Wednesday, December 31, 2014

William Deresiewicz

William Deresiewicz is the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.

From his Q & A with Michael Schulson at Salon:

If you talk to admissions counselors at elite schools, they’ll swear that they want bright, curious, quirky kids — not just well-credentialed winners. Are admissions counselors being dishonest? Or are the standards so skewed that those types of kids won’t even make it past the first cut?

I think that people who work in admissions offices really have the best intentions. I really do.

I think that they’re looking for quirky kids with something special. But every kid has to pass that bar of having really great grades. You can’t be so quirky that you say, “You know what? I’m a word person. I’ll never become a scientist, so I’m not gonna care about getting an A in calculus, because I’d rather read another book.” I mean, forget it. You can’t be that kid. Also, the kids that do get in have become so good at gaming the system. They know how to look like that kind of person. Kids know how to manufacture the appearance of being an interesting person. That’s not the same as being an interesting person.

There are more than 20 million Americans enrolled in some sort of college or university program right now. Only a fraction of them are going to these elite schools. I guess my question is, “So what?” How much does what happens in this narrow channel of elite education really matter?

First of all, Harvard only admits about 2,000 kids a year. But about 35,000 kids apply. I know this is a rough estimate, but James Fallows has an essay about this from a few years ago, where he estimates that 10-15 percent of American high school students are caught up in the selective college admissions process.

That is roughly 400,000 kids a year. They’re still worth talking about. And then, actually this does impact everybody, if only because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx is the author of The Shipping News and "Brokeback Mountain," and many other works.

From her Q & A with Christopher Cox at The Paris Review:


I wish I’d never written ["Brokeback Mountain"]. It’s just been the cause of hassle and problems and irritation since the film came out. Before the film it was all right.


Did people object to the fact that gay characters were in the center of a story about Wyoming?


Oh, yeah. In Wyoming they won’t read it. A large section of the population is still outraged. But that’s not where the problem was. I’m used to that response from people here, who generally do not like the way I write. But the problem has come since the film. So many people have completely misunderstood the story. I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience, but unfortunately the audience that “Brokeback” reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. And one of the reasons we keep the gates locked here is that a lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending. They can’t bear the way it ends—they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality. They just don’t get it. I can’t tell you how many of these things have been sent to me as though they’re expecting me to say, Oh great, if only I’d had the sense to write it that way. And they all begin the same way—I’m not gay, but . . . The implication is that because they’re men they understand much better than I how these people would have behaved. And maybe they do. But that’s not the story I wrote. Those are not their characters. The characters belong to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 29, 2014

Nina Darnton

A journalist for thirty years, Nina Darnton wrote her first novel, An African Affair three years ago.

Her new novel is The Perfect Mother.

From Darnton's Q & A with MommiFried:

What drew you to the Amanda Knox case as the inspiration for your book?

From the moment I read about Amanda Knox, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Or more precisely, I couldn’t get her mother out of my mind. As a mother myself, I was obsessed with the horror of hearing such frightening news from your daughter. I mean, imagine that you believe your daughter is doing well, is exemplary in fact, and enjoying her junior year abroad. Then you get a call in the middle of the night and your daughter is on the other end of the phone, crying and saying that someone has been killed and the police believe she did it. I kept imagining this scenario, what would happen next, what would be the worst that could happen, what would be the best, and finally I was compelled to write it. It’s not at all about Amanda Knox. But it’s fair to say...[read on]
Visit Nina Darnton's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Perfect Mother.

Writers Read: Nina Darnton.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Mother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Alison McQueen

Born in the Sixties to an Indian mother and an English jazz musician father, Alison McQueen grew up in London and worked in advertising for twenty-five years before retiring to write full time.

Her new novel is Under The Jeweled Sky.

From McQueen's Q & A at Lust and Coffee:

Can you tell us what the inspiration was for your new novel, “Under The Jeweled Sky”?

Under The Jewelled Sky was inspired by memories of my mother’s friends; the women I would eavesdrop on, the hushed voices and grave expressions passed over teacups. My mother’s friends had grown up (many of them in India) in the days before such things were openly spoken of, but it was all there: domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies, addiction, ruin, and occasional salvation.

Bad marriages were commonplace, but divorce was unthinkable, and the brittle veneers of fake harmony were part of the everyday landscape. Morals and ethics were knotted up with religious doctrine and stiff upper lip. Respectable people did not wash their laundry in public, nor did they question what went on behind the closed doors of their neighbours’ houses.

Part of the story is set in a maharaja’s palace. Although the fictional palace and its location are anonymous, I did have an inside track into life inside an Indian palace. In her twenties, my mother was hired as the private nurse to the Maharaja of Indore’s mother-in-law. She arrived there from Bombay and was shown to her quarters, an enormous suite in a grand building set across the grounds from the main palace.

A car was sent for her every morning, but she said that she preferred to walk. So off she would go, strolling through the grounds while the car followed along a few yards behind, driving at snail’s pace in case she should change her mind. Her breakfast would be served to her on a solid silver service, with a footman standing by should she want for anything.

From what she has told me, I am not sure that she handled it particularly well. She said that she didn’t want any fuss, which was quite the wrong way to go about things in a palace. There was also an incident when she was caught...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alison McQueen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Under The Jewelled Sky.

The Page 69 Test: Under the Jeweled Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Carrie La Seur

Carrie La Seur is an energy and environmental lawyer in Billings, Montana, and the author of The Home Place: A Novel.

From a Q & A at her website:

The main character in The Home Place, Alma Terrebonne, was named in honor of your great-grandmother Alma Fly Kifer. What would your great-grandmother think of her namesake?

My great-grandma Alma was the daughter of Jennie Curtis Fly Kamp, who arrived in 1864, at age 2, in what is today called the Gallatin Valley. Both these women buried at least one husband, because Montana used to be a dangerous place for men, and my grandmothers were not the sort of women to catch a train east when the going got tough. The Curtis family homesteaded near the headwaters of the Missouri River, northwest of present day Bozeman, Montana. The Flys later settled near Sarpy Creek in Big Horn County, one of the settings I used for The Home Place. Alma’s husband, John Kifer, was the Big Horn County sheriff back in the 1910s and later a US Marshall. An old woman when I knew her, Alma was known to insist that only whores wear pants, so she would probably find this book too racy. But she was also a proud daughter of pioneers, so I hope she’d be proud to see her land, her heritage, and her home place portrayed as things to be cherished and preserved.

Like you, Alma Terrebonne went to Bryn Mawr and Yale Law School. Do you worry that readers will think she’s an autobiographical character?

Willa Cather said that a novel is cremated youth, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 26, 2014

Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong's latest book is Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.

From her Q & A with Michael Schulson at Salon:

When you hear, for example, Sam Harris and Bill Maher recently arguing that there’s something inherently violent about Islam — Sam Harris said something like “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas” — when you hear something like that, how do you respond?

It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and ’40s in Europe.

This is how I got into this, not because I’m dying to apologize, as you say, for religion, or because I’m filled with love and sympathy and kindness for all beings including Muslims — no. I’m filled with a sense of dread. We pride ourselves so much on our fairness and our toleration, and yet we’ve been guilty of great wrongs. Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university.

There has always been this hard edge in modernity. John Locke, apostle of toleration, said the liberal state could under no circumstances tolerate the presence of either Catholics or Muslims. Locke also said that a master had absolute and despotical power over a slave, which included the right to kill him at any time.

That was the attitude that we British and French colonists took to the colonies, that these people didn’t have the same rights as us. I hear that same disdain in Sam Harris, and it fills me with a sense of dread and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer's latest novel is The Interestings.

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

You’ve been called “an expert social observer” and this seems to be the key to your novels. Which books by other authors do you think are crowning examples of social-observation fiction? And do you find yourself examining the real world around you (dinner parties, events) with a different set of eyes, considering your role in writing about it?

Edith Wharton, of course, writes in such a startlingly sharp and close-grained way about how people live. Just read “House of Mirth.” I rarely think about writing directly about a moment or event that I’ve witnessed or experienced. Instead, a single experience might be a jumping-off place (even only in terms of thinking about the experience) that leads to something more or less unrecognizable on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, won the Man Booker prize in 2009 and 2012. Her newest book is the short story collection, The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher.

From the author's Q & A with Rosanna Greenstreet for the Guardian:

What is your greatest fear?

Words fail me.

What is your earliest memory?

A spider.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

Persons are best considered posthumously.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I don't finish my sentences because I…

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Finishing them for me. Believe me, that is not what I was going to say.

Your most embarrassing moment?

It's complex. It involves...[read on]
Mantel's Wolf Hall made Ester Bloom's top ten books for fans of the television series House of Cards, Rachel Cantor's list of the ten worst jobs in books, Kathryn Williams's reading list on pride, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of books on baby-watching in Great Britain, Julie Buntin's top ten list of literary kids with deadbeat and/or absent dads, Hermione Norris's 6 best books list, John Mullan's list of ten of the best cardinals in literature, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on dangerous minds and Lev Grossman's list of the top ten fiction books of 2009, and is one of Geraldine Brooks's favorite works of historical fiction; Matt Beynon Rees called it "[s]imply the best historical novel for many, many years."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kelli Stanley

Kelli Stanley is a critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of crime fiction (novels and short stories). She makes her home in Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, a city she loves to write about.

Stanley is best known for the Miranda Corbie series of historical noir novels and short stories set in 1940 San Francisco. The first novel of the series, City of Dragons, introduced Miranda, the unforgettable protagonist Library Journal calls "one of crime’s most arresting heroines.”

City of Dragons won the Macavity Award for Best Historical Novel, and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Shamus Award, a Bruce Alexander Award and an RT Book Reviews Award, was a Mystery Guild selection of the month, and placed on many “best of the year” lists.

City of Secrets, the sequel to City of Dragons, was released by Thomas Dunne/Minotaur to great critical acclaim, was nominated for a number of awards and won the Golden Nugget for best mystery set in California.

Stanley's latest novel in the series is City of Ghosts.

From the author's Q & A with Sandra Parshall at The Big Thrill:

A lot is going on in CITY OF GHOSTS—a murdered client, dangerous undercover intrigue involving the federal government—but Miranda is driven most strongly by her desire to find her long-missing mother and learn the truth about her mother’s disappearance. Why does she want to reconnect with the woman who abandoned her to be brought up by a despicable father?

Why wouldn’t she? Any decent memory of her early childhood is connected to her mother, as evidenced by the recurring theme of the Irish lullaby in both CITY OF SECRETS and CITY OF GHOSTS. We largely define ourselves by who are parents are—they are the starting points of our identity before we reshape ourselves into independent adults. Her father is not someone in whom she wants to see any familial connection. What she does want is to believe that her mother did not abandon her, but was somehow forced away. She’s also driven by the desire to believe her mother is alive and that she, Miranda, can rescue her, whether from an individual circumstance or from German bombs dropping on England. Finding her mother is finding herself, which is the ultimate Hero’s Journey narrative.

What drew you to writing about San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s? Why that place and that time in U.S. history?

I’ve always been drawn to the time frame of U.S. and world history between the 1920s and the 1950s. Maybe it’s because my parents were...[read on]
Learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kelli Stanley & Bertie.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

The Page 69 Test: City of Secrets.

The Page 69 Test: City of Ghosts.

My Book, The Movie: City of Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Torch and the memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

From Strayed's Q & A with Jennifer Billock for Yahoo! Travel:

What would you do differently if you hiked the PCT today?

That’s a hard question to answer because on one hand, the reasonable part of me would say I would pack lighter. My pack was so heavy and caused me a lot of physical pain and hardship. Likewise, my boots. I would have shoes that were a better fit to my foot size and shape. But then, in some ways I’m grateful everything was just the way it was, because you never forget a lesson you learned the hard way. That turmoil and suffering and discomfort I went through contributed to making the trip so transformative for me. If everything had been easy, I would’ve had an experience that wasn’t as deep as the one I had.

What is the most common thing people ask you about the hike?

People are always saying, “Are your feet OK now? Did your feet recover?” It’s so funny because in fact, they are recovered — but it took a good few years for my toenails to grow back. Especially because I lost both of my big toenails, which it turns out is a big deal. It took them years to come back and another few years beyond that to be entirely normal. I also get asked a lot if I would do it again, and the answer is...[read on]
Author Pam Houston on Wild: "I read it on a long airplane flight, and by the time I was done the people all around me were seriously afraid of me. I was laughing so hard I was shaking the whole row of seats, and when I wasn’t laughing I was crying."

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue is the national bestselling author of the novels The Stolen Child, The Angels of Destruction, and Centuries of June.

His new novel is The Boy Who Drew Monsters.

From Donohue's Q & A with Dorothy Reno at the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Throughout the novel, there are four characters experiencing strange things in the same house, but they only tell each other snippets of what has happened. For instance, when Tim is driving Nick home one night, they see a ghostly man in the road. But Nick denies he has seen it. Why does psychological isolation make a haunting that much more powerful?

This novel is built on a structure that alternates among four point-of-view perspectives. How each of the main characters perceives what is going on, what they choose to hide and reveal from one another, what they choose to believe. Holly and Tim have trust issues with each other, and both try to protect the kids. Nick doesn’t have anyone to confide in, and Jack isn’t exactly forthcoming about what’s going on inside his head. Each one chooses a kind of isolation, and that’s part of what is driving them mad.

There’s a scene where Holly, a non-practicing Catholic, goes back to church. We lapsed Catholics know the day always comes when we have to face the priest. And this got me thinking about Roman Catholicism in American horror: As a foreign national, America feels overwhelmingly Protestant to me. And, yet, no American movie or novel has a haunting scene where the characters say, “We have a ghost situation, better call in the youth pastor.”

I think that might have something to do with the perception of priests as exorcists. There’s something ancient and almost mystical about a priest’s authority. Holly first visits the priest because she longs for someone to...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Boy Who Drew Monsters.

Writers Read: Keith Donohue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 19, 2014

Phil Klay

Phil Klay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Iraq’s Anbar Province from January 2007 to February 2008 as a Public Affairs Officer. After being discharged he went to Hunter College and received an MFA. His story “Redeployment” was originally published in Granta and is included in Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News, Tin House, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012.

Redeployment is his first story collection.

From the Shelf Awareness Q & A at his website:

As you were writing these stories did you always see yourself heading toward an entire collection of war stories, as this is, or did that happen later?

The first sentence I wrote was the first sentence of the book: “We shot dogs.” I didn’t know where I was heading, exactly, but I had a voice and a set of experiences I wanted to write about. Not personal experiences—just things people I had known had gone through that stayed in my mind. And not all of those fit into one story, or one perspective. I found that, to get at the different aspects of Iraq I wanted to explore, I had to approach from all these different angles.

One of the book’s strengths is the many different kinds of soldiers you write about, from lance corporals to officers, from foreign service officers to chaplains, from young to old.

That was very intentional. There’s a long tradition in war literature of veterans coming back and telling it like it is, like Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front going to his former classroom and telling the students that there’s nothing good about dying for your country. Then there’s a tradition in war literature of vets that goes even further, like Tim O’Brien in The Things They’ve Carried, explaining that sometimes a true war story can’t be believed by those who didn’t experience it because “sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” In both of these cases, the vet writer has the authority of experience, so there’s this divide set up between the veteran understanding of war reality and the civilian ignorance. I think of Robert Graves and Alan Hodge asserting that “by the end of 1918 there were two distinct Britains…the Fighting Forces…and the Rest,” or Siegfried Sassoon telling us that “The man who really endured the war at its worst was everlastingly differentiated from everyone except his fellow soldiers.”

The problem is that within that group of people who have been to war there’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg is an award-winning arts journalist who has published more than four hundred articles in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She is also the author of five mystery novels, including the Shamus Award–nominated Death in a City of Mystics. She has taught novel writing at the University of California, San Diego extension, and dance criticism at San Diego State University.

Her latest novel is The Tin Horse.

From Steinberg's Q & A with Diana Bletter:

Diana Bletter: How did you move from writing as an arts journalist to writing mysteries and then The Tin Horse, which in a way, is a mystery about two sisters?

Janice Steinberg: I’ve always done both novels and arts journalism, in various combinations depending on what doors were opening for me … or slamming shut. In 1993, I sold a mystery to Berkley, and I focused on mysteries through a five-book series. Then I wrote a thriller. It was my big breakout book! Alas, my agent couldn’t sell it. At a certain point, I was so heartbroken, I thought, okay, universe, what do you want me to do next? A few days later, I got a call from a friend at the San Diego Union-Tribune, saying they needed a dance writer. That led to several years of arts journalism and teaching—novel writing at UC-San Diego extension and dance criticism at San Diego State University. Eventually, I missed the immersive experience of working on a novel. I’d been carrying an idea about a marginal character in the detective classic The Big Sleep. I wanted to tell her story, but didn’t know if I could do it. Even though the idea came from a mystery—and, as the story took shape, there was a mystery element in the missing sister—I realized it had be a much more character-driven novel than I’d ever done. That was terrifying! Which led to......[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Janice Steinberg's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Tin Horse.

Writers Read: Janice Steinberg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Marlon James

Marlon James is the author of A Brief History of Seven Killings.

From his Q & A with Brook Stephenson at the Gawker Review of Books:

How did you get into writing?

In a weird way, OutKast kind of did it. Just the idea that you could be an artist and have this body of work that's outside of you. Regardless of what happens to you there's this document. I wanted to make art that was outside of me. That, and also reading books that make me want to write books. Gabriel Garcia Marquez talks about the book that gives permission to the writer. For him it was The Metamorphosis. For me, it was Salman Rushdie's Shame.

Why that one?

I read lots of great books, but that was the book when I said, "All right that's it, I got to write." I think, for me, there's The Book I Should Write and The Book I Wanted to Write—and they weren't the same book. The Book I Should Write should be realistic since I studied English Lit. It should be cultural. It should reflect where I am today. The Book I Wanted to Write would probably include flying women, magic, and all of that. And I didn't think that book was allowed. I remember reading Rushdie's Shame and being appalled by it. The only way you can capture the craziness of a Pakistan-like country is to go into the fantastical and to the ridiculous, and break structure. That gave me permission to write whatever I wanted. Knowing that and then summoning the courage to write that. Even writing in dialect was big for me. For example, writing in Jamaican patois was a big deal because that's not how I was raised. It's not what you speak in school. It's not what you speak in business. It's just backward talking, and the idea of writing an entire novel, or most of a novel, in patois was almost unheard of. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jonathan Eig

Jonathan Eig is the New York Times best-selling author of four books: Luckiest Man, Opening Day, Get Capone, and, most recently, The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution. He is currently working on a biography of Muhammad Ali.

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

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about the history of the birth control pill, and how did you choose to focus on those particular four people?

A: There’s a long story behind how I came to this topic, which you can read here if you want the whole deal.

The short answer is that I heard a rabbi say more than a decade ago that he considered the birth-control one of—if not THE—most important inventions of the twentieth century, and after I thought it about a bit, it struck me as strange that I knew nothing of how it was invented.

Upon further reflection, it struck me as even more strange that anyone would invent a pill designed to liberate women when it was men who controlled all of science, business and government in the 1950s and when birth control was essentially illegal.

That got my curiosity going. When I began looking into it, I found these great characters at the heart of the story, all of them outsiders, rebels, dreamers, all of them taking on extraordinary risks to accomplish something that many considered impossible.

Choosing these four particular protagonists—Margaret Sanger, Gregory Pincus, Katharine McCormick, and John Rock—was not particularly difficult. Other people played important roles, but these four stood out. Take away any one of them, and there is no pill.

Also, each of these four truly qualified as...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Eig's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Birth of the Pill.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lisa Morton

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, award-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert. Her work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening,” and Famous Monsters called her "one of the best writers in dark fiction today." Her novels include The Castle of Los Angeles, Malediction, and Netherworld. A multiple Bram Stoker Award® winner, she lives in North Hollywood, California.

From Morton's Q & A at Days with the Undead:

Welcome Lisa. Now let’s get to the questions… Tell us about your zombies? If the dead were to rise, do you think you’d stand a chance against them?

Probably not. In the Zombie Apocalypse books, the zombie virus can be spread by a bite or even just a scratch. I’m a klutz and always the first one to get whatever flu’s going around, so I’d probably be toast early on.

What was your first experience with zombie media? Was that experience was drew into writing the genre?

It was a midnight showing on opening night of...[read on]
Visit Lisa Morton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Netherworld.

The Page 69 Test: Netherworld.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 14, 2014

William Landay

William Landay's latest novel is Defending Jacob.

From his Q & A with Nina Darnton at the Huffington Post:

Your book, "Defending Jacob," features a father who will do anything to save his son. My book, "The Perfect Mother" portrays a mother who will do anything to save her daughter. Both parents ignore whatever clues they don't want to see. And in both cases, the spouse is more suspicious. Do you think it's a parent's obligation to defend his or her child at any cost?

No, certainly not. Of course every parent has a duty to her children, to love and support them, but every parent also has a duty to her neighbors, her fellow citizens -- to protect them from harm, to see that the laws are obeyed. (I'm speaking here of moral duties as well as legal ones.) In most cases, those private and public duties never conflict; by being good parents we are also being good citizens. But there are cases where the two roles can't be reconciled. That is certainly the situation in Defending Jacob. If a parent were to prevent the conviction of a murderer who happens to be her child, would she be morally complicit in the next murder the child commits? What if she knew (with as much certainty as any parent can have in these cases) that the child was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at William Landay's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Defending Jacob.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 12, 2014

Wayne Harrison

Before working as a corrections officer in Rutland, Vermont, Wayne Harrison was an auto mechanic for six years in Waterbury, Connecticut. A first-generation college student, he began in his mid twenties as a criminal justice major before getting turned on to creative writing by mentor and friend Jeffrey Greene. He later received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Harrison's fiction has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. His short stories appear in Best American Short Stories 2010, The Atlantic, Narrative Magazine, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, The Sun, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, FiveChapters, New Letters and other magazines. His fiction has earned a Maytag fellowship, an Oregon Literary fellowship and a Fishtrap Writing Fellowship. He teaches writing at Oregon State University.

Harrison's debut novel is The Spark and the Drive.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt at The Rumpus:

The Rumpus: You were kind of a bad boy in your youth (you tried to sell a kilo of cocaine you found in a police auction car) but you became an acclaimed author, husband, and father, a life you might never have expected. But were there ever inklings of this life when you were little? A love of reading, of listening to stories? And does the way your life worked out make you believe in fate at all?

Wayne Harrison: My mother is always telling me things happen for a reason, and finally I think I’m becoming a believer. For instance, without the trouble—the crimes I escaped punishment for, the near alcoholism, the car racing that forced me to register my Chevelle in another state, close friends dying and going to jail—I wouldn’t have turned to law enforcement to straighten myself out. Without that intention, I wouldn’t have started college, wouldn’t have taken a creative writing class junior year, wouldn’t have lived in Iowa for two years and realized I wanted no more snow or humidity, wouldn’t have met my beautiful wife on the west coast and been blessed by our two lovely daughters, and by teaching jobs that enabled me to support a pretty severe writing addiction. There is a safeguarding. I’m feeling pretty sure of that these days.

I wish I could credit voracious reading as my primary training...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Spark and the Drive.

Writers Read: Wayne Harrison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gary Krist

Before turning to narrative nonfiction with The White Cascade and City of Scoundrels, Gary Krist wrote three novels--Bad Chemistry, Chaos Theory, and Extravagance--and two short-story collections--The Garden State and Bone by Bone.

Krist's new book is Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. From his Q & A with Michael Causey at Washington Independent Review of Books:

Could this kind of story have happened in any other American city? Chicago, New York, even Hot Springs, Arkansas, all had their crazy law-breaking subcultures around the Prohibition era. How was this period in New Orleans different than in other cities?

The unique thing about Storyville is that it was a legally tolerated red-light district. Certainly there were many other cities with a policy of unofficial tolerance of vice — in the form of police and politicians turning the other way for a small monetary consideration — but prostitution in Storyville could be practiced openly and without fear of the frequent cosmetic crackdowns that occurred in other cities. There was even a published directory called the Blue Book that conveniently listed all of the prostitutes and their brothels. As a result, I think the vice culture in Storyville was conducted in a far more businesslike way and was therefore somewhat less degrading for both sex workers and their customers (at least in the early years of the district’s life). And the reason this district grew up in New Orleans and not elsewhere lies in the city’s Franco-Latin roots. That heritage gave New Orleans a much more tolerant, cosmopolitan attitude toward activities that were considered inevitable expressions of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Gary Krist's website.

The Page 69 Test: The White Cascade.

Writers Read: Gary Krist (May 2012).

The Page 99 Test: City of Scoundrels.

The Page 99 Test: Empire of Sin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

David Gordon

David Gordon was born in New York City. He attended Sarah Lawrence College and holds an MA in English and comparative literature and an MFA in writing, both from Columbia University. His first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award. His second novel, Mystery Girl, was picked as one of The New Yorker’s best books of the year. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He has worked in film, fashion, publishing, and pornography.

Gordon's latest book is the story collection White Tiger on Snow Mountain.

From his Paris Review Q & A with Dwyer Murphy:

White Tiger on Snow Mountain is your first story collection. Did you approach the stories differently than you would a novel?

In conceptual terms, I do think there’s a difference, at least for me. A story usually comes into my mind like a three-dimensional object—something I can see and feel and rotate. I’m often completely wrong about what the object is, but it’s still there. Whereas a novel is more like a set of directions for a road trip to California, with a planned stop in, say, Colorado and a visit to the Grand Canyon. The truth is I have no idea what’s going to happen along the way or whether I’ll even get there, but I have this general sense of direction and an end I hope to reach.

Now that the stories are completed and assembled, are you surprised at any of the themes or images that crop up?

I wrote these stories over a period of years, so some of the thematic echoes that people point out seem fairly straightforward for somebody who’s been writing for a long time—you deal with certain recurring ideas and problems. But then there are very specific echoes that I wasn’t aware of, and those are really interesting to me. My protagonists eat a lot of Chinese food and go to a lot of cafés. People tend to have cats in my stories, and the women have long fingers. I have no idea where this stuff comes from. I have no lost love with long fingers. I guess...[read on]
Visit David Gordon's blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

Writers Read: David Gordon (July 2013).

The Page 69 Test: Mystery Girl.

The Page 69 Test: White Tiger on Snow Mountain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lindsay Hunter

Lindsay Hunter is the author of the story collections Don’t Kiss Me and Daddy’s. Originally from Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and two pit bulls.

Hunter's first novel is Ugly Girls.

From her Q & A with Claire Zulkey:

When I read the synopsis of Ugly Girls, it reminds me of that movie Heavenly Creatures. What books, stories or movies influenced your novel?

Oooh, good one! I saw that a long time ago and loved it. You're totally right - the toxic, devolving friendship between Perry and Baby Girl is very similar to that friendship. Man. Kate Winslet was a baby!

I'd say Cruddy was a big influence, and the other day I was watching Drop Dead Gorgeous and it hit me that there is a lot in that movie that seems similar to UG? Like, Kirsten Dunst has green eyes and blonde hair, like Perry, and lives in a trailer park with an alcoholic mother, like Perry. I loved that movie in my early 20s so it makes sense that it would creep in to my writing.

A huge influence was the book Ravens by George Dawes Green. I basically just wanted to write that book all over again but with female protagonists. My book ended up being very different, but Ravens was and is what I aspire to. It's a masterpiece.

What other titles, if any, did you consider for the book?

I almost called it "The Edge of Ugly" and "The Quarry." For a hot minute I was all about...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Ugly Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pierce Brown

Pierce Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of Red Rising and Golden Son.

From Brown's Q & A with Catherine Elsworth for Goodreads:

GR: In Red Rising society is divided into a hierarchy of color-coded castes, with Reds at the bottom and Golds at the top. How did this system come about?

PB: The origin here is in Plato's Republic, where he says that in a perfect society men should form a natural hierarchy. There are men with souls of gold, men with souls of copper, iron. The ones of iron should till the soil, while the ones of gold should rule the city. But he didn't believe it should pass down through birth; he believed it was a meritocracy. The problem is that he didn't see that people would want to accumulate wealth or power and pass it down to those they love. So I thought that would be interesting: We have a meritocracy, but how could it be poisoned?

GR: When you were writing, were you aware of any contemporary social commentary you could be making?

PB: I'm not trying to tell anyone anything. I was 23 when I wrote this, which is pretty limited life experience, so I have to come at this with a massive degree of humility. It's not necessarily saying what I think but what is real in this imaginary world. To lay claim to some big notions of governmental critique is not something I've ever wanted to do. What's really interesting to me is how people and economies function and how groups make decisions. It's fun to see how things move in familiar patterns. We're pretty predictable in terms of the overall arc of history. And that's what I really wanted to look at with Red Rising: What do we recognize in their world that's parallel to our own, even though their world is vastly different, even though they look at democracy as an abominable thing. The second book will concentrate more on media and on the idea of propaganda, which...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bradford Morrow

Bradford Morrow's novels include The Diviner’s Tale, Ariel's Crossing and Giovanni's Gift. He is the founding editor of Conjunctions and has contributed to many anthologies and journals. A Bard Center Fellow and professor of literature at Bard College, he divides his time between New York City and upstate New York.

Morrow's latest novel is The Forgers.

From his Q & A with Karen Russell at Omnivoracious:

KAREN RUSSELL: The Forgers is a totally sui generis existential thriller that introduced me to the world of rare book collecting, a world where I know you have serious street cred. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how the idea to write The Forgers came to you?

BRADFORD MORROW: The Forgers opens with a simple, disturbing, and to me compelling sentence, “They never found his hands.” My editor, Otto Penzler, had asked if I would write a story for a series of bibliomysteries he publishes, and once I’d settled on exploring the rarefied, high-stakes world of literary forgeries, I thought to myself, What would a ruthless forger most want to deprive a rival of having? Pens, nibs, inks, antique papers, subterranean connections in the rare book world? No, his hands, of course. So I began with that single image and all the narrative possibilities and challenges it offered. The rare book community, a collective of brilliant eccentrics among whom murderers don’t generally mingle, is one I have been a part of for my whole adult life—first as a dealer, later as a collector—so most of my research was already done by the time I wrote that sentence and those that came after.

My experience of writing The Forgers was one of extraordinary, unstoppable momentum—the story very quickly matured into a novella and the novella soon burst into a novel. And while, yes, it is a literary thriller, it is also a heartrending (at least to me) love story—love between two people, as well as a love of antiquarian books that, for some, crosses ethical borders into...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Forgers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 6, 2014

James Ellroy

James Ellroy's new novel is Perfidia.

From his Q & A with Lenny Picker for Publishers Weekly:

How long have you been considering writing a second L.A. Quartet?

I have been brain-broiling the Second L.A. Quartet for half a decade. The L.A. Quartet—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—covered 1946 to 1958 in Los Angeles. The Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy—American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood’s a Rover—covers 1958 to 1972 on a national scale. The Second L.A. Quartet takes historical and fictional characters from the first two bodies of work and places them in Los Angeles during World War II, as significantly younger people. Thus, my career as a historical novelist is augmented and rendered that much more grand.

Why did you decide to start this series in December 1941?

Everything changed on December 7, 1941. The debate between interventionism and isolationism ended when Japanese bombs hit Pearl Harbor, and the shock waves were immediately felt in Los Angeles, home of the largest foreign-born and native-born Japanese contingent in the United States. Los Angeles in 1941 was a place of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 5, 2014

Charles Blow

New York Times columnist Charles Blow's new memoir is Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

From his Q & A with Jason Parham at Gawker:

The book challenges static representations of what manhood should be or look like or talk like. I'm curious, what does being a man mean to you?

I believe that we have drawn masculinity in this incredibly narrow, rigid, dangerous way. We think of it as a peak, and I think of it as an ocean.

Dangerous in what sense?

Dangerous in the sense of—writing a note to a song so high only a few people are meant to hit it, and nobody is meant to hold it. And so, boys are constantly confronting this notion of failure because they cannot live up to idea of people saying to them, Man up! Be a man! And they don't know what that is because they're just trying to be human. And being human is sometimes fragile. I believe we have to redraw our collective concept of what masculinity is so that it includes the possibility of difference and variation. And once we do that we free these kids up to be kids, and to be human beings. Also, allowing them to be honest about things they are experiencing, things people don't traditionally identify with masculinity. Because there's no way to be a real man without being an honest man. So when we force these boys to lie and suppress, we're robbing them of truth and honesty and all the real things we would like an archetypical real man to be.

How does your understanding of masculinity inform or shape how you raise your children?

I try to give them latitude. Nature does a lot of things. There is testosterone. I have two boys and a girl, and there are differences there. And that's nature doing whatever it's going to do. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Benjamin Whitmer

Benjamin Whitmer was born and raised on back-to-the-land communes and counterculture enclaves ranging from Southern Ohio to Upstate New York. One of his earliest and happiest memories is of standing by the side of a country road with his mother, hitchhiking to parts unknown. Since then, he’s been a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, an activist, a kitchen-table gunsmith, a squatter, a college professor, a dishwasher, a technical writer and a petty thief.

His first novel, Pike, was published in America in 2010 by PM Press, and in France in 2012 by Éditions Gallmeister. Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers, a memoir co-written with Charlie Louvin, was released by Igniter Books in 2012.

Whitmer's second novel is Cry Father.

From the author's Q & A with Court Merrigan at Electric Literature:

CM: In Cry Father, you write, “It’s almost impossible to measure the damage that damaged young men can do to themselves. Spending their nights drinking, doing whatever drugs they can afford, fumbling through the kind of endless and circular conversations only damaged young men can tolerate. Conversations full of self-pity and self-hatred they can only end by the sudden imposition of physical force.” The endlessly repeating nature of that sort of violence – because there are always more young men, everywhere, – is that what you mean by “violence not doing what you want it to?”

BW: Yep, that’s pretty much it. I had a lot of friends who lived that way, and I was one of the most pathetic. It ain’t real attractive, but that’s what a lot of us thought it meant to be a young man. Some of us lived through it, and some of us didn’t. I’m not a real religious guy, but there’s that old line, “there but for the grace of God go I.” Someday I’ll get that tattooed on my forehead to remind me how lucky I am.

CM: Alcohol and drugs figure heavily in Cry Father. But everyone’s using for a reason, and none of it’s fun. As Patterson Wells says of the men on the disaster-area crews: “The men I work with, they don’t grieve. They drink, then they erupt.” Would Cry Father be a totally different book if everyone were teetotalers, or would these damaged people find some other route to eruption? Games of horseshoes? Religious war?

BW: Man, I don’t even know what a teetotaler would look like. I mean, I know...[read on]
Visit Benjamin Whitmer's website.

The Page 69 Test: Cry Father.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Eula Biss

Eula Biss's new book is On Immunity: An Inoculation.

From her Q & A with Michelle Dean at Gawker:

So! Ultimately you came out believing that vaccination does not cause autism.

Yeah, that's an area where the science is pretty clear. There's still a pretty vivacious social debate around that but there's no scientific debate on that anymore. The science is kind of closed.

You have, with this book, intervened in that public debate in a pretty anti-pundit way, though.

In this area, I feel really strongly that's what we need. More and more, it seems like both sides are getting really reductive, and ironing out the nuances of the conversation. There seems to be a proliferation of pundits.

Obviously on what I'm just gonna call the Jenny McCarthy side, the reduction is a lack of attention to the science. What about the other side?

On the pro-vaccine side — and not everyone does this but I saw it enough for it to make me really uncomfortable — is a tendency to accuse people who are wary of vaccination of being stupid and not understanding science. For most people who are hesitant about vaccination, a lot more is going on. I talked to lots of people who are vaccine-hesitant, and I actually was one myself until I got further into this project, and most of them actually are in my demographic: so well-educated people with advanced degrees, who are upper middle-class and have read quite a bit on the subject.

So not only is it reductive, I think it's also wrong. I think if we're really concerned about stopping falling vaccination rates, we also need to be concerned about the actual reasons why those rates are falling, and not just...[read on]
Visit Eula Biss' website.

Writers Read: Eula Biss (June 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski has written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times. His books include And the War Came, about America’s six-month-long descent into war after Lincoln’s election, and the recently released Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about William Barker Cushing, and how did he come to be, as you say in your book, “all but unknown today”?

A: I have known about Will Cushing literally since I was eight years old. On January 6, 1961, Life magazine published the first of six issues dedicated to the centennial of the Civil War.

The editors commissioned 10 artists to illustrate scenes from the war. In addition to creating the cover, an astonishing painting of the cavalry charge at Brandy Station in 1863, the artist C.E. Monroe painted “The Sinking of the Albemarle,” which showed Cushing--the daring 21-year-old naval lieutenant--in the midst of his great David vs. Goliath victory over the fearsome Confederate ironclad.

The painting stretched across two pages, and I was captivated. I'm delighted that Buck Monroe, the painter's son, allowed me to use the image on the cover of my book.

In the ensuing years, I read Lincoln's Commando, Roske and Van Doren's 1957 biography of Cushing, which showed that there was more to Cushing than one magnificent triumph.

A few years ago, casting about for my next project, I proposed a new biography of Cushing. A half century had passed since Lincoln's Commando; if nothing else, I knew I could tell Will's story in a less stilted, less formal vernacular than Roske and Van Doren used.

I also knew that their book was written at a time when the average reader was less aware of psychological issues than the average viewer of Law & Order is today. I knew I could add that element. Fortunately, Tom Mayer at W.W. Norton agreed.

How is it that Will is all but unknown today? I suppose there are a lot of reasons. America's interest in history is tiny. America's interest in military heroes who held a rank below general or admiral is also tiny.

It didn't help Will's cause that (spoiler alert!) he...[read on]
Visit Jamie Malanowski's blog.

Writers Read: Jamie Malanowski.

My Book, The Movie: Commander Will Cushing.

The Page 99 Test: Commander Will Cushing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 1, 2014

Lisa Black

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. Her books have been translated into six languages and one reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

Black's new novel is Close to the Bone.

From the author's Q & A with Sandra Parshall for The Big Thrill:

CLOSE TO THE BONE is a perfect title for a story in which Theresa MacLean’s workplace colleagues are being murdered and she could also be a target. What inspired you to start killing off people who work in the forensics department?

I try to keep the books very true-to-life, and give an accurate portrayal of how things actually work in the field of forensics. Despite that, my forensic scientist always seems to spend more time out of the lab than in it, which is not at all realistic, so I thought if I could set a story right in the lab, that problem would solve itself. Besides, what better way to make my character vitally, and very personally, involved?

Why do you set your novels in Cleveland, where you worked previously, instead of in Florida, where you live and work now? Is there something about Cleveland that makes it a better setting for the kind of stories you want to tell?

I think so, because Cleveland has more variety in terms of age, culture, urban areas, history, and current events. Where I live in Florida we have a high percentage of retirees and tourists and the ground is flat with a lot of open area. It’s just hard to picture danger and menace in a place where happy people are cavorting in the brilliant sunshine all the time.

Theresa is very protective of crime scenes when police officers are on hand and might inadvertently contaminate evidence. Does this reflect your own experience? How do the roles of forensics investigators and police differ at crime scenes?

Everyone’s job at a crime scene is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

My Book, The Movie: Trail of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Trail of Blood.

My Book, The Movie: Defensive Wounds.

The Page 69 Test: Defensive Wounds.

My Book, The Movie: Blunt Impact.

The Page 69 Test: Blunt Impact.

The Page 69 Test: The Price of Innocence.

The Page 69 Test: Close to the Bone.

Writers Read: Lisa Black.

--Marshal Zeringue