Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sam Thomas

Sam Thomas has a PhD in history with a focus on Reformation England and recently leaped from the tenure track into a teaching position at a secondary school near Cleveland, Ohio.

His new novel is The Midwife's Tale.

From his Q & A at The Fiction Reboot:

On your webpage you say The Midwife’s Tale was inspired by a real midwife named Bridget Hodgson. What made you decide to take on this particular figure? Were there any challenges in translating her story into the mystery format?

I chose Bridget because the historical Bridget was so freaking awesome. She was a rich and powerful woman, who clearly had a high opinion of herself. She was kind enough to remember her godchildren in her will, but prideful enough to give all her god-daughters the name “Bridget” after herself. (She also named her own daughter “Bridget.”)

The last thing you want in a protagonist is someone who won’t speak truth to power, and it seemed pretty clear that Bridget would do that.

The translation was not terribly difficult because there is so much I didn’t know about her. I had perhaps a half dozen references to her, scattered over forty years. That gave me a lot of room with which to work. And because midwives were so integral to crime and punishment, she made for ...[read on]
View the trailer for The Midwife’s Tale, and learn more about the book and author at Sam Thomas's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Midwife’s Tale.

The Page 69 Test: The Midwife's Tale.

Writers Read: Sam Thomas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Holly Goddard Jones

Holly Goddard Jones's new novel is The Next Time You See Me.

Form her Q & A at the Mourning Goats blog:

Your first book was a short story book, back in 2009; in February, your first novel, The Next Time You See Me will be published, how was writing and publishing the books different?

I was a grad student when I was working on the stories in Girl Trouble, and the book went through a few different incarnations. I took away a story, completely rewrote one, and heavily revised the others. But there was never, during all of this rewriting, the panicked sense that one move could unravel the whole project. There were plenty of other kinds of panic, but I never doubted that I was making a collection that would eventually hold together.

The novel, on the other hand—75 percent of the writing experience was believing I would never finish it, that I didn’t have the skill or the wherewithal necessary to pull it off. I can admit this now only because I did finish it. At the time, though, it was years of feeling like I was playing pretend. It wasn’t until I got to about the 250-page mark of the rough draft, and went back and did a structural overhaul of those first pages, that I saw the way the rest of the book would go and started to feel some confidence.

As for the differences in the publishing experiences, I’ll probably be able to better answer that a few months. This book will be out in hardcover, whereas Girl Trouble was a straight-to-paper release, and that feels significant in an entirely superficial way. If there’s a negative, I guess it’s that I probably no longer have the automatic goodwill that comes to a young person publishing a first book, especially a less commercial project like a book of stories. The pressures are...[read on]
Visit Holly Goddard Jones' website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Holly Goddard Jones & Bishop and Martha.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Emily Raboteau

Emily Raboteau's new book is Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora.

From her Q & A with Mindy Farabee for The Daily Beast:

You write a lot about the historical link African-Americans felt with Jews of the biblical exodus. How does this concept of Zion resonate today?

Barack Obama used the Zion metaphor in the 2008 election, in particular when speaking to faith-based groups. He configured himself as Joshua, who in the biblical story was the one who led the Israelites into the promised land, not Moses, who never made it there himself. That was Obama’s way of acknowledging that he stood on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, who was a sort of Moses figure, and how much he owed to history of civil rights on his path to the presidency.

But there’s another thought I’ll add to contemporary uses of the metaphor. I was disturbed towards the end of my journey to find that message of the black church in many ways feels like it’s transformed since the era of civil rights, where Zion was used as a metaphor for freedom, to one where Zion is often used as a metaphor for capital—or rather where freedom equals capital. We hear this in the prosperity gospel of extremely popular televangelist preachers in the black evangelical tradition, though it’s not only a black tradition. The preacher I became obsessed with was Creflo Dollar, though there are others. T.D. Jakes is another. When they talk about the promised land, they talk about it being a condition of freedom from debt and of ownership, a nice car, a nice home. Initially, I felt like it was a really crass transformation. But then I had to question, what is...[read on]
Visit Emily Raboteau's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Searching for Zion.

The Page 99 Test: Searching for Zion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 28, 2013

George Saunders

George Saunders's fourth collection of stories is Tenth of December.

From the transcript of his dialogue with Jacki Lyden for NPR:

LYDEN: Let's go to a story that I think is really accessible, George, and that would be the title story of this collection, "Tenth of December." I quite loved it, and I thought, you know, there's almost a '50s feeling in here. This is about a boy who goes into the woods. He's kind of a misfit. He's going to encounter a very sick old man who is thinking about ending his life. And that, to me, is almost classic. Like, I could see Timmy in "Lassie Come Home" and, you know?


LYDEN: But you've given it a complete, you know, contemporary twist. This is sort of near the end of the story where the little boy Robin has been saved but his savior hasn't. Would you begin there?

SAUNDERS: Sure. With a shock, he remembered the old guy. What the heck? An image flashed of the old guy standing bereft and blue-skinned in his tidy whities like a POW abandoned at the barbwire due to no room on the truck or a sad, traumatized stork bidding farewell to its young.

He bolted. He bolted on the old guy, hadn't even given him a thought. Blimey. What a chicken (bleep) thing to do. He had to go back right now. Help the old guy hobble out. But he was so tired. He wasn't sure he could do it. Probably the old guy was fine. Probably he had some sort of old guy plan.

But he'd bolted. He couldn't live with that. His mind was telling him that the only way to undo the bolting was to go back now, save the day. His body was saying something else: It's too far. You're just a kid. Get Mom. Mom will know what to do. He stood paralyzed at the edge of the soccer field like a scarecrow in huge flowing clothes.

LYDEN: A sad, traumatized stork bidding farewell to its young, a scarecrow in huge flowing clothes. I think one of the things that really hits me in your language is that it seems simple but you have such a way with image.

SAUNDERS: Oh, thanks. You know, honestly, so much of this stuff happens on the fly. And for me, one of the deepest pleasures is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 27, 2013

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 Mandy Van Deven at In The Fray:

Your novel is set in New Orleans, a place known for its stark contrast between the lives of blacks and whites, rich and poor. What do you find compelling about placing a struggling Latina journalist in this post-Katrina backdrop?

There are a couple of reasons. First, like many people, I love the city of New Orleans. My husband grew up on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and he lived, went to college, and worked in the city as a young adult. When we met in graduate school, he took me home to meet his family, and I fell in love with the city as I was falling in love with him. I’ve been going there regularly for twenty years now, and my affection and respect for New Orleans made me want to set a novel there.

You’re right about the black-white construction of race and ethnicity in New Orleans. While there has famously and historically been a great deal of mixing, it has usually been defined along a black-white continuum, though the influx of Latino construction workers and their families has shifted the demographic somewhat since Katrina. I was interested in exploring how a character lives her Latinidad in an environment where there’d been almost no Latino community.

You have personal experience with that as well.

Being a Latina without an ethnic community was my own experience growing up. Though I was born in Miami, we...[read on]
Visit Joy Castro’s website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Hell or High Water.

Writers Read: Joy Castro.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ali Smith

Ali Smith's latest book is Artful.

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

Do you have a writer friend who helps and inspires you?

I'm blessed in my good friends, and some of them happen to be writers, though that's almost never what our friendships are about. And every writer I've ever read, living or dead, has in one way or another helped and inspired. I have a feeling it’s important not to mix the two up.

What is a place that inspires you?

Anywhere in the sun, anywhere under the old blue sky. And, more specifically recently, the church of San Clemente in Rome, where Masolino's magnificent fresco of St. Catherine is just the upper layer of a building that goes down for centuries, an experience of time and stratification which echoes everywhere in Rome, and was, I thought, a bit like standing in a place straddling the conscious and the subconscious.

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing begins. Do you like to map out your books ahead of time, or just let it flow?

It's really a time where articulation and articulacy come under a particular pressure, I mean a pressure very particular to whatever the book that's waiting to be written is. It's a process of allowing yourself not to know, and to lose or shed your customary articulacy, then allowing yourself to see (hear, sense, all the senses) by different means. It's the opposite of public. After that, it's a case of instinct and...[read on]
Learn about the "deceased author [Smith would] most like to watch crossing a room, just to see how she moves."

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright's new book is Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.

From his Q & A with Mark Guarino for Printers Row Journal:

Q: The church contradicts most of your reporting, and in one moment of the book, its attorneys show up at The New Yorker with 48 binders of material stretching about 7 linear feet, a tactic you suggest was intended to intimidate you into reversing course. Why didn't it work?

A: It could be they thought they were going to drown me in information, which is the wrong approach. For a reporter, it's pouring water on a fish. When they rolled in those 48 volumes, I looked at those binders with absolute joy. After our meeting, we loaded them on dollies and took them to an unused computer room in The New Yorker's office with no windows. Just a long narrow room with a long desk. I lined all the volumes up and closed the door and had them all to myself. I was really happy.

Q: It is well documented that journalists probing the inner world of Scientology have been stalked, threatened and forced into litigation. Did that history give you pause?

A: I was aware of the past history. I didn't go into it with my eyes closed. But when you have a situation where there are so many allegations and there is a history of threats and also of inaction on part of police agencies, it's an important spot for an investigative reporter to step in. That's what we were created to do. I thought the ideal spot for me, as a reporter, was to try to assess the truth of the situation.

Q: So much of what one associates with Scientology is the secrecy, which, to be fair, is a hallmark of many religions. However, in Scientology, it feels much more stern and with an obvious litigious bent. Why?...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ben Schrank

Ben Schrank published his first novel, Miracle Man, in 1999. The New Yorker selected it as one of six debut novels in that year’s fiction issue, saying “As the ethical lines blur, Schrank makes New York seem sharp and new.” Time Magazine called it a “brilliantly observed story about the desire to live in an egalitarian world.” In 2002 Schrank published his second novel, Consent. Leonard Michaels wrote of Consent: “It is a very serious story, and, in places, it is hilarious. As for the woman at the center, she is unforgettable.” Schrank has taught at the MFA program at Brooklyn college. He was for some years the voice of "Ben’s Life," a fictional column for Seventeen magazine.

