Friday, November 30, 2012

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa is assistant professor of history at Illinois College.

His new book is Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War.

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

How did you arrive at this research project?

Originally, I imagined writing a book that focused solely on the National Indian Defense Association and its efforts in the 1880s to block the passage of forced allotment legislation. I became fascinated with Thomas and Cora Bland, the founders of the organization, and their campaign against the “Friends of the Indian,” a story that had been glossed over in the existing literature.

As these things go, however, the questions I was asking encouraged me to move backwards chronologically. Where did the Blands’ radicalism come from? Were there other individuals working within federal governance that actively questioned the trajectory, pace, and goals of the policies directed at Native communities, and offered viable alternatives? If so, what could we learn from their stories? This led me to ask similar questions of Ely Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca condoled chief and the first Indigenous commissioner of Indian Affairs, and his efforts to shape federal policy in the years surrounding the Civil War.

What inspired you to center your research on Ely Parker and Thomas Bland over other individuals?

There are several reasons why I find these individuals to be so compelling. I discussed the Blands above, but Parker’s life was so immensely interesting as well. He had many careers (interpreter for Seneca diplomats, condoled chief, engineer, military bureaucrat, policymaker, clerk). He lived and studied with other Haudenosaunee people in Ontario, worked on the Erie Canal, studied law in western New York, oversaw the building of customs houses and other federal buildings in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Virginia, fought in the Civil War, lived in Washington, D.C. at several different moments and then later in New York City, working for the NYPD and spending time with Jacob Riis.

Parker and Bland were also controversial figures—even their historical legacies are contested. They...[read on]
Learn more about Crooked Paths to Allotment at the University of North Carolina Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Crooked Paths to Allotment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 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 The Rumpus Book Club:

Brian S: There was a lot of discussion in the group about the role addiction played in the book. Seemed like there was some strong disagreement among members because of that, especially since you were writing about a fat person. How did you decide on food as the addiction?

Jami Attenberg: Well…so I have a few responses. One, being from the Midwest and of a certain community of people, it is just something that people struggle with, their weight. So it felt very true, and something I knew about.

Brian S: We have that problem in the Deep South, too.

Jami Attenberg: Two, I have my own food issues. Three, it could maybe have been something else—booze or drugs or whatever—but the fascinating thing about food is that if you have issues with it, you have to face it every single day. Like you can quit smoking, and never have to have a cigarette again to survive. But with food, it is a daily challenge. It is just very rich source material.

Megan: I thought it was sad but realistic that Edie’s life’s chapters were delineated by her weight at the time.

Candy: I think choosing food as the addiction allows...[read on]
Visit Jami Attenberg's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Karen Engelmann

Karen Engelmann's new novel is The Stockholm Octavo.

From her Q & A with Hilary Williamson:

Q: You chose a fascinating period in Swedish history for The Stockholm Octavo, one little known to Westerners aside from those of us who have read Annemarie Selinko's Désirée. What drew you to this era?

A: Living in Sweden for nine years, it was impossible to avoid the Gustavian age — even for an American illustrator with no interest in history. The drama, culture and controversy of Gustav III captivate people still, and the city of Stockholm is infused with his spirit. It was not until many years later, writing The Stockholm Octavo, that I immersed myself in this history and had a genuine “Now I get it!” moment. Gustav III and his era are juicy subjects that rival any others in European history and deserve much more attention. TSO is a start; even if its narrative is more fiction than history, the details of Gustav's reign are real.

Q: Do you find it ironic that, at a time when other rulers were brought down by not listening to the masses, King Gustav III was assassinated for trying to do too much, perhaps too fast?

A: Yes, it is an irony, but the desire to maintain political control is as powerful as trying to gain it. The aristocracy in Sweden was gunning for Gustav from the time he came to power in 1772. He staged a bloodless coup, replacing a constitution heavily favoring the nobility (which was terribly corrupt and dangerously influenced by foreign powers.) From that point on, a significant portion of the aristocracy wanted Gustav out. Eventually, they succeeded. On the other hand, the commoners adored their King (even when he made himself a near absolute monarch) and his death only inflamed their animosity toward the aristocracy and fervor for reform. Gustav's political reforms may have helped the nation avoid a violent struggle, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Engelmann's website.

Writers Read: Karen Engelmann.

The Page 69 Test: The Stockholm Octavo.

My Book, The Movie: The Stockholm Octavo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

J. Robert Lennon

J. Robert Lennon's books include the novels Castle and Mailman, and a story collection, Pieces for the Left Hand. His latest novel is Familiar.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I love books that cast you in this eerie, unsettling world where reality and non-reality blur. Elisa could be in a strange new world, or she could be suffering delusions, and the whole novel juggles this uneasy balance. How difficult was it to keep the reader off-centered?

Not too difficult, because I was off-centered while writing it! I honestly didn't know whether I was going to come down on the side of making it a "real" parallel world, a psychotic break, or something else. In the end, I enjoyed the uncertainty and decided that this was part of what the book was about. So I committed myself to not knowing.

As someone who loves anything that even vaguely smacks of quantum physics, I have to ask you about the parallel universe theory that crops up in the novel. What was your research like? Do you think such a thing is possible scientifically?

