Thursday, March 31, 2016

Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is one of only eight writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world's top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Sawyer's new novel is Quantum Night.

The CBC asked eight authors to pose questions to Sawyer. One exchange:

Kate Pullinger asks, "What relationship does your writing have to your own childhood, both in terms of where you grew up as well as whether or not you were a happy child?"

I grew up in Canada, which seems like a trivial observation for a Canadian writer to make - but in my field of science fiction there were almost no Canadian writers when I was a child (Phyllis Gotlieb was the only significant Canadian SF writer, and - speaking as the person who ultimately was the editor of her final novel - her work had not a single hint of her national origin). I decided to ignore the advice I heard constantly when starting out: "Don't set your stories in Canada; they'll never sell to the States or internationally." Twenty-three novels for major New York publishers later, the flagrantly Canadian settings, Canadian values, Canadian multiculturalism and Canadian humour in my books has proven to be one of the most popular elements of my writing worldwide; my books have been translated into 20 languages, and I was recently flown to China to receive an award as the most popular foreign science fiction author there.

As for my childhood, yes, I know the quintessential CanLit novel is the angsty boy coming of age on the prairies or in Montreal; done to death. Perhaps writing is a form of therapy, but it should never be self-indulgent or self-important. I'm much more interested in...[read on]
Visit Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Wake.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Watch.

The Page 69 Test:: WWW: Wonder.

The Page 69 Test: Triggers.

The Page 69 Test: Red Planet Blues.

The Page 69 Test: Quantum Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Adam Hochschild

Adam Hochschild's new book is Spain In Our Hearts: Americans In The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. From the transcript of his interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: One of the most interesting characters that you write about in this book is the head of Texaco oil, Torkild Rieber. He was the head during the Spanish Civil War, and he supported the fascist cause, the military coup in Spain. And he made a deal with Franco's regime. What was the deal?

HOCHSCHILD: Here was the deal - before the war, Texaco had been the principal oil supplier to the government of Spain. The moment the war began, Rieber signaled that he would cut off oil supplies to the Spanish Republic, the Democratic side, and would sell oil to Franco's Nationalists. He not only did that, but he gave them the oil at a big discount, which, as far as we can tell, he never told Texaco shareholders or even his board of directors about.

And he violated American law in a couple of ways because U.S. neutrality legislation was pretty strict and said that if you were selling anything to a country at war, the oil couldn't travel on American ships. But he shipped it on Texaco tankers. The Nationalists had no tankers. U.S. law also said you could not sell things on credit to a country at war, and Rieber gave the Nationalists very, very, very generous terms of credit. And he did something else as well.

Texaco, being a major oil company, had offices, installations, agents, tank farms in ports all over the world. And he sent out orders to them saying, send us as soon as possible any information you acquire about oil tankers heading for the Spanish Republic. And this information was passed on to the Nationalists to help submarine captains and bomber pilots look for targets. Twenty-nine oil tankers headed for the Spanish Republic were destroyed, damaged or captured during the war. And in at least one or two cases, we can specifically tie it to information supplied by Texaco. So the United States might be neutral, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Serhii Plokhy

Serhii Plokhy is the author of The Last Empire, The Cossack Myth, and the new book The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write of The Gates of Europe, “The title of the book…is of course a metaphor, but not one to be taken lightly or dismissed as a marketing gimmick.” Why did you select this title for your history of Ukraine?

A: There is a long tradition in historiography to treat countries in Eastern Europe as bulwarks against the East—anything from the Mongols to the Russians. I appreciated that this metaphor was there.

I look at this region not only as a battlefield…but also as a contact zone, an area where different ethnic groups lived together and cultural exchanges were taking place. Gates can serve as a perfect metaphor. Also, it’s a battlefield occasionally and the gates are closed. But through most of history, they’re open, and that’s where I hope the future of the region lies.

Q: Describing the situation today in Ukraine, you write, “For Ukraine, Russian aggression raised fundamental questions about its continuing existence as a unified state, its independence as a nation, and the democratic foundations of its political institutions.” What do you see looking ahead?

A: Some elements of the story are very familiar with historians-- starting in the early modern period you see an interregnum and a neighboring state acting as a perpetrator [who] tries to use the confusion and grab some territory and gain some political advantage. In a sense it’s...[read on]
Learn more about The Gates of Europe at the Basic Books website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Empire.

The Page 99 Test: The Gates of Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 28, 2016

Helen Ellis

Helen Ellis is the author of the story collection, American Housewife. From her Q & A with Tim Adams for the Guardian:

Am I right in saying that the first story [from American Housewife], What I Do All Day, is drawn pretty much entirely from your Twitter feed?

You are. Twitter is the best editor I have found. I will delete a tweet in a heartbeat if it has not been retweeted, because if no one retweets, it is not funny. Reading two years of that stream I saw how it was the story of a weird, happy Mrs Dalloway, who doesn’t kill herself at the end. I taught myself a new way to write. I find stories now by paying attention to patterns in what I am tweeting. I was tweeting a lot about book clubs, so I wrote a story about that. I tweet about my cats and so that was a story too.

There are echoes of etiquette guides about the voice.

Yes. I was definitely raised with manners. You are never going to get “Ma’am”d in New York in the way you do down south. If someone calls you Ma’am in New York, they will be saying you are a bitch. I am an old-school lady. I hate to see young women hunched like crows over their telephones in restaurants. A lot ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Peter Ross Range

Peter Ross Range's latest book is 1924: The Year That Made Hitler. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: Why did you decide to focus on 1924, and why do you see it as “the year that made Hitler”?

A: I discovered a gap in the literature regarding Hitler’s year in prison. It is discussed in all the biographies but no one had ever done a whole book just on this pivotal year (actually it is 16 months from the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923 to Hitler’s re-founding of the Nazi Party in February 1925).

And, to my surprise, no one had ever done a book, in English or in German, on Hitler’s notorious treason trial, which catapulted Hitler into the national limelight in Germany. And clearly the writing of Mein Kampf deserved a closer look, I thought.

Hitler said that “the failure of the putsch was perhaps the greatest good fortune of my life.” He recognized that without having been halted in his tracks, his revolutionary approach to gaining power in Germany would have been doomed to failure. The putsch ended that phase of his political life; the year in prison guided him to the next phase, the electoral phase—the one that eventually succeeded.

While in prison Hitler went from impetuous revolutionary to patient political player. Serving prison time bent the arc of Hitler’s trajectory from simple outrage to careful strategizing. His months in prison were his time of reflection, his 40 days in the wilderness—a period that hardened his world view and fed his soaring belief in himself and his mission to save Germany. He went from mere megalomaniac to messianic maniac obsessed with his savior’s mission.

Writing Mein Kampf also significantly fed Hitler’s self-belief. The book’s most important audience was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tom Wainwright

Tom Wainwright is the author of Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel. From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: You have a business solution [to the problem of illegal drug cartels]. You say that economists would be better police officers than people trained in law enforcement. What do you mean?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I think there are various elements to this, but one of the main findings of the book, I think, is that we've been, so far, focusing very, very tightly on the supply side of the business. And I think there's a good economic case for looking instead at the demand side.

What we've been doing so far is trying to eradicate coca leaf in South America. We've been battling the Mexican cartels. We've been locking up dealers in the United States and in Europe. And all that this succeeds in doing -- all this succeeds in doing is reducing supply and pushing up price. And if you push up price, normally you'd expect consumption to go down. But because most of these drugs are addictive, you find that consumption actually remains about the same and all we succeed in doing is inflating the size of this illegal market and enriching those cartels.

ZAKARIA: And you would legalize...

WAINWRIGHT: I would, yeah.

ZAKARIA: ... most drugs?

WAINWRIGHT: I think you can do them one by one. The evidence so far from the United States is that legalizing marijuana has greatly reduced the size of the criminal economy in places like Colorado. For Mexican cartels, for some cartels, marijuana makes up about half of all their income. And so taking that away, giving it to the legal sector of the economy, is devastating for them. It's a huge blow against organized crime.

In Switzerland, they've also legalized heroin, which sounds extraordinary, but they've legalized it in a way that gives control of it to doctors. It's a very, very tightly controlled prescription model, in which doctors can prescribe addicts a dose of heroin. And what this means is that those addicts no longer have to steal to fund their habit. And it also means that those addicts, who themselves are very often dealers, have stopped dealing. It seems to be working. And policies in the war on drugs...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 25, 2016

Richard Jenkyns

Richard Jenkyns's latest book is Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You begin your book with Homer and The Iliad and The Odyssey, and you write, “The majority view today is that there were two poets, but the issue cannot be conclusively determined.” Why do most scholars think there were two poets involved?

A: Some people think that the differences between the two poems, in (for example) attitudes to the gods and their moral function, to the possibility of the afterlife, etc., are too great for them to be by the same author.

There are other more technical arguments: that sometimes the author of the Odyssey seems to be imitating the Iliad in ways which suggest that he didn't fully appreciate what the earlier author was trying to do, some difference of language, etc. All these arguments are contested, however. My own position is agnostic.

An older argument (about both Iliad and Odyssey) is whether the poem is the work of one author or many. Here I have a firm view: that each is essentially the work of a single author, but using traditional material.

Q: You write that “it seems always to have been agreed that by far the best tragedy came out of Athens and within a period of less than a century.” What about that particular time period lent itself to this cultural feat?

A: A Roman writing in the 20s AD asked the question: why is it that the best periods for any genre of literature are short? Tragedy was one of his examples.

His answer was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Amy Sue Nathan

Amy Sue Nathan was born and raised in Philadelphia and is a graduate of Temple University with a Bachelor’s in Journalism (a degree she actually uses). She has called the Chicago area home since the late 1990s, and is the proud mom of two grown children (her favorite oxymoron). In addition to being a writer, editor, and blogger, she's a dog-lover, vegetarian, not-so-secret crafter, and lover of all things wine and chocolate.

Nathan's debut novel, The Glass Wives, was published by St. Martin’s Griffin in May 2013.

Her latest novel is The Good Neighbor.

From Nathan's Q & A with Cathy Lamb:

Amy, before we get into “the guts,” so to speak, of your wonderful book, The Good Neighbor, I have to tell you that I loved the first line, “The doorbell rang and I knew it was my ex, just like when my lip tingled and I knew it was a cold sore.”

I just laughed out loud. Dare I even ask? Is any of this book your personal story?

Nope. The Good Neighbor is not about me, but there are overlaps.

Izzy and I are both divorced moms, and while divorce is no laughing matter, you have to find humor in the horrendous situations we find ourselves in sometimes. (Like having an ex-husband show up at your door twenty minutes early.) I’m also a blogger like Izzy – but in contrast – all my blogging (since 2006) has given me the opportunity to be completely honest and Izzy uses her blogging to tell, let’s say, tall tales.

Or we could call it a Giant Fib. A tiny lie. I loved it. I cringed when she did it, and I kept reading to see what would happy in her future because of it. But I won’t ramble on. It’s your story, tell us what The Good Neighbor is all about.

In a broad sweep I’d say The Good Neighbor is about accepting yourself wherever and however you happen to be in any given moment and not looking at “the other guy or gal” and wishing.

More specifically, The Good Neighbor is about...[read on]
Visit Amy Sue Nathan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Amy Sue Nathan & Mitzi and Lizzie.

My Book, The Movie: The Glass Wives.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Wives.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Neighbor.

My Book, The Movie: The Good Neighbor.

Writers Read: Amy Sue Nathan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Anthony S. Pitch

Anthony S. Pitch is the author of The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about this lynching case, which took place in rural Georgia in 1946, and how did you research the book?

A: I have wanted to write about a lynching - the murder by mob action without a trial - since 1998. However, I never found enough documentation to research until six years ago, when I began this book.

That was when I got about 10,000 classified papers from the FBI and the National Archives, mainly through the Freedom of Information Act. I was also astounded that one of the victims was a veteran of World War II.

Writing about a mass lynching would pit innocents against vigilantes, show the horrors of rogue actions, expose corrupt juries, and record for posterity an evil slice of American history.

Q: The case you write about still hasn’t been solved. Do you have suspicions about what unfolded, and do you think more information will ever come out?

A: The case...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Stephen Policoff

Stephen Policoff has taught writing at Wesleyan and Yale and is currently Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies at NYU. His books include the novel Beautiful Somewhere Else, the memoir Sixteen Scenes from a Film I Never Wanted to See, two YA books, The Dreamer’s Companion and Real Toads in Imaginary Gardens (co-authored with Jeffrey Skinner), and the children’s book Cesar’s Amazing Journey.

Policoff's latest novel is Come Away.

From his Q & A at Serious Reading:

Do your novels carry a message?

I don’t like messages, except maybe cryptic ones. If I could boil down my work into a sentence or two, why would I write it? I don’t think most art worth anything has a discernible message. I think a writer’s worldview is what is conveyed in a worthwhile novel, and I hope that this is true of my work. A picture of the world, an image of the strange ways we act and react with others, a sense of the universe as a complex and not-entirely-understandable place, that’s what I strive toward. Nabokov says somewhere that “reality” is the only word which does not make any sense without quotation marks. That sensibility is one which I hope and believe I am conveying in Come Away.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

I think all writers put themselves into their books, even if it is only bits and pieces. Paul Brickner, the narrator of both Beautiful Somewhere Else and Come Away, sounds just like me (or so I am told), and I have certainly used...[read on]
Visit Stephen Policoff's faculty webpage and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Stephen Policoff.

The Page 69 Test: Come Away.

My Book, The Movie: Come Away.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from Boston. She was awarded the Plimpton Prize for her stories in The Paris Review and granted a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her acclaimed debut novel is Eileen.

From Moshfegh's Q & A with Kate Kellaway at the Guardian:

What was the seed of the story?

It wasn’t Eileen, it was the boy: Lee Polk. He was based on the true story of a young man who had murdered his father and was serving life without parole. His father had abused him and his mother had been complicit in the abuse. When I sat down to write this novel, I thought: this is going to be the terror that keeps me grounded and the drama developed around that.

How and where did Eileen draw her first breath?

Eileen was born, as I was, in New England. Her character and her obsessions are familiar to me although my family is nothing like hers. She suffers from existential dissonance, the idea you should be happy because you are an American [laughs]. This trouble is not peculiar to women but there is a certain flavour to it when you are a free-thinking person and not satisfied with a patriarchal status quo.

Eileen is unhealthily obsessed with her appearance – a side-effect of unhappiness?

People tell me: “Eileen is so...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 20, 2016

R. Douglas Fields

R. Douglas Fields's new book is Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain. From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: In your book, you write that you were motivated to explore the topic of rage after being robbed in Barcelona. What about your experience in Barcelona epitomizes the phenomenon you study in the book?

A: I reacted aggressively to the robber by throwing him to the ground to get my wallet back within a fraction. Had I thought about it, I never would have done such a thing. You don't want to fight with a robber, but I didn't think. The reaction was automatic and instantaneous.

This was stunning to me. If something unexpected in our environment can cause you to risk your life and limb without any conscious control, I wanted to understand how that worked at the level of brain circuits and to learn to control it if possible.

I wanted to understand what triggered this response and whether I would always react the same way if caught unawares. I wondered if everyone would react this way to the same provocation. Would I have done this if my daughter was not with me? I snapped, but what does that mean from the level of brain function?

I was also stunned that I could do what I did. I don't have any martial arts training, military experience, or any experience in street fighting. I realized that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh's novels include River of Smoke.

From the author's 2012 Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write River of Smoke?

River of Smoke is the second novel in a series that began as a trilogy (I call it the Ibis Trilogy). The first book was Sea of Poppies; soon after I started writing it I realised that the characters and their stories would take more than one book. The books are not meant to be a single linear narrative (if that had been the case then it would have been a single, very long book). I always thought of the relationship between the books as a tangential one (as, for example, in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet). Some of the characters recur, but each book has its own themes, settings, mood, spirit and so on. In this sense each of the books can be read as a complete and self-sufficient novel in its own right.

What was most difficult about it?

The setting. Most of the action takes place in Canton (Guangzhou) in 1838 and 1839. To get the background right was a real challenge: I had to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 18, 2016

Rachel Cantor

Rachel Cantor is the author of the novels Good on Paper (Melville House 2016) and A Highly Unlikely Scenario (Melville House 2014). Two dozen of her short stories have appeared in venues like The Paris Review, One Story, Ninth Letter, Fence, and Kenyon Review, and she has received fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is always at work on another book.

From Cantor's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Good on Paper, and why did you set it in the period leading up to Y2K?

A: I began writing Good on Paper when I was at a residency at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.

I had hoped then to write the last story in a linked story collection about Shira Greene and her friends, but they gave me seven weeks, which was the longest time I’d ever had to write, and the story got larger and larger. Eventually, I realized I was writing a novel!

The characters predated the novel, then, and belonged to very particular generations—Shira had been something of a flower girl when she was young; her best friend Ahmad advised Republican presidents about the Soviet Union; the poet she translates was a World War II refugee. If Shira was to be the mother of a young child in this book, it really had to take place around the turn of the millennium.

I also had a very practical concern: I didn’t want the book to be about 9/11, I didn’t want to write about 9/11 New York, so it had to take place before that. Setting it around Y2K had some comic potential, but the idea that we were facing the End of Days also resonated with certain themes in the novel.

Q: Shira is involved in translating the work of a famous writer. Why did you decide to focus on translation and writing in the novel?

A: Because my protagonist had a life before Good on Paper, it was already a given that she was a translator, and it’s not surprising that she is: she...[read on]
Visit Rachel Cantor's website.

See Cantor's list of the ten worst jobs in books.

The Page 69 Test: A Highly Unlikely Scenario.

The Page 69 Test: Good on Paper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jonathan Weiler

Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is co-author of Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: What is the thesis of the book?

WEILER: The thesis of the book is that the polarization that we've seen in American politics over the last 30 years or so that everybody recognizes is a particularly intense and acrimonious form of polarization is actually being driven at the grass-roots level, at the base of the two parties, by differences in personality among the voters supporting those two parties.

ZAKARIA: And the personality of those voters is that there are certain kinds of voters, now mostly on the Republican side, who like authoritarian-style politics.

What does that mean? What is it that they are attracted to?

WEILER: Yeah, so what they're attracted to is they believe very strongly in a need for social order as traditionally defined. And they feel very fearful and resentful toward groups and social norms that might challenge that traditional order.

ZAKARIA: And these voters have certain personality traits that predispose them to like authoritarian-style politics?

WEILER: That's right. It's going to -- those personality traits are going to attract them to leaders who speak in clear, simple, direct terms about imposing order on the world around them.

ZAKARIA: When did people start trying to figure out whether people, ordinary people, had tendencies toward authoritarian style or non- authoritarian style?

WEILER: So research into authoritarianism, mass authoritarianism is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Jung Yun

Jung Yun's new novel is Shelter. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with your main character, Kyung?

A: Kyung started out as just an image. I was thinking about a man staring out his kitchen window and seeing his elderly mother in the backyard, naked.

At the time, I was exploring some ideas about adult children transitioning into a caretaking role for their aging parents, and feeling both obligated but inconvenienced by the responsibility.

I was also interested in writing an unlikeable main character, albeit a justifiably unlikeable one. Kyung’s a hard man—I don’t think anyone would really want to go out and get a beer with him—but I do hope that readers understand why he...[read on]
Visit Jung Yun's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Barry Strauss

Barry Strauss's books include The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: What was Caesar like as a person, from what you can tell?

STRAUSS: As a person, he was absolutely fascinating and absolutely maddening. He was brilliant. He was a genius. He was smarter than just about anyone else and more talented than anyone else. The trouble is he knew it. He's a rare person in history who's a great general and a great politician and also a great author. We don't see that very often.

ZAKARIA: The Shakespearean version is that Caesar is betrayed and assassinated by a group of people eventually led by his closest friend, the man he considers his son, Brutus. And there is that famous line in Shakespeare, "Et tu Brute" -- you know, "You, too, Brutus? Then fall Caesar."


ZAKARIA: Is any of this true?


STRAUSS: It's true that Caesar was betrayed by his friends. In fact, the majority of the conspirators were his friends and not his enemies. It's also true that Brutus was one of the chief conspirators. It's not true that he was Caesar's greatest friend. In fact, he had fought against Caesar originally in the civil war and Caesar then makes peace with him and brings him over to his side. He had a very strange relationship with Caesar because Brutus's mother was Caesar's ex- mistress, Servilia.

ZAKARIA: Why does it succeed, simply?

STRAUSS: It succeeds in part because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 14, 2016

Adam Kucharski

Adam Kucharski is the author of The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, “Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that science and gambling are so intertwined.” What are some of the major ways in which they are linked?

A: Throughout history, people have used bets to explore ideas about chance and decision making. The fundamental concepts of probability started with gamblers trying to understand what consisted a "fair" dice wager.

Roulette inspired many of the ideas behind chaos theory - which examines the limits of predictability - and statistical testing, which enables us to measure whether an event is likely to be a coincidence or not.

And that's not all. Poker motivated mathematicians to develop game theory, which analyses how we make decisions, while the so-called St Petersburg Lottery led to the economic theory of utility, enabling companies to measure...[read on]
Visit Adam Kucharski's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi’s books include The Windup Girl and The Water Knife. From his Q & A with Joel Cunningham at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog:

[The Windup Girl] kicked off a new wave of environmentally conscious sci-fi. In this case, did the stark message of the kind of future we might be facing come first, or the story, or were they indelibly intertwined? Did you set out to write an environmental dystopia?

I really wanted to write a story that felt relevant to me. I wanted to write about questions that I have about our future. How do we deal with technologies like genetic engineering? What does it mean to be able to alter the natural world for profit? What happens next? Where does that take us? It’s the same with questions about where we get our energy, and how we use it, along with things like climate change. I think there are a lot of question marks, and they’re worth exploring. The fact that story is set in a broken future highlights a lot of my concerns about...[read on]
The Windup Girl is among Maddie Stone's top seven novels that show the real terrifying prospect of climate change, Diana Biller's 22 great science fiction and fantasy stories that can help you make sense of economics, Torie Bosch's twelve great pandemic novels, Madeleine Monson-Rosen's top 15 books that take place in science fiction and fantasy versions of the most fascinating places on Earth and Annalee Newitz's lists of books to prepare you for the economic apocalypse and the 35 essential posthuman novels.

Writers Read: Paolo Bacigalupi (March 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 11, 2016

Elizabeth Marro

Elizabeth Marro is the author of Casualties, her first novel.

From her Q & A with Jim Ruland at The San Diego Union-Tribune:

Q: What first got you thinking about this book?

A: I wish I could just point to one simple thing, but I think it was sort of how a bunch of things came together. My background as a journalist. My role as a pharmaceutical executive. We moved from New Jersey to San Diego in March of 2001, and we went to war the next year. My antennae were just quivering in all kinds of ways, asking me to pay attention.

You’ve probably heard this from other authors, but you know how you start with your worst nightmare and you kind of figure it out on the page? I’m a mother, a mother of a son, and I raised him by myself. I’ve thought about how people who go to war do it, but what about the parents? How do they do it? What goes on in the heart and the mind of somebody who thinks that she’s got her whole life figured out and she doesn’t? I wanted to explore that.

Q: As I understand it, you don’t have a family connection to the military.

A: Nope. I’m part of that 99 percent that’s on the other side of the fence looking across at this unfamiliar territory. I could have written about the pharmaceutical industry. I could have written about a mother losing a son in any other context. But every time I tried to do that, I came back to this.

How could I stand on one side, especially once I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Boris Fishman

Boris Fishman is the author of Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo?

A: The most literal narrowly defined inspiration—there’s the literal spark and the emotional spark—the literal spark was that a friend was telling me about a coworker who had adopted, and was having a difficult time. The kid was from a different part of the country, or maybe a different country…

The broader [idea] was that I wanted to write from a different consciousness, and get away from the young, male, Jewish gaze. I had grown up with strong women, but with a prescribed cultural path. I wanted to explore a woman who was reared that way but got her groove back…

In some ways it’s also a self-exploration. I’m not adopted, but I’m so different from my parents. With immigration, you become a foreigner to your parents. Through [the character] Max, I’m...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Alison Gaylin

Alison Gaylin is the award-winning author of Hide Your Eyes and its sequel, You Kill Me; the standalones Trashed and Heartless; and the Brenna Spector series: And She Was, Into the Dark, and Stay with Me. Her newest novel is What Remains of Me.

From Gaylin's Q & A with Laura Lippman:

Laura Lippman (LL): You grew up in Southern California and you've covered the territory before, in the delicious Trashed. And your YA novel, Reality Ends Here, was interested in how young people deal with their yearning for fame and validation. But What Remains of Me signaled, at least to me, that you have so much you want to say about notoriety and media—and California. Am I right?

Alison Gaylin (AG): Yes! Even though I haven't lived there for more than twenty years, I do keep coming back to Southern California in my books. I think I'll always be fascinated by it, particularly Hollywood—the mystique of it and the larger-than-life capacity for both glamour and evil. And the role the press plays in perpetuating that. Whether you're a movie star or a murderer, the media will cast you in a role and that role becomes reality. As one of the characters in the book says, "It's not what you've done that matters, it's what people think you've done."

LL: It's a twisty book, with surprise after surprise, a book in which the tiniest details matter. Did you ever get confused while writing it? I think of one small thing in particular—no spoilers—that looms large in the book, but only the most attentive readers are going to sense its significance.

AG: It was a tricky book to write. I found myself...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alison Gaylin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Dark.

The Page 69 Test: What Remains of Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Anna Waterhouse

Anna Waterhouse is the co-author, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, of the novel Mycroft Holmes.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Can you say more about the choice of Mycroft Holmes rather than Sherlock Holmes as the main character, and why did you settle upon Mycroft as a young man?

A: Well, again, I didn't choose Mycroft — that was all Kareem. As much as he loves Sherlock the sleuth, he was even more taken with the idea of his brother, a strategist and diplomat, someone who had (or will have...if we're allowed to write some sequels!) his finger on the pulse of the British government, which at the time was the most powerful country in the world.

Mycroft has already become a bit of a Machiavelli in this book — and will have to become even more so, in order to negotiate the deep waters of political/government intrigue that he'll be facing. Kareem has a passion for all things history and a good knowledge of it, so the Victorian era is a perfect era for him: he's a kid in a candy store.

We decided on Mycroft as a young man because we didn't want to start him as the obese curmudgeon that he is in his 40s, when Conan Doyle first introduces him to the world. We'd like the chance to explain how he became that person.

As I've said several times, picture old Marlon Brando. Now picture young Marlon Brando. That's what we were going for. It's not that much of a stretch for someone to be handsome and athletic in his youth and be...less so as he ages, and I hope the purists will...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 7, 2016

Kim Barker

Kim Barker is the author of The Taliban Shuffle, which was adapted for the big screen as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, starring Tina Fey. From Barker's Q & A with Rachel Martin:

MARTIN: So the movie really plays up the ex-pat scene in Kabul, and this is something you spent a good deal of time talking about in the book.

BARKER: Right.

MARTIN: It is hard, probably, for a lot of people to imagine...

BARKER: Right.

MARTIN: ...That an ex-pat, young, white woman from, you know, Chicago could go to Kabul and have what turned out to be a thriving social scene. And that's complicated. Can you unpack that a little bit?

BARKER: It is really complicated. And I think some people say - you went to parties in Afghanistan? - but it was war. You know, it must have been all the time. How could you possibly have fun? Well, here's the deal. It's, like - I think anybody who's actually been in those situations knows that you're covering horrible things during the day. You know, you're talking to, you know, women who would rather throw acid on themselves than, like, be in a forced marriage, or you're covering suicide bombs. And you're dealing with these stories that you can't necessarily, like, go to the gym and exercise and, like, go for run outside. My mother was always like - why don't you do yoga? Like, you do yoga, Mom. You know? Because it's like - you needed some sort of sense of release. And you were in this pressure cooker, and you couldn't ever - you know, you just led such an inside life most of the time. So, yeah, there were parties, and you became really, really close with this group of people that were all sort of thrust into the same situation. And I wanted to show that because, you know - and I wanted to show my part in that because I found it so interesting. And it was something people didn't know about. And I didn't want to be a hypocrite and just, you know, point at...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Reed Farrel Coleman

Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR and the “noir poet laureate” in the Huffington Post, Reed Farrel Coleman is the New York Times bestselling author of Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. He is a three time Shamus Award winner for Best PI Novel of the Year and a three-time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories. He has also won the Macavity, Barry, Anthony, and Audie awards. Best known for his critically acclaimed Moe Prager Mystery series, Coleman is releasing the first book (Where It Hurts) in a new series featuring retired Suffolk County (Long Island) cop, Gus Murphy.

Brooklyn born and bred, Coleman began publishing poetry in his mid-teens, continued to do so throughout college, and after he began working in the shipping industry. After taking a night class in American Detective Fiction, he quit his fulltime job and began writing his first novel. Where It Hurts marks the publication of his twenty-third novel. He is a former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, helped found Mystery Writers of America University, and has taught as an adjunct instructor at Hofstra University. He resides on Long Island.

From Coleman's Q & A with Crime Fiction Lover:

Can you tell us a bit more about Where it Hurts, the novel that introduces Gus Murphy?

The book is both an involved crime story and a meditation on grief and loss. Gus is a retired Suffolk County uniformed policeman. He thinks he understands how the world works. He doesn’t want for much or covet what other people have because he has everything he wants: a great marriage, two nearly grown children, a nice suburban house, a good pension and time to enjoy it all. Then it all goes down the sewer when his son John dies playing basketball. His world and marriage are blown apart. The book begins two years after his son’s death and Gus is still lost. In order to occupy himself, he works as a courtesy van driver for a run down hotel by a local airport. His life begins to turn when an ex-con shows up at the hotel and asks for Gus’ help in finding his own son’s murderer because the local police don’t seem the least bit interested. Reluctantly, Gus agrees and what he finds is a web of corruption, drug gangs, and violence. He also finally finds a way ahead for...[read on]
Visit Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Hollow Girl.

The Page 69 Test: Where It Hurts.

Writers Read: Reed Farrel Coleman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela's new novel is The Kindness of Enemies.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your new novel, The Kindness of Enemies, links two very different time periods and a variety of settings. How did you come up with the idea of combining them into one novel?

A: [I] needed a bridge to connect the modern reader to the past. So I introduced a present day character, Natasha Hussein, a half-Russian, half Sudanese lecturer of history, living in Scotland.

Natasha is researching the life of [19th century leader Imam] Shamil, [about whom I had written a BBC Radio play in 2005,] and she is a useful guide to the complexities of the past as well as having her own dilemmas in the present.

Q: How did you research the sections of the book that take place in 19th century Russia and the Caucasus, and was there anything that particularly surprised you?

A: I had already done considerable research for writing the radio play but found that new research about Imam Shamil was published in the meantime.

The most significant resource was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 4, 2016

Steven Hatch

Steven Hatch is the author of Snowball in a Blizzard: A Physician’s Notes on Uncertainty in Medicine. From his Q & A with Julie Beck for The Atlantic:

Julie Beck: There seems to be a real disconnect between the way the public (and doctors sometimes, too) think about medicine—as a field that gives you answers—and what the field really is, which seems to be more just trying to minimize uncertainty as best we can.

Steven Hatch: I think one of the reasons why we have this issue in medicine is: To become a doctor you go through this weeding-out process where you go to your chemistry classes and biology classes and take the MCATs. All of those, for the most part, are situations in which the person who gets the most right answers is rewarded. By the time you get to med school, you’re already primed to think that everything is about a right answer. Then what happens when you get into the practice of medicine is, it’s a lot of fuzzy variables.

Beck: Does the Socratic method, and the focus on having the answers ready at hand whenever you're asked, instill that in some ways?

Hatch: Yeah, I think that’s right. In med school that gets primed, especially with the Socratic method and this old term we have called pimping.

Beck: What's that? Literally pimping, like P-I-M-P?

Hatch: Yeah. I have no idea...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Amy Ellis Nutt

Amy Ellis Nutt is the author of Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family and Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man's Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph.

From Nutt's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about the Maines family [in Becoming Nicole]?

A: In an unusual way, this book landed in my lap. I had read the Boston Globe story in 2011 when it came out, and later I received an e-mail from someone I had known, Jennifer Levi, who was the lawyer representing the family.

The family was inundated. They didn’t want to do any more media; the article was a one-off for them…but they realized down the road they might want to tell their story in a longer form…

When I first met them, I realized it was more than a story about one amazing child, it was an exceptional family story. I wanted to tell all of their stories.

The mother who was convinced that her job was to make sure her children were happy and safe, the father who struggled—probably the biggest transformation was his, a remarkable kid whose confidence led the way.

It’s a credit to her mother and eventually her father that she was not raised with a sense of shame. It’s the ordinary family and the extraordinary story that drew me to it, and to tell the science, because ...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Amy Ellis Nutt's website.

The Page 99 Test: Shadows Bright as Glass.

Writers Read: Amy Ellis Nutt (April 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

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 a Q & A with the author:

How far do you feel we’ve come as a society towards equality in general, including sexual equality, since the days of the invention of the pill?

We’ve come a long way. It’s tempting to think primarily about how the pill changed sex, how it made for swinging singles and wild orgies. It did, certainly, allow women (and men) to enjoy sex without the constant fear of pregnancy. But it did much more than that. It allowed them to control the size of their families, which meant they could better maintain their health, stay out of poverty, and feed their children. It meant they could go to college and start careers. Women are still not treated as fully equal to men, but they’re much better off than they were 60 years ago, and a big part of that change can be connected to the advent of the pill.

Through writing this book, how have your views towards the pill changed? What do you think it has added to society, or the way men and women interact with each other?

I was one of those people who took the pill for granted. It had always been there for me. I had never given much thought to how it might have changed the life of my mother or my wife or any of the other women I knew.

Telling this story—and traveling back in time to the 1950s in doing so, to see what women’s lives were like prior to the arrival of the pill—has made me...[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

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Simon R. Doubleday

Simon R. Doubleday is the author of The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about the 13th century Spanish ruler Alfonso X, and what surprised you most in the course of your research?

A: I’ve always been drawn to medieval Spain: it’s a period of extraordinary cultural vitality, as well as instability and change.

To see the architecture of this period—the Gothic cathedrals of León or Burgos (which Alfonso helped to construct), or the Alhambra (built by the Muslim kings of Granada, who were sometimes his uneasy allies)—is to recognize at once that vitality; to hear the music (especially the Cantigas de Santa María) is to be drawn into a lost world.

Alfonso X was a king who was famed across Europe for his scientific learning, and who remains a household name in Spain, but who is largely unknown to English-speaking audiences outside the academic world, so I was attracted by the challenge of introducing him to a new public.

He actually played a slightly villainous role in my first book, the story of an aristocratic family who fell out with him midway through his reign, but the deeper I researched him, the more dazzled I was by his cultural achievements, and the more compelling I found the task of tracing his inner, emotional life.

There are many emotional surprises in the book: perhaps especially his warm relationship with his first-born daughter Beatriz, an “illegitimate” child who was born before his marriage but became queen of ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue