Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lauren Belfer

Lauren Belfer's new novel is And After the Fire.

From a Q & A at her website:

What draws you to historical fiction?

My father taught history, and my mother taught art and is still an artist, so history and creativity have always been part of the fabric of my life. From discussing history with my father throughout my childhood, I learned to place myself into different historical eras and to imagine what living in those times would have felt like. As I became a writer, I wanted to use my knowledge and love of history to portray how the events of the wider world affect the course of individual lives.

* * *
Did you always want to be a writer?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was six years old. I started out by writing short stories about magical animals and also about princesses – but strong princesses who ruled their kingdoms and rode into battle on white horses. In high school, I began to write poetry, which I submitted to literary magazines. I received rejection letters from all the best places.

Once I was out of college, I still wanted to be a writer, but I had to earn a living at the same time. So I got up early, before going to work, and wrote for an hour or so. I worked in a variety of jobs: in the photo department of a newspaper, at an art gallery, as a paralegal at several law firms, as an associate producer on documentary films, even as a fact-checker at magazines. Having a wide variety of jobs is terrific for a fiction writer, because...[read on]
Visit Lauren Belfer's website.

Writers Read: Lauren Belfer (July 2010).

The Page 69 Test: A Fierce Radiance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 29, 2016

Anita Hughes

Anita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in The Australian newspaper, and was named "One of Australia's Next Best Writers." (She still has the newspaper clipping.)

Hughes received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley's Masters in Creative Writing program.

Her novels include Monarch Beach, Market Street, Lake Como, French Coast, and Island in the Sea.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your characters Juliet and Lionel in Island in the Sea, and why did you decide to have the characters work in the music business?

A: Actually, first I came up with the idea of setting the book in the music industry, then I came up with the characters. I wondered what it would be like to be a famous songwriter who writes love songs but has been betrayed in love. Could you still write about love?

Then, I thought, what if a beautiful young woman appeared who held your career in your hands and you began to fall in love with her. I also threw in Lionel's boss as the person who betrayed Lionel and the man who Juliet answers to.

Q: The novel takes place on the island of Majorca. How important is setting to you in your writing, and could this novel have taken place in another location?

A: Setting is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Anita Hughes's website.

My Book, The Movie: Market Street.

My Book, The Movie: Lake Como.

My Book, The Movie: French Coast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fred Kaplan

Fred Kaplan's new book is Dark Territory: The Secret History Of Cyber War. From the transcript of his interview with Daniel Zwerdling for All Things Considered:

ZWERDLING: So let's jump ahead in history now. We all know that hacking has become a part of life. You write that there was a huge turning point in the kinds of cyberattacks almost exactly two years ago.

KAPLAN: That's right. A couple years ago, Sheldon Adelson - who is the majority stockholder of Vegas Sands Casinos and a well-known right-wing political supporter with very pro-Israel views - made a statement at a public forum saying that if the Iranians didn't get serious on getting rid of their nuclear weapons, that maybe we ought to drop an atomic bomb in the middle of the desert and say if you don't stop this, the next bomb we drop is going to be on Tehran.

So in retaliation for that, the Iranians hacked into his casino chain, causing tens of millions of dollars' worth of damage - melting their hard drives, stealing a lot of data about Social Security numbers, and then planting on everybody's screen, don't make statements like this about weapons of mass destruction.

So this is a new wave in cyber war done not for espionage, not for money, not to get military secrets, but to affect the political speech of individuals or corporations. When you hack into a casino - you know, if you're looking for money, there's a lot of money there that you can get. The Iranians didn't take a dime. They even stole credit cards to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Renée Rosen

Renée Rosen's latest novel is White Collar Girl. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for White Collar Girl, and for your main character, Jordan Walsh?

A: After I finished What the Lady Wants, my editor, agent and I started brainstorming on what my next book should be.

We were all intrigued by the idea of the Chicago Tribune and the Daley Machine, but it wasn’t until I met Marion Purcelli, a woman who started at the Tribune in 1949 as a “copyboy,” that the story really began taking shape. Marion took me under her wing, sharing many wonderful stories of her days at the paper.

Jordan Walsh and her mentor Mrs. Angelo are both based on Marion Purcelli, and after meeting her, the book pretty much wrote itself. I really did not know what would happen from one chapter to the next. The characters took the story and ran with it and I was just along for the ride.

Q: You’ve written three historical novels about Chicago. How did the writing and research process compare this time with the previous two?

A: The biggest difference between this book and my previous novels, Dollface, which was set in the 1920s, and What the Lady Wants, set in the Gilded Age, is that ...[read on]
Visit Renée Rosen's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Every Crooked Pot.

My Book, The Movie: Dollface.

The Page 69 Test: Dollface.

Writers Read: Renée Rosen (November 2014).

The Page 69 Test: What the Lady Wants.

My Book, The Movie: What the Lady Wants.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Peggy Orenstein

Peggy Orenstein's books include the New York Times best-selling memoir, Waiting for Daisy; Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Kids, Love and Life in a Half-Changed World; SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap; and Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.