Well, Brian Greene not only believes it's possible, he believes all the possible universes exist, and are out there. I initially heard him talk about this on the radio show Radiolab, then I read his book on the multiverse. I read a few other books, too, and grabbed some more fanciful stuff from the internet. The science here is wonky, but based in present research--for instance, the vibrating flange experiment at Caltech which Elisa encounters is a real thing.

I also wanted to ask about the gaming details in the book, which were fascinating. You play or did you research? And what was the research like on that?

I'm interested in gaming, but...[read on]
Visit J. Robert Lennon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Castle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pallavi Aiyar

Award winning journalist and author Pallavi Aiyar spent six years living in a hutong home in the heart of the old imperial city of Beijing. She reported from across China for The Hindu and Indian Express in addition to teaching English at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute. She is the winner of the 2007 Prem Bhatia Memorial Award for excellence in political reporting and analysis for her dispatches from China.

Her book Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China won the Vodafone-Crossword Popular Book Award for 2008.

Her first novel is Chinese Whiskers.

From Aiyar's Q & A with Maura Elizabeth Cunningham at The China Beat:

MEC: How did you come to write a book that views Beijing from a cats’-eye perspective?

PA: I spent five years living in Beijing’s hutongs. These were neighbourhoods that reflected many of the tensions generated by the intersection of China’s almost remorseless embrace of modernity with persisting forms of a more traditional, communal way of life.

Animals were an intrinsic part of the hutongscape. At twilight you could sometimes spot the elongated silhouette of huang shu lang (黄鼠狼 the yellow weasel), the Beijing equivalent of the city fox, tip toeing across the roofs of courtyard houses sniffing for prey. Regardless of the season old men in patched up Mao suits would sit around corner stores on low stools, their caged song birds proudly on display next to them.

And then there were the dogs. The hutongs were disproportionately peopled with retirees and their pet dogs; the ever dwindling younger generation having taken off for swankier addresses. The aural backdrop to life in these alleyways was therefore punctuated by the yapping of Pekinese dogs who were as pampered and loved by their elderly owners as a favoured grandchild.

This was an environment where people and animals lived cheek to jowl, the cramped spaces of the living quarters forcing everyone out on the street.

In my previous book, Smoke and Mirrors, I wrote extensively about my life in the hutongs and this was one aspect of the book that people across the world, be it in India, China or the US, seemed fascinated by. It seemed natural therefore to situate my novel in this geography and the cats just seemed an intuitive and interesting way to gain entry into this world.

Especially since...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers’ books include, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), Zeitoun (2009), and A Hologram For The King.

From his June 2012 Q & A with Stephen Elliott at The Rumpus:

The Rumpus: A Hologram for The King is your first imagined-from-scratch book in a while. In a lot of ways it seems like a real departure from the last book we talked about, Zeitoun. So I guess the question would be, Why a novel set in Saudi Arabia?

Dave Eggers: Well, about four years ago I had one of those moments where you think, Huh, that’s an interesting framework for a novel. My brother-in-law had just been to Saudi Arabia with his company, and he told me about these cities that King Abdullah is trying to construct from scratch, these centers of education and manufacturing and other catalysts for a post-oil economy. I was fascinated by the idea of American businesspeople coming to these nascent cities in the desert, trying to get in on the ground floor. That was the start of it at least, and it gelled with some ideas I was having about this aging businessman who’s painted himself into a corner.

Rumpus: That’s your protagonist, Alan Clay. He’s middle-aged, with a background in sales, management and cost cutting, but he’s been downsized himself, and is having a hard time getting work. He’s fifty-four years old and believes that no one is interested in his services anymore. Though he also presents himself as an optimist.

Eggers: I think he presents himself as an optimist because optimism is...[read on]
Read about the book Eggers wishes he'd written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ben H. Winters

Ben H. Winters is the author of several novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the middle-grade novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, an Edgar Award nominee and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2011. Winters’ other books include the science-fiction Tolstoy parody Android Karenina, the Finkleman sequel The Mystery of the Missing Everything, and the supernatural thriller Bedbugs, which has been optioned for the screen by Warner Brothers. Winters also wrote the book and lyrics for three musicals for young audiences: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, A (Tooth) Fairy Tale, and Uncle Pirate, based on the award-winning children’s book by Douglas Rees.

His latest novel is The Last Policeman.  From the author's Q & A with Ethan Gilsdorf at Wired:

Gilsdorf: How do you make an end-of-days armageddon scenario feel fresh? Just taking the movies Deep Impact and Armageddon, it’s a genre that’s been pretty well traveled. I assume adding in a noir-ish potboiler procedural detective premise was part of the plan to make this new?

Winters: That detective angle is definitely part of it; my goal is that The Last Policeman is successful as a mystery qua mystery, even if you take the whole asteroid-coming business out of it. But hopefully what makes it fresh, even more so, is the level of detail, realistic detail, about what things would really be like, or might conceivably be like, in these terrible final months. I put in a lot of hours on the phone talking to economists, to scientists, to technologists, to create my model of a world on the brink. Just for starters, you’re talking about a worldwide financial panic; you’re talking about a crisis of law and order; you’re talking about a lot of wildness and brutality, but also a lot of good Samaritanship.

Gilsdorf: You’ve probably heard about this new movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. What’s with the recurring popularity of the armageddon plot?

Winters: I would say that Steve Carell and I are swimming in the zeitgeist together, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at the official Ben H. Winters website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Policeman.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Policeman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn's latest novel is Gone Girl.

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

You describe having a (pleasantly) dark childhood, enjoying horror films at an age when most kids would run from them with blankets over their heads…

I was a quirky kid. I think that’s the kind way of putting it. My favorite picture book was Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies (Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin). My favorite game was one I invented with my cousins called Mean Aunt Rosie, where I was a deranged maiden aunt who chased them around the house. I always liked the dark stuff, probably because I was a happy kid who lived in the City of Fountains/Heart of America and could afford to be. My dad was a film professor, and so I inherited his love of movies, and for me, especially scary movies. We had an old top-loading VCR and I watched Psycho a million times. In the mirror, I obsessively practiced the final shot of Anthony Perkins: the Norman Bates smile right at the camera. I can still do it really well.

What scares you in a good book? It seems that it takes more to sustain thrills, in this age of film, Internet, and quick-cut editing.

I’m old-fashioned. The stuff I love isn’t about gotcha scares, and gore doesn’t frighten me much either. It’s that sense of dread, and the sense that characters have gotten swept up in a current they can’t control, leading them toward something awful and dark. It’s why I love Scott Smith’s books, and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 22, 2012

V.V. (Sugi) Ganeshananthan

Vasugi V. Ganeshananthan, a fiction writer and journalist, lives in New York. She is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College. In 2005, she received an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and in 2005-2006, she was the Bennett Fellow and writer-in-residence at Phillips Exeter Academy. In 2007, she graduated from the new MA program at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a Bollinger Fellow specializing in Arts & Culture journalism. She has written and reported for The Atlantic Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sepia Mutiny, and The American Prospect, among others.

Her first novel, Love Marriage, was published in April 2008. Washington Post Book World named the book one of its Best of 2008. It was also longlisted for the Orange Prize.

From Ganeshananthan's Q & A with Jan Bowman:

Jan: I understand that you travelled to Canada and Sri Lanka to research your book. Can you tell us about the insights you gained from doing this?

Sugi: I was fairly relaxed in doing this; for example, I didn’t know my Canadian research was research when I was doing it. I went to Toronto with my family nearly every year as a kid, so I had a sense of what it was like to be an insider/outsider there, and to be stunned, as the protagonist Yalini is, at being in a place where there are so many people like you. The insiderdom you have dreamed of your whole life! So many Sri Lankans in Toronto! And yet they’re outsiders of a sort still: minorities, despite the numbers. And you—me?— as an American, are an outsider even among them. That remains a powerful experience for me, every time I go to Toronto, because I didn’t grow up with that sizable community around me, and never lived there, but inevitably feel a sense of crazy strength and closeness and love and debate there, and then there I am, just beyond its borders. Wishing I could have it, and also quite glad to be myself, to have been born in America. And so Yalini having been born in America really shapes her different sense of what it means to be a Sri Lankan Tamil hyphen-something. She travels to Toronto; she is in Toronto, but she is not of Toronto.

Jan: And could you say a bit more about the power of place in fiction, based upon your own writing and travel experiences?

Sugi: I’ve been lucky to meet Sri Lankan emigrants and their children in so many different countries. It’s not lost on me that this is the result of what were often very sad political and historical circumstances. So this is not only a different kind of traveling, but also a way of always and never being home. I find hotels really strange, and this is because so many friends and relatives have been generous about my staying with them. They’ve helped me to figure out how to belong to many different places, but we also frequently find ourselves discussing a place we are not in.

Perhaps for this reason—and I’m speculating—place is actually somewhat diffuse in Love Marriage. Yalini has a...[read on]
]Visit V.V. Ganeshananthan's website.

Writers Read: V.V. (Sugi) Ganeshananthan (July 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Edward J. Blum

Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey are the authors of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.

From Blum's Q & A with Terry Gross on Fresh Air:

GROSS: Edward Blum, welcome to FRESH AIR. So knowing what you know about religious history, if you were painting a picture of Jesus Christ, what color would he be?

EDWARD BLUM: Well, the best American painting I've ever seen of Jesus is by Henry Ossawa Tanner, and what he does is he has a figure, a human figure veiled, where the colors are somewhat grayish and brownish colors are over the face. And so we can make out that there's a man there, and he has skin that seems a little darker and hair that seems a little darker, but we can't make out the actual skin tone. We can't make out the eye color.

And I would choose that for a couple reasons. One, because America was founded by a whole bunch of Puritans who didn't want to see Jesus. They thought it was a violation of the Second Commandment to have images of Christ. And when they had dreams, when sometimes Puritans would dream about seeing Jesus, he was described as behind a spider web, and I think that's a beautiful image.

Even Joseph Smith, when he claimed to see his - when he claimed to Jesus and God the Father, Joseph Smith the founder of Mormonism. His first description was that it was indescribable. And so I like the notion of behind a veil or behind a webbing, that there's something, someone there that we desperately want to see and get to but just quite can't.

GROSS: OK, so you've answered and avoided the question at the same time.


GROSS: So I'm going to ask it again because, I mean, you know, Christ was actually a man. You know, he starts as a man. And he was a man in a place at a time, and he was flesh and blood, and that flesh had a color. And our depictions, historical depictions of him have differed over the centuries, but he had a color when he was alive. So if you were - if you were painting a realistic image of what you think Jesus looked like in his time, what color would he be?

BLUM: So, for that I can say he definitely wouldn't be white, and you know, the Middle East that Jesus, the historical Jesus was a part of, was a crossroads of the world, of the known world at its time. And so I would probably paint him darkly complected, not pure black, more in a kind of light brownish.

I'd probably pay a lot more attention to his...[read on, or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Anne C. Heller

Anne C. Heller is the author of 2009's Ayn Rand and the World She Made.

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

Q: [Rand is] known for being sexually free. Would you say she was not only an atheist but a hedonist too?

A: She was a Russian to a core. She grew up in a time of free love in Russia, and she felt that was everybody's right, as long as they weren't hurting anybody else.

But I don't know that you'd call it hedonism. She wasn't a person for whom fine clothes, good food and living well were important.

Q: Why is she so popular among politicians who don't fully embrace what she believed?

A: A lot of them – Paul Ryan is an example – read her when they're quite young, the way most people do, at 13, 14, 15 or even 18.

They identify with her characters, who are heroes and create all sorts of new inventions and prosperity. But they really don't think them through to the degree that Ayn Rand did.

Q: Why did she speak through fiction?

A: When she first came to America, she understood that the Communists were the screenwriters, the playwriters and the novelists. Using the power of fiction, she consciously set out to answer them, to outdo them, in creating a fiction of free markets and individual rights.

She did quite a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 19, 2012

Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman is a writer for The Guardian based in Brooklyn, New York. His new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, explores the upsides of negativity, uncertainty, failure and imperfection. Each week in "This Column Will Change Your Life" he writes about social psychology, self-help culture, productivity and the science of happiness, and makes unprovoked attacks on The Secret.

From his Q & A with Sarah Scire:

SS: The “Goal Crazy” chapter of the book was particularly fascinating because there’s a lot of motivational literature out there based on the idea that success means ignoring the naysayers and charging full steam ahead. When does “fatal magnetism” to a goal evolve from dedication to doomed delusion? Doesn’t wanting to be a writer or artist or tech entrepreneur involve a certain amount of self-deception and positive thinking?

OB: The Antidote is definitely all about restoring a balance between positive and negative, not eliminating every trace of positivity—if that were my argument, I’d just be committing the reverse fallacy. But I think we’re generally very imbalanced towards positive thinking, and goals are a great example of that: the idea of “holding your goals loosely” seems completely alien in many quarters, especially American and British corporate culture. The “fatal magnetism” idea—I’m borrowing here from a management scholar called Chris Kayes, who has used this to explain the Mount Everest disaster of 1996—is that once a goal becomes part of your identity, many dangers arise. You start interpreting negative information, about why you should call off the plan, as a positive reason to commit even harder to it. You can be ambitious as a writer or an entrepreneur, I think, without being rigidly committed to particular outcomes, or deluded about your chances of success. Indeed, the less...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Oliver Burkeman's website.

The Page 99 Test:  The Antidote.

See Oliver Burkeman's 10 best self-help gurus.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Benjamin Anastas

Broke, his promising literary career evaporated, Benjamin Anastas is hounded by debt collectors as he tries to repair a life ripped apart by the spectacular implosion of his marriage, which ended when his pregnant wife left him for another man. Such is the story Benjamin Anastas recounts in his new memoir, Too Good to Be True.

From the author's Q & A with Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg for the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

Why did you write a memoir that you knew would expose the most painful corners of your life to public comment?

Benjamin Anastas: I had no choice. I was trying to write fiction and either editing things to death or throwing it out. The circumstances of my life were tough. I was out of money, I had increasing bills to deal with every month, and magazine editors, at least those who were still working, weren’t answering my emails. I couldn’t think of anything else. I thought my only option was writing about what had happened in my life.

Why did you think people would be interested in your story?

I thought that a book that was artful and spoke to other people’s concerns would be something others would read. What gave me the courage to go forward was knowing we were going through a ridiculously hard recession, and that a lot of people had found themselves in a place in life where they never expected to be. At the age of 40 you’ve got a kid to feed and nothing to feed him with. I thought if I could write about that truthfully, from the inside, if I could somehow make my own experience universal, it would be something that people wanted to read. I wanted it to be more than about my own failures. Most people at some point find themselves in a place where they ask...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's latest novel is Dare Me.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

What I so deeply admire about your work is the lean, mean and fiercely gorgeous prose you employ. So, what kind of writer are you? Do you plot things out or fly by the seat of your pen? Do you write every day or when the muse’s whispers begin to turn into shouts? What’s your writing life like?

Thank you for your kind words! I force myself to be rigorously disciplined because I find writing it infinitely hard and isolating and would like to be doing almost anything else. (At the same time, however, I only feel truly happy when I’ve written, so there’s the rub.) Because I’m slow I have to block out the day and even though I don’t write the whole time, I need to live in the world of the book all day, writing it fits and starts off and on from early morning through the afternoon. Which makes me pretty unpleasant to be around in the daylight hours!

You tunneled into the dark heart of girls in Dare Me so expertly that it felt as if you were chaneling them. What kind of research did you do for this novel, and what was that like? And why do you think the territory of adolescent girls is so rich--and such a minefield for events?

About half of it was compulsive online eavesdropping, primarily through chatrooms and message boards focused on cheerleading. The other half was my own vivid memories of being a teenager. The intensity of feeling at that age, the yearning, the passionate friendships—filled with highs and lows, betrayals, breakups. It’s your practice for adult (or young adult) relationships. And it’s thrilling and devastating. I thought I’d forgotten all that until I started writing the book. It all came flooding back, all the heartbreak, exhilaration and humiliation. That stuff is ageless, and leaves it marks.

So Dare Me is headed for the Silver Screen and you’re writing the script. Is it hard to re-envision your novel as a film?

I tend to be...[read on]
Visit Megan Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bury Me Deep.

The Page 69 Test: The End of Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 16, 2012

Richard Russo

Richard Russo's new memoir is Elsewhere.

From his Q & A with Jane Ciabattari at The Daily Beast:

How were you inspired to write Elsewhere?

John Freeman, the editor of Granta, played a key role. He was planning an issue for Granta about going home. He’d been driving along the thruway, and saw the sign for Gloversville and contacted me on the off chance I might be willing to write about Gloversville the real place, as opposed to the fictional avatars I’d used over the years.

I was vulnerable to the idea. My mother had recently died. John called at a moment I was thinking about my mother’s life and death, and our deep ties to Gloversville, and how my mother and I had so much in common. Nature (we were both obsessive people, I as much as my mother), and nurture (we’d both grown up in this same small town that time doesn’t affect very much). If John hadn’t called right then, I might not have written this book. Over the years I have had very few impulses to tell the truth. This book may have exhausted them.

Reading Elsewhere, I was intrigued by the references to her mental state by people who knew your mother well. Her parents tried to stop her from going with you when you drove to Arizona to begin college, referring to her “condition.” When you were 21 your father told you he couldn’t bear to live with that “crazy” woman. At what point did you realize she was truly unstable?

I didn’t know when we went off to Arizona together. I was 18. I won’t say I didn’t have any clue. I just knew that in the female line of my mother’s family, there was a tendency to what was euphemistically referred to as “nerves,” but amounted to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 15, 2012

M.J. McGrath

M.J. McGrath is the author of the new thriller The Boy in the Snow, the sequel to her acclaimed debut novel, White Heat.

From her Q & A with J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet:

JKP: White Heat succeeded in part because it was set in such an alien environment. However, for The Boy in the Snow, you leave the barrens of Ellesmere Island in favor of setting your story among the more recognizable cities and tamer frontier culture of Alaska. Why did you make this switch?

MM: I’d like to think that White Heat succeeded not simply because it was set in an alien environment, but because the characters are people readers find easy to engage with and the story gripped them.

JKP: Again, though, why--so early in your series--did you choose to leave Nunavat and write instead about Alaska? Was it simply because you wanted to write about the Iditarod, or because you thought it important to expand Edie’s character by showing how she would operate amongst a larger population of qalunaat (white men)?

MM: It was just a story I wanted to tell. In many ways the Arctic region defies national boundaries. Many people living in the Arctic, particularly indigenous people, think of themselves first and foremost as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Robert Sullivan

Robert Sullivan's books include The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year) and the best-selling Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants. His latest book is My American Revolution: Crossing the Delaware and I-78.

From his Q & A with Matthew Fleagle at January Magazine:

Matthew Fleagle: In My American Revolution, you quote the 19th-century author Thomas F. DeVoe as saying that his fascination with history is a “dreadful disease” and you refer to his “history problem.” When did you realize that you, too, had a history problem? Was history your thing as a kid, or did the love of it dawn on you gradually?

Robert Sullivan: I always remember liking history, or what I thought of as history, as a kid. Specifically, I liked watching old World War II movies with my pop. He was in the army; I got to hear a little critique of how things were in the army in the movies versus in real life. I think asking about history and politics was a way to sit at the table, to talk with older relatives. When I was a newspaper reporter, after college, I got to cover small towns and then big cities in New Jersey, and the history of these places was not just interesting but important, crucial to understanding what was going on at the moment.

I would hate to think how many dozens of bad “Talk of the Town” pieces I submitted to The New Yorker before having my first one accepted a little over 20 years ago, but I know that most of them were obsessive looks at the history of people and places in the city, things that seemed to be fading away -- and now of course are gone. I remember a guy from North Carolina who raised chickens in an automotive garage in Hell’s Kitchen, all the birds sleeping in the rafters, as protection against roving bands of rats. He was a wonderful guy, gentrified away -- even the name Hell’s Kitchen is gone -- and the garage is gone, replaced by a mania for locally harvested eggs.

MF: I’ve had the pleasure of reading two of your previous books, The Meadowlands and Rats. The former book found you digging for Jimmy Hoffa’s body in a garbage dump, while Rats had you spying on rodents in a Lower Manhattan alley for a year of nights. Before this new book is over, you’ve retraced a 30-mile rebel march from Princeton to Morristown, New Jersey, in freezing weather, aggravating your back in the process. You do history with your boots on. What pushes you outside?

RS: Probably typing pushes me outside. I would rather be out walking than trying to come up with a paragraph -- until that is, I have a paragraph, and I begin to rework it, an act that causes me to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 13, 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 Bwog’s Diana Clarke:

Bwog: How did you decide to tell your story in graphic form? Did that come about alongside the initial narrative, or afterwards?

Parker: It came afterwards. I was writing a prose memoir while at Columbia, and only got an agent my last semester. I was doing a little cross-genre—a little drawing. I got breakfast with my agent one morning , and showed him my drawings, and by the time I got back uptown, he’d called six times. He told me “Drop everything, this is what we’re doing.” I knew nothing about art, and I had to teach myself as I went along. I don’t know if you noticed, but the drawings get better later in the book.

Bwog: Were you at all influenced by naïve art? I kept connecting your drawings to Paul Klee’s work—the urgency, shaky lines, childlike overwhelming swirls of color, and figures reduced to their simplest forms. Do you think there’s something childlike about the limited scope of an addict, and were you trying to convey that?

Parker: I’ve never heard of him, but a lot of addiction counselors will tell you you stop maturing when you start taking drugs, and I started taking drugs when I was 13, so… I’m a pretty good artist but I’m more of a copier. I didn’t figure out how to do it right until about halfway through, when I started taking pictures of myself in the poses I wanted. I just found out that’s how...[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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sheila Hale

Sheila Hale's new book is Titian: His Life.

From her Q & A with A.L. McMichael at Publishers Weekly:

Why did you choose to write about Titian?

Titian was suggested to me by the publisher of a previous book that I had written. He knew that I knew Venice very well [from living there often] and that I was interested in painting. I also happen to be a close friend of Charles Hope, the pre-eminent Titian scholar. He’s spent his entire professional career hunting down documents relating to Titian in the archives of Europe, and he never publishes them. And so I went to him and said, “Will you share your unpublished documents with me?” And he said yes.

Is writing a biography different from journalism?

I read quite deeply about Titian, but I also worked with scholars and said, “What do you think, what are you reading, what are you writing about Titian?” So I suppose you could say that’s a journalistic way of working. More is known about Titian, his personality, his family, his relationship with his patrons, than any other Renaissance artist except...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Jo Nesbø

Jo Nesbø is a musician, songwriter, economist, and author. He has won the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel. His Harry Hole novels include The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil's Star, The Snowman, The Leopard, and Phantom. He has written nine novels featuring the alcoholic, still-smarter-than-you detective Harry Hole.

From his Q & A with Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

Speakeasy: There are a number of noir heroes who can’t get along with their own police force or who are constantly battling inner demons. Why is this such an appealing theme?

Jo Nesbo: Story telling has to deal with conflict. In a typical crime novel, on the outer level, there is the conflict of somebody having been killed. The police are trying to catch the killer, and he is trying to escape punishment. If you decide to make the policeman your main character, you need conflict there as well. A main character at war with himself makes for better story telling.

Harry Hole has been on something of a losing streaking, one that includes an ugly facial scar and a titanium finger. In ‘Phantom’ he patches a neck wound with duct tape. What was Harry’s original sin?

If Harry was looking back at his life, he would see a lot of sins. There would be sins where he didn’t actively commit crimes, and then again, where he has. When he was young, he was unable to save...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Joe Schreiber

Joe Schreiber's young adult novels include the critically acclaimed Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick and the newly released Perry's Killer Playlist.

From his Q & A with John A. Sellers at Publishers Weekly:

One gets the sense from reading your books that you’re having a lot of fun with them—is that a fair way to describe your relationship with writing?

Absolutely. It came out of a desire to entertain myself. I wrote for an audience of one, at first. If I’m entertained with what I’m writing, I loosen up and the whole experience becomes a lot more fun.

You got your start writing for adults. You’ve written three horror novels and some science fiction set in the Star Wars universe. At what point did you start thinking about writing for teens?

With Au Revoir, it was written at a time when I wasn’t expecting or even thinking about the YA market in particular. I was working on book for LucasFilm, which was taking some time to finish up. There was this part of me that wanted to go in a different direction from wookiees and blasters. Something more fun, like the John Hughes movies from the ’80s, where there’s action but also ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 9, 2012

Jim Krusoe

Jim Krusoe is the author of the novels Toward You, Erased, Girl Factory, and Iceland; two collections of stories; and five books of poetry. His stories and poems have appeared in the Antioch Review, Bomb, the Chicago Review, the Denver Quarterly, the American Poetry Review, and other publications. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund.

His latest book is Parsifal.

From Krusoe's Q & A at the Tin House blog:

Meg Storey: The character Parsifal is named after the title character of an epic poem. How similar are their stories? In which ways do they differ?

Jim Krusoe: The poem has knights and the grail from the Last Supper. My novel has fountain pens, blind people, sexy librarians, a burning pre-school, double-entry bookkeeping, possible drug use, and court-ordered therapy. Other than that, they are identical.

MS: Your last three novels formed a trilogy about resurrection. How did your work on that theme influence the writing of Parsifal?

JK: I always look no more than one book into the future at a time; it was only when I began the third book of the trilogy that I realized it was connected to the first two. I think I’m about done with resurrection for now, and Parsifal I believe, stands alone. That is, unless...[read on]
Read more about Jim Krusoe's Parsifal at the Tin House Books website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Factory.

The Page 69 Test: Erased.

The Page 69 Test: Toward You.

Writers Read: Jim Krusoe (April 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Parsifal.

Writers Read: Jim Krusoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jasper Fforde

From Jasper Fforde's Q & A with Sue Corbett at Publishers Weekly:

Where does your sense of humor come from?

It’s probably an amalgam of having been brought up in the ’70s when there were some fantastically good sitcoms on TV, having a tremendously funny older brother, and having parents who were academics who insisted on dragging us off to see Shakespeare. So my humor, I’d say, comes from a mixture of lowbrow comedy shows and highbrow theater. It’s an interesting mix.

Have you always been drawn to absurdity? Were you class clown?

I asked this very question of a classmate once – “Was I funny?” – and he told me he didn’t remember me being funny. I think it more likely I was the “class annoying person.” Class clowns become actors. My sense of humor was something I shared amongst my friends: it was quieter, more internal, which is probably more typical of someone who becomes a writer.

How about your mother and father? Funny?

My dad was an economist and definitely not known for his sense of humor. [Fforde’s father, John Standish Fforde, was the 24th Chief Cashier for the Bank of England, the British equivalent of being the person whose signature appears on U.S. currency.] But we had some very strong traditions in our household. There was a lot of required reading – Three Men in a Boat, Diary of a Nobody, the works of Evelyn Waugh – and they were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Robert A. Caro

The Passage of Power is the fourth volume of Robert A. Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson.

From the author's Q & A with James Mustich at the Barnes & Noble Review:

JM: Let's take a moment to talk about the Johnson project in a longer view. In the course of thinking about his life for three decades now, has your idea of him shifted at all? Or have you found yourself able to connect the dots of his character across all that time?

RC: My view of him hasn't shifted. It's the same guy. Is he ruthless in the first volumes? Yes. And he's still ruthless in The Passage of Power. Look in this volume at what he does with the newspaper people in Texas. He learns Margaret Mayer, a tough reporter, is starting to investigate his fortune, and he in effect says to her editor, "We'll have the Internal Revenue Service investigate you." I don't want to go beyond what I say in the book. But he's clearly threatening investigations of tax returns. He hasn't changed.

But there is one thing that has changed: now he has the power of the presidency. Everybody likes to quote Lord Acton, "All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Well, the more I've worked on my books, the more I believe that that's not always true. What I believe is always true is that power reveals. When a guy gets enough power to do whatever he wants, then you find out what he's wanted to do all along, and I believe that's very much true of Lyndon Johnson and his passage of civil rights legislation. Did he want to do this? Has he always wanted to do this? For me, the proof of it is when he was able to talk to the civil rights leaders, like Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King, one-on-one, in his office. I write that he was talking to these men about matters that, at bottom, had to do with color, and when it had to do with color, they were very hard people to fool. But they all come out of that office saying, "Now we understand him; we've got a champion in there." And that goes back to his days teaching as young man in Cotulla, when he vowed to do something to help poor people of color if he ever got the chance.

Yes, to use your phrase, you can connect the dots. It is the same Lyndon Johnson. The only thing that happens is, in the first couple of volumes, he doesn't have power. He is desperate for power, and he is going to do almost anything necessary to get it. Steal an election. Did he steal an election? He stole an election. All the Johnson people say, "We don't really know if he stole it." He stole it. Did he blackmail a young woman in college to get her out of the race for the campus organization? He blackmailed her. Was he known as "Bull" Johnson -- for bullshit -- at college? When you say, "Are all the dots connected?" Yes: he's "Bull Johnson" in college. And what's one of the most notorious legacies of his presidency? The Credibility Gap of Vietnam. Isn't that the same thing?

But on the other hand he always wanted to help poor people -- particularly poor people of color. And when he gets the power to do so, he does. So people may say...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

David Mitchell

David Mitchell's novels include Cloud Atlas.

From his Q & A with Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy:

One of the things I like about your work is a real delight in how words function, how they look on a page, how they sound. You said Samsung is a better word than sony. Why?

It ends on a hard g, Samsunggg. That’s great. Sony – don’t know what I was thinking of, really. Y is about the weakest letter of all. Y can’t make up its mind if it’s a vowel or a consonant, can it?

You’ve highlighted something really at the heart of writing, I think. It’s all about decisions – you make a thousand decisions, at different levels. Structural ones, those are more macro decisions about plot, character, cliché avoidance, better still, cliché inversion, or cliché implosion. They’re wonderful. Also, micro decisions – about where the comma goes, words. You must have noticed sometimes, you know when to use maybe and when to use perhaps. There’s no way on earth you could codify that rule or how you know, but you know....

It sounds pretentious to say, but even though it sounds pretentious, I believe it. I think words operate like musical notes that the eyeball hears. That is at the root of why writers take these micro decisions about maybe and perhaps, which after all mean the same thing…. I think it’s because of this: You get to know the tastes or musical tastes of words themselves, and this informs your choice, whether you use them or not.

You’re doing all these things with language in “Cloud Atlas.” But it’s also very rooted in genre; science fiction or speculative fiction, adventure. If there was a shelf of books that you wanted your books to be sit beside, what would be on it?

I didn’t really think that far. What I think about is how can I make this damn book work? Because it’s killing me. How can I make it work? ....The metaphor I often think of is, it’s sort of like asking a duck-billed platypus if it’s an egg-laying mammal or a bird with mammalian aspects. It doesn’t care, does it? It just does its little duck-billed platypus business, catching things to eat and mating and digging tunnels, that’s what it does. I should probably stop this metaphor now...

