Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Michele Zackheim

Michele Zackheim is the author of four books. Born in Reno, Nevada she grew up in Compton, California. For many years she worked in the visual arts as a fresco muralist, an installation artist, print-maker, and a painter. Her work has been widely exhibited and is included in the permanent collections of The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.; The Albuquerque Museum; The Grey Art Gallery of New York University; The New York Public Library; The Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum, and The Carlsbad Museum of Art. She has been the recipient of two NEA awards, and teaches Creative Writing from a Visual Perspective at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Of her transition from visual artist to author she writes: “Over time, random words began to appear on my canvases…then poems…then elaborate fragments of narratives. I began to think more about writing and less about the visual world. Finally, I simply wrote myself off the canvas and onto the lavender quadrille pages of a bright orange notebook. This first book, Violette’s Embrace, was published by Riverhead Books.” That book is a fictional biography of the French writer Violette Leduc. Her second book, the acclaimed Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl (Penguin Putnam, 1999), is a non-fiction account of the mystery of the lost illegitimate daughter of Mileva and Albert Einstein. Broken Colors (Europa Editions, 2007) is the story of an artist, whose life takes her to a place where life and art intersect. Her fourth novel, Last Train to Paris, was published in January 2014.

From Zackheim's Q & A with Valerie Hemingway at The Paris Review:

All of your books share a certain preoccupation with World War II. Why?

My family lived in Compton, California, an area that was declared vulnerable to an enemy attack. I was only four years old when World War II ended, but I remember small details—a brass standing lamp with a milk-glass base that was lit at night while my parents listened to the menacing news on the radio. The sound of night trains, which ran on tracks a block away. And of course—and this is hard to admit—my only sibling was born in 1944. Because I was the eldest, and because before her birth I had already experienced grim hardships, an intense sibling rivalry was born. I have to assume that she became part of my unconscious interest in war. These memories, along with the emerging news from concentration camps after the war, and my parents’ outraged and mournful whisperings in Yiddish, created an unconscious anxiety that I’ve been making work about all my adult life.

You wove the story of your cousin’s murder through your novel. Was the expansion and departure from the initial incident a natural progression for you?

I often start out writing nonfiction. But there’s a problem. It’s boring for me not to embellish—actually, it’s no fun. I did try, however, for a short time, with this book.

When I discovered that a distant relative of mine had been murdered in Paris in 1937, I was intrigued. I had discovered this story in a New Yorker essay by Janet Flanner. And then, to my surprise, I discovered that Colette and George Sand’s daughter, Aurora, was part of the story, too.

The only problem was that...[read on]
Visit Michele Zackheim's website.

My Book, The Movie: Last Train to Paris.

Writers Read: Michele Zackheim.

The Page 69 Test: Last Train to Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sara Benincasa

Sara Benincasa is an award-winning comedian and author of the books Great, a teen adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom, a book based on her critically acclaimed solo show about panic attacks and agoraphobia.

From the author's Q & A with Emily Winter for The Barnes & Noble Book Blog:

EW: And why did you choose to modernize The Great Gatsby?

SB: Well, feminist retellings of ancient myths and fairy tales are pretty cool. I wanted to do something a little different. I thought, what would happen if I took a male-centered, twentieth-century novel written by one of the most notorious literary celebrities of his generation and rebooted it with girls as the main characters?

I thought the bones of the story were strong enough to support a retelling in any era, really. Gatsby’s love for Daisy—or maybe it’s just an obsessive desire for what she represents—well, that’s something that transcends the boundaries of time and place. It reminded me of the way girls sometimes obsess over one another in middle school and high school. They see things they want to embody and fall into a kind of love with one another that has very little to do with romance. Of course, some girls genuinely fall in love with each other, and that’s wonderful. But when it came to Great, I wanted to tell a story that was more about obsession and desire than about true love.

EW: Was it super daunting to revisit/rewrite an American classic? Was it restrictive or freeing to have a sort of template to work from?

SB: I think my inexperience as a novelist made me bold. It didn’t occur to me until I had completed the book that...[read on]
Visit Sara Benincasa's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Agorafabulous!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sarah Cornwell

Sarah Cornwell grew up in Narberth, Pennsylvania. Her fiction has appeared in the 2013 Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Missouri Review, Mid-American Review, Gulf Coast, and Hunger Mountain, among others, and her screenwriting has been honored with a Humanitas Prize. A former James Michener Fellow at UT-Austin, Cornwell has worked as an investigator of police misconduct, an MCAT tutor, a psychological research interviewer, and a toy seller.

Her debut novel is What I Had Before I Had You.

From Cornwell's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Where did the for this novel spark?

My mother had several miscarriages before I was born. As a child, I wondered if those miscarriages were my own failed attempts to enter the world, or if they were brothers and sisters I would never know, each with a unique soul. I started writing about Myla and Olivia with those ghost siblings in mind, and it was Olivia’s childhood—the nursery, the beach, the domineering mother, the patterns of domestic life in the Reed household—from which the rest of the story sprang.

To me, there’s nothing more haunting than a missing child. It’s every parent’s nightmare. Did you have moments writing it when you just had to stop?

Though it is a nightmarish, worst-case scenario, no—at risk of giving away too much of the ending of the book, when I invented the present day plot thread in which Olivia searches for Daniel at the beach, I had a pretty good idea of where I was headed. That whole present day frame narrative presented itself in 2011, toward the end of the writing process. I certainly shared Olivia’s terror, but also her...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah Cornwell's website.

The Page 69 Test: What I Had Before I Had You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen's 2014 novel In Paradise is set in the mid-90s, at a spiritual retreat at Auschwitz.

From the author's Q & A with the Amazon books editors at Omnivoracious:

Chris Schluep: When I first started reading the galley, I thought, “I didn’t know Peter Matthiessen was Jewish.” But you’re not. How aware of this were you while writing the novel?

Peter Matthiessen: I was aware that I wasn’t Jewish, of course, and I was only somewhat hindered by doubt on that score. It was more that I wasn’t qualified in other ways. I wasn’t a veteran of the camps, and perhaps more important, I hadn’t lost family in them; some people don’t think you’re entitled to write about the camps unless you’ve had first-hand experience of them. And of course I was humbled by the many powerful accounts of life in the camps: who needed mine? If I couldn’t bring something fresh to it, why do it at all? Nonetheless, there was a strange experience I wanted to write about. In the mid-1990s an international group of more than a hundred went to Auschwitz. We chose to go in the winter, because that was the toughest time for the prisoners, and we stayed in the former SS barracks and meditated on the selection platforms in all weathers. It was a way of honoring or “witnessing” for the more than a million who had died there. In addition to the violent impression the place itself made on us, so grim and relentless—the towers and gates, all that barbed wire, the few decrepit barracks still standing--most of us experienced a peculiar event in the course of our stay there, a manifestation of … something. I couldn’t purge myself of the wish to write about it. I’d kept a journal of my time there, and later I sketched out a factual account, but I found no way to do justice to the experience with the bare facts, which were nebulous. Under those circumstances, I felt I could ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 25, 2014

Johanna Lane

Johanna Lane was brought up in Ireland, studied English Literature at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and Creative Writing at Columbia's MFA program. Her forthcoming debut novel is Black Lake.

From Lane's Q & A with Anne Goodwin:

One of the themes of Black Lake is attachment to place, manifest in both the narrative and in your evocative description of the house and surrounding countryside. What drew you to this theme and the landscape of rural Donegal in particular?

When I was a baby, my parents bought a cottage in Donegal, so I spent all my summers there as a child. To me, it’s the most beautiful place on earth; the sky, the mountains, the sea, even the colours of the grasses in winter. The landscape is always changing, often quite dramatically.

Life at Dulough could hardly be more different to Celtic-Tiger era Dublin. Do you feel particularly attuned to the conflict between tradition and modernity?

I see tradition as quite a negative force when it comes to Ireland. In Black Lake, John embodies tradition, and it’s his modus operandi that causes such terrible problems for his family. On the other hand, his wife Marianne embodies modernity; she’s the necessary counter to his traditionalism. On a broader scale, Ireland’s great traditions are well known and much lauded, but I see it as a country whose traditionalism is in danger of choking it, especially when it comes to social and religious questions.

What made you decide to relate the story from the point of view of each member of the family? Was it tricky to write from four different perspectives?

Black Lake was the first novel I tried to write, and honestly, I think it just seemed too daunting to sustain a whole book from one character’s perspective. That said, I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Miriam Pawel

Miriam Pawel is the author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography.

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

Q: You've already written about the United Farm Workers movement. What made you decide to focus on Chavez specifically?

A: He's never been portrayed as the complex, multifaceted leader that he was. Nor in a way that takes into account his failures as well as his successes.

Q: Did he grow up in a farm worker family?

A: He grows up on a farm that his family owns. It's not a terrible existence, but they lose their house and their land in the Depression.

In 1939, when he's 12 years old, his family moves to California. They arrive about a month after the publication of "The Grapes of Wrath."

In many ways, the California that he first encounters is that of the Joad family. He begins to work full-time after he graduates from eighth grade. He's a farm worker in the fields with the exception of when he's in the Navy.

Q: Workers gained many protections in the first decades of the last century. Why were farm workers left behind?

A: Farm workers were not covered by the labor, health, and safety laws that most of the workers took for granted.

The one constant was that there was almost always a surplus of workers. Wages were very low. There were no bathrooms in the field – a particular problem for women. There was no clean water to drink, no overtime provisions, no protection from pesticides.

Farm worker housing, and this is still a real issue, was pretty dreadful. And in addition to all the physical deprivations and difficulties, there was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thomas Goetz

Thomas Goetz's new book is The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.

From his Q & A with Tessa Miller at The Daily Beast:

You write something in the beginning of the book: ‘If there’s one caution to this tale, it’s this: Avoid the temptation to read the story, and the science within it, as the inevitable march of progress, a predetermined direction for human history. Especially where scientific investigations are concerned, it’s a fallacy to treat history as an unstoppable trajectory away from ignorance and toward insight.’ Can you explain that more?

Well, it’s obvious in some regard: that history isn’t predetermined. But I thought it was worth underscoring because when it comes to science, we assume all previous discoveries were preordained. But those discoveries don’t just happen—they are the very real product of men and women and struggle and failure and all sorts of human foibles. The stories of discovery are so rote, though, that we forget that they took incredibly hard work.

Part of this story, in particular, is the way that credit and acknowledgement and fame were so essential to the story—you have people like the French scientist [Jean Antoine] Villemin who kind of discovered the TB bacteria, but nobody believed him, so he doesn’t get credit. And then you have Koch, who was so diligent that nobody could reasonably doubt him.

Really, the story is an example of how it is harder and harder to convince people to care about discovery. It starts with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Mercy of Thin Air, The Mapmaker's War and the soon-to-be-released The Chronicle of Secret Riven.

From the author's Q & A with The Qwillery:

TQ: Tell us something about The Chronicle of Secret Riven that is not in the book description.

Ronlyn: Tidbit 1: You don’t have to read The Mapmaker’s War first to follow what’s happening. You can start with the second book.

Tidbit 2: The seed of this story came from a fairy tale I wrote in college about a girl who lived in a kingdom where women were forbidden to read.

Tidbit 3: I wrote this book by hand. With pencils.

TQ: Give us one of your favorite lines from The Chronicle of Secret Riven.

Ronlyn: “To see is a trick of the mind, but to believe is a trick of the heart.”

TQ: What would you say are the themes of The Chronicle of Secret Riven?

Ronlyn: The risk of authenticity—how does a person manage to be who she is when most people, even within her own family, don’t accept or understand her? Power over is another one—the power parents have over their children, that authority has over subordinates—both in overt and covert ways. Also...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ronlyn Domingue's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's War.

Writers Read: Ronlyn Domingue.

My Book, The Movie: The Mapmaker's War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 21, 2014

Akhil Sharma

Akhil Sharma’s new novel is Family Life.

From the author's Q & A with Mohsin Hamid for Guernica:

Guernica: Family Life is the story of an Indian family that immigrates to America in the late 1970s as part of the first large wave of Indian immigration to the US. They come for the opportunities that the country offers for the family’s two children. At first everything they hope for occurs: the older of the two sons gets into the Bronx High School of Science. Soon, though, after they have been in the country for two years, the family suffers a tragedy: the older son has an accident in a swimming pool. He dives into the pool, strikes his head on the bottom of the pool, is knocked unconscious, and remains underwater for three minutes. When he is pulled out, he is severely brain damaged.

I know that this story is very similar to your life. Could you give me a sense of how much of the novel is autobiography?

Akhil Sharma: This is one of those questions that novelists hate to answer.

Guernica: I know.

Akhil Sharma: Novels should be judged rigorously. Either a book works or it doesn’t. The fact that something is true in the real world should not lend authority to it in fiction.

Guernica: I know. I ask because I have a second question based on your answer.

Akhil Sharma: Almost everything in the novel is true. In the novel, though...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Holly Peterson

Holly Peterson's new novel is The Idea of Him.

From her Q & A with Hannah Seligson for The Daily Beast:

Is The Idea of Him a post-recession book?

Yes, I wanted to write about the post-crash New York and how the recession changed how people behave. I did not want to write, as I had in my last book, about the Park Avenue, NetJets crowd. I wanted to write about a totally different sector of New York, which is far more interesting in my mind: the meritocracy crowd. They are a distinct crowd that made it on their own. You can’t be a true part of the meritocracy crowd in Manhattan if you inherited Daddy’s company and drove it into the ground, even if you own a sports team.

Wade Crawford, a big player in your new book, is the fictional face of the meritocracy crowd because he pulled himself up by his bootstraps. But who is the real-life face of meritocracy crowd in this city?

These are people like Harvey Weinstein, Bruce Wasserstein, Diane von Furstenberg, and Barry Diller. Part of the meritocracy crowd is their inability to stop and never be satisfied with any level of success. It’s also the quest for power. I go to the Grill Room with my dad a lot for lunch and there are men there well into their 80s who are still doing huge deals. That phenomenon of never being satisfied with any level of success or money—it’s an intense, maniacal drive. I think they are fascinating. My father is 87 and he writes speeches in the dentist chair. The dentist can’t get to his teeth.

What did your father, who was secretary of Commerce under Nixon, think of the book?

He...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 18, 2014

Renée Rosen

As clichéd as it sounds, Renée Rosen is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, the author loves all things old, all things Chicago and all things written.

Rosen's latest novel is Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. From her Q & A with Janie Chang:

JC: Your latest book, Dollface, is set in 1920’s Chicago, a time that provides an author with rich material. What insights into this era did you want to give readers that they may not have known from all those Hollywood movies?

Renee: Hollywood typically focuses on the men of this era and I wanted to explore what it meant to be a young woman during the ‘20s. I wanted to show both the glamour and the grit of this era. It was such a liberating time for women, especially young women striving for independence. For the first time women we’re living on their own, working and supporting themselves. They were pushing boundaries and challenging conventions, which shocked the general public. I’m convinced that women bobbing their hair and wearing lip rouge was the equivalent of today’s twerking.

JC: In a previous interview, you said that you switched the focus of the story from the gangsters to their women. I’m so glad you did! What opportunities did the female POV open up for your writing?

Renee: Shifting the novel from a traditional gangster tale to a female driven story opened up a world of possibilities for me. The female characters really started to come alive. Suddenly they took on much more interesting roles and found themselves tangled up in everything from bootlegging to murder. Letting the women take center stage allowed them to...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: Dollface.

Writers Read: Renée Rosen.

The Page 69 Test: Dollface.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lacy Crawford

Former private college counselor Lacy Crawford is the author of 2013's, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy.

From her Q & A with Lizzie Crocker for The Daily Beast:

When did you decide to chronicle this part of your life?

My work with students tapered off dramatically in 2010, after I had my first child. And then friends told me I was already too late to apply for preschool for my son and needed to hurry up and get on the list. So I panicked and called some schools and sent over applications. I remember one morning I was working on an application that had essay questions about my son. I looked over and he was lying on the carpet on his back and I thought, “Oh my god, this is how it happens. This is how it begins.” I’d been secretly judging these parents for ten years but there I was, ready to step on the same moving walkway, and I thought, “I know how this ends.” This ends with me hiring someone like me to get my kid into college. So I started writing the book as a private investigation.

You were so entrenched in these kids’ lives—more life coach than college essay counselor.

That may be a mark of how young and naïve I was when I started. I didn’t have a degree in education or counseling or anything, but I had grown up an overachiever in a family and a community that put a lot of pressure on the same type of thing. I felt like I could relate to the experiences these kids were having. I wanted to help shift the frame a little bit away from their parents and under them so they could take control of the process. So yes, I was deeply involved. And the anxiety these mothers face during this process—there are few people they can vent to. I think some of them hired me quite simply so...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Searles

John Searles is the author of the national bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. He frequently appears as a book critic on NBC's Today show and CBS's The Early Show.

From Searles's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt about his 2013 novel, Help for the Haunted:

I always want to talk about craft, so tell me how this novel sparked. Did you have it all mapped out, or do you follow your muse (mine always seems missing in action). At what point did you know how the book was going to end, and what pieces of the story to withhold for maximum drama?

Originally, I was writing a novel about a girl in her twenties who goes away to an island to take care of a reclusive mystery writer. There was so much about that novel I loved, but it just never came together. Thankfully, my literary agent had the good sense to intervene. One day, she showed up at my house with the whopping 500 pages I’d written and broke it to me that it was not working. We spent the entire day and well into the night discussing what the problems were and what, if anything, could be salvaged. In the end, the only thing I kept was the main character’s name: Sylvie Mason. I had this idea about her being orphaned and left in the care of her troubled older sister. So I started writing that story and stuck with it. I’m lucky it worked out on the second go-round!

The novel is also many things at once--a terrifying thriller, a creepy scarefest, and an astute psychological drama about the coming of age of one remarkable narrator. How did you manage such alchemy?

Thank you for saying that. This story was way more challenging than anything I’ve ever done creatively. I guess that’s because I was trying lots of things: telling the story from the perspective of a young girl, combining a murder mystery with a ghost story with a coming of age tale and a family drama. Believe me, there were times when I’d just lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling trying to figure out how to piece everything together. When that didn’t work I’d do...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Daniel S. Sutherland

Daniel E. Sutherland is Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas. The recipient of more than fifty awards, honors, and grants, he is best known for his acclaimed series of books chronicling nineteenth-century America.

His latest book is Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

From Sutherland's Q & A with David Ebony at the Yale University Press blog:

David Ebony: Why Whistler? Why now? How did the book evolve?

Daniel S. Sutherland After publishing a number of books on the Civil War, I decided I needed a break. I pulled out an art history book and went to a chapter on Whistler. It was a fascinating story, and I wound up devoting the following six or seven years to him. I had an enormous learning curve that stretched out over a long period of time. I immediately set out to learn the methodology of how to write a biography. I read all the previous biographies of Whistler, and practically all those I could find on anyone and everyone he knew.

Ebony: How did your approach differ from the other Whistler biographers?

Sutherland I tried to more thoroughly and successfully draw the distinction between the fanciful image we have of Whistler the showman, and the painter who was completely devoted to his art. I wanted to emphasize the complexities of the fellow. The subtitle of the book plays off this idea. Above all, Whistler was someone dedicated to creating beautiful things. Some of his contemporaries misunderstood this and so he felt he had to define himself as an artist. In writing the book, I tried to think of art as Whistler did, and focused on his concern for his own legacy.

Ebony: His obsessive anxiety about his legacy seems to have started very early on.

Sutherland He was convinced...[read on]
Visit Daniel Sutherland's faculty webpage, and learn more about Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

My Book, The Movie: Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bill Minutaglio

From Randy Dotinga's Q & A with Bill Minutaglio, author of 2003's City on Fire: The Explosion that Devastated a Texas Town and Ignited a Historic Legal Battle, which is about the 1947 explosion in Texas City of a ship full of ammonium nitrate that killed hundreds and left thousands wounded:

Q: How is the Texas City disaster memorialized, and how has it affected that community to this day?

A: It is recognized in various ways – with a memorial area, with anniversary commemorations. The city is well aware of its history. The main library in Texas City is a wonderful repository of history, oral histories, photographs.

It's hard to say how the event affects the community now. I think, in general, people in Texas City are mindful of the giant, sprawling industrial complex that rings the city.

It is enormous, and the people in the city are very proud of the fact that large portions of America would not function as they do without the goods and services from Texas City. America would be radically different, probably malfunctioning according to some people, without the energy and petrochemical nexus of Texas City.

Q: Why do you think the Texas City disaster is largely forgotten? Does it just not fit into a wider historical narrative?

A: People remember Texas City when they want to, through the prism of the media that revives the story when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Elizabeth Weil

Elizabeth Weil's 2012 memoir is No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried To Make It Better.

From her Q & A with Jessica Grose at Slate:

Slate: How did you choose the methods by which you were going to try to improve the marriage? Couples’ counseling is an intuitive way to improve a marriage, but exploring religion isn’t.

Weil: [I chose the methods] both from reading around and talking to friends and other experts about what were people doing and what was effective for people. Then there were the things that were issues in our lives. With the religion oddly it wasn’t actually an issue, it was something everybody thought should be an issue, which is very different. I felt like, OK, well, if we’re gonna really think about our marriage and we’re in an interfaith marriage, we should really think about religion. So that’s how we wound up going down that road.

I feel like [exploring religion] was an important lesson. We were fine, me and Dan, with religion. Neither of us is particularly religious; we care about it a little, not a lot. But it was something other people thought might be a problem, and so we went out seeking other people’s advice, which turned out to not really be particular to us at all. It was more like other people’s views of how they thought we should do it. And that wound up being really negative for us.

And I think the money stuff can be a little like that in some ways. So much of financial advice is based on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mary Szybist

Mary Szybist is the author of two books of poetry: the eloquent and musical Granted, and winner of the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry, Incarnadine.

From her Q & A with Shara Lessley:

Shara Lessley: Incarnadine wrestles with the tension between spiritual alienation and astonishment. Do you agree with Dickinson’s description of faith as a ‘fine invention’? What has the imagination to do with matters spiritual?

Mary Szybist: I am inclined to agree with Dickinson on all matters, but I don’t think all faiths are equally fine or equally inventive. There is a difference, for example, between faith in a very particular conception or idea (i.e., faith in knowing) and faith in the reality of factors we can’t know or understand. Simone Weil tells us, ‘We know by means of our intelligence that what the intelligence does not comprehend is more real than what it does comprehend.’ That is a statement of a kind of faith that resonates with me, but it is not one that conjures the imagination’s ‘fine inventions.’ That is where poetry enters. Doesn’t any relationship to or conception of the spiritual depend on imagination?

The scene to which Incarnadine continually returns—the Annunciation—has long been a site of ‘fine invention,’ especially in the hands of artists like Simone Martini and Sandro Botticelli; it portrays a human encountering something not human; it suggests that it is possible for us to perceive and communicate with something or someone not like us. That is part of what I find most moving about the scene: how it plays out the faith, the belief that that can happen—and can change us.

SL: Last month, Yale University Press released an anthology called Before the Door of God. Which elements of traditional devotional poetry do you borrow for Incarnadine? Are there lyric strategies you worked deliberately to avoid?

MS: Yes, I am seeking to extend some of the traditions of devotional poetry to more secular mediations. I am particularly thinking of the complex situation of faith in seventeenth-century metaphysical poems and the heterogeneity of images and ideas that enable them—disjunctions that pull us out of the ordinary. I have come to think of the ‘space’ these poems occupy as similar to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is the author of critically acclaimed Dust and Shadow, The Gods of Gotham, and Seven for a Secret.

From her Q & A with Nancy Klingener at Littoral:

NK: I want to get back to Sherlock and Dust & Shadow but first I’d like to ask about your own creation, Timothy Wilde, the protagonist in your most recent two books The Gods of Gotham and Seven For A Secret—and I hope many more in the future. Where did Timothy come from, and did you start with him, or the setting, or perhaps with George Washington Matsell, who really was New York’s first police commissioner and who appears as a character in those two novels?

LF: Thank you! Timothy came from an abstract concept, which was day one, cop one of the New York Police Department. It’s such an infamous law enforcement body, known the world over, and I simply wanted to see what this group of ragtag men looked like who were meant to defend the populace, but before they had any notion of what they were doing. I wanted the first day of school, not Civil War-Era or Roosevelt reform. Michael Chabon says we write fiction to fill in the gaps in the map a la Heart of Darkness, and I think that’s entirely true—I’d read fantastic books about the NYPD during other time periods, but never about their mythical beginnings. Beginnings are powerful stuff. So research into the world of 1845 New York all began with my wanting to know the NYPD’s origins. If the force had been founded in 1826 or in 1852, The Gods of Gotham would have had a different plot line, and it would have taken place in 1826 or 1852.

The rest of Tim came out of a combination of research and personal experience, as I think any historical character does. I write fairly unabashed hero stories, so I needed Timothy to be his own moral compass—that meant he wasn’t a Tammany insider, and thus needed an older sibling to get him on the copper-star force, who were entirely complicit with the Democratic Party’s agenda. That also meant he resembled some of the contemporary radical abolitionists I researched. Every investigator is indebted to Sherlock Holmes, so to draw a strong line between them, Tim wears his heart on his sleeve and finds his own police work much less competent than it actually is. He’s sympathetic and self-deprecating. I needed him to be observant, and I worked in restaurants for years, so he’s a former bartender. I borrowed his face from a musical theatre friend. He hates city fountains that don’t work because I hate fountains that don’t work. He’s passionately verbose because he’s a 19th-century diarist and I’ll never be able to get away with this sort of language again, so I’m wallowing in it.

You mention Matsell, whom...[read on]
Dust and Shadow is one of Kat Rosenfield's five top Jack the Ripper–inspired reads.

Visit Lyndsay Faye's website.

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye (April 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

The Page 69 Test: Seven for a Secret.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Louis Bayard

With his most recent novels, Roosevelt's Beast, The School of Night, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard, in the words of the Washington Post, has ascended to "the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league." A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar® and Dagger awards and has been named one of People magazine's top authors of the year.

From Bayard's Q & A with Hilli Levin for BookPage:

What was the initial inspiration for Roosevelt’s Beast?

That’s a bit shrouded in mystery. All I can remember is standing in a Borders— that’s how long ago this was—and thinking: “Wait, didn’t Teddy Roosevelt go on some crazy journey through the Amazon jungle?”

At that point, I hadn’t yet read Candace Millard’s The River of Doubt, so I didn’t know how close Roosevelt came to death or how harrowing that journey really was—backbreaking labor, disease, starvation, drowning. The only thing I had, really, was a question. What would that experience have done to Roosevelt’s mind—or, to be metaphysical about it, his soul? The rest of the book just flowed from there.

Did you get the chance to see the Rio Roosevelt for yourself?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing historical novels, it’s how elusive the past can be. You can go to Paris, you can go to London, and I’ve done that, but if you want to reconstruct Napoleonic Paris or Victorian London, you have to head back to the library. And that’s what I did with Roosevelt’s Beast. I immersed myself in primary sources until I had the clearest possible picture of Teddy Roosevelt’s jungle. (Plus I’m fortunate to...[read on]
Visit Louis Bayard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Pale Blue Eye.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Night.

The Page 69 Test: Roosevelt's Beast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kevin Brockmeier

In addition to A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, Kevin Brockmeier is the author of the novels The Illumination, The Brief History of the Dead, and The Truth About Celia; the story collections Things That Fall from the Sky and The View from the Seventh Layer; and the children’s novels City of Names and Grooves: A Kind of Mystery.

From Brockmeier's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I've worshipped all of your novels, which usually have this eerie, almost otherworldly quality, but this particular memoir [A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip] is heartbreakingly honest and to the point. So did you have to curb your impulse to have something strange happen in it?

Thank you, first of all, for your kind words about my novels. Strangeness does seem to be an abiding source of inspiration for me. I considered various alternate approaches to the material in A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, but ultimately I decided that the best way to reveal the story was to assume a single perspective—mine, as it existed some 28 years ago—and to approach the events of that year as simply and forthrightly as I could. That said, I did write the memoir in the third person and the present tense, itself a strange choice, but one that I hoped would allow me to make the book not only as candid but as tensile and suggestive as I wanted it to be. And there’s also a middle chapter that, while very intimate, very revealing, is largely divorced from the ordinary mimetic currents of the book—something on the order of autobiographical science fiction, and definitely a case of something strange happening.

Why do you think seventh grade is such a benchmark for everyone? And how were you able to remember so many of the details that so many of us would rather forget?

So many of the people I’ve spoken with about this book have said, “Seventh grade! Seventh grade was awful.” It was certainly the hardest period of my own childhood—the first year of middle school rather than the second where I come from, and a year when some of us were walking around inside the bodies of adolescents, some of us inside the bodies of children, and when those bodies didn’t necessarily correspond to how we were experiencing our minds. I felt...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 7, 2014

Peter Mountford

Peter Mountford’s debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, won the 2012 Washington State Book Award and was a finalist in the 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize. In its full-page review, The Seattle Times wrote: “Debut novels don't come much savvier, punchier, or more entertaining...the work of an extraordinary talent.”

Mountford's latest novel is The Dismal Science.

From his Q & A with Neal Thompson for Omnivoracious:

What's the elevator pitch for your book?

The Dismal Science tells of a self-destructive and emotionally unstable executive at the World Bank whose outbursts have geopolitical consequences -- at turns tragic and comedic, the novel is a meditation on the fragile nature of identity.

* * *
Book that made you want to become a writer?

Lolita. I was pretty oblivious, I’m sorry to say, and I thought that because Nabokov was Russian, that meant he was from the 19th Century and wrote enormous novels with dozens of characters. I started reading and was floored. I didn’t know that prose could be that magnificent. I read all of his published books after that, and he wrote a lot of books. These lectures on Gogol, a book on Don Quixote, etc. All for that voice, those sentences. As he...[read on]
Visit Peter Mountford's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

My Book, The Movie: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

Writers Read: Peter Mountford.

The Page 69 Test: The Dismal Science.

My Book, The Movie: The Dismal Science.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ben Tanzer

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer's latest novel is The Interestings.

From her Q & A with Claire Zulkey:

At what point while writing The Interestings did it occur to you that this would be a book where people would discuss its role as literary fiction versus "women's fiction"?

When I was writing it, I was very engaged in the writing and the technical issues and all the endless stuff I needed to do, so I objectified the book surprisingly little.

On average, have you received different input on the book from your male versus female readers?

It's hard to say if there's a general difference in their reactions. Though I have definitely heard from more men with this book than with any of my others.

How cognizant of other people's work are you when you write? I know I waffle between feeling inspired by good and related writing but also thinking "Well my work is just going to be inferior or derivative so why even bother."

Sometimes when I'm writing I feel as if I need to read something great. It's sort of like the way people used to talk about enriching "iron-poor blood." It's as if I think my own "blood" needs some enriching, and maybe, through some very subtle act of supplementation, I can get a dose of those good qualities into my work without there being even a trace of the derivative. I think, though, what I really want, in those moments, is to be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 4, 2014

Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris's new novel is Midnight Crossroad, the first book in a new series called Midnight, Texas.

From the author's Q & A with Paul Goat Allen at The Barnes & Noble Book Blog:

Midnight Crossroad is an entirely new narrative canvas, with an intriguing ensemble cast, a richly described backdrop, and a supernatural undertone that fans of your previous series will devour. After spending so long in Sookie’s world—Dead Until Dark was released way back in 2001—can you tell me about the experience of beginning your first new series in almost 15 years?

First off, whew! Let me just breathe a sigh of relief. This is a huge leap for me, and I’m very anxious about Midnight Crossroad’s reception. Also, it was a bear to write, since Midnight Crossroad is so different from anything I’ve ever attempted. I was really stoked by the prospect of doing something new. I don’t like to repeat myself, so I needed the challenge of the third-person point of view and the different premise and setting.

What drew you to create a storyline set in a Texas town in the middle of nowhere? Was there a particular seed of inspiration?

Every summer in my childhood, I spent upwards of two weeks in Rocksprings, Texas, where my mother’s parents lived. They ran a hotel in tiny Rocksprings, and that hotel’s still standing—completely renovated and under different management. The culture and landscape were completely different from...[read on]
See--Coffee with a Canine: Charlaine Harris & Scrunch, Rocky, and Oscar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's new book is Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.

From his 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft about the advantages enjoyed by the world’s stock exchanges and high-frequency trading firms, excerpted at Slate:

Kroft: What’s the advantage of speed?

Lewis: I’ll give you an example. If I am just an ordinary trader, at a bank, or an investor in Manhattan, and I’m trying to go buy stock, and I hit a button that says I’m going to buy 10,000 shares of Microsoft that seem to be out there, my trade signal goes up the West Side Highway, out the Lincoln Tunnel and arrives first at an exchange on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel called the BATS Exchange. There are waiting high-frequency traders who have algorithms that are able to determine what it is I want to do. They then need to beat me to the other exchanges to buy the Microsoft I want to buy and sell it back to me at a higher price.

Kroft: And they’re doing that?

Lewis: They’re doing that. But they not only need to beat me. They need to beat each other. Beating me is easy. I’m just an ordinary investor operating at fairly ordinary speeds. Fast, but not that fast. Whoever’s the fastest to go get the Microsoft at the other exchanges that are scattered across New Jersey will have the advantage and can...[learn more]
Read about Michael Lewis's favorite books and his most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

John Dvorak

John Dvorak's new book is Earthquake Storms: The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault.

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

Q: Scientists weren't just wrong about earthquakes in the centuries leading up to the 1906 San Francisco quake. They were really wrong. What did they believe?

A: If you go back to the Enlightenment, they thought they were related to chemical explosions. By the 19th century, many scientists said they were caused by large volcanic explosions happening within the Earth.

There was no wide acceptance of the idea that earthquakes were actually caused by the sliding of great crustal blocks against each other until the 1906 earthquake, which ruptured the earth's surface for almost 300 miles. The ground had actually slid tens of feet along that rupture.

Q: Earthquakes can happen when giant chunks of land relieve the pressure that builds as they press against each other. You write that this is akin to what happens to a railroad car when it's pushed.

Could you explain that?

A: Imagine you're in a railroad car with the brakes on. It's getting pushed by another car, but it won't slide because of the brakes.

Eventually, however, the friction is overcome and the wheels start to slide on the iron rails. This makes the whole car shudder.

Another way to look at it is to put your hands palm down on a table and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron's first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award for best crime first novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Cameron's work has appeared in the New York Times, the Globe & Mail, and The Millions. She worked as a wilderness instructor in Ontario's Algonquin Park and for Outward Bound. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

Her new novel, The Bear, is about a family who gets attacked by a black bear in Algonquin Park. The children survive, but their parents do not.

From Cameron's Q & A with Antonia Whyatt at Chatelaine:

Q: Have you ever had an encounter with a bear?

A: When I worked in Algonquin Park and then in Northern Ontario as a treeplanter, I did come across black bears from time to time. After that, I headed west and encountered my one and only grizzly bear. I was hiking alone in the Rockies, which isn’t recommended (I can’t justify it other than to say that I was 21). I turned around a bend in the trail and saw a grizzly in the distance. The bear seemed to know I was there. I backed up, climbed a tree and felt sorry for myself even though the whole thing was of my own making. When I finally climbed down, the bear was gone. And that is the climax of the story — nothing happened. This is a very typical bear story as bears usually keep their distance from humans. It is also why the bear attack in Algonquin Park, the one that I used as a starting point for writing The Bear, became so firmly lodged in my mind. It was...[read on]
Visit Claire Cameron's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Learn about Claire Cameron's five favorite stories about unlikely survivors.

My Book, The Movie: The Line Painter.

Writers Read: Claire Cameron.

--Marshal Zeringue