Her new book is Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. From her Q & A with Isaac Chotiner at Slate:

A lot has been written about the way porn has influenced the expectations of boys. Can you talk about how is has influenced the expectations of girls?

In fact, my understanding is that Time magazine is about to have a cover story on that, like, next week or something.

It affects girls in a few ways. It affects how they look at their own bodies: are they good enough, are they adequate, are they going to please their partner because they aren’t like the girls in porn, things like that.

A lot of girls would say to me—and, this really began to irritate me, not at the girls, but just at the fact that they had to think about this—“My boyfriend wants to know why I don’t moan during sex like the girls in porn.” I got so irritated at that that I started dropping my journalistic remove, and I would say, “Look. It’s a movie. Movies need soundtracks. If people didn’t moan, it would be a silent movie. That’s why they’re moaning like that.” That was kind of like a revelation. They’re like, “Oh, I never thought of it that way!”

I think that porn has also probably been responsible for the rise in...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Waiting for Daisy.

The Page 99 Test: Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

Writers Read: Peggy Orenstein.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 25, 2016

James F. Brooks

James F. Brooks is the author of Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You’ve lived in the American Southwest for many years and been fascinated with the history of the region. How did you come up with the idea for Mesa of Sorrows, and what has been the importance of the Awat’ovi Massacre in Hopi history?

A: I was a fellow at the School of American Research in 2000-2001, and was finishing Captives and Cousins, a history of intercultural slavery in the Southwest.

I was wrapping the book up, and was wondering if there were any cases in transactions of women and children between or within indigenous people.

Ruth Van Dyke, a colleague, said there was a terrible event where some of the survivors were women and children, and were distributed over other villages.

I don’t think I would have done the book unless the story was revealing itself in a way that you could get a sense of redemption and forgiveness…

I really believe these guys [in a Hopi delegation who attempted to negotiate with the Spanish] were trying to figure out a way to avoid all this, but it didn’t work out. Once I was to that point, I thought the book could do some good in the world.

It’s something that’s haunted them [the Hopi people] for a long time. It shaped their fundamental cultural views around communitarian commitments and pacifism.

Q: You write that your previous research on the Southwest involved violence between different groups of people, and this time you wanted to look at violence within a group of people. How did this book develop?

A: I imagined this early on as intra-cultural violence, except I realized it’s the social product of difference even within a group. You may imagine yourself as a community, but when tensions erupt...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Peter Rock

Peter Rock is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship. His adult novel My Abandonment won the Alex Award.

Rock's new YA novel is Klickitat.

From his Q & A with JP Kemmick for Eleven PDX:

ELEVEN: Do you want to tell me about the genesis of Klickitat?

Peter Rock: There’re sort of practical reasons why I wrote it and then there are other reasons. Certainly one of the big things that drove me to write it was just thinking about sisters. I have two sisters who are very strange. My wife has two sisters who live about half a mile from us. And I have two daughters, who are, in fact, sisters of each other. And my wife’s sister also has two daughters who are about the same age. So I’ve spent the last eight years, especially before they got into elementary school, driving these four girls. At the same time, reading a lot of things … starting kind of younger, with Beezus and Ramona and then, traveling on through all of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is very sister-intensive. I guess, you know, I’m always interested in writing about things I don’t understand very well and that’s something I will never understand.

I think writing The Shelter Cycle changed the way I think about the world in general, but it also made me want to write about things that are invisible in some way, that are ineffable in some way, the ways in which we might be communicating with things that we can’t easily see or apprehend. There’s a story in my book, The Unsettling, called “The Sharpest Knife,” which is partially about a girl who finds writing in a notebook. It’s a story, for something that I wrote, that I like quite a bit, but there was a question of whether or not I was going to answer where this writing was coming from. And in the story there is an answer for it, which I think is a good answer for that story, but it always seemed like I … not exactly bailed, but that there was another way to take that. So that was an idea I wanted to think about.

I had, from The Shelter Cycle, and also from My Abandonment, somewhat, I had so much information about survivalism and children surviving in the wilderness that I was kind of curious about. So those were all things that were sort of around. As you no doubt know, everything we write is in some ways a reaction to what we just wrote, or an attempt to get away from what we just wrote or to make...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Rock's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Abandonment.

The Page 69 Test: The Shelter Cycle.

Writers Read: Peter Rock.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 23, 2016

David Greenberg

David Greenberg's latest book is Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Republic of Spin, and was there anything that particularly surprised you in the course of your research?

A: My first book was called Nixon’s Shadow. It’s not a biography of Nixon but a study of Nixon as a symbol…I came to see that although Nixon exemplified that [focus on image], it didn’t originate with him. Politics in the 20th century were consumed with anxieties about authenticity, and the way the tools of image-making—spin—were threatening to corrupt democracy.

No one had written a book about the White House spin machine, and pulled it all together into a single narrative…

As for what surprised me, I found that the standard narratives about certain historical episodes were wrong.

On an individual level, you could tell a story about how my research [shows] revisionist portraits: George Creel, who ran the Committee on Public Information, a World War I propaganda agency.

In the history books, Creel is made out to be a right-wing monster, whipping up hatred of Germans. In fact, Creel was a liberal guy attacked more by the right wing for being insufficiently jingoistic.

He was not wild and out of control. There were some excesses, but the backlash against Creel was buyer’s remorse about World War I. The war didn’t turn out the way we wanted, and people were looking for a scapegoat. The story of Creel was told wrong, over and over…

In one chapter of history after another, I found significant twists. Many historians suffer from propaganda anxiety. They’re not always clear-eyed in assessing [this issue]. We have an ambivalent attitude toward spin—we denounce spin doctors but deep down we like it if it’s wielded by politicians we support.

Just today, there was an article about negative ads about Trump. It was free of the scolding tone you get when you’re told about negative advertisements against Obama. It’s not the negative ads that people are against, it’s the negative ads against their candidates. If it’s deployed by a candidate or president we support, we applaud it, and don’t realize it’s spin.

Also, one reason I read the sources differently is that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2016

Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is the author of the critically acclaimed books: Dust and Shadow, The Gods of Gotham, which was nominated for an Edgar for Best Novel, Seven for a Secret, and The Fatal Flame. Her newest novel Jane Steele re-imagines Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer who battles for justice with methods inspired by Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

From Faye's interview at Read It Forward:

RIF: What inspired the idea for this novel, and gave you the confidence you could pull it off? After all, Jane Eyre as a serial killer is a pretty outrageous concept, and it re-imagines one of the most beloved and famous novels of all time.

Lyndsay Faye: Um, unwarranted hubris? I’m kidding. It’s absolutely outrageous, and I think that the outrageousness of the concept was freeing. I’m very open about the fact that it’s a ridiculous notion to conceive of Jane Eyre as Dexter. So I was enabled by that rather than hampered, if that makes sense? She wants to get rid of truly evil people, and there’s something satisfying about the notion of a female protagonist accomplishing what Darkly Dreaming Dexter did. I don’t ever condone murder, of course. But I will point out that Charlotte Brontë actually lived at that horrible school she describes in Jane Eyre, and two of her sisters later died after having been terribly weakened by lack of care at the Cowan Bridge facility. What ought to be outrageous is that any such thing was ever allowed to happen in the first place—children were fairly routinely abused in the 19th century at such boarding schools, like the one equally vividly brought to life in Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens. My absurdities are usually responses to real social injustices.

Additionally, this novel is unabashedly...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lyndsay Faye's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

The Page 69 Test: Seven for a Secret.

My Book, The Movie: The Fatal Flame. 

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen's new book is Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. He just won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that wars take on identities, with World War II as “the Good War” and Vietnam as “the bad war.” What would you say is the legacy of the Vietnam War today, both in the U.S. and in Vietnam?

A: For the United States, there are two basic lessons, the positive and the negative. The negative lesson is that the U.S. should never engage in this type of criminal war again, one that involved occupying another country and compromising morality. This is the motivation of the antiwar movement, and while it remains visible, its power seems to be fading.

The positive lesson is the opposite. Those who have absorbed this lesson believe the war was noble and just, but flawed in its execution. They blame the media, the government, the antiwar movement, and military policy for the failure, and have crafted various strategies to prevent that failure from happening again.

The belief here is that wars after this one can be conducted more successfully if we learn from this war’s failure. This is the lesson put forth by both generals and politicians, including every president of both parties since the end of the war.

It is the basis for the continual expansion of American power globally, the increase in American military bases all over the world, the ever greater expenditure of treasure on the military budget, the detachment of the American military from American society, and the increasing entrenchment of the military-industrial complex. All of these factors practically guarantee our engagement in perpetual war of both high and low intensity.

For Vietnam, the lesson is that the Communist Party must do whatever it can to control the memory of this war as a heroic, revolutionary effort that was worth the sacrifice of one million soldiers and two million civilians.

This war was fought to unify and liberate the country, and also to bring to the people both freedom and equality. But while the country is unified and independent, the people are neither equal nor free. Class inequality is great and growing, and while some few become rich, and while a middle-class is expanding, the majority of people struggle.

The irony of living in an unequal communist society is exacerbated by the fact that the country is a de facto crony capitalist economy, run by a corrupt Communist Party. Everyone knows this to be true, but no one is allowed to say so in public.

This corruption, inequality, and hypocrisy is a betrayal of those three million lives, and so the Communist Party continually repeats the idea that the war was worth all the blood because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand's latest book is Hard Light: A Cass Neary Crime Novel. From her Q & A with Joan Silverman for the Portland Press Herald:

Q: What has it been like hanging out with Cass Neary, in your head and on the page, for 10 years? She’s a lot of trouble.

A: She is a lot of trouble. On the one hand, I feel like I’ve nailed her as far as channeling that voice. I realized I had created this vital, viable character, and a lot of readers love the fact that she’s this total screwup-alcoholic-speed freak.

She’s really out there. But there is an overarching narrative arc, and she is changing as a character. I’m working on the fourth book in the series now, and she gets superficially cleaned up. But it doesn’t last. I don’t want her to harden into schtick, so I’m trying to give her a slightly broader, more complex emotional and psychological palette. But she’s still a freaking mess.

Q: Now that you have a decade of history with this character, do you, as the author, have less control?

A: It almost feels like a form of method acting. I feel like I can project into her whatever I want her to do, or be, that feels, to me, rational. Could I buy this person acting this way? Would I, on my worst possible day, do something like this? If I can say “yes,” then I don’t feel too constrained. She’ll pretty much do anything if she has...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Hand's website.

Read about Elizabeth Hand's six favorite books.

My Book, The Movie: Available Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Shirley Barrett

Shirley Barrett is an Australian film maker. She has written and directed three feature films (Love Serenade, Walk the Talk, South Solitary), and worked extensively as a director in television. Her first novel is Rush Oh!.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that Rush Oh! was based in part on a historical figure. As you wrote the novel, what did you see as the right blend of the historical and the fictional?

A: Rush Oh! is based on the true story of the killer whales of Eden, and I knew I wanted to write about that.

As I did more research, I found an incredible archive of local Eden newspapers dating back to the late 1800s, in which there would be highly detailed accounts of whale chases, often citing particular the particular killer whales involved by name.

Realising that in this blend of history and fiction that I was intending, readers might think I made up all the stuff about killer whales too, I decided it would be great to include some actual newspaper accounts of the time, for veracity.

The newspaper accounts often mentioned George "Fearless" Davidson, Master Whaler, so I decided ultimately that Mary, my narrator, would be George's fictional daughter, and in fact I created an entire new fictional family for him.

I figured that as long as I was open about what was real and what wasn't (I make it clear in the Author's Note), taking that kind of liberty was permissible.

I remember trying to find out about what legalities might stand in my way when it comes to fictionalizing real people's lives, and I read somewhere that there was nothing to stop you doing it - just don't expect those real people to like it.

George of course is long dead, but he has many proud descendants. I am not too sure what they think about the book - I guess they're...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based writer whose first novel, The Borrower, is a Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. Her short fiction has been chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), and appears regularly in journals like Harper's, Tin House, Ploughshares, and New England Review.

Makkai's latest novel is The Hundred-Year House.

From her Q & A at 0s&1s Reads, where she was asked about negative reviews:

OK, jumping ahead now to THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE, starting with NPR, which gave a pretty good review overall, but included the line: "Makkai fails to make the estate the foreboding character it needs to be to both ground and uproot these privileged characters who can't see how lucky they are and how self-absorbed their lives have become.” Do you remember reading this review when it came out?

I don't remember it, but there was another review--I think in Kirkus--that also seemed to have issues with wealthy characters not being in some way punished for their wealth. It's funny, because one of the characters living on the grounds this estate is a Marxist literary critic who's largely rejected her family's wealth and legacy... and at least two sources end up giving the book kind of a Marxist reading.

About the house, though... I wanted to both take part in and subvert some of the conventions of the haunted house novel, and the problem is that as soon as you raise the possibility of a haunted house, some readers are going to want you to jump wholly into that genre; they're going to be disappointed that you're not writing THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. Which I would write if I could, but I'm not Shirley Jackson and I was doing something else.

One lovely, positive thing that nevertheless kind of drives me nuts is when people say "You made the house itself a character!" Because I really don't think I did that. The house is a setting.

It had a different title for a long time, and I think once I put the word "house" in there -- long after I'd finished writing it -- it drew attention to the house itself, set up some expectations that...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

The Page 69 Test: The Hundred-Year House.

My Book, The Movie: The Hundred-Year House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Deborah Hopkinson

Deborah Hopkinson's new middle-grade novel is A Bandit's Tale. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for A Bandit's Tale and for your main character, Rocco?

A: I have written two previous historical fiction books for young readers: Into the Firestorm was set in San Francisco and The Great Trouble takes place in London, and I wanted to place the next story in New York City. Rocco grew out of reading accounts of young street musicians, including a boy who had run away to Central Park.

Q: The book includes some historical figures. What did you see as the right blend between history and fiction as you were writing the novel?

A: I wish I knew the right combination! Often I have to cut out aspects of history that are absolutely fascinating to me, but don’t necessarily move the story forward.

It just so happens that sometimes events coincide, though. Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA who does appear in A Bandit’s Tale actually did die during the Blizzard of 1888, just as he does in the book.

And apparently during that same storm Jacob Riis, the pioneering photojournalist whose photographs of the tenements on the Lower East Side captured the public’s attention, hatched the idea for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington's new book is The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. From the transcript of her Q & A with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: You know that one of the people who boasts that he only needs four hours of sleep is Donald Trump?



ZAKARIA: What's your comment on that?

HUFFINGTON: Well, actually, Donald Trump displays all the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine -- you know, his inability to process even simple information, his mood swings, his irritability, his trouble listening to others, his paranoid tendencies, his constant regurgitating of pablum. All these are scientific symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.

But what we need to change is, when somebody says that, we should actually recognize that he's running on empty; he's running on fumes, and it becomes cumulative.

So you saw what happened in the last week of his campaign. He started making statements that he had to retract, which is very rare for him because he's made some pretty absurd statements that he did not have to retract. So it gets harder and harder to function.

ZAKARIA: So the solution to Donald Trump's problem is to give him a good night's sleep?


HUFFINGTON: The solution to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 15, 2016

Edward Humes

Edward Humes's new book is Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're going to talk about a subject that you probably never think about, the huge distances that the components of your smartphone, the beans in your coffee, the can that your soda is in - even the socks in your drawer - the distance they've traveled before you purchased them. And we're going to talk about the consequences of all that transportation. Think of it as your transportation footprint.

My guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes, is the author of the new book "Door To Door," which he describes as a transportation detective story about the hidden characters, locations, myths and machinery driving our buy-it-now, same-day delivery, traffic-packed world. Humes is interested in the hidden price we pay for the things we take for granted. His previous book, "Garbology," was about the afterlife of our trash. Edward Humes, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's start with your morning cup of coffee. Simple thing, coffee - how does transportation figure into your morning cup?

EDWARD HUMES: Let's just look at the beans - to blend the beans - and I buy it by the bag. There's going to be about 30,000 miles accumulated over the course of the transportation of that coffee from various countries, brokered nations. It's going to be shipped by mega-container ships, by trucks, by rail perhaps. The particular French roast I looked at was - it came out around roughly 30,000 miles. And that's just for the beans to get from the point of origin to my house. And that's not counting the water used to make the coffee, which is also transported, the electricity that powers my coffeemaker, the coffeemaker itself, the filter, the packaging. If you start adding in all that, your cup of coffee's traveled a couple of times around the world before, you know, you take your first sip.

GROSS: Why do I care?

HUMES: Well, I think it's relevant to know where your stuff comes from. I mean, that was what I started writing this book in order to do because I was surprisingly ignorant about how things come to us and what it takes to keep your home supplied with things like coffee or socks or smartphones, whatever product you want to look at. There's a huge transportation footprint. And there's a huge cost attached to that. We live in a very unusual world unlike previous eras, where...[read on]
Visit Edward Humes's website.

The Page 99 Test: Force of Nature.

The Page 99 Test: Garbology.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman is the author of more than two dozen books for children including, with the collaboration of astronaut Mark Kelly, on the Astrotwins series, Astrotwins--Project Blastoff and Astrotwins--Project Rescue. From Freeman's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you end up collaborating with Mark Kelly on the Astrotwins books, and what is the writing process like between you?

A: Paula Wiseman at Simon & Schuster knew me from other projects and asked me if I would be interested in the collaboration.

I have been interested in space from an early age. My dad gave me a telescope when I was very young and together we would look at the stars and planets. I am old enough to remember not only the moon landing in 1969 but (barely) the Gemini and Mercury missions of the '60s. And I remember Star Trek and Lost in Space on TV, too.

It was a forward-looking and exciting time. The astronauts were real American heroes in an uncomplicated way that seems hard to imagine now. So -- long story short -- I jumped at the chance.

As for the writing process, Mark Kelly is the brains of the operation. He provided the plot, the voice and the true-life details about his and Scott's childhood.

I did most of the word-by-word stuff -- I call it putting in the commas -- while he continually made sure the manuscript stayed true to his vision with his suggestions, revisions and corrections.

I also did a lot of research on my own. Mark is a very busy guy, and I didn't want to drive him crazy with questions about details that I could learn from other sources.

Also, by the time Mark became an astronaut in the 1990s, space technology -- especially computing power and spaceship design -- was very different than it had been in the ‘70s when the books take place.

I still have the 11 books I read for background on a shelf in my living room -- many astronaut memoirs as well as some more general science reading. And I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Robert J. Gordon

Robert J. Gordon is the author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: Robert Gordon...Let's start with you. This is a monumental work, but the basic message, is it fair to say, is you're telling us you think we're -- you're living in a world of extraordinary technological progress; you really don't know what technological progress is?

Explain what the progress that you regard as truly transformative was and when was it.

ROBERT GORDON, ECONOMIST: Well, I talk about a special century that goes from 1870 to 1970. There were an enormous number of very important inventions right at the beginning of that century. In 1879 alone, we had Thomas Edison's electric light. We had Karl Benz's internal combustion engine. And we had a little-known Englishman who invented wireless.

If you think about the house in 1870, it was completely isolated. By 1940 it was connected five ways, electricity, gas, telephone, running water and sewage removal. That absolutely, completely, fundamentally changed the way life was for housewives, and at the same time working conditions were changing.

All at the same time, in the early part of the 20th century, we conquered infant mortality. Some people have calculated that that's worth more than everything else put together. In 1890 your chance of having your baby die was 22 percent in the first year. That was down below 1 percent by 1950.

So there -- in all of these different multi-dimensions, phonograph, radio, television, motion pictures -- we had a tremendous change.

And since 1970, we've had, of course, the computer; we've had communications; we have mobile phones, but that's a much smaller part of human existence than the great inventions of the early 20th century.

ZAKARIA: Explain electricity alone, because what it does is it makes it possible to power factories, to transform -- you know, night has turned into a work period.

GORDON: Think of -- think of New York City. New York City is only possible because of electric elevators. That's another example of the multi-dimensions that we have.

By the end of the 1920s, New York was a semblance of its current high- rise self, after only 50 years of electricity. Think of Super Storm Sandy back in 2012. It took away the 20th century for many New Yorkers, who lost power. They couldn't even fill up their cars with gasoline and they certainly could not...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Elizabeth Percer

Elizabeth Percer's new book is All Stories Are Love Stories: A Novel.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new novel, and why did you set it during an earthquake in San Francisco?

A: To write a novel, I need to come up with something I know is big enough that it will keep me mentally and emotionally occupied for two years or more. I always look for something that scares me.

An issue in my life, in the 10-15 years since I had my kids, is that having children brought to the forefront of my imagination and heart that I have three people who have my heart inside them and might run into traffic.

The process in American motherhood is to reassure children that you’ll keep them safe, but the philosopher in me knows it isn’t true…especially in this world now. It has become a big issue for me. I’m fascinated by the illusion of safety, and how...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Percer's website.

The Page 69 Test: An Uncommon Education.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Percer (June 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 11, 2016

Elnathan John

Elnathan John is a Nigerian lawyer who quit his job in 2012 to write full-time. In 2013, he was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing for his story “Bayan Layi” and was again named a finalist in 2015. His new book is Born on a Tuesday.

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

Was there a particular seed from which your first novel, about a young man who gets caught up in Islamic fundamentalism, grew?

Born on a Tuesday was informed partly by my upbringing but also inspired by the almajiri [the name for those sent from their homes as children to study in Islamic schools] I met at university. I was interested in their lives and their thoughts and intrigued that they were [often] people without names. What is in a name? The question became important to me. The minimum a person can have is a name. I was interested in what happens when that basic form of identity is taken away. “Born on a Tuesday” is the protagonist’s name, but not...[read on]
Visit Elnathan John's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ed Boland

Ed Boland's new book is The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir about your year as a teacher?

A: What’s interesting about this book is that until I wrote the book, I had never written anything in my life. It tells you how urgently I needed to process this.

I had my very powerful experience of failure. So many people were cheering me on from the sidelines—You’re going to be a great teacher, you’re a natural—it made it all the more shameful when it didn’t work out.

For the first year I didn’t talk about it at all, except with my husband. He’s a filmmaker and artist, and said, You need to process this. You should go to a memoir group.

I did. There were all these New Yorkers, and they were as genuinely shocked as I was about what was going on. I thought I was a good liberal New Yorker, I thought I had a sense of what life was like for kids in a struggling school, but I didn’t have a clue.

I wrote the book so people would...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2016

Peggy Orenstein

Peggy Orenstein's books include the New York Times best-selling memoir, Waiting for Daisy; Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Kids, Love and Life in a Half-Changed World; SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap; and Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.

Her new book is Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. From her Q & A with Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon:

What I try now to do with my daughters [aged 16 and 12] is say, “You deserve to be with people who think you’re great. Who think you’re awesome. That’s who deserves your company.” And I talk about people and I don’t talk about “boys,” because fewer and fewer teenagers identity as exclusively heterosexual. I say that I want the people you date to respect you, to like you, to see how funny you are and I want you to have fun within that. And if it does’t feel good for you, then there’s something wrong.

I always say that this conversation that we’re having about consent is so important. But consent is such a low bar for a sexual experience. We’ve got to do better than that. We have put a lot of emphasis on consent, because we should, but the for girls, sometimes they feel, “It ought to feel good because I said yes.” And if it’s not good, that’s confusing and upsetting and hard to understand. We have to say, yes, consent, obviously consent, but consent is the baseline. It’s not the experience. We are weird that as a culture we have become more comfortable talking about girls’ victimization than girls’ pleasure.

I have had a lot of conversations about this over the years with my nieces and my friends’ daughters, and a lot of times I would give anything for the earth to swallow me up so I don’t have to talk to them about...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Waiting for Daisy.

The Page 99 Test: Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

Writers Read: Peggy Orenstein.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chris Pavone

Chris Pavone is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Accident and The Expats, which won both the Edgar and Anthony awards, has been translated into twenty languages, and is being developed for film, and the brand-new thriller The Travelers, which is already under option at DreamWorks. Pavone was a book editor for nearly two decades before moving to Luxembourg, where he started writing The Expats. He now lives again in New York City with his wife and kids.

From Pavone's Q & A with Fodor's:

Q. The Travelers’ hero, Will Rhodes, is a travel writer turned accidental spy. Our founder, Eugene Fodor, also used travel writing as a front while working for the CIA. Naturally, we’re hooked. What was your inspiration?

I’ve had dozens of jobs—I’ve always been a huge fan of quitting—for many different types of employer: federal and local government, small and midsize businesses, international conglomerates, publicly traded and privately owned. One was an advertising agency that specialized in international campaigns, a workplace where everyone was from somewhere else, and they all seemed to speak a half-dozen languages and smoke multiple cigarettes at once, and they were constantly jetting off to other continents to hand-hold clients. Or at least that’s what they told me. It occurred to me that they might be doing something completely different—I might be doing something completely different, and not know it. How certain are any of us of whom we really work for? And what the true agenda is? How do we really know...[read on]
Visit Chris Pavone's website.

Chris Pavone: five books that changed me.

Coffee with a Canine: Chris Pavone & Charlie Brown.

The Page 69 Test: The Travelers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich's new book is America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You begin your new book with a look at Operation Eagle Claw, the failed hostage rescue attempt during the Carter presidency. Why did you choose to start here, and what role did Carter play in the shift of U.S. attention toward military involvement in the Middle East?

A: The Carter Doctrine, promulgated in December 1979, initiated the process of militarizing U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf and more broadly throughout much of the Islamic world.

The failed Iran hostage rescue mission represented the first fruits — however bitter — of this new policy, which over time blossomed into what we should rightly call America’s War for the Greater Middle East.

I don’t mean to imply that Carter in any way anticipated what was to follow during the decades to come. He certainly did not. He was...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The New American Militarism.

The Page 99 Test: The Limits of Power.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Grant Bywaters

Grant Bywaters is the author of The Red Storm. From his Q & A at Sons of Spade:

Q: What makes your William Fletcher different from other hardboiled  characters?

Fletcher is a black man trying to make a living as a private detective in the late 1930s New Orleans. Unlike your conventional detective of that time period, Fletcher has to navigate through segregation laws and racial tensions which make his job more difficult. Fletcher also carries a deep bitterness from not getting a chance at fighting for the heavyweight title in his youth which was due to the color line being drawn after the country’s call for a Great White Hope to defeat the first black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson were answered. Fletcher was one of many great black heavyweights during this period that never got a chance to fight for the title for decades until Joe Louis came around.

Q: How did you come up with the character?

During the time I was getting my private investigator license, I was also working on my Associate’s Degree. I was taking an African American history class and the two things going on in my life kind of blended together. I got to thinking how...[read on]
Learn more about The Red Storm at the publisher's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Red Storm.

My Book, The Movie: The Red Storm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mary Pipher

Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist and author. Her books include Reviving Ophelia, which was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 26 weeks, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, and Letters to a Young Therapist, now available in a revised edition.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your book Letters to a Young Therapist was first published in 2003. How did this revised edition come about, and what do you see as the major changes in therapy since the book’s initial publication?

A: I wrote the book right after 9/11. I had finished a book on refugees, and I was emotionally shot. I was happy to be asked by Basic Books to write about our field. The world seemed out of control [and it helped to write this book].

It was a popular book; students would write me…it was influential in their decisions to be therapists. Our basic mission is to heal the human heart, and it’s a really important one.

Because it was so popular, the publisher asked me to do a new book with a new cover, to update it. I was delighted. I hadn’t thought much about these issues in a long time, and I willingly accepted.

[I’m] rethinking how the world changed in 16 years. I’m struck by the idea that human beings haven’t changed very much—they still have their basic needs, basic family structure, ways of getting in horrible [situations].

On the other hand, the speed that the world has changed has greatly accelerated. The number of things that were different was incredible.

For example, I felt immediately that the emotional climate for Americans was much rougher even than 2001. They’re working harder, money is tighter, they’re more stressed out about college payments, house payments.

The 24-7 media cycle generates a cycle of fear. It’s left people damaged…If you define a democracy as having control over the forces that control your life, none of us feel that way…I wanted to write about that.

Another issue that’s very different is technology. It presents issues to families that it didn’t in 2001. Texting has become even more common. Sexting—if you’re the mother of a teenage girl or boy.

Facebook relationships—one problem we have is people reconnecting with old partners and having clandestine relationships.…Those kinds of problems come with the new digital technology.

Then, there’s another way to look at this: How has therapy changed? Therapy is much improved. There are better protocols.

[For many years] there wasn’t a good model for how to do marital therapy. I still do a lot of speaking at big workshops—now that I’m seeing what people know about marital therapy, I realize what we didn’t know in 2001. [Also] for borderline personality disorder and for OCD.

There are problems—there’s much more medicalization of psychological problems. Big Pharma is advertising on TV… I probably referred a dozen people to a psychiatrist or physician [to get drugs prescribed]. Now it’s so common…My point of view is that’s not a good change.

One big change in our field is that a lot of therapists are now...[read on]
Visit Mary Pipher's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: The Green Boat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Barry Lancet

Barry Lancet's international thriller Japantown won the prestigious Barry Award for Best First Mystery Novel, and was selected by both Suspense Magazine and renowned mystery critic Oline Cogdill as one of the Best Debuts of the Year. His second book, Tokyo Kill, was a finalist for a Shamus Award for Best P.I. Novel of the Year and was selected as a must-read for Asian leaders by Forbes magazine.

Lancet's latest novel is Pacific Burn, the third entry in the Jim Brodie series.

From the author's Q & A with Lisa Brackmann at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

In Pacific Burn, a major plot strand is Japan’s "nuclear mafia" and its role in the Fukushima disaster. Can you talk a bit about this? I am guessing that unless you are well-versed in contemporary Japanese politics or followed that story very closely, you would tend to assume that what happened in Fukushima was the unavoidable result of a natural disaster, combined, perhaps, with some bad luck.

I was in Tokyo when the disaster struck, then watched in growing alarm as the earthquake-tsunami led to the meltdown of the Fukushima power plant, which was a manmade disaster. Bungling and mismanagement caused the meltdown. After the disaster, Japan’s “nuclear mafia” stepped in and muddied the waters by choking off information to the Japanese public and the world press. The nuclear mafia is the utility, collusive government agencies, politicians, and other influential voices in key positions. Palms are greased by the utility with gifts, favors, or cash. Pacific Burn is set against the backdrop of this tragedy. Sometimes real life provides more conspiracies, cover-ups, and crimes than even...[read on]
Learn about Barry Lancet's top ten mysteries set in Asia.

Visit Barry Lancet's website.

The Page 69 Test: Pacific Burn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Dustin Ells Howes

Dustin Ells Howes's new book is Freedom Without Violence.

From his Q & A with Sean Illing at Salon:

As a pacifist, how do you respond to questions about Nazism or ISIS or terror campaigns more generally? Force, I’d argue, is the only relevant currency against this brand of nihilism. Such extreme cases, if nothing else, seem to mark the limits of nonviolence.

Your question makes reference to two very different movements and time periods. They may share in common a tendency toward nihilism but I am not sure nihilism explains the core features of either. Unfortunately, liberalism and democracy are also susceptible to nihilism.

The rise of Nazi Germany is among the most frequent examples put forth to suggest nonviolence has its limits. A complete answer to this hard case requires an extensive discussion, which I provide in my first book. I also recommend Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke. In this space, I will just note a few things. The Nazis were experts at violence. They were much better at it than the Allies. They killed millions more people. But they lost. How is this possible? Because they ran out of power, that is, people willing to join with them in common cause. Along these lines there are dramatic examples of people resisting Nazi occupation with nonviolence and having success, from teachers in Denmark refusing to implement a curriculum of propaganda to the Bulgarians who refused to round up fellow Jewish citizens. Yet power exercised with violence is what ultimately stopped the Nazi movement. To really know whether or not nonviolence could have stopped them would require us to run back time and mount an effort of equal coordination, effort, and sacrifice to what the Allies used. Imagining such a scenario, I think nonviolence might have worked and perhaps been faster and less destructive.

The current situation in the Middle East is equally, if not more, complex. The horrific violence of ISIS would seem to make them quite unappealing. Indeed, judging by the millions fleeing the region, to many they are. Yet they have gained considerable power and understanding why requires looking at the alternatives. We tend to think of the states in the region as our allies in the struggle against ISIS but it is precisely authoritarian governments and foreign intervention that make terrorism appealing to some. You mentioned the “currency of force.” Terrorists and authoritarian regimes may appear to be opposed to one another but in fact they fuel each other. Repression drives terrorism and acts of terror legitimate further repression. What distinguishes ISIS from Al Qaeda is their organizational capacity and planning skills, much of which is drawn from former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The great tragedy of Syria is that the extraordinary nonviolent uprising that took its inspiration from Tunisia and Egypt was specifically and intentionally derailed by Assad. We know through internal memos and his actions, such as releasing dangerous prisoners, that he wanted to transform the threat into a violent uprising. This seems counterintuitive until one realizes...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman is the editor of the two-volume compilation Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What impact did war, or the threat of war, have on the themes running through these books?

A: You see it most explicitly with The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, featuring a middle-aged heroine whose husband is serving in World War II (they exchange many letters), and In a Lonely Place, [which includes] the specter of veterans coming back, broken and traumatized, to a civilian world unsure what to make of them.

But the whole notion that women were tasked with working to supplant men serving overseas hangs over so many of these books - especially when, once the surviving men came home, the "traditional" roles of husband and wife and family were supposed to come back into favor.

Q: How do these novels compare to the works of male crime writers of the same period?

A: This may be a surprising observation but I found the male crime writers had a real sentimentality streak running through them that the women did not. Chandler is all romanticism. Mickey Spillane all...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue