Friday, May 31, 2013

Henriette Lazaridis Power

Henriette Lazaridis Power is a first-generation Greek-American who has degrees in English literature from Middlebury College; Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar; and the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Harvard for ten years, serving as an academic dean for four of those. She is the founding editor of The Drum, a literary magazine publishing exclusively in audio form. A competitive rower, Power trains regularly on the Charles River in Boston.

Her new novel is The Clover House.

From Power's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

It took you eight years to write this novel. What was that process like? Was there anything you'd do differently in writing your next novel?

It actually took me both much less and much more time than eight years to write this novel. Let me explain that. When I first contemplated quitting teaching to take up my pre-academia dream of being a writer, I went to the stories I knew best: stories of my parents’ childhood and youth during the Second World War in Greece. I wrote a mediocre novel that had something to do with that (and that will remain in its desk drawer), but when I finally did quit teaching, I began working on another project that had no connection to that earlier narrative. Whenever I took a break from that manuscript, I would tinker with some story or other from World War II, one of which was published in the New England Review. At one point, I set the other book aside, thinking it was done, and I returned to the World War II story. I came up with the character of Calliope Notaris Brown, a 35-year-old Greek-American woman who is wrestling with the legacy of her mother’s life during the war--a legacy she can feel in her mother’s coldness and sorrow, but that she can’t quite understand. Once I had that, I wrote a good draft of the novel in a matter of months. I wrote much of it during the winter, with the curtains to my study closed so that I couldn’t see the passage of time. It was exhilarating, and I treasure my memory of that experience. I hope I’ll be able to capture that feeling again.

At the moment, I’ve returned to that older manuscript once more for a final revision. But for the book after that, which I’ve begun notes for, I want to be better prepared. With The Clover House, I had at least a chronological structure to the narrative, provided by the timeline of Carnival celebrations in Patras, Greece. In the past, I’ve...[read on]
Visit Henriette Lazaridis Power's website and blog.

Writers Read: Henriette Lazaridis Power.

The Page 69 Test: The Clover House.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Henriette Lazaridis Power & Finn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lauren Roedy Vaughn

Lauren Roedy Vaughn is an award-winning educator who has spent twenty years teaching English to high school students with language-based learning disabilities. Vaughn lives with her husband in Los Angeles, where she is an avid yogini and Big Lebowski nut.

Her new, debut novel is OCD, The Dude, and Me. From Vaughn's Q & A with Briana at Pages Unbound:

How has teaching high school English influenced your approach to writing a young adult novel?

For better or for worse, I’ve never left school. Once I was finished being a student, I became a teacher, so the world of school is part of my external and internal life, and it inspires my writing life. When I was a student, I was one of those weird people that loved to write essays; I loved the challenge of it and the process of writing multiple drafts until it felt complete. No surprise I became an English teacher. For twenty years, I’ve taught students who struggle in school. I love this diverse student population. They are original, brave, and misunderstood. Their needs are often subtle but significant because their emotional lives are involved. Young people spend the bulk of their time in school, so when they have school issues, that can damage their entire sense of self. (Imagine something you aren’t good at. Now imagine your whole life centered around that daunting activity. Alas. You’d need large doses of tenacity and courage to keep going.) When students are dealing with learning disabilities, they do not wear their struggles on the outside—they are not obviously “disabled.” Lots and lots of students have learning issues, many not identified, and they benefit from individual attention to get the most out of school. I think every student could benefit from more individualized care while in school, but that is a long and different conversation. Many learning disabled students possess extraordinary creativity and other gifts that need nurturing. Throughout my career, I saw how the simple act of caring about students, paying attention to them, made a difference. I am interested in my students, in all their quirks and all their struggles; that interest shows up in my writing. Teaching English also taught me to be patient with the writing process, as it applied to my students and to me. Not everyone enjoys writing; many of my students became very anxious each time a paper was assigned. I learned to be very respectful of the difficult but beautiful act of writing. Anyone who writes (from a student to a novelist) is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lauren Roedy Vaughn's website.

Writers Read: Lauren Roedy Vaughn.

The Page 69 Test: OCD, The Dude, and Me.

My Book, The Movie: OCD, the Dude, and Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Julie Sarkissian

Julie Sarkissian is a graduate of Princeton University, where she won the Francis Leon Paige Award for creative writing, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her new novel is Dear Lucy.

From her Q & A with Jaime Boler at Bookmagnet's Blog:

JB: Please describe Dear Lucy in ten words or less.

JS: Disabled girl, pregnant teenager and talking chicken vs. the world.

JB: What inspired you to write Dear Lucy? Which character’s voice came to you first? And in what way?

JS: The inspiration for Dear Lucy was Lucy’s voice, narrating her gathering of the eggs. Her voice was so strong I just felt compelled to follow it, wherever it lead me. Her voice was the initial inspiration and the guiding force for the whole project.

JB: Lucy is truly an unforgettable and beautifully quirky character. How did her creation come about?

JS: Thank you so much! She presented herself to me as....[read on]
Visit Julie Sarkissian's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dear Lucy.

Writers Read: Julie Sarkissian.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Virginia Morell

Virginia Morell's latest book is Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.

From her Q & A with Amy Sommer for Westside Today:

WT: The description of your book says that “dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs”. Really? How? Also, is there a Michael Buffer-esque creature who serves as the ringmaster?

VM: In the wild, male bottle-nose dolphins form all-male partnerships and alliances—kind of like boys’ clubs or all-male street gangs. The simplest dolphin alliance is made up of two or three buddies. They work together to make friends with other male alliances. Why do male dolphins need buddies and alliances? It’s not to go fishing; dolphins typically hunt by themselves. They need a pal in order to capture female dolphins. Male and female bottle-nose dolphins are about the same size, and a single male can’t control a female by himself. So he gets a partner, and when they find a fertile female, they use their bodies to fence her in, and make warning calls and clicks to her, telling her to stay put. Of course, other males want her, too. They may attack a partnership that looks weak. That’s why the males also need allies. They can call in the troops if they’re under attack. In western Australia, the dolphin researcher I visited told me he’d seen more than twenty male dolphins battling over a single female (poor thing). And, no, there’s no referee. They fight until one group gives up and swims away, leaving the other with the prized lady.

WT: Why is the knowledge that rats like to be tickled of value to humanity?

VM: Knowing that rats laugh and like to be tickled tells us that having fun and expressing joy are very ancient biological traits—they didn’t appear just with us. Playing is at the heart of growing up, whether you’re a reptile, fish, bird, or mammal. Researchers who study how animals play think that it...[read on]
Learn more about Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Virginia Morell and Buckaroo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 27, 2013

George Saunders

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

From his Q & A with Killian Fox for the Guardian:

I was intrigued to learn that you were once a fan of Ayn Rand. For a writer so alert to how capitalism can grind people down, that's unexpected.

It's kind of a sweet story. I was in high school in Chicago, not really doing any work. Neither of my parents had been to college so to me it wasn't a big thing. Then two teachers started taking an interest in me and giving me books, and one was Atlas Shrugged. I hadn't read a novel since third grade, and if you're a crummy reader sometimes bad art can do magical things. She appeals to a certain kind of adolescent male, I think, and she definitely got me.

So I went to college and read all the rest of the books and she was sort of my patron saint. Then you get an uncomfortable moment where you realise there's this little bag you're holding that's filling up with phenomena that don't really fit the model. And that bag got heavier and heavier. My family ran into some financial problems. And I thought, she would not understand what we're going through. She'd equate it with some kind of moral weakness on our part. And then after college I went to Asia and saw some things there that made the bag really heavy, and at some point I just said, "I don't get her any more, I'll set her down." Only years later I was like, "Oh my God, she's very dangerous." But I like that. I like the idea that someone can change. You could be a rabid right-winger one moment and then…

… you're forced to completely reassess your views. And I imagine you'd learn a lot in the process.

Exactly, because you've embraced the opposite view totally non-ironically so you can understand it. Even now, I look at...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Darden Asbury Pyron

Darden Asbury Pyron is a history professor at Florida International University in Miami and author of a 2000 biography titled Liberace: An American Boy.

Spurred by the release of Behind the Candelabra, a new film about Liberace by director Steven Sodenbergh, Randy Dotinga of the Christian Science Monitor interviewed the biographer. Part of the Q & A:

Q: I'm sure some people think of Liberace as a joke today. Why do you take him seriously as a performer?

A: All of his contemporaries did. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, all of these guys admired him enormously.

He is the absolute consummate performer, the definite article. He's extremely intelligent, and besides being intelligence, he has a sixth sense about what appeals to people, how far to push things.

He calculated that if people couldn't get things, he'd get them and he'd fulfill them, give them this sense of being in a different world, of getting a brief chance at being rich.

When I was working on the book, I was at my local bank in Miami and talked to a woman about what I was working on. Liberace had been dead for years, but she looked at me with this faraway look and said, "Oh, I always wanted to have a candelabra."

Q: What did he think about his style of performance?

A: He himself talks about how people see art, not just in his performance but art in general, as a way of transcending their own limitations. Art is about introducing you to another kind of world.

Nothing was realistic about him, nothing. He didn't believe in realism or naturalism. His sense about performance was something entirely different. I've never talked to anybody who saw him perform – straight, gay, men, women – who didn't come away just delighted.

Q: Wasn't he corny, though?

A: Someone said that he does the same act all the time and tells the same jokes. When was he going to do new material? His response:...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 25, 2013

George Packer

George Packer's new book is The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

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

Alex Star: You’ve titled your book The Unwinding. What do you mean by that?

George Packer: It’s a word that a character in the book, Dean Price, once used. He was talking about the way that the economy in his part of the country — rural North Carolina, where tobacco and textiles used to be king — might revert to pre-industrial characteristics, with lots of small, local producers of food and energy taking the place of Bojangles’ restaurants and long-haul trucking.

As soon as he said it, the word resonated with me. But what I imagined wasn’t Dean’s future. I saw the present — a country where so many once-solid things were collapsing. Banks, governments, news organizations, small towns, main streets, shops, factories. You see it visibly all over the country, especially when you leave the prosperous coasts. And you find it across America in the unraveling of the fabric that connects people to one another. In short, “the unwinding” refers to the end of a deal Americans used to have with one another — a social contract.

Alex Star: Of course, there are many possible ways to write the end of that deal. Why did you choose to cover the dismantling of the social contract as you did – via biographies of figures known and unknown?

George Packer: I wanted to write a historical narrative about this unwinding — but not big history, conventional history, going from one major event and issue to the next. Instead, I wanted to convey what it has been like to be an American and live in this country during the years of my adulthood, the years since the late 1970s. I wanted to get at it from the inside out. And since the most powerful stories are often found....[read on]
Writers Read: George Packer (July 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dror Mishani

D. A. Mishani is an Israeli crime writer, editor and literary scholar, specializing in the history of detective fiction.

The Missing File is his first novel and the first in a series featuring the police inspector Avraham Avraham.

From his Q & A with Ayelett Shani in Haaretz:

Why do you think crime novels don’t do so well here [in Israel]?

Mishani: What I know for certain is that attempts to write or translate detective novels always ran into powerful resistance here.

Because they are considered an inferior genre?

Because Hebrew literature was founded as part of the national project, and was always committed to themes of the national present, the national past, the national identity and the future. A detective does not deeply occupy himself with questions of national identity. That is why Hebrew literature has always rejected this genre.

There was a moment in the 1930s [in prestate Israel] when an attempt was made to start translating Sherlock Holmes stories, and a few original detective novels were also written. The project generated fierce opposition on the part of critics and members of the literary establishment. They branded it a disaster. The few who backed the project did so on national grounds, as a way to teach the young generation Hebrew. Youngsters will find it difficult to learn Hebrew from [Uri Nissan] Gnessin or [Yosef Haim] Brenner, because they are hard to read, so they will learn Hebrew from detective novels. Sherlock Holmes was translated into Hebrew as children’s and juvenile literature. That is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

Those books are violent, blood-drenched. I have them at home, in the Marganit edition.

Arthur Conan Doyle was absolutely not a children’s writer. That is unbelievable. And there are other reasons, of course. In Israeli culture it is very difficult to imagine the policeman as a hero. The soldier is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at D. A. Mishani's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Missing File.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing File.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sara Wheeler

Sara Wheeler is the author of six books of biography and travel, including Travels in a Thin Country: A Journey Through Chile, Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, and The Magnetic North.

From her Q & A at the Independent:

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

Willa Cather. She makes the black earth of a vanished Nebraska live again and the very best of her novels slip the shackles of their period and enter the immortal zone.

* * *

Who is your hero/ heroine from outside literature?

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer a lot. More dignity than I could muster in a thousand lifetimes, and his inspirational ideas live on.
Read the complete Q & A.

Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler is one of Sarah Anderson's top ten books about wilderness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck is the author of the novels Hemingway’s Girl and the newly released Call Me Zelda.

From Robuck's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Why Zelda? And why now? What do you think she has to say to modern readers?

Hemingway actually led me to Zelda. While I researched HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, I read over and over again how much Hemingway disliked Zelda. Knowing that Hemingway didn’t always have the healthiest views of women, I wanted to learn more about her on my own. I found her life and struggles fascinating and relevant today, particularly to women looking for balance in their business, creative, and domestic lives. I’m also sympathetic to Zelda’s difficulties, and want to show the particular pain of mental illness, demonstrate how it affects families, and explore opportunities for healing.

What was the research like? Did anything surprise you?

So much in the research surprised me. I was shocked to learn that F. Scott Fitzgerald hid Zelda’s diaries because he wanted their life to be “his material,” and that he used some of her writings (even personal letters) in his fiction. I was shocked how devoted Scott and Zelda were to each other in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. I was surprised what an accomplished artist Zelda was, and how many notable triumphs she had in her life after Scott’s death.

How do you want readers to see Zelda?

I want readers to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Erika Robuck's website and blog.

My Book, the Movie: Hemingway’s Girl.

Writers Read: Erika Robuck.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, which sold to six countries, went into five printings, and was a San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick, a Costco "Pennie's Pick" and a NAIBA bestseller. Pictures of You is also a USA Today ebook bestseller and is on the Best Books of 2011 List from the San Francisco Chronicle, Providence Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Bookmarks Magazine. It's also one of Kirkus Reviews Top 5 books of 2011 about the Family and love.

The recently released Is This Tomorrow is Leavitt's tenth and latest novel.

From her Q & A at Zola Books:

What was your research like for [Is This Tomorrow]? Did you study cold cases of missing children?

I was very quickly overwhelmed by the research. It took me four days just to try to track down what cops in the 1950s used instead of yellow crime tape. (Answer: wood horses and rope!) I hired two exceptional high school students as assistants, and a professional researcher, too. But my favorite thing was to get on Facebook and Twitter and ask for real life stories and real people. I found a guy who was one of the first male nurses in the sixties, and he told me how doctors always smoked and how patients were encouraged to smoke in their rooms because it “would relax them.” I found a master pie baker who told me that if you put your hands in the freezer for a while, you can make a great crust. Cold hands are what you want!

Because my character Ava becomes a pie baker, I did a lot of research around food in the fifties. I found a lot of vintage cookbooks and most of them always had items called “Meals Men Like!” Men could grill meat or toss the salad, but that was it. Lots of the food was sort of disgusting, like overnight salad, where you douse iceberg lettuce with a cup of oil and a cup of mayonnaise overnight and then serve it the next day. And I can’t forget the meat loaf train, which had carrot wheels, and split-in-half peas for the heads of the passengers.

I also learned a lot about Communist paranoia. You couldn’t serve Russian dressing because it’s subversive. Pamphlets told you you could simply wipe the radiation off your feet before you came into a house! Kids believed they could “duck and cover” under their desks and no bomb could hurt them.

And, of course, the role of...[read on]
Visit Caroline Leavitt's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Pictures of You.

My Book, the Movie: Pictures of You.

Writers Read: Caroline Leavitt (January 2011).

Writers Read: Caroline Leavitt.

The Page 69 Test: Is This Tomorrow.

My Book, The Movie: Is This Tomorrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gigi Amateau

Gigi Amateau is the author of A Certain Strain of Peculiar, Chancey of the Maury River, Claiming Georgia Tate, and 2012's Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel.

From her Q & A with A. B. Westrick:

A. B. Westrick: Come August, Come Freedom is the story of Gabriel, the enslaved blacksmith who organized a massive but ultimately unsuccessful rebellion in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. What I found intriguing was the way you chose to enter into Gabriel’s story. The first line is, “Ma believed,” and the chapter unfolds to show Ma nursing him when he was six months old. Why did you choose to begin the book with Ma?

Gigi Amateau: As I read and studied about the institution of slavery during Gabriel’s lifetime, I learned (in a way that I hadn’t really integrated into my thinking about slavery before writing Come August, Come Freedom) that the crucible of slavery was the childbearing role of enslaved women. The laws governing a person’s status as free or enslaved were grounded in the concept of maternal descent—the mother’s status (not the father’s) determined a child’s status. So, the impulsion of the plot is maternal descent. Also, I wanted to create the character of Gabriel as a person who was not the first freedom fighter in his community or in his family, but one who was born into a tradition of resisting oppression and fighting for freedom. So, I surrounded him early on in the novel with men and women imagining freedom and rebelling against slavery.

ABW: The opening chapter establishes a strong sense of place—a footpath, the creek beyond the fields, an apple seedling. While it grounds Gabriel and his story, literally and figuratively, it also sets a tranquil tone for a story that’s anything but tranquil. Again, can you talk about choosing to begin the story in this place rather than in, say, a blacksmith’s shop or marketplace, or some other place that Gabriel would have frequented? You might even have chosen to begin it with the scenes that became chapter two—glimpses of slaves treated harshly and slaves dashing for freedom—but instead you chose this tranquil tone. Can you say more about that?

GA: First of all, thank you. Writing a convincing sense of place both in the countryside and in the city was important to me, as was conveying a feeling of tranquility and beauty at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. To me, it’s valid that Gabriel would have experienced...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Gigi Amateau's website.

Read--Coffee with a canine: Gigi Amateau & Biscuit and Cola.

Writers Read: Gigi Amateau.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis's debut novel is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. From Mathis's Q & A with Jonathan Lee for Guernica:
Guernica: I don’t think it’s a secret that you’re gay, but I haven’t seen you labelled as a gay writer. Why is that, I wonder? People might say it’s because your novel is about race, and therefore the fact you’re a writer of color comes up. But actually it’s a book about sexuality, too. You paint a great portrait of Floyd, a character, creative in temperament, who is struggling in some ways with his sexuality.

Ayana Mathis: It’s difficult. I’m wary of being put in boxes. But at the same time, it’s important that I embrace my identity as a writer who happens to be gay, and in my own way I do that. In America, and no doubt elsewhere, we have such a tendency toward the segregation of cultural products. This is a black book, this is a gay book, this is an Asian book. It can be counterproductive both to the literary enterprise and to people’s reading, because it can set up barriers. Readers may think, “Oh, I’m a straight man from Atlanta and I’m white, so I won’t enjoy that book because it’s by a gay black woman in Brooklyn.” They’re encouraged to think that, in a way, because of the categorization in the media.

As for Floyd, he’s certainly a very important character in the book. I couldn’t imagine a book with this many characters in it and one of them not being gay. It would have felt like a glaring and problematic omission for me. But I also wanted to write him as a person, not just a gay person. I found his chapter one of the most difficult to write because I seemed to be tempted to write some kind of coming out story. Many people have done that far better than I ever could, and I found I was relying on reductive tropes—what I was producing was boring, predictable. I had to think about the fact that first and foremost Floyd was a guy, a guy away from home for the first time. I had to resist the temptation to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dan Brown

Dan Brown's new novel is Inferno.

From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter for the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

This is your darkest book to date. It deals with some very grim themes, like the imminent collapse of the human species.

You can’t write about Dante without writing about darkness. Inferno is the most fascinating of the three canticles. As a thriller writer, it was the one I was immediately drawn to. I’ve written about fine arts but never about literary arts, so Dante called to me as something new, but it’s also safe solid ground for Langdon. It’s such a masterpiece. It’s like the Mona Lisa of the literary world.

You and your publisher have gone to great lengths to make sure the plot remained secret until publication day. How did you research the locations in Florence, like the Palazzo Vecchio and the Baptistery of San Giovanni, without giving away what you were working on?

It’s a double edge sword. On the good side, I now have access to people and locations that I have never had in the past. On the challenging side, if I’m trying to keep things secret, it’s impossible to talk to these specialists without them saying, “Oh my God, you wouldn’t believe who was here today and what he was asking.” So these trips usually take longer than they should, because out of ten things I see, five of them have nothing to do with the book. Five questions I ask have nothing to do with the book. I’m constantly trying to keep people guessing as to what I’m doing and I will spend enormous amounts of time looking at manuscripts and asking questions and people will say, I know...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tricia Fields

Tricia Fields lives in a log cabin on a small farm with her husband and two daughters. She was born in Hawaii but has spent most of her life in small town Indiana, where her husband is an investigator with the state police. A lifelong love of Mexico and the desert southwest lead to her first book, The Territory, which won the Tony Hillerman Award for Best Mystery. Scratchgravel Road, the follow-up to The Territory, was released last month. Fields is currently working on the fourth book in the series, Fire Break, featuring border town Chief of Police, Josie Gray.

From the author's Q & A with J. Sydney Jones:

How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you?

I’m very conscious of writing about the region, the desert and my fictional city of Artemis [located near the Big Bend National Park in West Texas]. Each of these influences the behavior and actions of the characters in the books as I have developed them. Dust storms and mud slides, drought and hundred year floods, heat and isolation, these extremes come together inside Josie and define her in ways that she can’t describe, but that she feels at her core. She’ll never leave Artemis. She belongs in the desert.

Of the novels you have written set in this location, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place? Could you quote a short passage or give an example of how the location figures in your novels?

The first book in the series, The Territory, sets up the premise for all books to come. Following is a paragraph from that book that explains the title, and lets readers know the specific area that the series covers.

“Josie knew prosecuting crimes over international borders was mired in paperwork, frustration, and pools of money her own department didn’t have. Over the past year, as the border violence increased, the trust among the two cities’ law enforcement agencies had deteriorated. Both countries found the other’s legal system lacking. Mexico blamed the American lust for drugs and lack of gun laws, and the U.S. blamed...[read on]
Visit Tricia Fields's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Territory.

Writers Read: Tricia Fields (November 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Scratchgravel Road.

Writers Read: Tricia Fields.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2013

J. Sydney Jones

J. Sydney Jones's 2009 novel The Empty Mirror introduced Karl Werthen, a well-off Viennese lawyer and aspiring author who, with real-life criminologist Doktor Hanns Gross, sought to prove that the painter Gustav Klimt was innocent in a series of gruesome local slayings. In the fourth and latest novel in the series, The Keeper of Hands, Werthen, Gross and Werthen’s resourceful spouse, Berthe Meisner, are mixed up in the seemingly disparate cases of a murdered teenage prostitute and an assaulted playwright.

From Jones's Q &A with J. Kingston Pierce for Kirkus Reviews:

I’m intrigued by your use of Hanns Gross, the so-called father of criminology, as a sidekick of sorts for Werthen. Have any of Gross’ descendents contacted you with comments or complaints about your use of their famous ancestor?

No descendants, but at readings there are usually one or two professional forensics folks who have come because of an interest in Gross. I really do enjoy writing Gross—his powers of deduction are quite phenomenal, but he is such a jerk. Quite oblivious to the feelings of others. He often serves as a comic foil, but his sad relationship with his son, Otto, is a recurring leitmotif of the books, as well. I am most anxious for the future installment when Gross has a post in Prague and teaches, among others, the young [Franz] Kafka. That will be a fun adventure.

The plots of your Viennese Mysteries start with a cultural luminary or two from the city’s past, be it Wittgenstein, Mahler or Vienna’s anti-Semitic mayor, Karl Lueger. The Keeper of Hands ropes authors Arthur Schnitzler and Bertha von Suttner into its story. Why were those two of particular interest to you?

I was not very kind to Schnitzler in this novel, I fear, focusing more on his womanizing than his art. But I am a great fan of his writing, especially the novel Das Weite Land (translated as The Undiscovered Country). I remember watching a BBC adaptation of his Anatol plays just before departing for Vienna as a student, and they obviously informed—at the very least—my expectations of the city. Schnitzler was at the center of the literary Vienna of the time, and...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at J. Sydney Jones' website and blog.

Read "The Story Behind the Story: The Silence,” at The Rap Sheet.

The Page 69 Test: The Empty Mirror.

The Page 69 Test: Requiem in Vienna.

The Page 69 Test: The Silence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Glenn Frankel

Glenn Frankel is director of the School of Journalism and G.B. Dealey Regents Professor in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

His new book is The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend.

From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What first intrigued you about The Searchers, and why did you decide it would make a good subject for a book?

A: I was always intrigued by The Searchers since I was a boy and I saw it for the first time on the big screen. It was a very unsettling, exciting, challenging film. I saw a lot of Westerns as a kid, and it was the only one that stuck with me. In college, Andrew Sarris taught it at Columbia—he held it up as an example of great filmmaking. I always thought that it was a great American story. When I came back to the U.S. in 2006, I was looking for an American book. I came back to The Searchers. I thought I would undertake a “making of the movie” book. I knew there was something called the “captivity narrative.” I had no idea that The Searchers was loosely based on a true story. It opened up an entire area of research work.

Q: What surprised you most in the course of your research?

A: A couple of things. One was that it turns out to be easier to research Cynthia Ann Parker and Quanah Parker in 19th century Texas than to research John Ford in Hollywood. That was because John Ford didn’t leave much in the way of writing, or explanation of his work. I was putting together pieces of the puzzle. And Texans are so in love with their history that there are so many places [to do research]. It was surprising and interesting. Another thing—you can see all these places. Monument Valley—you can see where Ford filmed. In Texas, you can see…Palo Duro Canyon. In Oklahoma, you can see Quanah Parker’s Star House. As a journalist/historian—I’m not sure which I am at this point—it’s important for me to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Glenn Frankel's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Searchers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Carter Malkasian

Carter Malkasian spent nearly two years in the Afghan district of Garmser, in war torn Helmand province as a political officer for the US Department of State. For the last decade, he has studied war, and written about it, and worked in war zones, including long stints in Iraq's Al Anbar province. The author of Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare (named by Foreign Affairs as one of the ten books to read on counterinsurgency) and A History of Modern Wars of Attrition, he has also served as the director of the stability and development program at the Center for Naval Analyses. He has a Ph.D. in history from Oxford University. His new book is War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier.

From his Q & A with John Kael Weston for The Daily Beast:

What’s your inspiration for [War Comes to Garmser]?

I spent 18 months, in two separate deployments, in Al Anbar, Iraq. When I got back, I always meant to write a book but never found the time. I wrote several short articles and a few research studies but nothing more. It is one of my biggest regrets. The memories faded. The details went grey. When I got home from Afghanistan, I was determined to take the time to write something.

The book follows in the footsteps of Jeffrey Race's War Comes to Long An. Fluent in Vietnamese, Race told the story of a single province in Vietnam over a twenty-year period. His work offered a window into the ground truth of the Vietnam War. War Comes to Long An has a bright red cover, printed by the University of California Press. If that doesn’t scream radicalism, I don’t know what does. That book—tattered and worn—has found its way into my backpack in far off places for the past six years. I hope that War Comes to Garmser can also give the broad view of a small place, and maybe offer similar kinds of insights.

Why did you spend two years in Garmser, and how does this little district fit into the larger strategic picture?

War Comes to Garmser tells the story of the district of Garmser from the 1960s to 2012. Garmser has about 150,000 people, mostly living along the Helmand River in a fertile strip no more than 10 kilometers wide and 7 kilometers long. It is tribal, Islamic, and hot—Garmser means "hot place" in Persian. Pakistan is just a five-hour drive across open desert. For over thirty years, Garmser has been part of larger conflicts that have engulfed Afghanistan as a whole: first, the jihad and the ensuing civil war, then the Taliban, and finally the British and American intervention.

Garmser is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reed Farrel Coleman

Reed Farrel Coleman's new Moe Prager novel is Onion Street.

From his Q & A with Thomas Pluck at The Big Thrill:

Hi, Reed. For readers who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Moe Prager, give us the lowdown on him, and what he’s up against in ONION STREET.

Moe is both what you’d expect from a hard-boiled ex-cop turned PI and nothing you would expect from one. He’s a deep thinker and has a longstanding struggle with the subjects of God and religion. He has aged through the course of the series and undergone all sorts of growth, change, and tragedy. I thought it was a good time to tell the story of how he went from being an aimless college student in the late ‘60s to a cop. And that’s where we find Moe in ONION STREET. Unlike in the earlier books, this is Moe with no law enforcement experience. We watch him come to grips with the harsh realities of crime.

With the Moe Prager novels, you dive into the past with great realism. When I read THE JAMES DEANS I thought you’d written it in the early ’80s. It really sparked my nostalgia for dirty old Times Square. For ONION STREET you go deeper into Moe’s past, into the turbulent late ’60s. What draws you back, do you see us making the same mistakes, or is it just a richer canvas?

I grew up in the ‘60s, but I wasn’t yet a man. Oddly, in recounting it, I was shocked to recall just how many earth shattering events happened in such rapid succession. In the first six months of 1968 alone there was the Tet Offensive, the Pueblo incident, Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. However, what people forget or people who didn’t live through it tend not to realize is that...[read on]
Visit Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

My Book, the Movie: The Moe Prager Mystery Series.

The Page 69 Test: Innocent Monster.

Writers Read: Reed Farrel Coleman (October 2010).

The Page 69 Test: Hurt Machine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Joanna Hershon

Joanna Hershon is the author of Swimming, The Outside of August, and The German Bride. Her writing has appeared in One Story, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Post Road, the literary anthology Brooklyn Was Mine, and was shortlisted for the 2007 O. Henry Prize Stories.

Her new novel is A Dual Inheritance.

From Hershon's Q & A at Details:

Details: What inspired this story?

Joanna Hershon: The initial seed came from my father's best friend from Harvard, a freshman roommate. They remain really close. I grew up with him as kind of an uncle figure—he has amazing charisma and an incredible life story. Their friendship has always fascinated me, but I didn't set out to write a book about them—and that's definitely not what the book is about— I just started thinking about that time in life and that era.

Details: Your male characters are very convincing. Why do you think you write so well from a male perspective?

Joanna Hershon: I feel like I have these connections aesthetically with men. The character of Ed…was like some part of myself. He's so, so not me, yet I'm able to kind of access this guy. He's completely unabashed in his desires and that's really fun as a writer: someone who's completely himself and not trying to be anyone else.

Details: Was it important for you to write a book with a wider reach both thematically and geographically than anything you'd written before?

Joanna Hershon: I don't think I was saying, "Okay I want to write a novel about the larger world," but [after] following these stories, that's just what happened. What's interesting about...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Joanna Hershon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The German Bride.

My Book, The Movie: The German Bride.

Writers Read: Joanna Hershon.

The Page 69 Test: A Dual Inheritance.

My Book, The Movie: A Dual Inheritance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Julie Klausner

Julie Klausner's new book--her first for young adults--is Art Girls Are Easy.

From her Q & A with Claire Zulkey for WBEZ:

How hard or easy was it to switch gears into YA writing? What challenges did it pose?

It's completely tough to write a book, period. But switching gears into fiction was absolutely challenging, if only because I had to make sure I wasn't using my own voice the whole time when I was writing—whether it was in the description or in the dialogue. I don't have a lot of experience writing fiction. Part of that is because I have such a loud nonfiction voice. I am who I am. Another element of the challenge of having to sit down and make sh*t up is imagination. As I grow older, I become more and more fearful that I have little to no imagination. The kind of abilities I had as a little kid to just play and make things up as you went along. So, I had to get past that fear to crack the story, and then to write in the voices of the kids I invented. But as far as it being a challenge from a YA perspective, I honestly have to say that I just tried to be true to the material, and I didn't think of the audience as being below or necessarily less sophisticated than somebody I would usually write for. I didn't dumb down my prose—or, I tried not to.

You don't have to give us details (but feel free to), but how much of the book was inspired by your own young adulthood?

I absolutely relate to the main character in the book. I was a very emotionally intense adolescent, very interior. I was eaten alive by my own passions, which were equal parts artistic drive and sexual madness. That's where I drew the inspiration for Indigo's tumult. Her conflict is more internal than it is a concrete struggle with her best friend. She does have some love affair gone sour stuff with her best friend Lucy, but the main plot exists within Indigo, I think. As far as the setting, I did go to a Fine and Performing Arts sleepaway camp, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 10, 2013

Charles McCarry

Charles McCarry's new novel is The Shanghai Factor.

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

Speakeasy: How did you decide on the plot for this novel?

Charles McCarry: The idea of a dangle—an asset that you dangle in front of the enemy in the hope that he will bite thinking he is doubling somebody when in fact he is being doubled— has been wandering around in my brain for while. A dangle is a bait, but it’s a poisoned bait. You’ve got the enemy in a frame of mind where he believes the agent you are offering to him will work for him, and report on the intelligence service to which he belongs.

The Chinese company at the heart of the novel, which is never identified by name, appears to have unlimited sources of cash and a willingness to do anything to achieve its goals. How realistic a view of Chinese corporate culture is this?

Well, from what I’ve heard it is quite realistic. The subtext is that the Chinese is company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of their intelligence service. That’s the explanation for its dark side. On the surface it operates like a traditional company while running intelligence operations and making money for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Douglas Brunt

Until 2011, Douglas Brunt was CEO of Authentium, Inc., an Internet security company. He now writes full time and is currently working on his second novel. A Philadelphia native, he lives in New York with his wife Megyn Kelly and their two children.

From a Q & A with the author about his debut novel, Ghosts of Manhattan:

Q: This is your debut novel. Can you describe this experience? What was the most challenging part of the process? The most rewarding?

DB: I had an idea for the big picture of the novel from the beginning. Writing the first draft was a pleasure, and as I mentioned, became a way to relax. The hard stages were the many iterations of edits and refinements when I hadn’t yet made writing a career and didn’t have a clear path to anyone other than family ever reading it. The most rewarding part was seeing how much better the novel became after those many iterations.

Q: Ghosts of Manhattan centers around the now-defunct Bear Stearns. What kind of research did you do before writing Ghosts of Manhattan? Why did you choose to base Nick’s story in the year 2005?

DB: I read a number of books about the financial crisis, including Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin and The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, to name two. I worked as a money markets broker for two years in my first job out of college. I also have many friends and acquaintances who work in sales and trading in New York. Many of my friends sat with me to help create a credible backdrop for the novel.

I picked 2005 because the ensuing financial crisis allowed me to address the themes of greed and hypocrisy that I was so interested in. It also let me examine...[read on]
Visit Douglas Brunt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid's latest novel is See Now Then.

From her 2012 Q & A with Liesl Schwabe for Publishers Weekly:

In the book, the phrase See Now Then repeats, both gaining and shifting meaning as it does. How much of that reprise comes through revision?

I write a lot in my head. The revision goes on internally. It’s not spontaneous and it doesn’t have a schedule. You know how some people write every day at a certain point? I’m not like that. I carry something around for a long time. I weigh the words and the sentences. I weigh the paragraphs. The process is much more meditative for me. So, when I put something down on paper, I’ve already edited a lot. I don’t think it’s a very efficient way to work, but it’s the way I do it. I am just very careful with what I put down. You know how if you’re making a gravy or something, the recipe calls for you to simmer until it reduces by two-thirds? I seem to simmer [a book] until it has been reduced by two-thirds.

Mrs. Sweet’s children often seem frustrated by her work as a writer. What were your own experiences balancing motherhood and writing?

Children like their mothers especially to be standing still and watching them, even if they are sleeping. At least that’s how I felt. There’s nothing wrong with the self-interest of children; it’s just the way they are. The mother has to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Nathaniel Philbrick

From a Q & A with author Nathaniel Philbrick about his new book, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution:

Q: You are the author of In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower, among other books. Each takes a piece of history we all think we know about and brings to life aspects that aren’t part of common lore. In BUNKER HILL you do the same. What piqued your interest in Bunker Hill?

By writing BUNKER HILL, I’ve actually returned to the subject and the place where my love of history began. When I was in the fifth grade in Pittsburgh I was captivated by Esther Forbes’s historical novel Johnny Tremain. Even after I’d studied American history in high school, college, and beyond, I still found myself longing to know more about what unfolded in and around Boston during the early years of the Revolution. Before settling on Nantucket, my wife and I lived for a year in Boston, and it was while pushing my daughter’s stroller through the crooked streets of the North End that I first began to think seriously about writing about the past. And, as has been true with all my previous books, once I started researching, I quickly realized that the truth about what happened to the inhabitants of Boston during the two and a half years between the Boston Tea Party in December 1773 and the evacuation of the British troops in March 1776 was much more complex, disturbing, inspiring, and just plain interesting than I could have ever imagined.

Q: How have your past books informed your research and writing for BUNKER HILL?

My book Mayflower ends with the horrendous Native-English conflict known as King Philip’s War, which was fought a century before the events described in BUNKER HILL. Almost as soon as I started my research on this book, I began to understand that the American Revolution was as much about the unfinished business associated with that earlier era as it was about issues like liberty, freedom, and taxation without representation. For the farmers in the outlying towns of New England—the ones who fought and died at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill—the Revolution wasn’t about their frustrations with Parliament; it was about...[read on]
Read about Nathaniel Philbrick's seven favorite history books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 6, 2013

James Thompson

With his first internationally published novel, Snow Angels, James Thompson proved himself Finland’s best and most popular representative in the rise of Nordic noir. It was selected as one of Booklist’s Best Crime Novel Debuts of the Year and nominated for an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and a Strand Critics Award. His novel, Lucifer’s Tears, has received critical acclaim from all quarters, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and was selected as one of the best novels of the year by Kirkus. Helsinki White was released to critical acclaim in 2012. The fourth book in the series, Helsinki Blood, was published in March, 2013.

From Thompson's Q & A with George Ebey at The Big Thrill:

HELSINKI BLOOD is your fourth novel featuring Inspector Kari Vaara. Can you tell us a little about his background and how he has evolved over the course of the series?

Kari has had a hard go of it. He grew up dirt poor in a small town in the Arctic—the kind of poor where there isn’t always enough food—and was also sorely abused by his father. This instilled in him a desire to help those who can’t help themselves. A compulsive desire, and sometimes he goes far past what is reasonable, or even legal, to accomplish it. His first wife walked out on him. He was a beat cop in Helsinki and was shot in the line of duty while involved in an act of heroism. She was gone when he came home from the hospital.

The bullet wrecked his knee and the chief of police had to retire him or promote him, as he couldn’t continue as a patrol cop. Kari had earned his Master’s in criminal justice and met that qualification, so he was promoted to inspector. He asked to be assigned to his home town. It was a quiet job, running the small police force there, almost a form of retirement, and he stayed, perhaps not happy, but content enough, for a number of years. Then he met Kate. They fell in love and married quickly. Trouble also came quickly. A murder case resulted in a number of deaths, Kari was shot again, this time in the face. Kate miscarried twins. They decided to try for a new start, moved to Helsinki, and he worked in the homicide unit.

The national chief of police had dreams of becoming a sort of Finnish J. Edgar Hoover. He needed people to work outside the law to do it. He recruited Kari. He pushed Kari’s buttons, told him he would focus on saving women from forced prostitution in the slave trade. Kari’s compulsion to help the helpless sucked him in. But he had been lied to. His black ops were about the acquisition of wealth and power, he had inadvertently, an inch at a time, become a collaborator and he was stuck in a position he didn’t want to be in and couldn’t find a way out. I’m avoiding spoilers from this point on.

Health problems changed him and his thinking and behavior, so much so that he became a man...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at James Thompson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Snow Angels.

The Page 69 Test: Helsinki White.

Writers Read: James Thompson (April 2012).

My Book, The Movie: Helsinki White.

Writers Read: James Thompson.

The Page 69 Test: Helsinki Blood.

My Book, The Movie: Helsinki Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mary Roach

Mary Roach's new book is Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.

From her Q & A with Molly Driscoll at The Christian Science Monitor:

Q: You warn readers in your book when things are coming that are a little unpleasant. If you're discussing these topics at events or book signings, do people get grossed out, or do they know what they're in for?

A: I was at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center and I think sometimes the audience isn't necessarily Mary Roach people but they're JCC subscribers. The guy who runs the program said he was looking at people in the audience and there was one woman who picked up the edge of her shirt and put it over her mouth or something as if she was going to throw up. So apparently there were people looking a little stricken.

Usually the people who show up at these events are people who know my work and come knowing what to expect or come on an empty stomach.

Q: Some of your questions to scientists were a little unusual. How was the reception from the science community as a whole to your investigations?

A: They were delighted. The exception being, I think Michael Levitt would rather talk about something else by now. [Levitt is an expert in gastrointestinal gas.] He was nice enough to talk to me, but I think he'd rather talk about some of his other work.

The guy, [ecologist] Dick Tracy with the mealworms and the stomach, the whole experiment was really fun. [Roach watched as Tracy tested to see if a mealworm could eat its way out of another animal's stomach.]

Even Rodriguez [the fake name of a prisoner whom Roach questioned about his smuggling of objects in his rectum] enjoyed talking about...[read on]
Learn about Mary Roach's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry is the author of over twenty-five novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove. His other works include two collections of essays, three memoirs, and more than thirty screenplays, including the coauthorship of Brokeback Mountain, for which he received an Academy Award.

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

You’ve long been considered the leading writer of Westerns, or rather stories set in the old West or in contemporary Texas. But you also write excellent criticism, essays, and screenplays. Are you comfortable with your association as a writer of Westerns?

Not entirely, no. In the first place, you have to define “Western.” What is a Western? Is it anything set in the West, contemporary or otherwise?

It’s hard for many of us to imagine having written as iconic a novel as Lonesome Dove, winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize. How has the legacy of that book affected your career and what you have chosen to write since?

I don’t think about Lonesome Dove very much or very often. It only affected what I chose to write afterwards in terms of the other three books in the Lonesome Dove tetralogy. I would have written the rest of my books, whether or not I’d written Lonesome Dove. I’ve never re-read Lonesome Dove, or given it any real thought.

Many of your books, from Lonesome Dove to Horseman, Pass By, have been adapted for the screen. [Horseman, Pass By was adapted as Hud.] What are your thoughts on the screen versions of your work?

I’ve been very lucky to have mostly fine movies made from my work—most, if not all. I wasn’t crazy about Hud, because...[read on]
Learn about Larry McMurtry's five best travel books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lisa Black

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her latest novel featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is Blunt Impact.

From her Q & A with forensics4fiction:

F4F: I’m sure your day job provides plenty of inspiration for your stories. What else do you draw from when creating scenes, characters, or story ideas?

Lisa: I poach characters horribly from movies and TV–funny, minor characters, or secondary characters who interested me. Then other ideas just pop into my head and I have no idea where they come from. It’s a huge mix of various pipelines.

F4F: Crime scene investigation can be a physically and emotionally taxing profession. You’ve got the technical side nailed down but are there any topics you find emotionally difficult to write about?

Lisa: I don’t get emotionally involved in much, but there’s a few things I’m squeamish about–I can’t do anything horrible to a child or an animal unless it’s way, way ‘offscreen’. I can’t stand days of torture and buckets of blood. I’m an incredible softy when it comes to the elderly, so I can’t say much of what I’m feeling when it comes to aging parents, even though I should tap that reservoir.

F4F: In your current novel Blunt Impact, your heroine Theresa MacLean has to face some new challenges in protecting a child who witnessed the murder of her mother. Can you give us some insight on Theresa’s character (morality). What makes her tick?

Lisa: Theresa’s got a very firm sense of right and wrong, and a very firm habit of keeping her thoughts to herself. So even though she doesn’t say so, she’s a much stricter judge of other people, and especially herself, than others might guess. People make the mistake of thinking...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

My Book, The Movie: Trail of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Trail of Blood.

Writers Read: Lisa Black (September 2010).

My Book, The Movie: Defensive Wounds.

The Page 69 Test: Defensive Wounds.

Writers Read: Lisa Black (October 2011).

Writers Read: Lisa Black.

My Book, The Movie: Blunt Impact.

The Page 69 Test: Blunt Impact.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Peter Rock

Peter Rock was born and raised in Salt Lake City. His most recent book is The Shelter Cycle, which concerns the end of the world in Montana in 1990, among other things.  His previous novel, My Abandonment, has won an Alex Award, the Utah Book Award, and been published in Germany, Turkey and France. He is also the author of the novels The Bewildered, The Ambidextrist, This Is the Place, and Carnival Wolves, and a story collection, The Unsettling.

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

What does the title of The Shelter Cycle mean?

The church, like any organization, has its own language. Periods of time are often spoken of in terms of "cycles"—e.g. a recovery cycle, a cleaning-up cycle, a settling cycle. "The Shelter Cycle" is how they refer to the period of time between 1987-90, when the shelters were being built. The effects of that effort linger on, so it's possible that this shelter cycle continues to the present day. My book dramatizes the period of the shelters' construction, and also the continuation of that energy.

It would be wrong to conceive of the shelter cycle as a purely physical effort, however; survival happens on many planes. Through high-speed chants known as "decrees," the church aspired to change the world's vibration, to balance karma, and to change bad energy to good. It is not just that emotional turmoil that we feel is similar to physical cataclysm, it is the same. So preparing the shelters and practicing survival skills were running parallel to preparations that were far less visible.

How did real people become involved with your writing of this novel, and how did they change it?

About five years ago, when I was beginning to think about taking on this project, I realized that a young woman I knew—a student at Reed College, where I teach—had been a child in the church during the time of the shelter cycle. Her father had built a shelter for seventy people. She'd graduated and moved back to Montana, and she agreed to meet with me and tell me about that time. Through her generosity, I did over thirty hours of interviewers with ex-members and true believers; in some sense, these conversations confirmed that it was a fascinating topic and also showed me how complicated a project it would be.

The first thing I realized was that the people I was talking to were really...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Rock's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Abandonment.

The Page 69 Test: The Shelter Cycle.

Writers Read: Peter Rock.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Nathaniel Rich

Nathaniel Rich's new novel is Odds Against Tomorrow.

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

Your new novel, Odds Against Tomorrow, involves probability and mathematics as a driver for the plot. How did you choose that plot mechanism?

“Numbers people” turn to math for the same reasons that readers turn to literature or poetry: for consolation, beauty, mystery, and affirmation. I wanted to write about a character who uses math to make sense of the world around him. Numbers, like words, have their limitations, however, and that was to be part of the story as well.

Also, I wanted to know: what are the odds, exactly, that an asteroid will hit the planet and usher in a global dark age? That a suicide bomber will detonate himself in the middle of Fifth Avenue? That a catastrophic hurricane will bring about the flooding of Manhattan? In order to get to the bottom of these questions you need statistics and some basic calculus. Fiction allows you to follow principles to their most extreme conclusions, so I felt it was important in the novel to pursue math as one of several possible paths to enlightenment.

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?

I map them out rigorously, but it’s only a matter of time before I veer off the map. So by the end of the novel, when I look back at the outline, it’s as if I’m looking at the map of ...[read on]
Visit Nathaniel Rich's website.

Writers Read: Nathaniel Rich (March 2008).

--Marshal Zeringue