable presidents I had done a great deal of research on over my career writing about history.

But I am always constantly amazed at the new discoveries I make. Little surprises I learn almost every day. I tell people, if I don’t learn something every day, it’s kind of a disappointment. You can take the most fundamental story – we all think we know the Washington story pretty well, but I’m constantly amazed at the things I learned about him. With Washington, my surprising discovery was the revelation about what he did with his slaves when he was president.

We all know Washington kept slaves and some of us may know he wanted to emancipate some of them in his will; he couldn’t emancipate all of the slaves because they didn’t all belong to him. But this curious connection between Washington and slavery has always fascinated me. What I did not know was that when he went to Philadelphia as president – it was the temporary capital of the United States – he brought slaves with him, but Pennsylvania then had a law under which slaves were emancipated if they were in the state for more than six months. Washington had to shuttle slaves back and forth every six months to keep them from being freed even though the state law in Pennsylvania specifically said that that was illegal. They figured someone was going to try and get around that loophole.

So Washington clearly broke a law in Pennsylvania. Several of (his slaves) did escape there. One of them was named Oney and he spent spent a good deal of time, money, and effort trying to recover her. And she was eventually found. They tried to talk her into coming back to Mount Vernon, which...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Susie Boyt

Susie Boyt's books include and the novels The Normal Man, The Characters of Love, The Last Hope of Girls, Only Human, and the soon forthcoming The Small Hours.

Boyt is the daughter of Lucian Freud and great-granddaughter of Sigmund. The Small Hours is a psychological drama about Harriet, a brash but troubled woman who opens the nursery school of her dreams.

From the author's Q & A with Lucy Scholes at the Observer:

Harriet is a captivating character. Where did you find your inspiration for her?

I joined a Henry James reading group about the time I started writing the novel and I became fascinated by his sister, Alice. She was outlandish, outspoken and just too much in a rather brilliant way. I wanted to write about someone like her.

Do you see Harriet in the tradition of English schoolteacher heroines?

There are references to both Jean Brodie and Lucy Snowe in the novel, but I was thinking about other influences too. Someone described the novel as The Turn of the Screw meets The Nanny Diaries and I was quite pleased about that.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about the book and author at Susie Boyt's website.

The Page 99 Test: My Judy Garland Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 29, 2012

Julie Klam

Julie Klam's latest book is Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can't Live Without.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I have to say, from your book, you sound like the kind of friend everyone on the planet would be thrilled to have. What can others learn at your feet?

I don’t know about everyone on the planet, there’s a huge group of shepherds in Ulan Bator that do not want anything to do with me! I hope others can avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made by reading about what would’ve been a better way to handle a situation.

What sparked the idea to write about friends for you? And what are you teaching your daughter about friendships--and what is she teaching you?

My brilliant editor Megan Lynch first suggested to me that I should write about friends and the book was put on hold for a year while I wrote another book. When I came back to it, it was at a time when I felt more appreciative of my friendships than ever before and then I was really thrilled to write the book. Writing it was like spending the day with my friends. My daughter is a million miles ahead of me in friendships. She is like the champion defender of all of her friends. If anyone gets picked on or bullied, Violet jumps in there. She has so much more confidence than I do. She’s like a little super hero to me.

I loved how honest you were in the book about your bad times and your occasional failings. What was the writing like? Anything surprise you?

Writing it was a little harder than I anticipated, mainly because...[read on]
Visit Julie Klam's website.

My Book, The Movie: Julie Klam's Please Excuse My Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Terry Pratchett

Sir Terence David John Pratchett, more commonly known as Terry Pratchett, is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels. Pratchett's first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971, and since his first Discworld novel (The Color of Magic) was published in 1983, he has written two books a year on average.

From Pratchett's Q & A with the Independent:

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

GK Chesterton, especially ‘The Napoleon of Notting Hill’. I like his way with paradox. My granny lived in Beconsfield and he did too. She told me that he was a big fat man with a squeaky voice.
* * *

What fictional character most resembles you?

Commander Vimes from ‘Snuff’, who starts out as a copper and ends up as the knighted chief of police. He realises he is no longer a man of the people, though he’s always seen himself as that. His wife has to explain how he should do things now.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

My mum, who urged me on.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jay Wexler

Jay Wexler is a professor of law at Boston University, a former law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the author of three books, Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battleground of the Church/State Wars, The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of its Most Curious Provisions, and the recently released book of fiction, The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, Associate Justice, and Other Stories.

From his Q & A with Julianna Baggott:
What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I’m an only child, so I grew up muttering to myself and talking to my extensive collection of puppets. I would write puppet shows and put them on for friends. Many of the puppet shows were spoofs on movies, like “Zero,” which was a spoof on Bo Derek’s “10” and starred Discombobulated Duck (a duck puppet that got permanently squished in the suitcase my father brought it home from vacation in) as a particularly ugly woman. My parents got divorced when I was twelve, and I think they felt pretty guilty about it, so they let me do pretty much whatever I wanted, which explains why my mother let me put on a show called “Friday the 13th,” which involved lots of squirting ketchup on the walls and blowing up fireworks inside the house. I think I was a character myself in one of the shows and I think I may have pretended to have sex with one of the puppets on the stage. It might have been Munchie the mouse. I’m not proud of this.

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

I read primarily fiction. This past summer I took Moby Dick with me on a three week vacation. It took me six weeks to finish it. I’m not sure...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Holy Hullabaloos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 26, 2012

Karen Engelmann

Karen Engelmann's new novel is The Stockholm Octavo.

From her Q & A with Aaron Jaffe at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

How did the book come about?

In many respects it was an improbable project. I’m not a historian. I’m not even Swedish. I lived there a long time. But there was something about Sweden, especially Stockholm at that particular period, that was so captivating for me. And once I got into it, I just found it irresistible. I also think because English-language readers know very little about Swedish history, certainly the late 18th century, it’s so fascinating and wonderful. Their exposure to it would have been Verdi’s “Masked Ball,” which originally was set in Sweden but then was moved to a Boston setting. Granted, my books come with a label “Warning: Contents highly fictionalized,” but at the same time I did try to maintain a firm foundation based in historical fact.

How did your years in Sweden as an outsider inform your approach to your characters who are newcomers to Stockholm?

Experiencing life as a foreigner in Sweden gave me a great deal of insight and sympathy for the characters who were new to the town. Starting from zero is a humbling and isolating experience. There are barriers large and small to conquer, the first, and largest, being language. Culture shock is also very real. Another challenge is the reserve that is, or was, a part of Swedish culture; it can take more time than one is accustomed to be...[read on]
Learn more about The Stockholm Octavo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle’s latest novel, The Devil in Silver, tells of New Hyde Psychiatric Hospital in New York, where patients trudge through a drug-induced haze and are visited by night terrors.

From his Q & A at Granta with John Freeman:

JF: The mental hospital novel has such a giant ur-text, let’s address it at the start. One Flew Over ... what do you think of it, and does it need ... updating?

VLV: I come not to praise Cuckoo’s Nest, but to bury it. It is the most famous novel about mental hospitals but of course it’s really an allegory for the social upheavals the United States would experience in the sixties, the generational conflicts that, by now, are nearly a cliché. But I don’t think America’s conflicts are simply generational now. Instead our battle is between those trapped inside the institutions of modern American life (our economic and political systems in particular) and those who manipulate such institutions for their own profit. Many are miserable, a select few profit from that misery. That new conflict needed a new allegory, so I wrote one.

Have you spent much time in mental hospitals, and how did your experience inform this novel?

I’ve visited hospitals plenty in my lifetime. Some of the people closest to me in the world have been institutionalized, on and off, for decades now. My trips inside, for visiting hours, gave me just the slightest taste for life on the inside. Enough to try to capture the warped nature of institutional life.

The conditions as described in The Devil in Silver are pretty grim. Is it really so bad?

It’s...[read on]
Visit Victor LaValle's website.

The Page 69 Test: Big Machine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg's new novel The Middlesteins follows a Midwest family that is forced to face or ignore its problems when its matriarch, Edie Middlestein, begins to eat herself to death.

Jonathan Franzen (author of Freedom) says: “The Middlesteins had me from its very first pages, but it wasn’t until its final pages that I fully appreciated the range of Attenberg’s sympathy and the artistry of her storytelling.”

From Attenberg's Q & A with Royal Young for Interview:

ROYAL YOUNG: How do you get to the point where you're too fat to live? What doesn't stop people?

JAMI ATTENBERG: This book was an exploration of that; I was trying to figure it out. I smoked cigarettes for a really long time. Even though I knew cigarettes were terrible for me, I smoked a pack a day. It was like a logic that was off in my head. I did drugs for a long time, even though they were expensive and bad for me and made me miserable. The interesting thing about overeating or being obese is there's this physical manifestation of it.

YOUNG: Right. It's in plain sight.

ATTENBERG: You can't hide that.

YOUNG: I am in the process of quitting smoking, but smoked for 10 years, and drugs, totally. But I feel like with eating, it's different. Because there's more of a need for your family members to be involved in your habit on a regular basis.

ATTENBERG: Right. There's witnesses. Though in the book, she becomes a secret eater. But....[read on]
Visit Jami Attenberg's website and blog.

See Attenberg's list of six top books with overweight protagonists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jennifer Egan

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

From her 2011 interview with Yuka Igarashi for Granta:

[A Visit From the Goon Squad] is narrated by a wide array of interrelated characters over several decades. I’m curious about how you conceived of and created this structure. Did you see the whole novel at once? Did you write the chapters in order?

Well, I didn’t even see it as a novel, exactly, but more as a series of lateral ‘moves’ in which a peripheral character that has hopefully provoked curiosity at an earlier point is revealed to have a complex, even tumultuous inner life. It evolved pretty organically, and I didn't have a clear sense of the whole until close to the end. For a long time I imagined that the book would simply move backwards, because the early chapters were unfolding that way, but the plan was complicated, first, by the emergence of chapters that took place in the future, and, second, by my horrified discovery, when I read the book through in a backwards order, that the result was lumbering and flat. It was at that point that I realized I needed to let go of linear chronology entirely, and that backwards was still linear. The order of the chapters was one of the last things to fall into place, and really hinged on my asking myself, ‘Having just read X, what will the reader be most surprised – yet satisfied – to encounter next?’

The ‘goon’ in your title is time. One character says to another: ‘Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?’ In your book at least, the answer is yes – time beats all of your characters to a pulp. Do you think time ever makes people wiser or better?

I think it makes people...[read on]
Visit Jennifer Egan's website.

Read about Jennifer Egan's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's new novel is Dare Me.

From her Q & A with Laura Lippman at the Mulholland Books blog:

Laura Lippman: One thing that struck me about DARE ME is that it’s told by an insider, someone inside the group, not an outsider who’s infiltrating it (Mean Girls) or an outsider (pretty much every book I read as a teen). And it struck me that was a bit new for you, too, especially when compared to THE END OF EVERYTHING or even BURY ME DEEP. If history is written by the winners, isn’t fiction usually written by the outsiders?

Meagan Abbott: Absolutely. And since most writers are introverts, at least in part, one of the hardest parts for me was writing from the point of view of someone whose position in the world of social power was so different from mine at that age. I’ve written male protagonists, female gangsters, women whose lives were circumscribed by conditions (the Great Depression, pre-feminism) I’ve never experienced, even women who have to commit gruesome acts to save themselves. But somehow it was harder, at first, to imagine myself as a member of the high school elite (and an athlete, but that’s another story).

Of course most writers are voyeurs too, and I certainly am, so the more I dug my feet into those trenches, I saw the same power machinations occurring within the elite group of girls as I’d experienced from the outside. Someone always seems to have what you want and there’s always a moment when you realize...[read on]
Visit Megan Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bury Me Deep.

The Page 69 Test: The End of Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Julianna Baggott

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

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

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

From her Q & A with Lindsi at Books, Sweets and other Treats:

Where did the inspiration for Pure come from? Why dystopian?

I never thought of the word dystopian while writing PURE. Post-apocalypse, yes. But that feels more incidental. Dystopian feels more philosophical. I think that I came at the novel up through the roots of magical realism. So the larger ideas that exist -- or seem to -- those BIG ideas of dystopian literature don't apply as much -- or if they do, it's something for the reader to apply. I was trying to tell an intimate story against a massive landscape, a world I got to build by hand, word by word. I hope this helps.

How did you come up with the names for your characters? They're very unique.

Names come and sometimes for various reasons, they have to be changed. That's painful. Nicknames are odd in that I don't know where they come from and have to dig -- Partridge and El Capitan work that way. I love making up names. I'd in fact love to make up more words, but people don't care for that so much. In my poetry, I use words that have been dropped from the English language. A little...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Julianna Baggott's website and blog.

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

The Page 69 Test: Pure.

Writer Read: Julianna Baggott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 19, 2012

Antoine Wilson

Oppen Porter, the protagonist of Antoine Wilson's Panorama City, is a self-described “slow absorber.” Porter thinks he’s dying. He’s not, but from his hospital bed, he unspools into a cassette recorder a tale of self-determination, from village idiot to man of the world, for the benefit of his unborn son.

From Wilson's Q & A at Amazon with fellow novelist, Curtis Sittenfeld:

Curtis Sittenfeld: Oppen Porter is endearing and often insightful, and he also has significant cognitive disabilities. How did you decide you wanted to tell his story?

Antoine Wilson: I wanted to write a novel from the perspective of someone who seemed, on the surface, to be a fool, an idiot, a doofus. I was inspired by Sancho Panza and Candide. But I let Oppen do something those forebears weren’t able to do: speak for himself, in his own voice. As for his so-called cognitive disabilities (he’s illiterate and preternaturally naïve), they provide a kind of detour around two distractions of contemporary life—information overload and mistrust of others—to arrive at something essential and true.

CS: Do you feel as if you know how a doctor would diagnose Oppen? If so, why did you choose not to mention what that diagnosis would be?

AW: I don’t believe in diagnosing literary characters. As useful as diagnoses can be in real life, they tend to reduce even living, breathing human beings into a list of symptoms and treatments. Apply that kind of constricting language to a literary character—who is after all only a cluster of words—and it’s like letting the air out of a balloon.

CS: Oppen has many entertaining philosophies about the world and its inhabitants. Are any of his views ones you especially share?

AW: Most problems can be solved by...[read on]
Visit Antoine Wilson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Moira Crone

Moira Crone is the author of several novels and story collections including What Gets Into Us and A Period of Confinement; her works have appeared in Oxford American, The New Yorker, Image, Mademoiselle, and over forty other journals and twelve anthologies. She has won prizes for her stories and novellas, and in 2009 she was given the Robert Penn Warren Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers for the entire body of her work.

Her latest novel is The Not Yet.

From Crone's Q & A with Bill Lavender at Southern Literary Review:

BILL LAVENDER: What does [The Not Yet] have and have not to do with New Orleans?

MOIRA CRONE: When I first started writing the book in the 1990’s, I set it in New Orleans because I live here, and because it began with a dream that was set here—a strange dream of a young man sitting in a nightclub on Magazine Street, talking to a woman who looked young, but a little voice told me she was actually over two hundred years old. I woke up and started writing. Who was this fellow? Where did he come from? What was this world he lived in? What was his childhood? What future was this? I had read the geological maps, and I knew that with sea level rise, in a hundred years, New Orleans was supposed to be flooded, islands—at least that was the projection at that time. I wrote and published a good portion of this book before Katrina. Those scenes of the flooded city were written before I saw them on the TV screen—spooky, and true.

A book like this with a number of different themes—such as the questions around extreme longevity, or the consequences of having a huge gap between rich and poor, or the need to sacrifice for love—could have been set anywhere, but I chose to set it here, where I dreamed it, because I think New Orleans holds the burden and the treasure of the American soul—it carries something deep, takes the place of the underworld in the nation’s mind. But the underworld is two places: the place where souls go, and the place where souls come from. Rebirth, as well as death.

In people’s minds, when they think of America, New Orleans holds both the best and the worst images—and at the same time. It is out of step, in another time, a different realm. Darker, and brighter.

So, when the rest of the nation has become a single-focused nightmare where the rich live forever with mindless intensity, New Orleans “drops out.” It’s not going there.

And my character, Malcolm, sees the world from that point of view.

Our city, in the novel, is at the edge of an Empire that insists there is only one kind of happiness, and the material is the only reality. My New Orleans characters don’t follow the rules either, don’t buy the usual soap—they make their own lives, believe their own myths.

As I was writing, I discovered that Malcolm, who was trained from earliest childhood to claim that material immortality for himself, might side with the outside, with the fringe. New Orleans became a place where he could choose, or see the way to choose. This is set in New Orleans, but it is about...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Moira Crone's website and the Facebook page for The Not Yet.

Writers Read: Moira Crone.

My Book, The Movie: The Not Yet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Janna Malamud Smith

Janna Malamud Smith is a writer and psychotherapist. Her books include Private Matters (1997), A Potent Spell (2003), and My Father is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud (2006).

Her new book is An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery.

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

Why call art an errand? Can you talk about that?

Actually, it's not simply an errand, but an absorbing errand. isn't that a great phrase? It's from an early Henry James novel. Here's the quotation: "True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one's self, but the point is not only to get out - you must stay out and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand” In my book I suggest that life is more meaningful for many of us when we pursue an absorbing errand – like writing, painting, playing an instrument, or mastering some complex craft; and I explore the emotions that interfere with people’s ability to stay with the process long enough to get good at what they do. While we think of art making as introspective, and it certainly is, it also pulls us outside ourselves toward the world. It gives us a way to possess the world – thus it becomes an absorbing errand.

Why do you think creative work can be so much more frustrating and shame-filled than any other kind of profession?

I’m not positive we have the corner on frustration and shame. People from other professions might want to weigh in – sex workers, candidates for elected office, clerks at convenience stores? That said, I think the reason shame is so at the heart of art-making is that it...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Janna Malamud Smith's website.

The Page 99 Test: An Absorbing Errand.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bruce DeSilva

Bruce DeSilva is the author of the Liam Mulligan crime novels, Cliff Walk, which has just been released, and Rogue Island, winner of the Edgar and Macavity awards. He was a journalist for 40 years, most recently for the Associated Press, before retiring to write hardboiled crime novels full time.

From his Q & A with Zoë Sharp at Murderati:

ZS: You were a journalist for many years before turning to fiction—something I believe is a great training ground for the novelist as it teaches you to write to topic, to length, deadline, and forces you not to be too precious about your work as the subs are likely to hack it to pieces anyway.

BD: I'm not as sanguine as you are about the value of journalism as a training ground for novelists. Daily journalism is peopled by stick figures instead of flesh-and-blood characters. It is filled with quotes (words sources say to journalists) instead of dialogue (words people say to each other.) Too often, it uses street addresses in lieu of creating a sense of place. And it is filled with turgid "articles" and "reports" instead of stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Only the rarest of journalists rise above that, writing real stories that bring people, places, and action to life on the page.

The main thing journalism does teach a future journalist is that writing is a job―something you do every day whether you feel like it or not. You do not wait to be inspired. You do not search for your muse. You are not allowed to have writer's block. Journalists know that writer's block is for sissies. You put your butt in the chair and write.

ZS: Had you always wanted to write novels? What prompted the career change?

BD: For most of my journalism career, writing a novel never occurred to me. I did start playing around with one in the 1990s, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Bruce DeSilva's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Rogue Island.

Coffee with a Canine: Bruce DeSilva and Brady.

The Page 69 Test: Cliff Walk.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Bruce DeSilva & Rondo and Brady.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bronwen Hruska

Bronwen Hruska is the author of Accelerated, her fist novel.

From her Q & A with Jasmine Elist at the Jacket Copy blog:

"Accelerated" explores some controversial subjects: the competitiveness that exists in many schools and a laxness when it comes to prescribing drugs to young students. What inspired you to write this as a novel?

When my son was in third grade, his school suggested we get him evaluated for ADHD because he was having trouble lining up quietly to "transition" between classes. Sitting quietly for 45 minutes to do worksheets was challenging. But he never struck me as an ADD kid. He was funny, sociable, smart and not particularly antsy. But at the time, I thought the school, and later the psychiatrist who diagnosed him with inattentive-type ADHD, made strong cases for why "a little medication could really turn everything around for him." It was the beginning of a long and often frustrating episode with his school.

I started writing the book to vent some of those frustrations, using verbatim bits of dialogue from the most egregious conversations. But that personal frustration turned into something much larger when I started doing research for the book and saw the staggering statistics about how many young kids are being diagnosed -- and medicated -- for it. Perhaps most striking was the statistic that boys were being diagnosed 2.8 times more frequently than girls and it reminded me of an article I'd read that said that boys were being treated as "defective girls." As the mother of two sons, that really...[read on]
Visit Bronwen Hruska's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Susan Millar Williams & Stephen G. Hoffius

Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius are the authors of Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow.

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

Q: What was Charleston like at that time [125 years ago], barely 20 years after the end of the Civil War, which had begun just outside town at Ft. Sumter?

Hoffius: Charleston was hammered by the war. There were regular bombings of the city from James Island, where the Northern forces were, and there was a lot of ruin all through the city. Then the city and state were bankrupted afterward. They had difficulty recovering. Things were kind of getting on their feet but just barely.

Q: What was the racial situation like?

Hoffius: The city was 60 percent black and 40 percent white, a level that caused a lot of fear in white people.

Q: The quake came on top of another disaster, correct?

Hoffius: The city had been hit by a hurricane in 1885 that really flattened much of the city. They...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sarah Pekkanen

Sarah Pekkanen is the author of The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, and These Girls.

From her Q & A with Jodi Picoult:

Jodi: These Girls explores the nuances of female friendships. How hard was it to create a sense of realism between your main characters - Cate, Renee, and Abby - and how much of that came from your own personal experience in your relationships with female friends?

Sarah: Female friendships are vitally important to me, which is why I dedicated These Girls to my girlfriends, especially one I call my “frister” (a friend who turned into a sister). I’m surrounded by wonderful guys – I have two brothers and three sons – and I adore them. But female friendships nurture and uplift me, and I find them so textured and fascinating, which is why I’m drawn to writing about them. I love it that my girlfriends and I – often aided by a bottle or two of wine – can hopscotch from serious to silly to painful topics during the course of a single conversation, and end the night feeling as if we could’ve talked forever. I drew on all of those emotions while writing These Girls.

Jodi: Your main characters in this book come to reevaluate what's important in life as they navigate the complications of careers and love. As someone with three young children, and who has enjoyed a bit of success now as a novelist, how do you prioritize what's important in life? Has this changed as you've grown older?

Sarah: I knew I wanted to be a writer from...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Skipping a Beat.

Visit Sarah Pekkanen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 12, 2012

Debra Ginsberg

Debra Ginsberg is the author of the memoirs, Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, Raising Blaze: A Mother and Son's Long, Strange Journey Into Autism, and About My Sisters, and the novels Blind Submission, The Grift, and The Neighbors Are Watching. Her latest novel is What the Heart Remembers.

From Gisberg's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

The tension in What the Heart Remembers is deliciously relentless, so I want to know, how’d you do this alchemy? Do you plan ahead or hope for the best?

I do a little planning ahead and a lot of hoping for the best. I always have a starting point for my novels and always know where I want to end up, but almost never know how I’m going to get there until I’m in the thick of it. In other words, I know that somebody dunnit at the beginning of the book, just not who or how. My editors have found this “interesting,” to use their euphemism, but writing outlines has never been my strong suit. Characters, scenes, and even plot (to some extent) have a way of changing as I write and part of the fun for me is discovering the details I’m not aware of until I’ve lived with the characters and their world for a while. I’m also somewhat impatient, which sometimes helps in maintaining the tension in a scene. I’ll be writing away and suddenly think, we’ve been in this room an awfully long time—must get out of this chapter now!

I’m fascinated with the whole idea of cellular memory, especially in transplant patients, and especially as shown in What the Heart Remembers. I also loved , in your novel, The Grift, the whole idea of a psychic who wakes up to find something else might be going on. I sort of believe that quantum physics will reveal to us just how weird the world really is and that there might be science behind so-called psychic phenomena, but I’m intensely curiously about what you think.

I honestly believe that there is an explanation for everything, but I also believe that some explanations are...[read on]
Visit Debra Ginsberg's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blind Submission.

The Page 69 Test: The Grift.

The Page 69 Test: The Neighbors Are Watching.

Writers Read: Debra Ginsberg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's latest novel is Telegraph Avenue.

From his Q & A with Andrew O'Hehir at Salon:

Maybe we can talk a little about the handling of gender and sex in the book. You’ve reached into two super-duper-male narrative modes, by going into the blaxploitation movies and all the obscure record-store stuff, the jazz and funk and soul from the ‘70s. I don’t think I’m off base in saying that the influence of Quentin Tarantino and Nick Hornby is hovering in the air over this book. You’re trying to go into those ultra-male zones and make it out alive as a guy with some feminist credentials, and with a book that women will still want to read.

Well, actually, now that you mention it — I’m a Tarantino fan. “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” are two of my key movies, and I love “Kill Bill” too. But he’s also a white artist who’s been accused of appropriating black modes of speech and characters and using the N-word too freely. That was another way of signaling that I know what I’m doing has a history, and it’s not always a good history and here’s another example of that ambiguity. You know, I never just wanted to tell the story of two guys in a record store. I always wanted, for my own interest as a writer, to find a way to balance it out. One of the more obvious ways to balance it out was by having some strong female characters. I’m on this never-ending quest in my writing to bring my female characters up to the level of importance and plausibility of the male characters. It’s something I’ve been struggling with since the beginning, and I feel like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins's novels include the Army Ranger Quinn Colson series, The Ranger and The Lost Ones.

From the author's Q & A with Allen Mendenhall at Southern Literary Review:

SLR: You seem to have located The Ranger in regions of the South that you know well. Would you call this book “Southern literature”?

AA: Absolutely. I don’t get into working in a certain genre — that’s up to readers and critics — and can hurt the writer and reader. My new series of novels could not be set anywhere else but the South and certainly centers on many Southern themes. I gain a lot of inspiration from the gritty world of Faulkner’s crime stories and turn my attention to the descendants of those people.

SLR: I noticed that country music and country musicians appear throughout The Ranger. Can you tell us about the significance of this to the novel?

AA: My first four novels were stylistically and thematically about blues. I always wanted to work on a novel that felt like an old Johnny Cash ballad — a solider returning home to town, unrequited love, guns and violence. I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash and also tons of Outlaw Country — Waylon, Merle, etc. — when coming up with the background of Quinn Colson.

SLR: Who is Colonel George Reynolds? I noticed his name in the Acknowledgments.

George is the guy who saved my ass. I had...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gregg Hurwitz

Gregg Hurwitz is the critically acclaimed, internationally bestselling author of The TowerMinutes to Burn, Do No Harm, The Kill Clause, The Program, Troubleshooter, Last Shot, The Crime WriterTrust No One, They’re Watching, and The Survivor.

In The Survivor, Nate Overbay — a divorced former solider suffering from PTSD and slowly dying from ALS — goes to an eleventh-floor bank, climbs out of the bathroom window onto the ledge, and gets ready to end it all.

From Hurwitz's Q & A with Marc Igler at Publishers Weekly:

Why did you create a main character with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

I thought there was terrific thriller potential in showing a man forced to step up, willing to do anything to protect those he loves, even as his body begins to betray him.

Do you have any personal connection with the disease?

When I was in college, one of my roommate’s aunts had ALS. And even though I wasn’t close to her, I remember the stories hitting me really hard. That age represented for me the height of invincibility—dumb and immortal—and this bit of reality shattered that notion of bulletproofness.

Your books are always laid with a foundation of research. Where do we see that in The Survivor?

The most fun piece of research I did was...[read on]
Visit Gregg Hurwitz's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Crime Writer.

The Page 69 Test: Trust No One.

Writers Read: Gregg Hurwitz.

The Page 69 Test: They're Watching.

My Book, The Movie: They're Watching.

The Page 69 Test: You're Next.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 8, 2012

Joy Castro

Joy Castro is the author of the thriller Hell or High Water, which received a starred review from Booklist for its “exquisite New Orleans background, intriguing newsroom politics and atmosphere, a flawed but plucky heroine, and skillfully paced suspense.” Also the author of two memoirs, The Truth Book and Island of Bones, she lives with her husband in Lincoln, Nebraska and teaches creative writing, literature, and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

From her Q & A with Amelia M.L. Montes at La Bloga:

Montes: In an earlier interview, you explained that Nola Soledad Céspedes is an unreliable narrator. Tell us more about how creating an unreliable narrator may add to the power of story.

Castro: I wouldn’t generalize and say that it always does. Sometimes stories with reliable narrators are tremendously powerful. It varies.

In Hell or High Water, Nola moves from being unreliable throughout much of the novel to disclosing more fully and honestly at the end. She undergoes a change in that regard. So you might say that she ultimately becomes reliable. It’s the move that Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” makes, and a move I have always loved: a narrator with blind spots, delusions, or fiercely held secrets undergoes a transformation, an opening, a new warmth.

I find that powerful in a story, because it’s powerful in real life. Those moments when we really, deeply change: those times are few and far between, and they’re memorable.

Montes: Nola es una mujer who, at the beginning of the novel, is not only promiscuous (in terms of how society views women who have multiple partners) but dangerous/careless yet always in charge in her sexual exploits. Then, toward the end of the novel, there is a change. Tell us how the character of Bento was created and how does Nola and her connection with Bento break expected stereotypes of women and sex, of women in relationships. And how is this in keeping with Nola’s character development?

Castro: You’re right, of course, but I’d hesitate to use the charged and sexist word promiscuous about my protagonist, or any character, or any woman, because it’s so...[read on]
Visit Joy Castro’s website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Hell or High Water.

Writers Read: Joy Castro.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 7, 2012

John Banville

John Banville's many books include The Sea, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, The Infinities, the newly released Ancient Light, and several crime novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.

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

Your work has been variously, and positively, compared to Nabokov, Dostoevsky, and Camus, to name a few. Which authors were formative to your writing style, and which comparison do you think is the nearest approximation?

Nabokov was a great love of my youth, but I find his artistic self-absorption and tone of self-satisfaction increasingly irritating. Dostoevsky is such a bad writer it is hard to take him seriously as a novelist, though he is a wonderful philosopher. Ditto Camus, though perhaps “wonderful” is a bit strong. What is odd is that no one ever seems to notice that the two real influences on my work are Yeats and Henry James.

Authors who have not won multiple awards (or indeed any) are always curious how the winning of awards affects one’s career.

The effect of prizes on one’s career—if that is what to call it—is considerable, since they give one more clout with publishers and more notoriety among journalists. The effect on one’s writing, however, is nil—otherwise, one would be in deep trouble. All prizes are more or less lotteries. To take the judgement of prize juries as a measure of one’s talent would be...[read on].
Learn about the book John Banville most wants his kids to read.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 6, 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 Molly Driscoll for The Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Your first book, "This One Is Mine," was set in Los Angeles, while "Bernadette" is set in Seattle. Is there anything particular about the places you have lived that draws you to use them as settings?

I think because I try to keep things as real as I can, or I try to start from a place of reality, I almost don't have the imagination to write a book that's not set where I am. It's smarter for me to set the books where I am physically because I'll have a lot of interesting observations. There'll be a lot of details from life that'll pop up for me.

I never really intended either book, at all, to be so place-oriented. I didn't sit down and think, "Okay, I'm writing an LA novel" or "Oh, I'm writing a Seattle novel." It's really surprised me that this is a "Seattle novel." When I turned it in [if] someone had said to me, "Does Seattle play a big part in your book?" I'd have said, "Not really." I really didn't see it that way, but obviously, this is how it's being read and perceived, which is fine with me. I'm happy about it and I certainly understand, but I'm mainly trying to get the characters right and get the details right, give my characters and my story and my novel authority, write with a real sense of authority. I think that's the most important job of a novelist, to bring authority to their writing.

I don't know if it's a failure of imagination on my part, but I'm not going to be writing about Paris in the 1800s. I feel like it would come off as just ludicrously uninformed, even if I did a lot of research. Everything that I write, it's really close to home, mainly because I'm afraid of not having authority.

As I was starting to write it, when I knew I was onto something really cool with the book was when I started writing about the...[read on]
Read the CftAR interview with Maria Semple.

The Page 69 Test: This One Is Mine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 5, 2012

Leah Hager Cohen

Leah Hager Cohen is the author of nonfiction books, including Train Go Sorry and Glass, Paper, Beans, and four novels, most recently The Grief of Others.

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

What’s the story behind the publication of your first book?

I had an extremely generous journalism professor who asked me to stay after class one day, a few months before graduation. I had at that time resolved not to try to find a job in journalism, indeed not to try to write for money or publication at all, but to make writing the thing I would do in private, on my own time, in the evenings after work. I had a very nice dream that I would keep at it, in private, and one day, when I was 80, I’d have a collection of short stories published. I can’t tell you how content I was with this dream.

Well, this impossibly kind and generous professor, Sam Freedman, himself a writer for The New York Times with several books out, asked me if he might show some of my work to his agent.

Within months, and under the excellent guidance of Sam and his agent, Barney Karpfinger, I was at work on the proposal for what would become my first book, Train Go Sorry.

What do you look for in a good book, as a reader and reviewer?

I look for clean, scrumptious sentences first, since sentences are stories’ main delivery system. The intention, the ambition, the sensibility behind a book may all be gorgeous, but will come to naught if...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Train Go Sorry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Matthew Parker

Matthew Parker recently earned an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and has been drug- and crime-free since 2002. Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he now lives in New York City.

His new book is Larceny in My Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education.

From his Q & A with Cynthia Clark Harvey for the Phoenix NewTimes blog:

You had written a substantial amount of a prose memoir while at Columbia when your agent turned you toward doing the graphic. Exactly how did that happen?

I had finished six chapters of the prose memoir and sent them to my agent; I didn't get an agent until I was almost done with my MFA. One day I was with him and showed him six pages of a graphic that I'd done. He took them and said he'd get back to me, but by the time I got home he'd called me four or five times. When I called him back, he said this is what we're doing. So that's what we did. At that time, I'd never read a graphic all the way through except Persepolis. I learned as I went along. I'd send him pages of prose taken from the memoir with stick figure drawings and he edited it, sent it back and I'd work on it. There was a long period of time where I was just working on the graphic, drawing and doing all the lettering by hand and no writing at all. And it drove me crazy, not to be writing. So late at night, I'd write these crazy, ranting op/eds and send them in. None of them ever got published, and after I finished the graphic, I sent off a letter explaining why I had been writing all that crazy stuff.

Much of the book is drawn in a simple style, with the major exception being your portraits of musicians that you admire. Most all of the pictures of yourself are not realistic, more comics-style. Two consecutive frames that really stood out to me were at a highly emotional part of your story. Those two self-portraits are much more representational. Was this a deliberate choice?

In some ways...[read on]
Learn more about Larceny in My Blood at the publisher's website, and visit the Larceny in My Blood Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Larceny in My Blood.

My Book, The Movie: Larceny in My Blood.

Writers Read: Matthew Parker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thomas Mogford

Thomas Mogford is the author of Shadow of the Rock and Sign of the Cross.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

DIRTY TRICKS by Michael Dibdin. A stand-alone novel, rather than one of the ‘Zen’ series, it pulls off the near-impossible trick of making a thoroughly reprehensible main character utterly likeable. As someone who was brought up in Oxford, and has taught more than his fair share of foreign language classes, I felt a worrying sense of solidarity when the venal owner of language school receives a rather shocking comeuppance...

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Keith Talent from Martin Amis’s LONDON FIELDS. Indefatigability and darts skills.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater's latest novel is The Raven Boys.

One exchange from her Q & A with Doug Stanton at The Daily Beast:

What is it about mythology in your novels that people respond to?

I think fiction has been around for so long—you can go back and back, and we’ve been telling stories not only about what happens in our day-to-day life, but we’ve been putting magic and folklore into them, even when we knew full well that these things weren’t true. We were telling stories through this lens of myth. And I think the thing about mythology is that it makes all of our problems universal. I remember being shocked that Shiver sold in 38 countries, because I thought it was such a particularly “me” story.

When I started Shiver, I wasn’t a big fan of the werewolf myth. I mean, I feel like werewolves and vampires were invented to talk about something that was frightening us as a culture. And werewolves were about losing yourself to your “beastly side,” which must have been terrifying if you were a Victorian. But I have to say, I don’t think we have a problem of losing ourselves to our beastly side. I mean, how much marketing do we have out there that says, “Embrace yourself! Embrace your inner animal,” and off you go? So for me, the werewolf myth was kind of useless. Then I started doing high-school visits as an author, and I was faced with all these kids who started out to be these interesting, quirky, cool, middle-schoolers, and they’d get into high school and try so hard to fit in, and come out kind of lock-step, trying to lose their rough edges so that they wouldn’t get picked on. And that really stuck with me. So I started writing this book where “werewolf-ism” was really a metaphor for losing your identity, the better bits of yourself.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 1, 2012

Linwood Barclay

Ali Karim recently interviewed Linwood Barclay, author of Trust Your Eyes, for The Rap Sheet.

Part of their dialogue:

Ali Karim: What was the genesis of Trust Your Eyes?

Linwood Barclay: Wow. Where does any idea come from? However, I think I should thank Winston, our friend’s dog. When the Google Street View car passed by their house, Winston was looking out the window. If you look up the address, you can see him. I got thinking, What if, instead of a dog, that car driving past, capturing millions of images for its online mapping system, happened to catch something happening in that window that was far more sinister?

AK: Your novel can be described as a reworking and updating of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, using modern technology. But of course, the source material for that 1954 film was Cornell Woolrich’s short story, “It Had to Be Murder.” Have you ever read Woolrich’s original tale?

LB: I’ve only seen the movie Rear Window--and probably 25 times. The similarities between the book and the movie didn’t actually occur to me until the project was underway. But there is one line in the novel that is a direct lift from the movie. It’s my homage to Hitchcock. I wonder how many readers will find it.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue