Saturday, November 30, 2013

William Landay

In William Landay's latest novel, Defending Jacob, Laurie and Andy Barber's son is denounced as a suspect in the slaying of a classmate. Andy, an assistant district attorney, must see through the cloud of his emotions and straight to the facts of a case that has rocked his quiet suburb. His devotion to Jacob’s innocence is tested under the extreme pressure of a floundering marriage, convincing evidence and sheer uncertainty. As if that isn’t jarring enough, a family secret reveals that the accusations might not be so outlandish.

From Landay's Q & A at A Bullseye View:

Why does this story hit home for readers?

I hope none of my readers will ever be in the position that Laurie and Andy Barber find themselves in, with a child accused of murder. But most parents know the helpless feeling of being shut out of a teenager’s life and thoughts. And of course the readers who are not parents have been children, they understand what it’s like to feel misunderstood. The truth is, what the Barbers go through is not entirely different from what every family goes through; the Barbers’ troubles are just much, much bigger.

In this book, you dive into the science of criminology, what type of research did you conduct?

As little as possible, honestly. The science is fascinating, and there’s a good deal of it in “Defending Jacob,” but I did not want the science to take over the book. It is very interesting to write about human behavior—about why we humans do what we do—because we are finally beginning to unravel the science of it. As interesting as that is, in the end it is not what “Defending Jacob” is about. The novel is about...[read on]
Visit William Landay's website and blog.

Writers Read: William Landay (May 2007).

The Page 69 Test: The Strangler.

The Page 69 Test: Defending Jacob.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pieter Aspe

Pieter Aspe is Belgian writer of the bestselling detective series starring Inspector Van In. Aspe lives in Bruges, Belgium, and is one of the most popular contemporary writers in the Flemish language. His novels have now sold over three million copies in Europe alone. The Midas Murders, the second  Inspector Van In novel, is now out in the U.S.

From Aspe's Q & A with Lenny Picker at Publishers Weekly:

Which of your many jobs has given you the most insight into people?

While working as a caretaker at the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, I had plenty of time to observe tourists and locals. Often I felt like a piece of furniture, a part of the chapel, which gave me the opportunity to watch and learn unobtrusively. I’ve encountered people from all over the world at the chapel.

Did your stint with the maritime police help you to write crime fiction?

Somewhat. I encountered only small-time criminals while working for the maritime police. Once I started writing about Inspector Van In, I got in touch with real criminals as a way of researching my books. I wanted to understand their situation, to empathize with them, so that every time I encountered a criminal, whatever the crime committed, I asked myself the question, “What if that ever happened to me?” or “What if I had the same childhood or education, what if I was in the same position? Would I become that criminal?” There is a delinquent in everyone, but...[read on]
Visit Pieter Aspe's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Peter Savodnik

Peter Savodnik is the author of The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union.

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What is the big lesson of Lee Harvey Oswald?

A: For him, everything that comes is colored by bitterness and a sense of personal failure. He's a representative of a certain subset of Americans, the alienated American who doesn't know how to incorporate himself into the body politic. There are many alienated Americans.

Q: Did you gain any insight into Oswald's motive?

A: It's the one that's hardest to pin down. The better way to approach that is to look at the pattern that courses through his life. He bounced around from one address to another 20 times before he enlisted in the Marines. I think his motive was to escape the life he'd been assigned to, to elevate himself to a worldwide historical status.

We have this tendency to want to impose order or reason, some kind of explanation, on everything. This is part of our arrogance, or conceit.

Once we stop trying to make sense of the Kennedy assassination in some kind of hyper-rational way and look at it as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ulrich Boser

Ulrich Boser is the author of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft.

From his 2013 Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: As you write, some fans of the museum can still remember where they were when they heard about the heist. Why does this theft has such resonance on an emotional level?

A: It has a lot to do with the intimacy of the museum, where you really feel Isabella Gardner's presence.

The museum never changes. [This was required in the will of Gardner, a rich and fabulously eccentric art lover.] People have often told me of the experience they've had with the museum: They went as a child, and then they brought their own kids there and their grandkids. It feels like a little bit of amber. Then you go back to something you remember as a child and see a painting as beautiful as the Vermeer is ripped out, the frame hanging there empty.

Q: Do people see the theft as a violation?

A: They do. A number of people seem to see it as a very personal violation, that it affected them.

If you were to imagine a theft at a more impersonal museum, like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I don't think people would speak about it in that way.

Q: Has the theft been romanticized?

A: People have this Hollywood view of art where the art thieves wear black turtlenecks and rappel through the windows. They think there's...[read on]
The Gardner Heist is one of R.A. Scotti's five best books about art thefts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sam Thomas

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

His novels include The Midwife's Tale and the (soon!) forthcoming The Harlot's Tale.

From the author's May 2013 Q & A at the Mama Birth blog:

Mr Thomas- Please introduce yourself and tell us about why you (a MAN) decided to write a book about a midwife. And a midwife who solves murder mysteries! What inspired you?

Well, for about ten years I taught history at the college-level, and one of my research specialties was the history of midwifery in England from about 1600-1700. For a variety of reasons I decided to make the jump to teaching at the high school level, but I did not want to stop writing about midwives – I just loved them too much!

I knew I would not be able to write about them from an academic perspective, so I decided to try my hand at history. And since I’d already written about the historical Bridget Hodgson, I decided to fictionalize her for my novel.

How did you research the time period? Do you feel like your portrayal of the time and the general attitudes towards women is an accurate portrayal? (This was kind of disturbing!)

Lots and lots of reading! While I made some changes to Bridget’s biography, I did my best to stay true to the times when it came to larger issues like the status of women. The stereotypes about (and the treatment of) women were very disturbing. But I also wanted to tell the story of women who managed to find some room despite the oppression.

Three of the main characters (Bridget, her assistant Martha, and her nemesis Rebecca Hooke) were able to find a route to power. They just had to take a different route than men.

What kind of research did you do to learn more about birth? Did you talk to modern midwives?

Great question! I actually...[read on]
View the trailer for The Midwife’s Tale, and learn more about the book and author at Sam Thomas's website, blog, and Facebook page.

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

The Page 69 Test: The Midwife's Tale.

Writers Read: Sam Thomas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 25, 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 a Q & A at Wecker's website:

Q.: How did the idea for your novel originate?

When I was a writing student at Columbia, I started writing a series of short stories that combined tales from my family and from my husband’s family. I’m Jewish and he’s Arab American, and so in that sense we come from two different (and, in many eyes, opposing) cultures. But I’ve always been struck by the similarities between our families, the way that certain themes echo between them. We’re both the children of immigrants, with all that entails. As a result my husband and I both grew up in suburban, picket-fence America—but with the intimate and sometimes uncomfortable burden of another place’s history, and the complications of living as a cultural minority, which affects our relationships with those we love and those we meet.

In any case, I was writing these stories, but I wasn’t having much luck with them. One day I was complaining about it to a friend. She suggested I try something different. She knew I loved stores that used elements of the fantastical, and was surprised I never wrote like that. By the end of the conversation, the seed had been planted. Instead of two families of different cultures meeting and interacting, I now had two supernatural characters: a golem and a jinni. And somehow it seemed likeliest that these two would meet in New York in the late 1800s, when immigrants from Eastern Europe and Syria were coming to America in droves.

Q.: When you thought about writing a golem character, did you think about other legends and myths about people being created out of inanimate matter, like the famous Golem of Prague, or Frankenstein’s monster, or even a modern robot?

I certainly...[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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie's novels include Grimus, Midnight’s Children (which was awarded the Booker Prize in 1981), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown and The Enchantress of Florence, and Luka and the Fire of Life.

He is also the author of a book of stories, East, West, and three works of non-fiction – Imaginary Homelands, The Jaguar Smile, and Step Across This Line. He is the co-editor of Mirrorwork, an anthology of contemporary Indian writing, and of the 2008 Best American Short Stories anthology.

From Rushdie's Q & A with Sital Patel at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

As a person of literary note, what would you say to young inspiring writers in the world of social media and short attention spans?

I don’t think it will affect it that much. Every time there has been a new form of communication that has emerged, people have always predicted that it will kill the novel. Radio was supposed to have killed the novel. Movies, TV were supposed to kill the novel, but none of them have done that. There is something very persistent about sitting quietly and enjoying an interaction between the reader and the words in a book. People really like it. I think the novel has never had the size of audience that an episode of “Friends” has, unless it’s been freakishly like Harry Potter or the Twilight books, or God help us, “50 Shades of Grey.” The number of people reading the novel style has stayed the same, remarkably loyal.

You talk to a lot of your fans on Twitter. What has been most surprising to you when Tweeting?

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine bullied me to use it. As long as...[read on]
Learn about Salman Rushdie's five best fantasy novels for all ages.

Rushdie's The Satanic Verses is among Christopher Hitchens' six best books, Atul Gawande's favorite books, Karl O. Knausgaard's top ten angel books, and Diarmaid MacCulloch's five best books about blasphemy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Adam D. Shprintzen

Adam D. Shprintzen received his PhD in History with distinction from Loyola University Chicago in May 2011, where his studies focused on nineteenth century America. Currently, he serves as Digital and Archival Historian (see, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington) at Mount Vernon, where he manages digital history projects as well as the institution's archival holdings.

Shprintzen's new book is The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921.

From his Q & A with Michael Gebert at the Chicago Reader:

Michael Gebert: Basically, your book says that vegetarianism not only goes back to the 18th century, but that it parallels a lot of other reform movements of the time—the Great Awakening, abolition, temperance, the first stirrings of feminism. How did vegetarianism fit into that whole picture?

Adam D. Shprintzen: Vegetarianism starts out as this small religious reform group that imports itself to the United States from England, the Bible Christian Church. They come to the U.S. with this idea that religion can actually be understood through science. Which is sort of a remarkable idea through our modern eyes, but wasn't so strange at the time. Part of their ideology was the notion that vegetarianism—they didn't use that term at the time—but that abstaining from meat can sit at the center of a total reform ideology. So meat is one way that the body kind of becomes overheated and overexcited and apt to make people act in improper ways. Whether it be violence, or holding slaves, or oppressing women.

Sylvester Graham—who is remembered wrongly as the inventor of the graham cracker, which would have horrified him with all its sugar and other things—spreads these ideas and sort of connects them with the idea of the healthy body and the healthy mind. Again, the idea is that what someone eats can help predict how they will act. So [eliminating] a violent diet will ensure that an individual will not be violent him- or herself.

And that continues up through the establishment of the American Vegetarian Society in the 1850s, which goes out of its way to place vegetarianism at the center of a total reform ideology. So that's certainly abolitionism, pacifism, women's suffrage, even the idea of economic equity, that a vegetarianism lifestyle is actually cheaper than meat, but then also that cooking vegetarian meals is a way to liberate individuals from the kitchen, that it's less time consuming and, again, not dealing with the effects of violence by touching something firsthand that was killed by violent means.

That phase comes to a climax with the Civil War, and at this point vegetarianism is sort of like the 60s and 70s—once the big cause is settled, ironically in part because vegetarians take up arms to fight for it, vegetarianism turns inward and kind of has a few Me Decades.

That's a great line; I hadn't thought of that but you're exactly right. The Civil War becomes the splitting point for vegetarianism in the 19th century...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Adam D. Shprintzen's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Vegetarian Crusade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rose Mannering

G. R. Mannering is an English writer and international author. She signed up with literary agency Creative Authors when she was eighteen and secured her first UK publishing deal when she was nineteen.

From a Q & A about her first fantasy novel Roses, with Helen Douglas:

ROSES is inspired by Beauty and the Beast. Can you tell us what attracted you to that fairy tale and about the genesis of the book?

I have an obsession with fairy tales. I think it started with Disney and ballet (Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty) when I was very young and then moved into Angela Carter and Grimm’s tales as I grew up. I love the challenge of changing and moulding the original story and making it into something completely new.

Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favourites because I think it’s the most believable fairy tale. ‘A beast and an enchanted castle believable?’ Okay, well maybe not that part, but I’ve always had a problems with the whole love at first sight thing. I think Beauty and the Beast has the most realistic depiction of love of all the fairy tales – a love that grows over time as two people get to know one another.

The book is set in a richly imagined magical world. Can you tell us a bit about Pevorocco and how you approached world-building?

One of my favourite things about reading fantasy novels is diving into...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at G. R. Mannering's website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Roses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ben Kane

Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He studied veterinary medicine at University College Dublin but after that he traveled the world extensively, indulging his passion for ancient history. His books include a new series set during the Second Punic War as well as the bestselling Forgotten Legion Chronicles.

From his Q & A at Declan Burke's blog, Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE TWELVE by Stuart Neville. Absolutely outstanding.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Alv, the young cowherd/smith/hero figure in the sadly little known but absolutely outstanding Winter of the World trilogy by Michael Scott Rohan.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Christian Cameron – his 4th century BC novels are some of the finest historical fiction around.

Most satisfying writing moment?

Writing the....[read on]
Visit Ben Kane's website and blog.

Writers Read: Ben Kane (April 2011).

My Book, The Movie: The Forgotten Legion trilogy.

The Page 69 Test: The Road to Rome.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gina Linko

Gina Linko has a graduate degree in creative writing from DePaul University and lives outside Chicago with her husband and three children. Linko teaches college English part-time, but her real passion is sitting down at a blank computer screen and asking herself the question, "What if...?"

Linko's new novel is Indigo.

From her Q & A with Skylar Dorset:

INDIGO is set in New Orleans. Why did you choose this setting for the story?

I had an idea about clusters of people with sixth senses, and I was thinking in terms of an environmental factor being part of the cause. I, of course, started thinking about New Orleans because of its rich history in the macabre, the supernatural, ghosts stories, stuff like that. Because I love the line between science and the unexplainable. It’s such a thin line sometimes. I like to write about things that are right on that line — nearly believable phenomena. Because what if? And New Orleans is a perfect setting for ...[read on]
Visit Gina Linko's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Indigo.

Writers Read: Gina Linko.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Derek J. Penslar

Derek J. Penslar is the Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History at the University of Toronto and the Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Oxford. His many books include Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe, Israel in History: The Jewish State in Comparative Perspective, and The Origins of Israel, 1882-1948: A Documentary History.

Penslar's new book is Jews and the Military: A History.

From his Q & A with Samuel Moyn at Tablet magazine:

How did you come to write this book?

About 10 years ago an old college friend and I were chatting about what I might write about next, and he said he was intrigued by the moral dilemmas faced by Jews in modern armies who for the first time faced the prospect of fighting other Jews in the enemy army. This idea resonated with me, and it eventually became the subject of one of this book’s chapters.

There is a back story, though. Since graduate school I’ve been thinking about Jewish history in the context of the modern state and the tensions between Jewish solidarity, on the one hand, and acculturation and state patriotism, on the other. I like thinking about how the environment in which Jews live has influenced how they ran their communities and, eventually, the Zionist movement and state of Israel.

My books have in one way or another been about the relationship between Jews and state power. My first book was about the origins of Zionism’s technocratic elite, which was less visible than the political-military elite but still tremendously influential. I wrote another book about modern Jewish economic life that showed how important financial success was as a justification for Jewish emancipation and a source of power in the form of philanthropy. When my friend made his suggestion I realized that in my work I had always avoided dealing with the most blatant and destructive form of power, that of armed force. And so...[read on]
Visit Derek Penslar's website.

The Page 99 Test: Jews and the Military.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 18, 2013

Robert Stone

Robert Stone's novels include Dog Soldiers, which won the National Book Award, and the modern classics Outerbridge Reach and Damascus Gate. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, Stone is considered one of America’s greatest living writers.

About his new novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, from the publisher:

In an elite college in a once-decaying New England city, Steven Brookman has come to a decision. A brilliant but careless professor, he has determined that for the sake of his marriage, and his soul, he must extract himself from his relationship with Maud Stack, his electrifying student, whose papers are always late and too long yet always incandescent. But Maud is a young woman whose passions are not easily contained or curtailed, and their union will quickly yield tragic and far-reaching consequences.... The stakes of Brookman and Maud’s relationship prove higher than either one could have anticipated, pitting individuals against one another and against the institutions meant to protect them.
From Stone's Q & A with David Samuels for The Daily Beast:
DS: You have an obvious interest in myth, and you like bringing it down to human scale. In your new book, which is still settling in my head, I felt, this is a story about the sacrifice of a child. The story in the bible about the sacrifice of a child is when Abraham goes to sacrifice his son, which is one of those terrible biblical moments that I always come back to again and again without knowing exactly how I am supposed to feel about it. This crazed person actually goes to do this crazy thing. And then the ram is caught by its horns in the bush and is sacrificed instead. You can turn it over 17 times in your head and not really get a clear bead on what all that craziness means. So I was wondering if that was at all what was in your head.

RS: Oh it was, absolutely. Absolutely. The sort of priest who was either there or not there, who calls himself the mourner, and the idea of people wanting their suffering to mean something.

DS: The black-haired girl, born of a working class family in New York, has been offered up to the gods of Yale, and is then sacrificed on that altar. The things that happen to her are par for the course in elite American higher education. And then you have her father, the ex-NYPD cop, who has made this offering and is in pain, even though this was the sacrifice that motivated his entire life.

RS: He’d been making the sacrifice his whole life, and then he actually got called on it. This is in a way a religious tragedy, and so in large part this is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Beverly Gologorsky

Beverly Gologorsky's new novel is Stop Here. Where her acclaimed first novel, The Things We Do to Make It Home, revolved around families shaped by the Vietnam War, Stop Here deals with the impact on families by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Gologorsky's Q & A with Hilary S. Kale for Publishers Weekly:

The men in your book respond in different ways to the war: there’s Nick, whose silence about the war speaks volumes; Bruce, who loses his sanity over time; and then Murray, who champions the war, but doesn’t enlist and equivocates about his reasons. Are they based on men you know?

They are figures from my imagination, and composites of various characters I’ve met. But as Flaubert said, “Every character, c’est moi.” I wanted to show how men are affected by war in many different ways. But I think one thing that’s generally true is this: in order to kill, you have to believe that the person you are killing is dangerous. Some of these guys came home from Iraq and were not sure why they did what they did.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

My hope is that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Alissa Nutting

Alissa Nutting's Tampa is a story of a predatory female teacher and more than one of her not unwilling underage students.

From her Q & A with Daniel D'Addario at Salon:

I’ve seen this book compared to “Fifty Shades of Grey” on its GoodReads page. Given that E.L. James’ novel is about two adults, does that bother you?

[laughs at some length] Yeah … I understand the comparison based on extremity. I think that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is probably one of the first contemporary mainstream infusions of literature with a great deal of sexuality included in it. And I understand the fact that that’s a female author writing a sexually explicit book, which also isn’t awfully common — that’s kind of where my understanding of the comparison leaves off. In this book Celeste is a predator. The relationship by law cannot be consensual.

But it also suggests that “Tampa” is being kind of marginalized into the pile of books for women exclusively, rather than “important” novels — which are usually by men.

Absolutely. I think that that does happen. Realistically, unfortunately, I think that really blatant sexuality and works that feature humor or comedy, all of these things are traditionally written off as being lowbrow. There’s a notion that really grand novels, the novels that are going to win the big awards, need to be dark, dramatic, serious, sweeping and tasteful. There are these rigid boundaries, and when you cross over them — if you get too sexually explicit, if it’s too humorous or satirical — you fall out of the mainstream literary sweet spot. There are some people who...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alissa Nutting's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tara Conklin

Tara Conklin is a writer and lawyer currently living with her family in Seattle, WA. Most recently, she worked as a litigator in the New York and London offices of a corporate law firm but now devotes herself full-time to writing fiction.

Her debut novel is The House Girl.

From Conklin's February 2013 interview with Bookmagnet Blog's Jaime Boler:

JB: How did you come up with the idea for The House Girl?

TC: I came across the words “slave doctor” in a biography I was reading, and that term made me stop. I started wondering about the kind of person who would occupy such a conflicted role – to dedicate your life to healing, but your patients were destined only for more harm. From that initial spark of interest, I wrote the story of Dr. Caleb Harper. The two women who appear in his story – Dorothea Rounds and Josephine Bell – grabbed me. I wanted to know more about them, so I started writing about each separately and I just kept writing, trying to discover how their stories connected. Caleb’s is the last narrative now to appear in the book, but it’s where the whole thing began.

JB: What kind of research did you do for your story?

TC: I read a lot of slave narratives, letters and journals from the time period, jotting down unusual words and phrases as I found them. This helped me use the right language for the historical sections. I also read fiction and non-fiction about the antebellum south and the Underground Railroad and did a fair amount of concentrated googling as required to get the details right. You’d be surprised how much you can find on the internet about...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Tara Conklin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The House Girl.

Writers Read: Tara Conklin.

My Book, The Movie: The House Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Val McDermid

Val McDermid's latest novel is Cross and Burn.

From her Q & A at Declan Burke's blog, Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

ON BEULAH HEIGHT by Reginald Hill. Fascinating characters with real depth, terrific story-telling, beautifully written, it’s as much an elegy to love and loss as it is a crime novel.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Jim Hawkins, in TREASURE ISLAND. A great adventure, then coming home to a lifetime of possibilities.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

Most satisfying writing moment?

Solving the. ...[read on]
Learn about McDermid's literary influences and her hero from outside literature.

See Val McDermid's top ten Oxford novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ivy Pochoda

Ivy Pochoda graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Classical Greek and English. She was a champion squash player and a six-time member of the United States Women's National Squash Team.

Her latest novel is Visitation Street.

From Pochoda's Q & A with Margy Rocklin at Squid Ink:

SI: "Bulletproof Chinese" is a term that is used throughout the book. Explain this term to the uninitiated.

IP: In bad neighborhoods in New York, after a certain hour at night, Chinese is [served through] bulletproof glass. You slide your cash through a slot and then they slide you really greasy ribs or whatever back to you.

SI: On a culinary scale of one to ten, how does bulletproof Chinese rate?

IP: Two. [pause] No, I'll give it a three. It's fine when you're hung over. [pause] It's not that bad. It's exactly what you think it's going to be like. Let's be nice: Let's give it a three. [pause] It seemed okay then. But I recently ate something from there and I thought, "I can't believe I just ate that. I'm going to be sick."

SI: What do you eat when you're writing?

IP: It changes. I eat a lot of avocado sandwiches, but I don't know why. Now that I live in L.A., I eat a lot of tacos and burritos. When I was living in Echo Park, I liked this place called Maya's, which is very under-rated. They have great, great, great chicken tacos with avocado and pickled red onion. But I live in the Arts District now. I go to Guisado's a lot.

SI: And there is nothing wrong with that!

IP: No, there is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ivy Pochoda's website.

Writers Read: Ivy Pochoda.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

D.E. Johnson

D. E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood. He comes by his interest in automotive history through his grandfather, who was the vice president of Checker Motors. Johnson's books include The Detroit Electric Scheme, Motor City Shakedown, and Detroit Breakdown.

Johnson's latest novel is Detroit Shuffle, the fourth volume of his Detroit Mysteries.

From his Q & A with Jeff Ayers at The Big Thrill:

What appeals to you about writing about Detroit in the early 20th century?

The biggest draw to me is the early 20th Century. It was such an explosive time in this country. We were coming of age as a world power, immigrants were flooding in by the millions, completely changing the social dynamic of the cities, the rich were incredibly wealthy and the poor were incredibly poor, and all this was held in the most tenuous balance. It was a time of turmoil in almost every way imaginable, which makes it an interesting time to write about.

I chose Detroit because it’s a city that has always fascinated me. During my entire lifetime, it’s been in decline. I was never able to experience the greatness and vitality of the city as it was, and I wanted to try to recreate that city, both for myself and for readers.

When I started researching the series, I was looking for a historical backdrop that was interesting and was representative of the city during the time period. Cars of course were a topic that came to mind, so I started there. When I came across all the information about the early electric cars, I knew I had found my backdrop – the rise and fall of the early electric car. Since, I have had numerous topics jump out at me – Detroit’s first mob war, its massive insane asylum, and...[read on]
Visit D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

Read D.E. “Dan” Johnson's interview with J. Kingston Pierce at The Rap Sheet.

The Page 69 Test: Motor City Shakedown.

Writers Read: D.E. Johnson (September 2012).

The Page 69 Test: Detroit Breakdown.

My Book, The Movie: Detroit Breakdown.

The Page 69 Test: Detroit Shuffle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 11, 2013

Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison grew up in Los Angeles. Educated at Harvard College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has also worked as an innkeeper in California, a schoolteacher in Nicaragua, and an office temp in Manhattan.

Jamison's debut novel is The Gin Closet. "Set in the late 60s," Caroline Leavitt writes, "it's about Tilly Rudolf, who is drinking herself to death in a trailer park. But then her niece Stella shows up and both their lives begin to be impacted. It's raw, graceful, and totally unforgettable...."

From Jamison's Q & A with Leavitt:

So much of the book is about Stella’s attempt to save Tilly. Do you think people can ever be saved?

Wow. Big question. Hard question. Great question. I do think people can be saved, but I think that saving is never permanent or final, and “saving” never works as a fully transitive verb. Which is to say: saving is always a process—always fragile, tenuous, a structure we daily construct rather than a destination we reach—and it’s not something one person can “do” to another; it must also involve coaxing or reawakening some self-saving impulse in the one being saved.

I’d also say—for the record—that my take on whether saving is possible, or how it might work, is pretty different now than when I wrote the book. Which is interesting for me to think about. I haven’t read the novel since before it was published—probably not for four years or so—and I’d be curious to feel my own reactions if I reread it. It might be a few more years before I’m ready to do that.

What surprised you in the writing of the book?

Well, certainly the fact that it ended up...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Gin Closet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Larry D. Sweazy

Larry D. Sweazy's Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger western novels include The Rattlesnake Season, The Scorpion TrailThe Badger's Revenge, The Cougar's Prey, The Coyote Tracker, and The Gila Wars.

From Sweazy's June 2013 Q &A with Tom Rizzo:

In your award-winning Westerns, you spend a lot of time on character development. How do your characters differ from those in traditional Westerns? What overall theme are you trying to get readers to buy into?

It all starts with character for me. Always has. I like to read novels where I care about what happens next to the character I’m rooting for, and I hope to write the same kind of novels. So, I don’t know that character development is something that I intentionally set out to do, but comes more naturally to me because it’s what I enjoy.

I’m not sure my characters differ from characters in a traditional western. Shane (Shane by Jack Schaffer) was a reasonably complicated character even though we didn’t know any of his backstory, where he came from, or where he was going.

I could say I put Josiah in a modern situation by having a single man left on his own as a widower to raise a young son, but The Rifleman covered that territory forty-five years ago.

So, I really don’t think I’m breaking new ground. But I don’t shy away from emotion, either.

I don’t think a just man would kill another man, regardless of the situation, and not be affected by that act in some way. Josiah Wolfe carries the consequences of his actions with him wherever he goes. All of my characters do. I think it makes them easier to relate to, more human.

There’s no overall theme that I’m trying to be successful with—at least that I know of. My subconscious mind might have another opinion, though…

Tell us about Josiah Wolfe. What inspired this character? How is he different than other protagonists? Briefly, what’s his unique back-story?

Interesting question. I wrote...[read on]
Visit Larry D. Sweazy's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Larry D. Sweazy & Brodi and Sunny.

The Page 69 Test: The Gila Wars.

Writers Read: Larry D. Sweazy (May 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff wrote her first book, How I Live Now, at the age of 46; she had no previous literary experience, and had spent years in an unfulfilling career in advertising. A darkly poignant tale for young adults about love, adolescence and a third world war, the book won the 2004 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. From her Q & A with The Barnes & Noble Book Blog's Melissa Albert:

A lot of YA is very plot-driven, but How I Live Now is so voice-driven. Did you start off with your plot, or did you start with Daisy?

I never start out with plot. Having written six novels now, if I have even a vague idea what the book is going to be about, it’s pretty radical for me. Usually I start with either a single line, or in the case of Daisy, it was really the sound of her voice in my head. I actually first started writing it in the third person, which lasted about a day. But the minute I started writing in her voice, I thought yeah, I’ve got it.

I was working with a New York illustrator called Sophie Blackall at the time, and I sent her an email that said, “Dear Sophie, I’m writing the great British novel. It’s really boring, I think I’ll throw in World War III.” So because I’m really lousy at plot, I just took the oldest children’s book plot in the world: a kid goes to live with another family. And I was writing during the period in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq by the U.K. and the U.S., and it was a very frightening time. So that was really echoing around in my head, and whatever’s echoing around in your head comes out in your book.

Did you set out to write a YA book?

It was kind of by mistake. I wrote a practice novel, a horse book, and it became very, very dark. My agent said, “I don’t think I can sell a horse book with so much sex in there.” I said to her, “If it’s supposed to be a book for teenagers, what are the rules?” She told me that...[read on]
Learn about the book Rosoff wishes she'd written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 8, 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 Powell's Book Blog:

In Sea Creatures, Georgia is an insomniac, her husband, Graham, is a parasomniac, and they meet at a sleep clinic. Why did you want to write about sleep disorders?

For two reasons. One is that my own insomnia has waxed and waned since I was 21 years old. I've learned a slew of coping strategies (as has my husband), and at this point my insomnia barely bleeds into my daytime life at all. But still I feel the sulking fear that my manageable insomnia might one day erupt into a full-blown sleep disorder, the way minor drug use can break out into a full-blown addiction, putting at risk my family, my work, and my sanity.

Second, I was inspired by a monologue I heard a few years ago on the Moth Radio Hour on NPR, by a comedian named Mike Birbiglia, who has since starred in a film adaptation of that monologue called Sleepwalk with Me. The monologue is a comic take on a parasomniac's struggle — the night terrors and sleepwalking and even one dramatic event that inspired me to write a similar event into my book. It left me wondering: In all seriousness, what would it be like to be married to a parasomniac? Sea Creatures puts that situation under a microscope.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.

About a year after my first novel came out, I was...[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, November 7, 2013

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis are the authors of Death of a Nightingale.

From their Q & A with Juliet Grames at the Soho Press blog:

Juliet Grames: One of the main characters in Death of a Nightingale is a Ukrainian woman named Natasha. We meet her in a prison convoy: she has been convicted of the attempted murder of her ex-fiancé and thrown into Danish prison. How did you dream up Natasha’s character and storyline?

Lene & Agnete: Natasha has been part of the Nina Borg storyline ever since The Boy in the Suitcase. At first she was just a young woman so terrified of being deported that she would put up with just about anything—including an abusive fiancé—to be allowed to stay in Denmark. It was only gradually that we began to wonder why she was so terrified. She developed from being a peripheral character, mainly defined by her role as a victim, into something much more complex. Had she been from Poland or Slovakia or pretty much any other East European nation, her deportation would have been immediate and automatic, since the Danish authorities regard those countries as “safe”—that is, territories where rejected asylum-seekers will not be met with persecution. This would not suit our purposes; we needed her to stay around for three whole novels, so she had to be from Ukraine, one of the very few former East-bloc countries still considered so questionable from a human rights point of view that deportation cannot be automatic. As a matter of fact, you could say that not only Natasha’s nationality but most of the plot of Death of a Nightingale was decided by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Susann Cokal

Susann Cokal is a historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and professor of creative writing and modern literature. Her new magnum opus is The Kingdom of Little Wounds, set in the Scandinavian Renaissance; it received starred reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English.

From her Q & A at Books with Tien:

How did you come up with the title?

I'm usually very bad at titles; my other books went through at least twenty titles each before I found the right one. But as soon as this story of ailing children in an island kingdom sprang into mind (and that was the first idea I had for it), I thought, "It's the Kingdom of Little Wounds." And that was always the title afterward. I'm so glad it worked out, because calling it anything else would have been strange after eight years of writing.

There are lots of little wounds in this kingdom--from the war (some big wounds, too), from the disease the children have, from the price of a needle, from torture ... There's also a bit of a play on words, as at the time "the little wound" was a euphemism for a female body part. Which says a lot about how people perceived women's bodies back then.

The wounds left on women's bodies and minds really took over the story. I'd first thought this would be a dark fairy tale about the children and their illness, but it turned out to be more about Ava (the seamstress disgraced in love), Midi (the slave brutalized), and Isabel (the queen treated as a babymaking brood mare). And, of course, the villains--principally Count Nicolas Bullen af Bon, who is handsome but up to no good. Especially with the way he manipulates the king, who is in love with him.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I'm hesitant to talk about my own Big Message and impose an idea on someone. There are lots of ways to interpret this story, lots of themes that could emerge--some that...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Susann Cokal's website.

Writers Read: Susann Cokal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk latest novels, Damned and Doomed, feature Madison Spencer, the liveliest and snarkiest dead girl in the universe.

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

Could I ask about your belief in the possibility of an afterlife? When we meet Madison [in Damned] and she’s in hell, and now [in Doomed] she’s moved into purgatory, and as a fellow ex-Catholic, I’m curious about your beliefs.

I think it’s harder to believe in the lack of an afterlife. It would be ruling out so many things just because we can’t see them. I think it would be akin to living in past centuries in denial of microbes or germs or the galaxy. Just because we can’t see something, we shouldn’t be dismissing it so easily.

Do you think it’s possible that hell is a physical place in some way?

No. I ascribe to the belief of I think it’s Thomas More, who said that hell is where you take yourself when you’re not being the person that God intended you to be. So hell is, in a way, a state that you create yourself.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the literary character Palahniuk believes most resembles him.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 4, 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 debut novel is OCD, The Dude, and Me. From Vaughn's Q & A with Kathy at I Am a Reader:

What is one book everyone should read?

I love so many books that it is difficult to recommend just one. But, if forced to choose, I think I’d go with The Brother’s K by David James Duncan. Mr. Duncan is an extraordinary writer and he captures the richness, beauty, and complications of family life so powerfully. The story is about love, brotherhood, and the importance of embracing and having compassion for others (especially those who are different from you). This novel lives on and on inside me; I’m very grateful it was written and that I read it. It is quite an achievement. I’m not doing it justice by my words here. It is the literary equivalent of Pablo Sandoval’s three homeruns in one World Series game. (I think Mr. Duncan would like my metaphor since The Brother’s K has a baseball theme.;)

If you could meet one person who has died who would you choose?

Maybe this is cliché, but I’d like to meet Shakespeare. As a high school English teacher, I taught Hamlet for many years. I want to discuss that play with him and also be able to tell him that I believed he actually wrote all those stunning works. I want to tell him that my life is richer for reading them, watching them on stage and film and from performing in a few...[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

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott's latest book is Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I’ve read and loved all of your books, but this particular one felt different to me--the power was much rawer, the language more beautiful and poetic. Were you aware of this? And why do you think this is?--

I don't know! I started it the day after the slaughter at Newtown, and was filled with fear and grief and being stunned. I never lost faith in the greatness of God, and of people, but I thought, Where do we find meaning now, after this appalling tragedy? I have seen so many people come fully back to life after literally unsurvivable loss, one day at a time, through love, profound loyalty, maybe...dare I say it? Grace. I mean grace in the sense of buoyancy, when you think you are going down under the waves--but it turns out the Love is like water wings.

Newtown was uniquely awful, but every day, we live with terrifying images, of polar bear cubs floating away, and all these shootings, and the crazily wailing roaring addictive sickening pace of our lives. I wondered, where is the meaning for us now, in the modern era?

The opening struck a chord with me, where you talk about how anything can and does happen. You find love and there is a school shooting. The baby you lovingly raised turns out to be a stripper. How can we go on in the face of this? In a way, this book, your attempt to find meaning in the face of terrible tragedies like the school shooting.

I think the question is not so much, How do we go on, because life naturally wants to stay alive. But how do we live again fully both in the face of devastation, AND in the modern world's chaotic technological frenzy? In this bizarre, new science fiction world? How do we stay, or become, who we were born to be, when we are pummeled with both feelings of loss and confusion, AND the information bombardment--to which we are often magnetically drawn? And to which some of us feel somewhat addicted?

What actions do we take to insist on a rich, present human life, where we are not strung out over meaningless multi-tasking bullshit, helicoptering, or unresolved grief and damage from possibly VERY crazy childhood situations?

How do we trust...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Andrew Hudgins

Andrew Hudgins was born a military brat in Fort Hood, Texas, in 1951, moving to New Mexico, Ohio, and England before elementary school in North Carolina and California. His family lived for one year outside Paris before his father was transferred to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1966, the year after the Selma-to-Montgomery march. He has attended Huntingdon College, the University of Alabama, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Stanford University. His poetry has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and teaches at The Ohio State University.

Hudgins's latest book is The Joker: A Memoir.

From his Q & A with Okla Elliott at Mayday Magazine:

Okla Elliott: Your new memoir is all about jokes—what we learn through them, how we navigate difficult psychological territory via them, and the underlying logic of them—but this is not your first foray into humor. You have a book of humorous poems, a rarity for a poet these days, and even your more overtly serious poetry makes use of humor, dark or otherwise. Could you explain a bit about your obvious fascination with humor and how, perhaps more specifically, this fascination has shaped your literary output?

Andrew Hudgins: Like everyone, I love to laugh, and as a kid I spent a lot of time about the things that made me laugh—jokes, books, the standup comedians on Ed Sullivan—and I realized that humor, far from being trivial, often commented on a subject forcefully, often with a fundamental observation about life. In other words, humor can be a widening of the intelligence of the joker, the listener, and the work that includes it. By mocking what it’s saying, humor looks at both sides of an issue at once.

Here’s an example. As a kid, somewhere between fifteen and seventeen years old, I was watching the Ed Sullivan Show with my dad when a comedian told the joke about the Texas oilman who says to the Vegas showgirl, “I’ll give you a million dollars to sleep with me.”

The showgirl, shocked, says, “I’ve never done anything like that. I’m just a small-town girl who’s moved to Vegas to dance.”

The millionaire says, “That’s a million dollars, cash.”

“Jeez, a million dollars, mister. That could set me up for life,” says the showgirl. “Sure, yeah, for a million dollars I’ll sleep with you.”

As the joke unfolded, I listened nervously listening because my father was a Southern Baptist deacon who was prudish about sex, so prudish he’d ever told me anything about it. While the millionaire was making his pitch, my thinking paralleled the showgirl’s. Though I never come close to having sex and didn’t really know what was involved, I also found myself entertaining the idea of letting the millionaire have his way with me. A million dollars meant I’d never walk into the backdoor of another hamburger joint, clock in for my shift, and have to scrape the grill and drain the deep-fat fryer.

Once the girl has agreed to sleep with him, the millionaire, looks at her appraisingly and says, “What about for an hundred dollars?”

“What kind of girl do you think I am?” says the showgirl.

“We’ve already established that,” replies the Texan. “Now we’re just negotiating the price.”

I felt duly chastised by the joke even as I laughed at it. I was abashed at how my own cupidity had been revealed to me in the starkest turns. My father laughed because he believed that any compromise of principles was a form of prostitution, and I knew that was why he was laughing. I, on the other hand, knew I lived with compromise and I was thus at some basic and undeniable level a whore. I suspected that...[read on]
Learn more about The Joker, and follow Andrew Hudgins on Facebook.

Writers Read: Andrew Hudgins (March 2009).

Writers Read: Andrew Hudgins.

The Page 99 Test: The Joker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sally Koslow

Sally Koslow, who was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota, is the former editor in chief of McCall’s magazine. Married and the mother of two sons, she lives in New York City.

Her latest novel is The Widow Waltz.

From Koslow's Q & A with Amy Sue Nathan at Women’s Fiction Writers:

Amy: Novels are layered and complex. We know that as both readers and writers. But if you could impart one takeaway from The Widow Waltz, for its readers, what would it be?

Sally: Only one? That all of us are capable of handling more than we think. We can rise to the occasion and help can come in surprising packages. Also, that our families are a medley of people we love who love us back—they may be blood-links, but not always.

Amy: What do you think of the term “women’s fiction?” How would you define it? (Obviously it doesn’t bother me, but I know it gets under the skin of many authors)

Sally: Men have read and appreciated my novels; I see the reviews and Facebook comments. But I know most of my readers are women and as someone who happily edited magazines for female audiences, I’d be a hypocrite to spit on the concept of “women’s fiction.” I recognize that the subjects I have explored in my novels—working for the eccentric female celebrity editor of a magazine: reflecting on motherhood, infidelity, and complicated friendship; rebuilding your life after being widowed without resources—may resonate more for women than men. Fine. Certainly some amount of “women’s fiction” is sappy, overly dependent on clichés and product placement just as many suspense novels and thrillers marketed to men are poorly written. I like remind myself of authors like Margaret Drabble, Claire Messud or Elizabeth Strout, who often tell women’s stories. The real issue is that...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sally Koslow's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Widow Waltz.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Sally Koslow and Percy.

--Marshal Zeringue