Perhaps to invert your question, who says art does have to be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan's new novel is Sweet Tooth.

From his interview about the book with Barbara Chai of the Wall Street Journal:

What was the seed for “Sweet Tooth”?

It started with fascination with that old Encounter scandal. It was a literary political magazine called Encounter. In 1966-67, an American magazine revealed, and then the New York Times picked it up, that it was funded indirectly by the CIA. Encounter was a magazine of very high repute. I was thrilled when one of my own stories was accepted in [the 1970s]. I then started reading about the so-called Cultural Cold War. The CIA was putting money into high culture right from the late ‘40s, early ‘50s. Funding things that both you and I would love to hear. Tours of symphony orchestras from the States in 20 cities in Europe. They even funded a music festival in Paris.

There was a paradox at the heart of this, which was the reason they were doing this, they wanted to show that the free world, especially the American free world, was open to the very best of culture, and persuade left of center European intellectuals that it was the American rather than the Soviet Union way that was best. All that seemed to me fine, but the paradox was they did it all in secret. They wanted to promote the values of an open society, but instead of just giving the money and saying, “Here, the U.S. government, or the National Foundation for the Arts wants to promote your symphony, your magazine, because we think it’s a good thing,” they did it through the CIA.

So, you wanted to write a novel around this.

I’ve been haunted by this paradox for years and thought, one of these days I’ll find a plot. I’ll think about something that will dramatize this in some way. In the end I thought, because I’m more familiar with it, I’ll...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse is the author of the New York Times bestselling Labyrinth and Sepulchre and other books.

From her 2012 Q &A at the Independent:

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

They change from week to week... But stalwarts include Emily Bronte, Willa Cather, MR James and TS Eliot.

* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Allan Quartermain – hero of 'King Solomon's Mines' – for his over emotional attachment to swashbuckling adventure, Pollyana – for looking on the bright side – and Lucy in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', for wanting to go through the wardrobe to see what lies on the other side.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about a couple of favorite authors Mose tagged in 2009.

Visit Kate Mosse's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Sepulchre.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore read history at Cambridge University. His latest book is Jerusalem: The Biography.

From his Q & A at the Guardian:

What has changed for you since [Jerusalem: The Biography] was first published?

It has been a life-changing book for me. The number of people from so many countries who write to me about it on Facebook or want me to speak in their country is much greater than with any other book.

Who's your favourite writer?

Guy de Maupassant, Marcel Proust, Pushkin, Isaac Bashevis Singer, John le Carré ... I can't decide on one.

What are your other inspirations?

I listen to music when I am writing – a real mixture, from Sephardic music from Jerusalem and 1940s Soviet jazz songs to Pitbull and David Guetta. I love the crassest pop and dance stuff. I went to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg recently and thought I would...[read on]
"I took Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s book Jerusalem, The Biography to Mauritius on holiday with me," wrote the novelist Santa Montefiore last year. "As I’m married to him, I promised I would read it – then rather wished I hadn’t because"...[read on]

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 2, 2012

Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love. After coming across a long-lost copy of her great-grandmother’s 1947 cooking and entertainment guide, At Home On the Range, she teamed up with McSweeneys to produce a new edition of the book.

From Gilbert's Q & A with Marc Schultz at Publishers Weekly:

How much did you know about this book before re-discovering your old copy?

I knew about it peripherally my whole life. My mother did exactly the right thing: she gave it to me on my wedding day, of my first marriage, when I was 24 and irresponsible and just callow enough to put it in a box and ignore it. And I didn’t find that book again until last spring—I’m now 43. I’m embarrassed to say I dismissed it, “I’m sure there’s a lot of Jell-o and meatloaf in there.” I didn’t think it would be the literary and culinary feast that it turned out to be.

How did you go about getting it re-published?

It was a case of perfect timing—just a couple weeks earlier, Dave Eggers had approached me to ask if I wanted to put together an anthology for ScholarMatch, a collection of short stories I like, and I could write a foreword. Then I found this book! And I sent him an e-mail about it, I have something so much better than reading about why I like Chekov so much—I have this treasure.

And it’s like this weird case of stewardship, to bring this woman’s voice to a time in history when people would appreciate it. She was ahead of her time in 1947, writing about artisanal food and epicurean adventures when the country was...[read on]
Read about Elizabeth Gilbert's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cherie Burns

Cherie Burns is the author of The Great Hurricane: 1938.

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

Q: What's the biggest difference between the 1938 hurricane and Hurricane Sandy?

A: I was marveling over how everything has been forecast about Sandy over the last five days. The reason the hurricane of 1938 was so devastating was that it took people completely by surprise.

People certainly knew about hurricanes and understood them. New Englanders told each other, parents told their children, that hurricanes didn't come to New England. And the weather bureau didn't forecast it correctly.

It took everyone completely by surprise, even on the day it came ashore. People were having picnics on the beach, since New Englanders thought it was fun to go down there and look at these storms.

There was this incredible sense of deception. It lurked offshore, they couldn't see it, and suddenly it went up Narragansett Bay.

Q: What about people warning others when it finally hit?

A: The storm knocked out the communications, so people couldn't call ahead and say, "Watch out, it's coming your way." It's almost unbelievable to us today when we have the Weather Channel and satellites.

Q: Were there any people who actually saw it coming?

When the storm did...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue