Saturday, August 31, 2013

Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon's latest book is Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.

Highlights from her interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross:

On teens' capacity for empathy

[Bazelon:] "We want to think that empathy is this natural quality we all have, and in fact, almost everyone is capable of empathy. But there are these moments in adolescence where kids freeze out these feelings. I spent a lot of time with some of the girls who were bullying Monique [who is profiled in the book], and in moments it chilled me to listen to how dismissive they were in talking about her. But in other reflective moments they would say things like, 'You know, I see that she's walking down the hall with her head hanging down and really doesn't have as many friends as she used to have.' So it wasn't that they were incapable of empathy, it was much more that they were in a culture in which they were being encouraged to be cruel to another kid to enhance their own status instead of really letting their feelings of empathy for her have an outlet."

On what Facebook could be doing to help stem cyberbullying

"Facebook has a lot of influence over kids who are mean. They know from their own data that when they tell kids that they've posted something inappropriate [and] they ask them to take it down, those kids don't re-offend. Facebook's line on this to me was that they have a very low recidivism rate, and so to me, that suggests that Facebook can really use its influence to the good with kids in a way it has been reluctant to do so far, because it doesn't want to...[read on, or listen to the interview]
Writers Read: Emily Bazelon (September 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 30, 2013

Susanna Daniel

Susanna Daniel was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where she spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house in Biscayne Bay.

Her debut novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham prize for best debut work published in 2010. Stiltsville was also named a 2011 Summer Reading List pick by, a Best Debut of 2010 by, a Best Book of 2010 by the Huffington Post, and a Discover Great New Writers pick by Barnes & Noble. Daniel’s second novel, Sea Creatures, about a woman who ultimately must face the unthinkable choice between her husband and young son, is now available from HarperCollins. Abraham Verghese called Sea Creatures a “captivating, haunting novel.”

From Daniel's Q & A at Chick Lit Is Not Dead:


When I was fifteen years old, I worked part-time in an independent bookstore in South Miami (back then, these were just called bookstores), and read behind the desk between customers. I will never forget the experience of reading MATING, by Norman Rush, which was that year’s National Book Award winner. In the book, an anxious and self-involved postgraduate student crosses the desert in pursuit of the megalomaniacal founder of an all-female utopian society. The plot was absurdly ambitious, but the writing was electric, and I think that was the first time I really understood the concept of narrative drive — that a strong voice can carry an entire book.


The Royal Tenenbaums — funny, sweet, poignant, and doesn’t let its quirk overwhelm its humanity. When Ben Stiller’s character says to Danny Glover’s character, “You know, I’m a widower, too,” and Danny Glover says...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Daniel's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Stiltsville.

Writers Read: Susanna Daniel.

My Book, The Movie: Sea Creatures.

The Page 69 Test: Sea Creatures.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mary Pipher

Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist and the author of nine books, including Reviving Ophelia, which was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 26 weeks. Her area of interest is how American culture influences the mental health of its people.

Pipher's new book is The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture.

From her Q & A with Pythia Peay at Psychology Today's America On The Couch blog:

Pythia: America and China are the world’s biggest polluters; together the two nations are responsible for half the world’s pollution. This global rise in carbon emissions is contributing to record droughts, heat and rising sea levels.* So if America were on your couch presenting this problem on climate change, how would you begin to work with such a client?

Pipher: First, I’d be respectful of America as a patient, just as I am of clients in therapy. But one thing I’d assume about my client is something I generally assume about clients who are behaving in a dysfunctional manner: at some level, they know what’s going on.

So I’d take it as a given that by now most people have been exposed to issues around climate change. At this point to focus on information would be like telling an alcoholic, “Did you know that it’s harmful for you to drink ten beers?” Of course that person knows that! Instead I’d immediately turn my attention to defenses and resistance.

Dealing with people who are struggling with denial is what therapists do for a living. That’s not cause to be judgmental; in fact I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the country as it faces this situation because it’s unbearably painful to deal with head on.

Pythia: Do you feel that an alarmist approach isn’t useful in generating more action on environmental issues?

Pipher: There’s been a scolding tone: Why don’t people just wake up and deal with the facts? But people don’t respond to guilt and scolding. What people do tend to respond to, whether they’re therapy clients or consumers of media, is a deep belief that they’re loved by the messenger. So as a therapist, speaker or writer, my first goal is to love that person, and my country, and to hold them in my heart as I try to help them cope with upsetting information.

Pythia: And to America, you would say?

Pipher: To America, my patient, I would start by saying this:...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Pipher's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: The Green Boat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tim Finch

Tim Finch's new novel is The House of Journalists.

From the author's Q & A with his editor:

Ileene Smith: The House of Journalists is my first debut novel at FSG, which is exciting, having come of age reading fiction published by this house. . . . I remember reading your manuscript as a new arrival on 18th Street, and being swept up into your imagined world of exiled writers re-making their lives in a London townhouse. . . . I was amused when Gary Shteyngart called your prose “flammable.” Were you?

Tim Finch: I was going for a high-octane style. I wanted the prose to fizz and crackle. . . . He may also have been alluding to the unstable elements in the novel that make the reader uneasy.

Ileene Smith: Like surveillance of the fellows of the House of Journalists?

Tim Finch: While I was writing The House of Journalists, I thought I was exaggerating the level of surveillance and monitoring of refugees for a dramatic and darkly comic effect. But after Snowden and Manning and the rest, I do begin to wonder if life hasn’t overtaken art. At this point, anybody who comes from a part of the world where our supposed “enemies” reside, even if they have fled from those countries because they stood up against Islamic fundamentalism or whatever, is now regarded as potentially suspicious by our intelligence and security services.

Ileene Smith: Despite the gravity of the material in The House of Journalists—exile, torture, loss, etc.—there’s quite a bit of humor and wordplay in it. What’s that about? Is it even appropriate? And why the reference to Ovid in the early pages?

Tim Finch: The nod to Ovid’s Black Sea Letters is partly just a name check to perhaps the greatest earliest work in our civilization devoted to the agony of exile. But of course I could only...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Charles Fernyhough

Charles Fernyhough's latest book is Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts.

From his Q & A with Gemma Tarlach at Discover magazine:

What reaction do people have to learning memories are not carved in stone?

Some people respond, “Who’s this guy to tell us we’re wrong?” But we don’t get the past wrong wholesale. We just mash up parts that don’t necessarily go together.

Since researching Pieces of Light, do you find yourself more aware of your own memory processing?

I think I’m more skeptical and more inclined to take my memories with a pinch of salt.

So many moments of our lives are chronicled in social media and with cell phones now. Does this impact forming or retrieving memories?

It’s fascinating, particularly for the younger generation. I can’t believe it won’t...[read on]
Visit Charles Fernyhough's website.

The Page 99 Test: Pieces of Light.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gillian Bagwell

Gillian Bagwell united her life-long love of books, British history, and theater to write her first novel, The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn. She has lived in London, now lives in Northern California, and enjoys returning to England to conduct research for her books.

Her latest novel is Venus in Winter.

From Bagwell's Q & A at the Reading the Past blog:

The heroines of your three historicals have all been strong women who associate closely with royalty (in different ways) although they aren’t royal themselves. Why do you enjoy writing from this viewpoint?

Part of the reason is that I have sought out characters that haven't been written about so much that everyone knows about them and it's hard to make their stories fresh. At the same time, women at or near the top of society are the ones whose lives are best documented. Undoubtedly there were many middle class and working class women who led interesting lives, but didn't leave much of a record.

Women who were associated with royalty were also in a position to participate in or observe compelling and important historical events, and I think readers might relate more to their perspective as relative outsiders than they do to the thoughts of a queen. And of course female lead characters seem to work better than men, or at least that's what my agent says, so that eliminates the kings and princes themselves, and leaves the women around them.

You’ve moved a little further back in time with this book, from the 17th century to the 16th,, and from the Stuarts to the Tudors. Was this a fairly easy shift for you to make?

Yes and no. I learned about Jane Lane in the course of researching The Darling Strumpet, and had Charles II tell Nell Gwynn a little about his escape after the Battle of Worcester, but there was no way...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Gillian Bagwell's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Venus in Winter.

Writers Read: Gillian Bagwell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 25, 2013

James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke's latest novel is Light of the World.

From the author's Q & A with Sean Woods for Men's Journal:

What have you learned about the value of work?

I learned a lesson from my dad. He was a decent man who always wanted to be a journalist, but in 1925 he was very lucky to get a job out on the pipeline. He hated it, but the Depression came along, and if you had a job, you didn't quit. He used to come home every day and wash his hands over and over to get the oil off. He used to say, "Jim, don't work at a job you don't like." But he didn't have that choice. People compare our time today to the Depression. They don't have a clue.

How should a man handle his fears?

The bravest people I've ever known are so nondescript, you can't remember what they look like five minutes after they walk out of the room. Did you ever see the photo of the black children going to school in Little Rock in '57 who were attacked by the mob? It was disgusting. One white woman went out there swinging her purse, saying, "You cowards, you white trash, you make me ashamed to be a member of the white race." These big guys who were twisting the arms of children were just stunned. She showed them up in front of the entire world. It's always the people...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Adelle Waldman

Adelle Waldman’s writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, the New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Village Voice and other publications. She worked as a reporter at the New Haven Register and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal’s website before turning to fiction.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is her first novel.

From Waldman's Q & A with Emma Chastain at The Barnes & Noble Book Blog:

As all the reviewers say, your novel is an incisive comedy of manners and a brilliant character study. It’s also a page turner. I couldn’t go to sleep until I’d found out whether Nate would mess things up with Hannah. Was it important to you to create suspense? How did you go about it?

I’m so glad to hear that! On the one hand, the plot of the novel is very simple. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want anything out of the ordinary to happen—there are no police chases or natural disasters or earth-shattering revelations. But I hoped that the novel would create its own momentum for just the reason you cite—because readers would come to care about the characters and how their relationships played out.

Many Goodreads reviewers complain that Nate is unlikeable. This drives me bonkers. I don’t understand why people insist on liking characters—what does likability have to do with literary merit? Do you have any theories about why some readers can’t cope with realistically flawed characters?

It’s funny to me because I think of myself as a pretty moralistic and judgmental person—and I certainly have a pretty extensive moral critique of my protagonist Nate. Still, as a reader, I often like, and identify with, characters that others see as anti-heroes, such as Julien Sorel from The Red & the Black, or the Lamberts in The Corrections. To my mind, we are all...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Adelle Waldman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P..

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. From his Q & A with Alyssa Bereznak for The Barnes & Noble Book Blog:

How did you go about researching [Zealot]? It’s incredibly detailed and well-written.

I’ve been researching this really since my undergraduate days at Santa Clara University. I did my undergraduate degree there in the New Testament. I did a thesis on the Messianic Secret in Mark, which is a topic I talk about in the book. This is an attempt by certain scholars to get at this nearly impossible-to-decipher puzzle over who Jesus himself thought he was. By beginning my work there, I think that was the introduction for this book. Right then and there I knew that one day I was going to expand this into a book-length project, and continued working on the research for it after I graduated and during my Ph.D. work. When it came time to actually sit down and work on it, I had this fount of research that I could rely on. At that point it was just a matter of immersing myself deeply into the topic, which I often do regardless of what book I’m trying to write.

Did you have a road map for how you wanted to structure it?

The methodology of the book is based on the fact that, while we know nothing about Jesus outside of the New Testament, we know everything about the world in which he lived. The argument is that if you place Jesus into the time and place in which he lived, then his words and his deeds start to make more sense, a clearer picture of who he is can arise. I began by fully immersing the reader into the social, political, and religious world of first-century Palestine. This may be the first biography of Jesus in which Jesus doesn’t show up until page 80 or 90. I wanted people to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Karen Brown

Karen Brown is the author of Little Sinners and Other Stories, which was named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly, and Pins and Needles: Stories, which was the recipient of AWP’s Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. Her new novel is The Longings of Wayward Girls.

From Brown's Q & A with Sara Dobie Bauer:

Who is your biggest literary influence?

I think my influences change all the time—I’ll read something that really resonates with me for whatever reason, and some sense of it always reverberates in my work. But my first biggest literary influence was J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. I read it in Junior High, and was drawn to Salinger’s characters and settings, to the way the stories all feel very large, as if we know more about the characters than he is actually telling. But I was most intrigued by his tone—often darkly funny. Later in college, a professor read us “The Laughing Man” from Nine Stories, and I remembered the book and read the stories again. It is probably the book I’ve reread the most, and each time it is a different experience.

What are you most afraid of?

A fear I’ve long-held, that I’ve never overcome is that of being lost. I’m so leery that I don’t even trust the GPS. I have to map out new routes, and any change in the plan—a detour, a roadblock—makes my heart race and my palms damp. I have vivid memories of my mother, cigarette in hand, at the wheel of our station wagon. All six of us children are loaded in the back, our luggage is tied to the roof, and she is in a panic, trying to negotiate the interstate on the way to the beach. I’ve heard, too, that my grandfather had zero sense of direction. I like to blame it all on...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Brown's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Karen Brown.

The Page 69 Test: The Longings of Wayward Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Sjón is the author of, among other works, The Blue Fox and The Whispering Muse. Born in Reykjavík in 1962, he is an award-winning novelist, poet, and playwright.

From his Q & A with Hari Kunzru at Scandinavia House, The Nordic Center in America:

Hari: You’re fond of mythic explanations for things that maybe other people wouldn’t use that for. I saw an interview where you started riffing on the idea that maybe 9-11 was something to do with the power of the great god Pan.

Sjón: I am actually absolutely sure that the great god Pan slipped through some sort of a gateway into our world, on that day.

We’ve been living in panic ever since. Actually, when we were in Athens for Björk’s performance of our song at the Olympics in 2004, I had direct experience of one of the gods there: One day, I was in a group that went down to the peninsula south of Athens, and there is a great Poseidon temple sitting there on a rock. As we came closer to the temple, we saw better and better what a sad state it was in. Obviously, this used to be the place of great sacrifices, 500 bulls sacrificed and burned in one day and all that, and the crowds coming to bow in front of the image of Poseidon.

I thought as we got closer, “Oh, look at you, great Poseidon. Look at the sad state you’re in.” This is how the Icelandic poet’s mind works. That’s how we think when we’re traveling.

We came to the temple and started walking around and looking at these sad ruins, but then I walked to the edge of the cliff. Who was there, who hadn’t moved and left his temple, but Poseidon? The whole ocean stretched out from the cliffs. Poseidon was still there, even though man had stopped sacrificing to Poseidon, Poseidon was still there. Then, Poseidon, of course, feeling a little bit annoyed that people were forgetting him, he moved just a little finger, his little finger a tiny bit, and we had the tsunami in Indonesia.

The myths are really about man confronting the fact that nature is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Seth Holmes

Seth M. Holmes is an anthropologist and physician. He received his PhD in Medical Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco, and his M.D. from the University of California, San Francisco. He is Martin Sisters Endowed Chair Assistant Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

His new book is Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States.

From Holmes's Q & A with Eliza Barclay at the NPR blog, The Salt:

What was the most surprising or shocking aspect of the food system that you uncovered in your research?

"Before I did the research, I had a sense of the hierarchy of people involved in the food labor chain. But over the course of the first five months, it became clear that the hierarchy is much more detailed and subtle. There are indigenous Mexicans [like the Triqui] who occupy the rung with the most demanding physical labor — they're the ones who are bent over picking. The mestizos operate the machines — that's not quite as demanding. Then the U.S.-born Latinos are in charge of some things, and use English and Spanish. The white Americans have the most control.

"What was troubling was that people on every rung of hierarchy are legitimizing and justifying it. Farmworkers are doing that, too."

Do you think that hierarchy is representative of farms in other states in the U.S.?

"I think it is. The indigenous people from Mexico and Central America have the least powerful position. The system is different in California, because farms tend to hire to get big fields picked or pruned. The contractor goes out and finds laborers, and in my field research, I found that system to be worse in the sense that farmworkers are not paid directly by the farm. There's no paper trail. When we were in California, every time we pruned, we were paid less than minimum wage. With that system, labor laws are less likely to be enforced. But in Washington state, the farmworkers were hired directly by farmers, who were more likely to pay minimum wage."

Do you think that the American public cares about the labor required to produce our food?

"We...[read on]
Learn more about Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies at the University of California Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lisa Brackmann

Lisa Brackmann has worked as a motion picture executive and an issues researcher in a presidential campaign. A southern California native, she currently lives in Venice, California. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.

Brackmann's new novel is Hour of the Rat.

From the author's Q & A at Lost Laowai:

Your novels often centre around a woman who is either living or visiting a foreign country. What about that dynamic appeals to you as a writer?

Lisa: A couple of things. On a practical level, I’m writing suspense fiction – quirky suspense fiction maybe, but there still needs to be some suspense! When you have a “fish out of water” scenario, you’ve upped the degree of difficulty for the main character – she may not be familiar with how things work in the country she’s visiting, or she may not have the resources to deal with the trouble she’s in that a local would have.

Also, it’s a reflection of my love of travel. When people ask me why I go to China, one of my answers is, it’s never boring. When you travel, you tend to be more open to experiences and details because they are not part of your every day life. So it’s a sort of heightened sensory state that I really enjoy. And I also enjoy taking readers somewhere they may never have been, or for readers who do know the setting, depicting it in a way that they will recognize as being accurate and credible.

I also think that the “heightened sensory state” I mentioned is really connected to the process of writing in general – when I write I am trying to create a world on the page that’s vivid and that you can “see” and feel – and in order to do that, I have to be in that state where I’m able to come up with those very specific and impactful details. I’m basically putting myself in a scene and observing it, and writing down those observations. That applies to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Brackmann's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Hour of the Rat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mischa Hiller

Mischa Hiller is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the Best First Book Category for South Asia & Europe. Raised in London, Beirut, and Dar El Salaam, Hiller lives in Cambridge, England.

Hiller's acclaimed, first thriller Shake Off has been called "deadly, poignant, and powerful" (The Economist),"Smart and tense and real enough to be scary" (David Morrell), and "A spy thriller of the highest class" (Charles Cumming).

From the author's Q & A with Wes Miller at the Mulholland Books blog:

Wes Miller: Let me start by saying SHAKE OFF was one of those novels I just knew we needed for the Mulholland Books list as soon as I started reading it. The degree to which you bring readers into Michel’s world—a world in which almost anything is either a weapon or a tool, in which everyone Michel meets may be trying to lead him astray—is just astounding.

One of the things I’ve noticed about SHAKE OFF, rereading that evocative first chapter, is how absolutely chock-full of seemingly genuine tradecraft the opening section is. Had you done deep research into the tricks of the espionage trade in writing SHAKE OFF? Were there books or individuals (whether you can tell us about them or not) that were particularly useful in crafting such an air of authenticity? And did you always know you’d start the novel with what is practically a how-to on the art of subterfuge, or was this something that came later as you were figuring out how to introduce Michel’s world to readers?

Mischa Hiller: Well, let me start off by saying how proud I am to be published by Mulholland, whose list includes some great writers. To answer your question: yes, I did a lot of research, but was also lucky to have access to someone who had gone through this kind of training. There are books you can buy that detail surveillance and counter-surveillance but it’s the little insights that make it real, like trainee surveillance officers using dead letter drops to get their paychecks.

I felt the training was an integral part of the book in the sense that it is part of what makes Michel and explains his paranoia. A lot of spy books imply that this sort of constant subterfuge can be lived with easily...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Mischa Hiller's website.

The Page 69 Test: Shake Off.

My Book, The Movie: Shake Off.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 17, 2013

David Sedaris

David Sedaris's latest book is Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls.

From his Q & A with Leigh Haber at

LH: Who are some writers you really enjoy reading?

DS: I just finished the George Saunders book Tenth of December. Right now, I'm reading Aleksandar Hemon's essay collection, The Book of My Lives. He grew up in Sarajevo and is writing about his life as a writer in the middle of a war. As I'm reading it, I'm thinking, "Oh...don't end." The book I'm going to do on the next tour is a book on North Korea by Barbara Demick called Nothing to Envy.

LH: Is there one book you return to again and again when you really want to escape?

DS: I go back to Richard Yates' The Easter Parade. Books that follow the entire course of somebody's life are always so sad. The novel starts out when two sisters are just 7 and 8, and then follows them through their mid-50s, which was old when the book was written. One of the sisters is not married. We don't use the term "old maid" anymore, but when the book came out, being that age without children and a man in your life was such a tragedy. Drinking plays a huge role—one of the sisters dies of alcoholism. I think it's easier to conceive of our own death than of old age. I turn down...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 16, 2013

Helene Wecker

Helene Wecker grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduating, she worked a number of marketing and communications jobs in Minneapolis and Seattle before deciding to return to her first love, fiction writing. Accordingly, she moved to New York to pursue a Master’s in fiction at Columbia University.

She now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter.

The Golem and the Jinni is Wecker's first novel.

From her Q & A with Foyles:

What made you think of mixing an East European mythical character - the Golem - with the Arabian Djinni?

The idea came from a conversation with a friend at Columbia University, when I was in graduate school. I was writing a set of linked short stories, based on tales from my own family history (I'm Jewish) and my husband's (he's Arab American). Only problem was, the stories weren't good enough, and I knew it. They didn't have much energy, and just sort of lay there on the page. Looking back, I think I was too familiar with the details; they felt like worn retellings, instead of something I was discovering anew. I complained about it to a friend of mine in my workshop, basically saying 'What on earth am I going to do?' She knew my reading habits, and asked me why I was writing in this very realist style, instead of something closer to the sci-fi and fantasy that I loved to read. It made a lightbulb go off: of course! So I swapped my Jewish girl and Arab-American boy for two fantastical creatures, taken from the folklore of each culture. The rest of the novel fell out from there.

Why do you think these two have endured and remained so potent?

Like the best of our imagined monsters, golems and djinn address specific questions about human nature. In creating them, we take a worrisome aspect of ourselves, blow it up larger than life, and set it loose to wreak all sorts of havoc. With golems, it's the perennial question of what happens when...[read on]
View the video trailer for The Golem and the Jinni and visit Helene Wecker's website.

Writers Read: Helene Wecker.

The Page 69 Test: The Golem and the Jinni.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Matthew Quick

Matthew Quick is the author of Silver Linings Playbook. His new YA novel is Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.

From his Q & A with Breia Brissey for Entertainment Weekly:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your novels often tackle difficult issues, but Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock seems especially topical considering how front-and-center the gun violence debate is. What was your inspiration for the book? Were you at all influenced by how big of an issue gun violence is?

MATTHEW QUICK: I wrote the book during the summer of 2011. I never set out to explore gun violence. I’m a voice-driven writer, and Leonard’s voice came to me fully formed. As I listened to him—sorting through his pain, snark, and desperation—a story emerged along with a P-38 Nazi pistol. I did my best to record everything honestly. For years, as a high school English teacher, I counseled troubled teens which mostly meant listening. Whenever there is a school tragedy, we ask what’s wrong with teachers, education, and the youth. Logical questions to pose in the wake of tragedy. But I wonder if we are not missing out when we fail to ask this question: What is going right on the many days when kids in crisis get help and tragedy is avoided? There are hero teachers in every high school quietly helping troubled teens. We can learn from them. We should celebrate them.

The book is in no way preachy, but I think it could be really helpful to a struggling teen. What do you hope readers take away from the novel?

I hope Leonard Peacock types might feel less alone. As a teen, that’s why I went to literature—to know there were others out there who had wrestled with the same questions and emotions I was taking on for the first time. And I also hope all readers will ponder...[read on]
Learn more about the novel and author at Matthew Quick's website.

The Page 69 Test: Matthew Quick's The Silver Linings Playbook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Adrian Miller

Adrian Miller is the author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time.

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

Q: You aim to explore "where Southern food ends and soul food begins." What's the difference between the two?

A: Inside the South, the distinctions between the two are so subtle that it almost seems meaningless. In my experience, black Southerners are just as quick to call soul food "home cooking" or "country cooking." I found that the Southern diet, particularly after the Civil War, is demarcated more by class than race. In other words, blacks and whites of a similar socioeconomic background pretty much eat the same foods. That said, I find that soul food dishes tend to have more intensity than their counterparts in Southern cuisine. They're sweeter, more highly spiced and tend to have a higher fat content--all the things that one would expect from a cuisine using a lot of bland starches and lesser cuts of meat. Then there are the differences in preparation. Soul food joints and home cooks tend to have more bone-in meat selections (neckbones, smothered chicken, and meaty soups) and hardcore offerings like chitlins.

Q: Soul food has developed something of a bad reputation. Why?

A: Soul food has sustained a number of one-two punches over several decades. One punch is psychological. Some soul food critics argue that diners are internalizing white superiority by celebrating and eating soul food since it is the "master's leftovers." The other, more dominant critique is the health consequences of eating a sustained diet of sugary and fatty foods. Exhibit A for the latter argument is the high incidence of chronic diseases among African Americans. Though many of these diseases are diet-related, I don't think that there's been much critical thinking about whether or not traditional soul food is the main culprit. Look, there may be...[read on]
Visit Adrian Miller's website.

---Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

David Gordon

David Gordon was born in New York City. He attended Sarah Lawrence College and holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature and an MFA in Writing, both from Columbia University, and has worked in film, fashion, publishing, and pornography. His first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, Purple, and Fence among other publications.

Gordon's latest novel is Mystery Girl.

From the author's Q & A with Michael Hafford for Interview:

HAFFORD: Someone told me the other day that if your character needs to have a different job or have something changed about him, to just do it and worry about going back and fixing it later.

GORDON: That's the miracle of word processing. Think about when every one of those changes meant retyping. I agree. The problem then, though, is that I literally forget and sometimes I have characters whose names change three or four times in the course of the story. Remember, too, that there's a time factor. If you're drafting novels, you maybe haven't gone back and looked at chapter two in months. So, suddenly you're re-reading this thing and you're like, "Mary, Marcy, Marlene, Magdalene," and you're like, "Wait a second." Another thing I do is write notes to myself and tape them to the wall right in front of my face. I actually have some pictures somewhere of the Mystery Girl wall, because I was moving. Basically the whole wall of my room is this weird collage art project of scraps of paper and charts of things that bit by bit I kept adding. And theoretically I would go back and change those things. That's another thing you can...[read on]
Visit David Gordon's blog.

Gordon's first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award.

The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

Writers Read: David Gordon.

The Page 69 Test: Mystery Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 12, 2013

Don Winslow

Don Winslow's novels include The Dawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Power of the Dog, California Fire and Life, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and Savages.

From his Q & A with the Sarah Weinman and others at the Mulholland Books blog:

Sarah Weinman: There’s a one-page narrative monologue near the end of the book that I think really delivers Savages knockout punch to American material culture and to the way boomer selfishness has not only failed subsequent generations but the country as a whole. Which is to say, you don’t mince words, and it seemed like the whole book was written from a place of frustration, if not anger, at how we ply ourselves with consumerism and are wholly ill-equipped for a world where such values don’t count.

Don Winslow: Yeah, I was pretty angry when I was writing this book. Hell, I’m pretty angry now. The widening economic disparity, the yapping, quarreling politicians who won’t address the real problems, the obsession with celebrity and cheap fame, and the endless consumerism that serves as a narcotic – really our worst drug problem. I was especially pissed off at the right-wing media bullies and congressional cretins who feel entitled to say anything, but then go running to mommy if anyone hits back. So I thought I’d take a rhetorical baseball bat to...[read on]
Learn about Winslow's hero from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 11, 2013

James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke's latest novel is Light of the World.

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

Light of the World is the twentieth novel to feature Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux and his partner Clete Purcel. What, if anything, has changed about the way you write Dave and Clete over the years?

JLB: I don’t believe people change. I think they simply grow into what they already were. Dave and Clete grow into the fine men they have always been, namely, the Bobbsey Twins from Homicide.

Dave’s and Clete’s daughters—Alafair and Gretchen—are featured in this novel. Fans seemed to love meeting Gretchen Horowitz in Creole Belle. What do you like about writing the younger generation of Bobbsey Twins?

JLB: Gretchen Horowitz and Alafair Robicheaux are both strong women. Much like the relationship between Dave and Clete, one possesses what the other lacks. Gretchen was abused terribly as a child, but through her courage and her refusal to let the world hurt her again, she becomes a female knight errant, a warrior not unlike Jean D’Arc, and gives voice and refuge to those who have no place to flee.

Alafair is the intellectual novelist and Stanford law graduate. She immediate recognizes the artist at work in Gretchen, who put herself through film school in Los Angeles. Alafair has a black belt in karate and, like Gretchen, takes no guff from anyone. They’re a formidable pair, and the bad guys know it.

In Light of the World, Dave Robicheaux runs up against his most evil foe since Legion Guidry, a villain many of your fans remember from Jolie Blon’s Bounce (2002). What draws you to write about men like Guidry and Asa Surette, the antagonist of Light of the World?

JLB: Both these figures are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Michael Paterniti

Michael Paterniti's new book is The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese.

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

I was surprised how much of the book is about you and your struggle to write it. Did you set out to make the story as much about writing as cheese making?

I had no intention of having myself in there. I thought of the book originally as the legend of Ambrosio Molinos and this great cheese. The deeper in there I got, the more I realized that what was happening was really personal. The person who was changing the most in this story was me, and I had this obligation to show that. I was the emotional center of the story.

You describe in the book missing deadlines, getting a two-year extension, and missing it again. Why did it take you so long to wrestle the story to the ground?

When I started, I did not intend to take 10 years on this book. It became a totally different journey. When I went to visit the village, I realize the cheese represented this other way of life that was so different from our fast-paced American way of living. It’s a slow food tale gone awry. I thought, maybe this is good. Maybe...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 9, 2013

Amy Shearn

Amy Shearn's first novel, How Far Is the Ocean from Here, was published in 2008. Her latest novel is The Mermaid of Brooklyn.

From the author's Q & A at Traveling With T:

Amy, how did the idea of The Mermaid of Brooklyn happen?

I was shopping with my grandmother for shoes to wear at my wedding when she told me the story of how a pair of shoes saved my great-grandmother’s life. My great-grandmother, a tiny, tough woman named Jenny Lipkin, was a virtuosic seamstress, a self-sufficient ball-buster, a strong mother of three girls, and the wife of a really awful man – and yet the tale my grandmother told spoke of such inner turmoil, vulnerability, even a touch of the poetic. This story stuck with me, and somehow combined in my mind with the idea of the rusalka, the malevolent mermaid of Eastern European lore. I was trying to write an essay interweaving the two ideas for the longest time, until one day when I was describing it to a friend in the hopes she could help me untangle it all, and she said, “Um, that’s a novel.” The final piece fell into place when I became a mother. I found myself fascinated by the parenting culture of Park Slope, Brooklyn – half-loving it, half-amused/repelled by it – and that was when I was ready to start writing the book.

Is Jenny Lipkin based on you, Amy? Or any mothers you know? Or is more of a collective idea of mothers everywhere?

I think every character in a novel is a little part of the writer. From the outside, Jenny’s life certainly looks like mine. I live in Brooklyn, I have two kids (although when I was writing the book I only had one), and when I was writing the first draft of this book we lived in a cramped walk-up apartment that was making me crazy. Like Jenny (and like many writers and bookish types, I think) I often find myself feeling like a bit of an outsider, observing everyone else, looking in.

That said, I based her character largely on...[read on]
Visit Amy Shearn's website.

The Page 99 Test: How Far Is the Ocean from Here.

Writers Read: Amy Shearn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Virginia Morell

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

From her Q & A with Ed Battistella at Welcome to Literary Ashland:
EB: You’ve written about Africa’s natural treasures, about the Nile, and about the Leakey family. What brought you to the idea of animal minds?

VM: For my biography about the fossil-hunting Leakey family, I traveled to Tanzania to interview Jane Goodall in 1987 at Gombe Stream National Park, where she studies wild chimpanzees. (Louis Leakey had helped Jane launch this project.) While there, I joined Jane and her research assistants on their chimp-watching forays. So many of the chimpanzees’ behaviors, facial expressions, and gestures were similar to ours that I found myself slipping and calling them “people” when describing to other human-people what I’d witnessed. One chimpanzee also involved me in his political schemes; and with Jane’s assistance, a young chimp deceived her elder. (I tell both stories in ANIMAL WISE.) The chimpanzees were clearly thinking, as well as experiencing and expressing emotions—yet Jane could not say this about them. She had to use indirect expressions: “The young chimpanzee behaved ‘as if’ she were deceiving him.” There was a bias at the time against animals having minds, and being capable of thinking or feeling emotions, especially positive ones, such as love. That trip, my discussions with Jane about animal minds, and my own experiences with my dogs and cats led me to investigate the science of animal cognition.

In Ancestral Passions, my book about the Leakey family, I reviewed what was known about the physical evolution of humans. But what about our mental and emotional evolution? There isn’t an equivalent fossil record, but clues to the origins of these abilities can be found by studying other animals. Happily....[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

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Alissa Nutting

Alissa Nutting's new novel is Tampa.

From her Q & A with Roxane Gay at The Daily Beast:

Are you nervous about this book in wide release or am I projecting?

Yes … realizing I’m running low on dish soap is enough to give me a panic attack, so you can imagine what the publication of my explicit novel about a taboo-breaking sexual psychopath does to my heart rate. It’s inevitable that the book will be misunderstood by many, and I know that will be hard. Writing transgressive literature opens you up to a double layer of criticism, because people are scrutinizing the subject matter as well as the actual writing. The target area for criticism becomes twice as large.

How do you define transgressive literature?

It’s literature that protagonizes the unaccepted, whether through character or form or style.

I love the explicitness, particularly from a woman. When she uses her own vaginal juices to mark her classroom, I knew this novel was going to be great. How did you come up with the idea for Tampa, and how did you commit to the explicitness?

This type of story is so often fetishized in the popular media, and that got me thinking about the lack of novels whose protagonists are female predators, particularly sexual predators. There’s a...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alissa Nutting's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley is a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Florida.

Her recently released debut novel is The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.

From the author's Q & A with Jaime Boler:

JB: Please describe The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope in ten words or less.

RR: Ten words! Okay, here goes: A woman finds a unique stranger who changes her world.

JB: How did you come up with the idea for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope?

RR: I was writing nonfiction and poems trying to tell a few truths about my family. After several attempts, I gave up [on] truth and decided to make up stuff. That kicked the door wide open. Then, one day, I got an image of two hands touching in the mud, and I knew their contact involved some kind of transformation or transmission between two people. From there, I followed that single image. I didn’t imagine the whole book or even the entirety of Adam’s character in one swoop. It came about in increments.

JB: Many writers say they hear the voices of characters in their heads before a story takes shape. Was this true for you? If so, I’m curious as to whose voice you heard first: Addie, Adam, or Evelyn?

RR: I definitely heard Evelyn’s voice first. In fact, it was Evelyn’s voice and her character, not Adam’s, that drove me to write the story. Hers was the voice that obsessed me. I knew she was the teller of the story. Adam’s/Addie’s voice, in all its uniqueness, evolved.

I first got the idea for his voice from something that happened to a friend of mine. She was
...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Rhonda Riley's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.

Writers Read: Rhonda Riley.

My Book, The Movie: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tiffany Hawk

Tiffany Hawk is writer living near Washington D.C. whose work has appeared in such places as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler and on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Her debut novel, Love Me Anyway, is a darkly funny look into the emotional heart of the airline industry, with all its allure, loneliness, and ever-present temptations.

From the author's Q & A with Jocelyn Eikenburg at the Speaking of China blog:

In a blog post about Love Me Anyway, you mentioned: “I fear it would be a challenge to cast Tien, the married man who throws Emily’s life into a tailspin. Hollywood isn’t known for embracing Asian males as romantic leads (I could devote an entire post to that prejudice).” Was your own personal interest in seeing positive portrayals of Asian men — including as romantic leads — part of the reason you chose to have Emily and Tien fall in love?

Absolutely. The initial inspiration for the Tien character was less political and more personal – he was partially based on a great love of mine, who happened to be Asian. Or maybe he didn’t even “just happen” to be Asian, maybe I was drawn to him by his worldliness and his sexy accent and even his complicated, war-torn background. Either way, when it came to the book, I wrote a few different versions of the male lead, partly to disguise the real life muse and partly because other people were concerned about marketability. In the end, the Vietnamese character was much more compelling from a literary perspective, and then from a marketing perspective, I did begin to feel political. To anyone who won’t buy a book because it has an Asian lover – first, well, that’s pretty messed up. And, second...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Tiffany Hawk's website.

My Book, The Movie: Love Me Anyway.

The Page 69 Test: Love Me Anyway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. From his Q & A with Christopher John Farley for the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

In the book you say that Jesus was “very likely” illiterate, and there’s “no reason to think” he could read or write. But a lot of Biblical scholars disagree. In Luke 4:16, we see Jesus reading. [“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”] So where do you get that from, saying Jesus is illiterate when in the Bible he is seen reading?

Well, first of all, it may sound shocking to some people, but just because the gospels say something doesn’t mean it’s actually factual. The Gospel of Luke was written 60-70 years after Jesus had died, when Christianity was quintessentially a Roman religion and no longer a Jewish religion and the gospel writers were very interested in making Jesus someone who would appeal to a non-Jewish audience. But the facts of history speak for themselves. And I would say the vast majority of Biblical scholars would agree that the illiteracy rates in Jesus’s world were somewhere around 98 percent. 98 percent of Jesus’s fellow Jews could neither read nor write. The notion that a tekton, as Jesus is referred to in the Bible, a woodworker, which would make him the second-lowest rung on the social ladder in his time just above the slave and the indigent and the beggar, the notion that he would have had any sort of formal education, let alone the kind of education necessary to debate theological points with the scribes and the Pharisees, is difficult to reconcile with what we know of the history of the time.

But examining the broad sweep of historical trends of a particular time doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about an individual person.

It tells you everything about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Pawan Dhingra

The sociologist Pawan Dhingra is the author of Life Behind The Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream.

From the author's 2012 conversation with Aarti Virani for the Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time:

WSJ: What sparked your interest in this particular demographic?

Mr. Dhingra: At first, I was caught by the numbers of it all: 40% of all motels in the United States are owned by Indians. After initial conversations with motel owners, I realized there was a lot more to learn: how they got started, how they afford motels, what happens to their children. There are so many layers, it becomes fascinating. I wouldn’t have pursued this project because of the numbers alone, but they were a key part of why I got started.

WSJ: What did you hope to accomplish with this book?

Mr. Dhingra: I wanted to give tribute to the owners. Of course, that doesn’t mean I could cast a blind eye—I had to be analytical and critical at times. But as I started learning about the process by which they came here, there was something about the sacrifices they made that struck me as impressive. I hope [the book] is a combination of sharing their successes, struggles and sacrifices along with seeing beyond their individual stories.

WSJ: What factors contributed to Indians—and Gujaratis in particular — dominating the American motel industry?

Mr. Dhingra: Dating back to the 1940s, the first...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 2, 2013

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman's latest novel is And When She Was Good.

From her Q & A at Robb Cadigan's blog:

Hi Laura. Thanks for being here. Why don’t we start off with this: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you know you were one?

Laura: I was four when I first attempted to write a book, I was 12 when I made a run at it, but I think I knew I was going to be a writer when I took some pretty tough criticism from a workshop leader who didn't like my work. I wasn't discouraged or deflated by the experience. (It helped that her predecessor, Sandra Cisneros, had been immensely supportive.)

Who or what inspired you as a child? … as a teenager?

I had some really good teachers as a kid. Mrs. Schapiro for 2nd and third grade, who shared her love of modern art; Miss Klemm in 8th grade, who was kinder to my untamed imagination than my previous year's teacher; Lynn Collins in high school. She taught math, but she was my homeroom teacher and she kept me from doing the stereotypical girl panic at mathematics.

Does the “Great American Novel” really exist (yet)? If so, what is it?

How can.....[read on]
Visit Laura Lippman's website and blog.

Laura Lippman's top 10 memorable memoirs.

The Page 69 Test: Another Thing to Fall.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Know.

The Page 69 Test/Page 99 Test: Life Sentences.

The Page 69 Test: I'd Know You Anywhere.

The Page 69 Test: The Most Dangerous Thing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jessica Anya Blau

Jessica Anya Blau's books include the nationally bestselling novel The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and the critically acclaimed Drinking Closer to Home.

Her new novel is The Wonder Bread Summer.

From the author's Q & A with Greg Olear at the Huffington Post:

The opening scene of The Wonder Bread Summer takes place in the dressing room of a dress shop, when a coked-up coed is made to display her breasts for the priapic pleasure of the store's owner, who happens to be 1) a drug dealer, and 2) hung like a horse. (In contrast to the movie star you saw en déshabillé, who was pinky-sized). We know that your work is heavily informed by autobiography. Please tell us that part is fiction.

(Jessica Blau): Well, sadly, it is based on my real life. When I was in college I got a job at a little clothing boutique in a dumpy area of Oakland where nobody would ever go to buy a dress. It turned out the shop was a front for a coke dealer. And he liked to pull out his dick while I was working. He would lay it out on his palm and show it to me. I was young, eager to make people happy, a good worker, and so didn't do the reasonable thing (like tell him to fuck off and put that thing away!) and just tried to laugh it off and suggest he tuck it back in before a customer came in. Of course customers rarely came in, so it wasn't a persuasive argument.

"I'm a big, big fan of Jessica Blau's first novel," writes blogger Kevin Sharp. "I've just finished her newest one, and what struck me was that I wouldn't have EVER guessed that this is the same author. The storyline, the voice, the syntax all seem completely new... this is quite a talent in my opinion." I agree with him. Your previous novels, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and Drinking Closer to Home, are more overtly grounded in autobiography, as we've discussed previously. The Wonder Bread Summer is much trippier. It's in many ways a departure for you. Tell us a bit about your creative process, and what drove you to write this particular story, in this particular way.

The first chapter of this novel is the body of a short story I wrote that was published in The New York Tyrant. I liked writing about the time period (1983) and I liked the place (Berkeley, Oakland), and I liked the character -- the idea of dealing with someone who was bordering on adulthood but still incredibly vulnerable. I was reading a lot of thrillers at the time so...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Anya Blau's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jessica Anya Blau and Pippa.

The Page 69 Test: The Wonder Bread Summer.

My Book, The Movie: The Wonder Bread Summer.

--Marshal Zeringue