Schrank's new novel is Love Is a Canoe.

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

Part of the book takes place in Brooklyn, where you grew up and live now. Would you say you’re an optimist when it comes to the future of Brooklyn?

I’m probably more concerned about the future of Brooklyn than I am about the future of publishing. I love Brooklyn, but it’s developing awfully fast and without as much governance as I think it should have.

Given the partial Brooklyn setting and the publishing focus, was this a more personal story for you to write than your previous books?

I was more concerted in my attempt to “write what I know” in this novel, but it is a less indulgent story than what is found in my first two novels. The Brooklyn setting and publishing focus are there in support of the central image of the boy in the canoe, getting advice. So it is personal in that all novels are personal, but my hope for Love Is a Canoe is that it is a true piece of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ben Schrank's website.

Writers Read: Ben Schrank.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Amber Dermont

Amber Dermont is the author of the novel, The Starboard Sea, and the short story collection, Damage Control. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Dermont received her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston.

From her Q & A with Lucy Walton at Female First:

Which writers can you credit as being an influence to your own work?

In terms of the great dead, the fiction writers I go back to over and over again are Gustave Flaubert, Colette, Marcel Proust, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, James Baldwin, John Cheever, Patricia Highsmith, Dorothy Parker, Octavia Butler, Barry Hannah and David Foster Wallace. In terms of contemporary authors, I admire the attitude and daring of AM Homes, Jeanette Winterson, Samuel R. Delany, Andre Dubus III, Reginald McKnight, Sherman Alexie, Jhumpa Lahiri, JM Coetzee, Jim Crace, Michael Martone, Sabrina Orah Mark. What I love most is when a novel or story moves me so deeply that I realize how much harder I need to work to have a similar influence on a reader.

What was your background before you became a professor?

My parents are rare book dealers. I grew up in a house filled with first editions and I was sort of doomed to become a writer. Most of my childhood was spent visiting bookstores, antique stores and auctions. As a result, I have great appreciation for literary history and am grateful for all of the rare books, letters and literary ephemera that have been passed down to me. My family lives by the water and the ocean has been the most defining feature of my life. Early on, I knew that I wanted to use my own experiences ...[read on]
Read more about The Starboard Sea, and visit Amber Dermont's Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Starboard Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Laurie Lynn Drummond

From a Q & A with Laurie Lynn Drummond, author of Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You:

Q: There seems to be a rather striking spiritual/mystical element in some of the stories, when the officers feel the presence of a victim. Katherine wonders "how dead we ever really are." How should a reader understand these encounters in the larger context of the collection? Does constant exposure to death tend to make believers of those in such fields, or does it depend on the individual?

A: I know from speaking with police officers around the country that my experience of death is not unique, that the essence of a person lingers after death. Certainly there are some officers who will "pshaw" this idea or can't bring themselves to even contemplate it; that is partly their personality and mostly their defense mechanisms. However, no matter your personality or disposition, seeing a body brutalized is deeply unsettling—whether from a traffic accident, homicide, suicide, or accidental death. I can only speak for myself, although other officers have echoed my experience: you enter a scene with a job to do and a large part of you does that job—secure the scene first and foremost then deal with the victim, friends and family, the perpetrator, the evidence, call for support (detectives, ambulance, crime scene, coroner, district attorney, child services, etc). You work efficiently and professionally, because that is the job. But another part of you—for some this may be a very small part, for others like me, it's larger—is registering the emotional impact, is seeing the person who is dying or dead as a human being. And if you are paying attention, if you are really seeing, opening your heart for even a few seconds, you...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rebecca Wells

From a Q & A with Rebecca Wells, author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Ya-Yas in Bloom:

You grew up in Louisiana, and ... your books have dealt with that state and the Walker family and friends. What first prompted you to create the Ya-Yas? Are they based on real women you knew or your own childhood?

I grew up in a tiny kingdom of bayous and cotton fields, a big extended family, with tons of relatives, with parents whose friends were too numerous to count. My family has been in that part of Central Louisiana since the 1750s or thereabout. You'd go anywhere and they'd know "she's a Wells girl." All around me were these utterly original characters, honorary aunts and uncles; African American women who helped raise me. I lived in a gumbo of stories, tales, histories. I saw friendships that last lifetimes. I knew who everyone was and everyone knew who I was, or at least that is how it felt. My parents loved to celebrate. They'd throw a party for anything. That's how Louisiana was then. My grandfather used to hire this country band to play music on Sunday afternoons and we'd dance together — all ages, little kids with grandparents, you name it. I was infused with a love of life, with a sense of being not so much a part of the United States of America as being a part of the Sovereign Stage of Half-Crazy, Half-Holy State of Louisiana. How could I not be influenced by such rich characters, food, music, the beauty of the flat land stretching out forever, dotted like snow with cotton. How could I not let the Ya-Yas emerge from my unconscious and start telling their stories.

Did I know people like the Ya-Yas? Of course. I was surrounded by women who were the most beautiful, funniest, most original, and sometimes most wounded goddesses I can imagine. Let me make it clear, however, that the Ya-Yas are not factually real. They are an amalgam of memory, research, and imagination. Vivi is not my mother. Vivi is Sidda's mother. I am Rebecca; Sidda is Sidda. It has been difficult for me when these distinctions get confused. We live in such a literal world. We seem to always want a writer to claim that her fiction is actually her autobiography. My work is not my autobiography. It contains elements of my life, but those elements are imagined — emotional truth, not factual truth.

The tiny kingdom I grew up in has...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison is professor of the history of medicine and director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford. His books include Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War, The Medical War: British Military Medicine in the First World War, and the newly released Contagion: How Commerce Has Spread Disease.

From his Q & A at The Daily Beast:

What’s your big idea?

There can be little doubt that trade has contributed massively to human civilization, but we have often paid dearly for the goods and services it provides. That is as true today as it was at the time of Black Death, when the links between disease and commerce first became apparent. While the specter of plague no longer looms over us, we still rely heavily on the methods designed to prevent it. Renaissance city-states produced a template for dealing with trade-borne disease, which has proved enduring but also, in many cases, ineffective. By the late 19th century, it was clear to most governments that old-style methods like quarantine and sanitary embargoes had failed to prevent the movement of disease along the pathways of the new global market. They realized that quarantine needed to be combined with sanitary reform and that nation-states needed to come together to pool epidemiological information and agree on measures to prevent the spread of disease.

Up to this point in time, states had engaged in a form of sanitary diplomacy which had more to do with furthering imperial interests than protecting public health. Quarantine had become a form of war by other means. The result was commercial chaos and sanitary disaster. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten the lessons learned by our Victorian forebears. Like them, we need to pay more attention to the factors which give rise to diseases and to seek greater cooperation in controlling them. That means shaking off some of the bad habits we’ve acquired over the years, especially our overreliance on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Julie Powell

Julie Powell was on the verge of turning 30, trapped in a series of unfulfilling temp jobs, and living in a dreadful apartment in Queens, New York. That’s when she decided to break the monotony by attempting to make all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One year later, Powell had achieved her goal, documented her experiences on one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, and began the award-winning, bestselling book Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.

From her Q & A with Caren Osten Gerszberg at Drinking Diaries:

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Julie Powell: It was Mad Dog, at a cast party my junior year in high school. I spent most of the party commiserating about not getting cast as Sally Bowles with the guy who didn’t get cast as the MC. Then my ex-boyfriend’s new love interest threw up on me and a six-foot-two guy passed out on top of me. So. Much. FUN.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

I come from a long line of highly-functioning alcoholics. Growing up, my Dad thought nothing of bringing a plastic “to-go” cup with him when we drove to a restaurant for dinner, and booze was and continues to be an ever-present, benign presence. I actually didn’t drink at all until college, but in adulthood, our family tends to revolve, in our interactions, around booze. Food, too.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

The only thing that has ever persuaded me to drink less has been the prospect of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 18, 2013

Marilyn Yalom

Marilyn Yalom was educated at Wellesley College, the Sorbonne, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. She has been a professor of French and comparative literature, director of an institute for research on women, a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, and the author of numerous books and articles on literature and women's history. In 1991 she was decorated as an Officier des Palmes Académiques by the French Government.

Yalom's books include Maternity, Mortality, and the Literature of Madness, Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women's Memory, A History of the Breast, A History of the Wife, Birth of the Chess Queen, The American Resting Place, and How the French Invented Love: 900 Years of Passion and Romance (2012).

From her Q & A at Interview Magazine:

ROYAL YOUNG: I want to talk about your life in America in the 1950s and what a colorful, alluring contrast French culture must have been.

MARILYN YALOM: Yes, indeed. I was at Wellesley College when I first went to France in 1952 or '53. That was a change from Wellesley, where we still had limited dating, had to be in by midnight in a very much retain-your-virginity community. Then off I went to Paris, where there was a latent sensuality, people embracing in gardens and sitting on the side of the Seine. And of course, the very shocking ideas of Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre advocating what they called a primary relationship outside of marriage while having contingent relations. That is, you were free in your love and sexual relationships. Freedom was the password. [laughs]

YOUNG: [laughs] The French do love their freedom.

YALOM: They do. Liberté, egalité, fraternité!

YOUNG: There's a lot of hope in love.

YALOM: There is, and you also see the intensity of love in the French experience. More than anything, there is a belief that love has its own justification, that it should be experienced as passionately as possible. The French have a wonderful expression, amour passion, which is the ultimate. If you've lived in France long enough, one day someone will tell you about their amour passion, the passionate love of their live, or they will ask you if you've ever had an amour passion.

YOUNG: What happens if you say you haven't?

YALOM: Well, then they...[read on]
Visit Marilyn Yalom's website.

How the French Invented Love is one of Publishers Weekly's top nonfiction books of 2012.

Writers Read: Marilyn Yalom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Joan Didion

Joan Didion's many books includes such nonfiction as The Year of Magical Thinking (2006) and Blue Nights (2011). From her interview by Hilton Als for The Paris Review:


By now you’ve written at least as much nonfiction as you have fiction. How would you describe the difference between writing the one or the other?


Writing fiction is for me a fraught business, an occasion of daily dread for at least the first half of the novel, and sometimes all the way through. The work process is totally different from writing nonfiction. You have to sit down every day and make it up. You have no notes—or sometimes you do, I made extensive notes for A Book of Common Prayer—but the notes give you only the background, not the novel itself. In nonfiction the notes give you the piece. Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.


Do you do a lot of rewriting?


When I’m working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm. Once I get over maybe a hundred pages, I won’t go back to page one, but I might go back to page fifty-five, or twenty, even. But then every once in a while I feel the need to go to page one again and start rewriting. At the end of the day, I...[read on]
The Year of Magical Thinking is one of Mark Whitaker's six favorite memoirs, Douglas Kennedy's top ten books about grief, and Norris Church Mailer's five best memoirs. It is a book that made a difference to Samantha Bee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lesley Hazleton

Lesley Hazleton's new book is The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad.

From a Q & A at her website:

What inspired you to write The First Muslim?

Basically, frustration! I’d read several biographies of Muhammad as background for my previous book, After the Prophet, but though they seemed to tell me a lot about him, they left me with little real sense of the man himself. There was a certain dutiful aspect to them, and this made them kind of… soporific. Which seemed to me a terrible thing to do to such a remarkable life.

There was a terrific story to be told here: the journey from neglected orphan to acclaimed leader—from marginalized outsider to the ultimate insider—made all the more dramatic by the tension between idealism and pragmatism, faith, and politics. I wanted to be able to see Muhammad as a complex, multidimensional human being, instead of the two-dimensional figure created by reverence on the one hand and prejudice on the other. I wanted the vibrancy and vitality of a real life lived.

But of course I was also impelled by a certain dismay at how little most of us in the West know about Muhammad, especially when Islam is so often in the headlines and there are so many competing claims to “the truth about Islam.” This one man radically changed his world—indeed he’s still changing ours—so it seemed to me vitally important that we be able to get beyond stereotypes and see who he really was.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Muhammad?

Let’s take just the two most obvious stereotypes: the lecherous polygamist, and the...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at The Accidental Theologist blog.

The Page 99 Test: After the Prophet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rosie Schaap

Rosie Schaap is the author of Drinking with Men: A Memoir.

From her Q & A with Leah at Drinking Diaries:

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Rosie Schaap: I couldn’t have been more than six. My parents had thrown a party on Christmas Eve, and I was first to rise on Christmas morning. They hadn’t cleaned up after the party, and there were snifters on the table that still had a few sips of Amaretto in them. It smelled like candy, so I drank it. My parents woke up to find me laid out under the Christmas tree, snoring.

How did your family treat drinking?

Perhaps because there was, to my knowledge, no history of alcoholism in our family, there was a relatively unburdened, unworried, and open attitude about drinking. My mother was a very funny, dazzlingly glamorous, abundantly affectionate, and often spectacularly difficult person whose tastes in most things—film, music, art, and drink—reflected her upbringing in 1950s New York. She had more than a touch of Holly Golightly about her (mixed with some Marjorie Morningstar and, alas, a bit of Medea). She loved cocktails popular in her own young womanhood: A Brandy Alexander, a Grasshopper, a Bullshot, a Harvey Wallbanger, a whiskey sour on the sweet side, and frosty beach drinks like pina coladas. She played the role of bon vivant (is there a feminine equivalent for that phrase?) capably, but in truth it took little to give her a good buzz. Two drinks were usually enough for her. She also believed the oft-repeated line that there are no Jewish alcoholics (yes, we were a Jewish family that celebrated Christmas, because mom liked any holiday that involved decorating, presents, and food) which of course we know isn’t true. So I think my enthusiasm for drinking and, more specifically, for bar culture, came as a surprise to her. She got it; she liked bars too, though she seldom was a regular at one. But when she realized that I had, in college, become a bar regular, she...[read on]
Visit Rosie Schaap's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2013

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson is the author of Watching the Dark, the 20th novel to feature Robinson’s popular series sleuth, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, along with Banks’ colleague and former lover, Annie Cabbot.

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

JKP: Unlike some other series, your 20 books about Alan Banks have allowed the character to change and evolve in significant ways over the decades. He’s weathered the end of his marriage, the growth of his children, assorted ill-conceived relationships, and the retirements of several police colleagues. Do you think all of that has made him more human in the eyes of readers? And are you puzzled by writers less willing to let their characters evolve?

PR: I don’t think I would still be writing about Banks if I hadn’t set out quite early on to compose a series about a man who happened to work as a police detective, and about some of the things that happen to him in his work and in his life. I just had no idea it would run to more than 20 books!

I’m not really puzzled by writers who are less willing to let their characters evolve. After all, neither Sherlock Holmes nor Hercule Poirot changed that much. Sometimes a character exists simply to solve crimes in a particularly clever and eccentric way, and that is all that interests us about him or her. I think a lot of readers identify with Banks, and perhaps the things that happen in his private life, including...[read on]
Learn about the fictional character Robinson would most like to have been and the fictional character that most resembles him.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Beth Raymer

From Vivian Chum's interview with Beth Raymer, author of Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling:

To place a bet, you can either lay the favorite or take the underdog. Of all the gambling phrases out there, why did you choose to title your memoir Lay the Favorite?

There’s something ironic about the title. What it’s saying is bet on the team most likely to win and invest yourself in the outcome that seems most certain. Nobody in the book does that. Also, it has a little to do with how erratic I am in my love life. I get very excited about people and then lose that excitement very quickly. I lay the favorite, except there are lots of favorites.

One of the most striking aspects of this memoir is the way it takes readers from one unstable situation to another. Would you say you crave the unknown?

I think that’s why I just fit in with gamblers. I always wanted to do things on a whim and go on adventures; in high school and college, I never had any friends who would do that with me, so I did a lot of things by myself. In the book, I’m very alone doing things until finally I meet this group of people who not only want to live that lifestyle but have the money to do it and have done it their whole lives. I was always trying to find out what I could learn from their lives–how they did it, how they avoided an office job, what the consequences were, and whether it was worth it.

Everything has to be thrilling. Some degree of thrill has to exist somewhere in my life for me to be content. I think I...[read on]
Learn about Beth Raymer's 6 favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin's books include Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which served as the basis of Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln.

From her Q & A with Erik Spanberg for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: How does it feel to have “Team of Rivals” back in the headlines?

It’s been a wild ride.... I finished the book in 2005 and [Steven] Spielberg got the rights to it in 2000. And it just happened luckily to come out during this time of the lame-duck session [of Congress] so that it sends a connection. We never could have imagined [how timely it would be] so many years ago, when both of us took so long to make the book and the movie.

Q: How did your book catch Spielberg’s attention?

Spielberg has always wanted to make a movie about Lincoln. It predated my book or my involvement. It’s been in his heart for a long time. I met [Spielberg], actually, in 1999.... And when he found out that I was doing a book on Lincoln – I was four years into the book at that time – he said...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 11, 2013

Melanie Challenger

Poet Melanie Challenger's nonfiction debut is On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature.

From her Q & A with Bridget Potter at Publishers Weekly:

How did you come to believe that we have become "estranged from nature"?

I had a clamoring love of nature, but when I immersed myself in the natural world, I realized how much of my life and knowledge was derived solely from the manufactured social life of human society. This was the catalyst for the book.

Your inquiry takes you on "peregrinations" to some distant and not so distant locations. How did you choose them?

I'm not what one might call a very "professional" writer. I don't design books in my head in advance, I use writing and literature as an instrument to try to sharpen and deepen my understanding of the world. In the case of Antarctica, I went from a childhood fascination with the blue whale to an interest in whaling, and from there to a study of whaling in Antarctica and the Arctic—but the chance to go to Antarctica came from a meeting in a pub with an oceanographer, who I'd contacted to try and help me understand climate change better! The oceanographer told me abou...[read on]
Learn more about On Extinction at the Counterpoint website.

The Page 99 Test: On Extinction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Eric Jay Dolin

Eric Jay Dolin is the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America, which was chosen as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, and also won the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History; and Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America.

His latest book is When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail.

From Dolin's Q & A with China Business Review:

You say in the book that the China trade hastened the arrival of the American Revolution. How so?

Dolin: What was happening in America prior to 1776 and 1775 was an erosion of the ties between the colonies and the mother country, and I think a significant part of that erosion can be related to things that revolved around the China trade. The Boston tea party was a time when the American colonists dumped 342 chests of Chinese tea into Boston Harbor, which was brought there by the British East India Company. The anger surrounding the tea party was not because the colonists were saying, "This is Chinese tea, we are upset that they're bringing Chinese tea." There was a great level of unrest over the power of Great Britain as the mother country, but also the British East India Company riding roughshod over American interests.

Those American interests were divided. There were Americans who had long served as the middlemen between the British East India Company and American consumers. Right before the tea party, the British East India Company was having a tough time offloading its tea so the British government made the tea a lot cheaper and allowed the British East India Company to sell it directly to Americans, cutting out the middleman. American merchants complained that they were losing money because of this new deal.

Americans didn't like the idea of taxation without representation and this little tea tax of three pence was an annoyance that became a focus for anger because tea was being consumed so widely. That all relates to the China trade because this product was ultimately coming from China.

The China trade played a small part in that because there were Americans before the revolution that talked about going to China but couldn't because of the British East India Company monopoly and other Navigation Act restrictions. There were other currents that led to the ultimate break between American and Great Britain, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

Dolin is the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America and Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jennifer McMahon

Jennifer McMahon's new novel is The One I Left Behind.

From her Q & A with Pam Lambert at Publishers Weekly:

What inspired this novel?

I was looking at a milk carton one morning and—my mind goes funny places sometimes—I’m like, “Wow, wouldn’t it be really creepy if you just found a milk carton and opened it and there was a hand inside?” And then my mind continued to work, and I thought maybe it’s not just one hand, it’s a whole series of hands. I had that one image and then I asked myself all these questions, like, who’s the killer and who are the women the killer is taking, and I had to start writing to find out.

That’s a pretty frightening image.

I have a friend who calls me the queen of the nightmares because I’ve always had really bad nightmares. I keep a notebook by the side of my bed, so I’ll wake up in the night from a bad dream and my heart’s pounding and I’m really scared, but I write it down, and sometimes I get ideas for books that way. Some people say, “Write what you know.” My thing is, “Write...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer McMahon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The One I Left Behind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of Alice I Have Been, Mrs. Tom Thumb, and her latest, The Aviator's Wife, about Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

You’ve focused on some of the most startling and original women in history, including Alice of Alice in Wonderland Fame, and Mrs. Tom Thumb. What drew you to Anne Morrow Lindbergh?

I'm always interested in finding women whom we think we know, but don't, really - or whose stories are lost to history. In Anne's case, it was the former. We know who Anne Lindbergh is - but not really. The name's familiar, some parts of her story are, but the entire scope of her life is really lost to most modern readers. And even her most lasting legacy - her writing, particularly GIFT FROM THE SEA - isn't as well known to readers today. And Anne is one of those elusive figures that attracts writers like me; she's always there, in the background of history, but it's hard to pin her down. She's a name, one that's both familiar and vague. That always attracts me as an author. I always thought she was a heartbreaking figure; I suppose that's what initially attracted me. But I was surprised to discover her hidden strength. And her hidden passion!

What surprised you in the researching of the book, and how do you do your research? Do you have help?

I do my research in a very unscientific way. I look at a life, I read enough about it to give me a good solid foundation. Then I pick and choose the details that will make a compelling novel - knowing that I will be leaving out, or not fully exploring, many of the stories that make up a remarkable life. I allow myself to ask the what ifs. I look at a life, even one that's as documented as Anne's, and I see the hidden corners, the locked closets; I wonder what she didn't tell us. I never take anything on face value; I'm always seeing things that others don't, even in the most mundane, every day objects. That's what drives me as a writer and a storyteller. I have learned...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

My Book, The Movie: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Writers Read: Melanie Benjamin (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sara Gran

Sara Gran's latest novel is Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead.

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

Q: For people who haven't read the book, who's Claire DeWitt?

A: Claire DeWitt is in her mid-30s and from Brooklyn. She's "the world's greatest detective," but no one believes her. We'll find out if it's true as the series goes on.

She's been been through a lot, had a really hard childhood, and a lot of personal losses. She doesn't get a lot of pleasure in her life, but she does get pleasure out of solving crimes.

She's a devotee of a French detective who has an unusual school of detective work based on intuition, omens, and psychology. It is not science-based, more like the alternative medicine of detective work.

Q: She seems pretty messed up as she tries to solve the case of a missing prosecutor. Is that fair to say?

A: She's in one of those phases in her life where she's in between things. She’s not really depressed, she’s not really happy. She doesn’t have a future she's particularly looking forward to, but she's not in her past. She didn't want to go to New Orleans, but goes there to help solve this crime.

She does have this way of solving mysteries that’s....[read on]
Visit Sara Gran's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Vanessa Veselka

Vanessa Veselka is the author of the novel Zazen.

From her Q & A with Melissa Seley at Guernica:

Guernica: When you accepted your PEN debut fiction award, you thanked the translators in the room for allowing you to read some of the books that have most influenced you. What books are those?

Vanessa Veselka: I have seven bookshelves, but only half of one of those shelves is dedicated to American fiction. I like Jonathan Lethem. I have the classics. Henry Miller. Blood Meridian. Boarder Trilogy stuff. Invisible Man. Rat Bohemia.

Guernica: Which country takes up the largest amount of space?

Vanessa Veselka: I used to think it was all Russia, but France is taking up way more space than I thought it did, mostly because I’ve given out all of my Russian novels.

Guernica: Which author on those seven shelves of yours do you most identify with?

Vanessa Veselka: I think about identifying with interests more than personality or styles. Conrad on exploring gothic capitalism. Duras and Jean Rhys on inhabiting raw sensuality. Dostoyevsky on brilliant comic timing and Tolstoy on...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Vanessa Veselka's blog.

My Book, The Movie: Zazen.

The Page 69 Test: Zazen.

Writers Read: Vanessa Veselka.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Jeremy Dean

Jeremy Dean's new book is Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don't, and How to Make Any Change Stick.

From his Q & A with Jasmine Elist for the Jacket Copy blog:

What inspired your book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits"?

It's got to be one of the oldest questions we ask about ourselves: why is it so difficult to change? Say you want to change your diet, start practicing the piano, stop checking your email so much, or do anything else that requires sustaining a behavioral change over time. Why do we feel so strongly that we'll do these things, and yet, when the moment arrives, old habits take over? It's the answer to this question that makes the psychology of habits so interesting.

How do bad habits form?

In just the same way as all the good ones! All our habits form through repeating the same actions in the same situations. Each time we repeat an action (or thought) in the same situation it gets stronger. Over time the unconscious takes over until we perform habits automatically, with little input from our conscious selves. This is part of the reason habits are so hard to change: We do them without thinking.

Why is it so difficult for us to form and consistently repeat healthy habits? And similarly, why is it so difficult for us to break bad habits? (Seriously, why can’t I stop biting my nails?)

Making habits is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 4, 2013

Andy McNab

Andy McNab joined the infantry as a boy soldier. In 1984 he was 'badged' as a member of 22 SAS Regiment and was involved in both covert and overt special operations worldwide. During the Gulf War he commanded Bravo Two Zero, a patrol that, in the words of his commanding officer, 'will remain in regimental history for ever'. Awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Medal (MM) during his military career, McNab was the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he finally left the SAS in February 1993. He wrote about his experiences in three books: the phenomenal bestseller Bravo Two Zero, Immediate Action and Seven Troop.

From his Q & A with at the Independent:

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

Ian Fleming at the moment. Having seen and enjoyed 'Skyfall', I want to start re-reading the early Bond novels.

* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Muhammad Ali. What an amazing life. I had the opportunity to shake his hand once.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Susanna Sonnenberg

Susanna Sonnenberg's new book is She Matters: A Life in Friendships.

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

This is the second memoir you have written -- what drives your impulse toward memoir?

Memoir requires a rugged honesty of the self, which I feel is the only thing I have completely within my power — the truth of the self. Memoir appeals to me because it forces us to think about “truth” — each person has a different one — and about how the use of the self is a creative act.

How did your two experiences writing memoirs vary and in what ways were they similar? Did you find that one was more challenging to write?

"Her Last Death," my first book, was very difficult because in order to render the story of me and my mother with emotional accuracy I had to immerse myself in ancient pain. But it poured out. "She Matters," while not as treacherous in terrain, was trickier because it concerned a greater number of relationships, which demanded a different sort of balancing act for the book as a whole. I don’t think writing one book teaches you how to write others, though; each book is its own mad universe.

What is it about female relationships that intrigues you more than your relationships with the men in your life?

Women just get into it faster, more deliciously and with more...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cathy Marie Buchanan

Cathy Marie Buchanan's new novel is The Painted Girls.

From a Q & A with the author:

Question: Did you always intend The Painted Girls as a tribute to sisterhood?

Cathy Marie Buchanan: I once heard the great Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod comment that he did not so much buy into the old adage “write what you know” as a broader notion of writing about one’s obsessions. I’d take it a step further and suggest that, deliberate or not, a writer’s preoccupations find their way onto the page. When I first put pen to paper, my intention was to set down the story of the model for Degas’s beloved sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. But soon enough her sister was demanding equal time. I think now it was inevitable that my story would hold up a magnifying lens to the mysteries of sisterhood—the rivalry, the love. With three sisters of my own—each deeply loved by me despite alarming teenage rows—I have often found my mind lingering, wondering, stuck. What is it that provokes rivalry among sisters? And why is it so many of us the world over find solace in the strong arms of the sisters we love, that we so readily open our own? It was quite unintentional—though no accident—that I found myself pondering these questions as I imagined the story of Marie and Antoinette.

Q: Were you a dancer?

CMB: I studied classical ballet quite seriously throughout high school and during the early years of university, and danced with a small regional company for a number of years. I am a Licentiate of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and taught young dancers in order to pay for my own ballet lessons.

One of the great pleasures of researching The Painted Girls was attending a class of fourteen-year-old girls at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. Though thirty years and a continent away from my own days at the barre, I was...[read on]
Visit Cathy Marie Buchanan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gary Shteyngart

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

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

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing begins.

I’ll read something by a better writer, and I’ll be, like, “Hmm, what if I made this, you know, more Russian?”

Do you have any unusual rituals when you write?

I write in bed while blasting Crystal Castles into my eardrums. Sad.

You have been described as a “hot ticket” for New York dinner parties. What makes for a great dinner party? Any memorable stories from the Republic of Dinnerpartyville?

I’m more of a Gentleman Farmer these days. But when I drank, boy did I drink. The Carabinieri had to remove me from a rooftop party in Rome once. No, twice.

Readers often wonder how much of a “clique” the New York writers’ world is. Within any given genre, are writers all hanging out together, saying brilliant things over elaborate coffees?

Back in the days when...[read on]
Avi Steinberg, a former prison librarian, thought Lindsay Lohan should read Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story in jail.

Read about Shteyngart's heroine from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue