Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Joe Okonkwo

Joe Okonkwo's debut novel is Jazz Moon, which takes place during the Harlem Renaissance. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with your main character, Ben Charles, and with the idea for Jazz Moon?

A: I had been in love with the Harlem Renaissance for years and had wanted to write a short story set in the period. I found out about a short story contest and decided to write a Harlem story and enter it in the contest.

The word limit was 1,500. I said, "I can write this story in 1,500 words." I never entered that contest because the story ballooned to about 26,000 words. From that, the novel was born.

Ben Charles came about because I was interested in how blackness and gayness intersected with each other and with the Harlem Renaissance, which was a period of explosive black cultural growth and awareness.

During this period in Harlem, homosexuality was taboo and underground, but also very much in the open.

There were gay bars. There was an annual drag bar that was one of the social events of the season and tons of straight people came to see the drag queens in their fabulous get-ups. It was an open secret that female blues singers like Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and Alberta hunter were lesbian or bisexual.

The Harlem Renaissance, like the 1920s generally, was a time of sexual awakening; a time when inhibitions and taboos were, to some extent, tossed aside. I wanted to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rachel Starnes

Rachel Starnes's new book is The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible): A Memoir.

From her Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: What year did your husband join the military?

STARNES: 2004.

GROSS: So how did you feel about him joining the military when you didn't support the war in Iraq?

STARNES: That was difficult because it wasn't so much that I didn't support the war in Iraq as I just still hadn't really had the time to untangle my feelings about what it was I'd seen when I lived in the Middle East. And again, my family was there for three years in various incarnations. Myself, I was only in the kingdom for my ninth-grade year. But my impressions of Saudi Arabia and of living in the Middle East also coincided with a pretty intense time in my life. It was kind of the peak of the awkwardness of my adolescence. And the experience of being white and female and young and Western in that country was so profoundly disorienting.

And now to have so much of our country focused on events in the Middle East and the question of, do we belong over there or not; what are we pursuing; what are our goals - and also knowing that there was quite a lot of nuance in that population, there were quite a lot of - there was a whole spectrum of ideas and understandings of Islam. And to hear it discussed on such a single note in our country was deeply disturbing to me in a way that I really just had not had the time to sort out. So, yeah, I mean, jumping into that, both in the collective sense as an American when we invaded Iraq, and then also in a very direct sense, supporting someone who was going to be joining that force, was very difficult for me.

And I told him in the beginning, upfront, look, you know, I - what do you need from me in terms of support, because here's what I don't think I can offer - which is a clear and uncomplicated view of what it is you're about to do in a macro sense. I don't have that. What I do have is a conviction that serving in the military is noble and is one of the most active ways you can put your citizenship into practice, and...[read on]
Visit Rachel Starnes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 29, 2016

John Mack Faragher

John Mack Faragher is the author of Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on frontier Los Angeles, and what do you see as some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about Los Angeles in that era?

A: The decision to do a book on Los Angeles was personal. I grew up in Southern California, outside Los Angeles, went to public school, to the University of California, Riverside, and was a social worker in South Central Los Angeles, and [then received a] Ph.D. in history.

Later in my career I had the opportunity to spend time in Los Angeles. Over the last 10-15 years we’ve spent a lot of time there. My previous book was on the expulsion of Acadian people from Nova Scotia. It got me interested in the historical problem of violence…

My wife said, When you do your next book, pick some place we’d like to be. I thought, why not a book on violence in Los Angeles? The Huntington Library has all the judicial records for Los Angeles in the early period, and the Seaver Center in Exposition Park is a repository of records of the alcalde’s office, in the Mexican period…

There was an opportunity to look at conditions under two nation states, two wars of conquest—by the Spanish and the Americans. The 1850s and ‘60s was a notoriously violent period in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is such a 20th century city. It came into prominence in the middle of the century, and it’s associated with development and real estate. It all began in the late 1880s. Los Angeles was founded in 1781, and in the 1880s there was the real estate boom. Very few historians have written, and the general public is ignorant, about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe's latest nonfiction book is The Kingdom of Speech. From his interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SIMON: Yeah. But you say that speech bedeviled Darwin as a matter of fact.

WOLFE: It did. He could not figure out what it was. He assumed because of his theory that everything evolved from animals, and he didn't even include it in his theory language until he decided that it came from our imitation of the cries of birds. And I think it's misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals. I mean, actually nobody knows whether they did or not. And there are very few physical signs, except for the general resemblance between apes and humans. The big evolution, if you want to call it that, is that this one species, Homo sapiens, came up with this ingenious trick, which is language.

SIMON: Are you concerned, Mr. Wolfe, or are you resolutely not concerned that people who don't believe in evolution for religious reasons, not scientific ones, are going to begin to cite your work as some kind of scientific proof?

WOLFE: I wouldn't think so because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis's new novel is The Dollhouse.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the Barbizon Hotel in your novel?

A: I was looking for an apartment in New York City, and my broker took me to see a gorgeous condo in the Barbizon building. Although I had a general idea of its history, I returned home and immediately Googled it to find out more.

When I learned that a small number of hotel residents still lived there in rent-controlled apartments on the fourth floor, I realized I had the makings of a novel. The juxtaposition of old and new New York was too juicy to resist.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to recreate the New York City of the 1950s, and what surprised you most in the course of your research?

A: I tried to immerse myself in that time period, including taking a series of classes in bebop jazz at Jazz at Lincoln Center, reading books about the early ‘50s, and watching old movies.

I studied the fashions and also read newspapers from that era to get a sense of what people were nervous about and what kind of changes were sweeping the city.

I was amazed at the way women...[read on]
Visit Fiona Davis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 26, 2016

Thelma Adams

Thelma Adams's latest novel is The Last Woman Standing: A Novel of Mrs. Wyatt Earp.

From her Q & A with Amy M. Hawes at Book Club Babble:

Amy M. Hawes: As I read The Last Woman Standing, it was difficult to believe that no one had thought to write a biographical novel about Josephine Marcus, the beautiful and feisty wife of Wyatt Earp. After a little bit of Internet research, I discovered there are a couple works on the subject but they are very controversial. These accounts provide a much less flattering view of Ms. Marcus than you show in The Last Woman Standing. What kind of material did you discover as you researched this intriguing woman and how did you decide what to include and what to discard?

Thelma Adams: I trained as a historian at UC Berkeley so I have experience parsing sources: what is reliable, who has an axe to grind? Cue Winston Churchill: “History is written by the victors.” And that meant, in the case of the west, the last man holding the smoking gun and still standing. I wanted something different. I wanted to make the women of the west come alive – and Josephine in particular. I read both versions of Josephine’s memoirs to get a shape of the story of her time in Tombstone, which is the narrow focus of this particular novel. From watching a million biopics as a film critic, from the Academy-Award winning The King’s Speech to the ridiculous J. Edgar, I knew that framing was everything.

Also, there’s a lot of judging and shaming of women of that time as there is now. Was Josephine a prostitute or wasn’t she? Was she a dancer in an operetta or a “lewd” dancer? I needed, through fiction, to find the dimensional woman that was not defined by these judgments any more than Wyatt Earp was judged a murderer by his enemies or a hero by his supporters no matter how many men he gunned down. So, in answer to your question, I discarded judgments and aimed for emotional truth because...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Thelma Adams' website.

The Page 69 Test: Playdate.

My Book, The Movie: Playdate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ali Shaw

Ali Shaw's new novel is The Trees. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Trees, and for the world you describe in the novel?

A: The idea struck in an unguarded instant, much like the trees do in the story. I can’t quite remember what I was doing at the time – walking to the corner shop, probably, or walking back – but I can remember that the idea arrived with a feeling of upward force.

At that stage it was just an image: a forest thundering up from the ground fully formed. From there I had to sit down and imagine what sort of forest it would be, and what sort of people I wanted to follow through it.

Q: How would you describe your main character, Adrien, and his view of the world, both before and after the trees take over?

A: He’s a struggler. He struggles with everything. He doesn’t like modernity or urban life but he doesn’t much like nature either. His anxieties have twisted him up into someone who’s become quite unbearable, although I hope he’s funny at times too.

After the forest arrives he’s even more...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ali Shaw's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl with Glass Feet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bill Broun

Bill Broun was born in Los Angeles to an English machinist and an American nurse. He was educated at University College London and Miami University (Ohio).

He also holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston. He is Associate Professor of English at East Stroudsburg University.

Broun's first novel is Night of the Animals.

From the transcript of his interview with Scott Simon:

SIMON: London, 2052 - tell us about this world.

BROUN: Well, there is a newly empowered monarchy. And a lot of the important, you know, Victorian reforms that put that monarchy into check have been reversed, so that there's a fictionalized King Henry, who's a fictionalized version of the current Prince Harry turned into a tyrant. Britain has become ultra-nationalistc and powerful, too.

SIMON: And tell us about your main character, Cuthbert. He's 90, which means less than it used (laughter) to by 2052.

BROUN: Yeah. Cuthbert is someone who - I was inspired by Cuthbert because I lived in the 1990s in Houston, Texas. And for, you know, complicated reasons, I ended up making friends with a lot of men who were schizophrenic, who had sometimes been on the streets, sometimes were in kind of shaky housing situations.

And I'd my own sort of struggles with psychosis occasionally and anxiety disorder. Indeed, I turned to alcohol as a way of coping. And one of the things that I found with these men is that they were - they had all done the same thing. They were essentially self-medicating, you know, and when they weren't taking their medication, they would kind of go off the rails.

But I was fascinated by their...[read on]
Visit Bill Broun's website.

My Book, The Movie: Night of the Animals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Eleni Gage

Eleni N. Gage is the author of the novel The Ladies of Managua. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: In your acknowledgments, you write, “I’m living proof that the most fun way to learn about another culture is to marry into it.” What role did your husband’s family play for you as you wrote this novel?

A: Some people say you don't just marry a man, you also marry his family. But I got an entire country! My husband was the first Nicaraguan I'd ever met; this book would not exist in any form, not even as an idea, without him and his family.

All I knew about Nicaragua before meeting Emilio came from the Saturday Night Live skits in which news anchors reporting on the Iran-Contra affairs took great pride in pronouncing the country's name, showing off the Spanish they learned in Correspondents' Language School.

On one of our early dates, Emilio mentioned that his family moved to the U.S. during the war and I said something like, "Now tell me what that conflict was about again?"

And then on a later date, he told me about his grandmother, whom he's very close to, and who attended high school in New Orleans at Sacred Heart, which many well-off Nicaraguan girls did at the time.

She really did have a clandestine romance with a Cuban that ended when her parents whisked her back to Nicaragua, and that inspired the character of Isabela. That's where her similarities to Isabela end—I invented the specific interactions and incidents in the character's life, including the final scene in the book.

The funny thing is, my grandmother-in-law, who is a real legend in her own mind, totally...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 22, 2016

A. Lee Martinez

A. Lee Martinez's latest novel is The Last Adventure of Constance Verity. From his Q&A with Nicole Hill for the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog:

While each of your books is wildly different in the ground it covers, and the fantasy elements it incorporates, an A. Lee Martinez novel still feels very uniquely and wholly like an A. Lee Martinez novel. Outside of genre terms, how would you describe your style?

The stories share a common theme about finding our place in the world and relying on each other to get through this craziness called life. There’s also the offhand way the books deal with the strange and supernatural. In all the stories, the weird stuff is just part of life. For some characters, it’s literally there from the start. For others, it’s something they fall into and adjust to fairly quickly. The humor in the narrative and character interactions is probably another defining aspect. I don’t set out to write “funny” books, but my books do usually end up having heavy doses of humor. Most of that humor comes not from jokes, but from the peculiar way the characters see their world or the absurdity of the situations they...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Adrian Tinniswood

Adrian Tinniswood is the author of The Rainborowes, Life in the English Country Cottage, and the recently released The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Long Weekend, and why did you focus on the period between World War I and World War II?

A: I’ve been in love with the English stately home for most of my life. At different times I’ve been exasperated by its stuffiness. I’ve despaired at the reactionary rose-tinted nostalgia that envelops it.

But all it takes is a glimpse of high chimneys across a park - a twitch upon the thread, to borrow the phrase Evelyn Waugh uses in a different context in Brideshead Revisited - and all the doubts disappear. I can’t explain it.

Part of the traditional view of the country house that I grew up with was that the decades between the wars were a period of decline. And yet it seemed to me that there was a parallel story to be told, of a vibrant social world in which the country house managed not only to survive, but to prosper.

As I say in the preface to The Long Weekend, the period 1918-1939 saw new families buying, borrowing and sometimes building themselves a country house. It introduced new aesthetics, new social structures, new meanings to an old tradition. That parallel narrative saw new life in the country house. And that is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kathleen Glasgow

Kathleen Glasgow's new novel is Girl in Pieces.

From her Q&A with Joshua Flores for Germ Magazine:

What inspired you to write such an intense and brutally honest story?

I was inspired to write Charlie Davis’s story because of a girl I saw on the bus with fresh scars on her arms. I never talked to her. I never said, “Hey, I’m just like you; you aren’t alone.” I should have, and I didn’t. I had three goals in writing Girl in Pieces: to talk about how hard it is to be a girl in a world that doesn’t value your intelligence or dreams, only your body type; to write about a girl who doesn’t get better because she meets a boy, but gets to a better place because she works hard to find her voice and live her dreams; and to write the hell out of this story. I think it worked!

When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

It sounds silly, but...[read on]
Visit Kathleen Glasgow's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cathleen Schine

Cathleen Schine's new novel is They May Not Mean To, But They Do.

From her Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with writer Cathleen Schine. Her new novel is about a middle-aged woman, Molly, who's left her husband and home in New York to move to LA to be with the woman she fell in love with. That move has also meant being on the opposite coast from her parents. When the novel opens, Molly's father is very sick, and Molly's mother has become the full-time caretaker.

After Molly's father dies, Molly's 86-year-old mother is left living alone, and Molly feels very guilty about living so far away. The novel is called "They May Not Mean To, But They Do." The 86-year-old mother, Joy, has an old friend, Karl, who she dated when she was young before she'd met her husband. This man was also a friend of her husband's - of her late husband's. And after her husband dies, Joy and this man, Karl, become good friends. And he, you know - he confesses he loves her and that he loved her many decades ago.

And Joy's children are very upset that so soon after their father has died, their mother is spending time with another man. And the children also fear that their mother will become Karl's caretaker. And I think you really hit on a fear there that I know adult children have about parents - and I don't know if the older people themselves worry about this - but if you start a relationship, a couple relationship very late in life, one of you is going to become the other's caretaker pretty quickly probably. And what does that mean? What is that like when you haven't spent decades together? What did you...

SCHINE: Yeah, and...

GROSS: ...What did you go through trying to really understand the children's point of view and the mother's point of view on this late-in-life relationship?

SCHINE: Well, I think for the mother, you know, it's a wonderful moment for her. It's a wonderful recognition that she had a life before where she was beautiful and appealing and alluring and loved as a young woman and to have that resurrected, to have a person from her past who has shared a past with her, to have that born again is a wonderful gift for her.

But she's not an idiot, and she knows...[read on]
Visit Cathleen Schine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Cathleen Schine & Hector.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Angela Palm

Angela Palm is the author of Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and how did writing it affect the way you thought about your life and about your childhood neighbor Corey, who is serving a life sentence for murder?

A: I spent my 20s thinking nothing significant had ever really happened to me—nothing that was worth writing about. I also mistakenly believed, at that time, that young people’s stories didn’t much matter in the literary world.

When I began talking to people about my upbringing in rural Indiana, revisiting the memories of Corey and of our riverside neighborhood, I realized it was different than most people’s experiences. I began to write about the land itself—using the backdrop of place to inform the memories of that place and vice versa, seeing what epiphanies came from those marriages.

Corey—his life, our relationship, his crime—kept coming to the fore no matter how I tried to minimize it. I had never really dealt with the event in a way that put it to rest.

As I pulled together disparate essays to form a book, I did two things. I went to see Corey in prison—the first time I’d seen him since I was a teenager. I also made a list. An honest list noting every life decision I had made that was somehow connected to him.

The list was longer than I wanted to admit to myself. I let it guide me and embraced the haunting truth of the matter: I had loved a convicted murderer.

With that new truth, I looked back over the memories of us, and tried to balance my own sentimentality toward him with the more difficult realities of his crime and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Eowyn Ivey

Eowyn Ivey's debut The Snow Child was a finalist for the Pulitzer and an international bestseller. Her new novel is To the Bright Edge of the World.

From her Q&A with Hannah Beckerman at the Guardian:

Your new novel follows a military expedition to map Alaskan territory in 1885. How much of that story is based in historical fact?

A fair amount. There was a real expedition in 1885 led by Henry T Allen. I relied a great deal on his official reports and then there are diaries and letters by one of his expedition members. But I would take threads of things that were said or documented and develop them in ways that would fit into my Wolverine river fantasy world.

The novel comprises fictional journals, letters, photographs and museum caption cards. Was that structure informed by the primary source material?

Yes. Letters and documents add credibility to what would otherwise be an unbelievable story, so I thought they would make it seem more authentic, even though some of the things that happen are...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Eowyn Ivey's website and blog.

Writers Read: Eowyn Ivey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Devin Leonard

Devin Leonard's new book is Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that the idea for this book originated with a story you wrote in 2011 for Bloomberg Businessweek. How did you research the book, and what surprised you most in the course of your research?

A: I did a lot of interviews with current and former people who worked for the Postal Service, and did some digging through the archives. There is a labor museum in Detroit at Wayne State, and I used material from there to write about the strike in the 1970s. I did research in the library of the Postal Service. I read a ton of books.

What surprised me most is the idea that today people think of the Postal Service as an organization that can’t do anything right, but through most of its history, people thought it was great. People counted on getting the mail. I wanted to answer the question of how we go from an agency people loved to one they looked down on…

Q: Benjamin Franklin plays a large role in USPS history. What were some of his most important contributions, and what is his legacy in terms of the postal service today?

A: I’m from Philadelphia. I grew up seeing people dressed as Benjamin Franklin. He’s a symbol of the city; he’s been sentimentalized and commercialized. The Postal Service is always talking about him—he was the first postmaster general.

I was skeptical going into this—Franklin did so many things, what could he have done for the Postal Service? When I did the research...[read on]
Visit Devin Leonard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 15, 2016

Donald Ray Pollock

Donald Ray Pollock is an American writer. Born in 1954 and raised in Knockemstiff, Ohio, Pollock has lived his entire adult life in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he worked at the Mead Paper Mill as a laborer and truck driver until age 50, when he enrolled in the English program at Ohio State University. While there, Doubleday published his debut short story collection, Knockemstiff, and the New York Times regularly posted his election dispatches from southern Ohio throughout the 2008 campaign. The Devil All the Time, his first novel, was published in 2011. His work has appeared in various literary journals, including Epoch, Sou’wester, Granta, Third Coast, River Styx, The Journal, Boulevard, Tin House, and PEN America.

Pollock's new novel is The Heavenly Table.

From his Q&A with Karen Brissette for the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Your work falls into that blurry subgenre of literary fiction with many colorful names: grit lit, hick lit, hillbilly noir, country noir, backwoods noir, rural gothic, etc. Do you have a preferred term for these kinds of stories?

The way I see it, labels are necessary as a way to describe a book or its genre in a nutshell; and though I really don’t have any preference, someone once called my stuff “Southern Ohio Gothic,” and I’m a little partial to that one.

Whatever you call it, why do you think these kinds of stories have been experiencing such a renaissance lately? What do you consider to be the lineage of the genre? Are there any authors you particularly admire that we should also be reading?

I’ve heard some people complain that they’re a little tired of reading fiction set on the East Coast or the West Coast, among the affluent and educated; and a lot of them, maybe because the majority of people or at least readers, live in urban areas, now look upon rural areas and characters as a bit, I don’t know, “refreshing.” Or at least not the same old stuff. As for the lineage of rural gothic, the simplified version as I see it would be Faulkner >...[read on]
Visit Donald Ray Pollock's website.

The Page 69 Test: Knockemstiff.

The Page 69 Test: The Heavenly Table.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Deborah Shapiro

Deborah Shapiro's new novel is The Sun in Your Eyes.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your book deals with female friendship. Why did you choose this topic, and how did you come up with your characters Viv and Lee?

A: Friendship is such rich territory. I wanted to write about a sustained and sustaining relationship that’s not sexual (at least not overtly) but is nonetheless incredibly romantic.

And I wanted to look at a formative relationship over time, taking into account the major life changes that create fissures but also the ongoing, micro-level tensions that are there all along – that paradoxically make it work and make it difficult.

As I was writing, I happened to read a 1973 novel by Eleanor Bergstein called Advancing Paul Newman. I came to know about this book after reading an interview with Claudia Weill, who wrote and directed the wonderful 1978 movie Girlfriends, which explores the ties between an aspiring photographer in New York and her friend, an aspiring writer who gets married, leaves the city, and has a child. (It’s an amazing time capsule of Soho in the late ‘70s).

Weill cited a line from Bergstein’s book as an inspiration. “This is the story of two girls, each of whom suspected the other of a more passionate connection with life.” One thing I love about that book is...[read on]
Visit Deborah Shapiro's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Jessica Winter

Jessica Winter's first novel is Break in Case of Emergency. From her Q&A with L.V. Anderson for Slate:

L.V. Anderson: You and I happen to work together in a workplace that, I am happy to say, is pretty functional, so I know Break in Case of Emergency isn’t a roman à clef about Slate. Why did you want to set your book in a dysfunctional hellscape of an office?

Jessica Winter: A dysfunctional workplace is always going to be a maelstrom of fascinating human phenotypes and behavior disorders, and it seemed like a fun place for a novel to muck around in. I was specifically interested in an all-female version of a toxic workplace, especially one obsessed with “empowerment.” And in a bigger sense, I wanted to look at how a toxic job can work its poison into other areas of your life: your romantic partnerships, your friendships, your health, your sense of self.

Anderson: That is such a good point about a toxic job being poison. When you’re unhappy at work, it’s pretty much impossible to be happy in general. Do you think that’s just because people who work full-time spend so much time at work, or is there something fundamental about work that gives it enormous influence over your sense of well-being?

Winter: It’s both, but it’s especially the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 12, 2016

Elizabeth LaBan

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

She teaches fiction writing at The University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She also ghost writes a weekly column, and has ghost written two books.

LaBan's latest novel is The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your own husband, like your character Lila's husband, is a restaurant critic in Philadelphia. Did that make it easier or more difficult to create these characters?

A: In many ways, I think it made it more difficult to create the characters because I wanted them to be different from me and my husband. While we eat out a lot, and have a ton of adventures at restaurants, our personal life is pretty boring (which I am thankful for!).

Of course we drive each other crazy every now and then, but we are happily married and have two great kids. I always wanted to be a wife and a mother. I have been able to build a career I love despite my husband’s high profile job.

He is extremely reasonable in most situations, and he is always eager to help me if I’m having a hard time with something. There isn’t much of a story in that.

So in addition to wanting to make Sam and Lila different from us, I also had to come up with a few conflicts to move the book forward. If Lila had always wanted to get married and have kids, and Sam had no issues around getting to know new people, and Lila was fine with having to leave her job, the book would be very slow. There would be no room for growth for either of them.

Once I started to see Sam as controlling...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

Writers Read: Elizabeth LaBan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 11, 2016

John McFetridge

John McFetridge books include a trilogy of novels set 1970s Montreal featuring a young police constable named Édouard “Eddie” Dougherty: Black Rock (2014), A Little More Free (2015), and One or the Other.

From McFetridge's Q&A with J. Kingston Pierce for Kirkus Reviews:

Not only is your series’ Montreal locale fairly distinctive, but so is the fact that you’ve set these books in the 1970s. Why did you choose that era?

When I started to research what became Black Rock, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. I was 10 years old in 1970 during the October Crisis, as we call it. Two men were kidnapped, one of them just a few miles from my house and he was killed. The army was called out and the streets were full of soldiers. I thought about writing a young adult novel. I thought the situation would have some resonance with what’s going on today. But as I got deeper into the research I found a small news article about the police asking for the public’s help with the investigations into three murders—all young women and all killed by the same man. I was really struck by how little attention was paid to these murders while the October Crisis was going on, and I started to think that a crime novel, a police procedural, might be the best way to tell the story.

What was life in Montreal like back in the ’70s? And how has that city changed—or not changed—over the last four decades?

Montreal has changed a lot. The most obvious way it’s changed is that...[read on]
Visit John McFetridge's website.

The Page 69 Test: Black Rock.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Alison Gopnik

Alison Gopnik's new book is The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that “parenting is a terrible invention.” How would you define parenting, and why do you see it this way?

A: One thing people don’t realize is that the word “parenting” is really recent. There’s nothing until about 1960, and since then there’s been an enormous use.

The word comes with a particular picture of what the relationship between a parent and child should be: if parents get the best skills, they can shape how the child comes out, the way a carpenter makes a chair.

That kind of picture—if you get the right apps, books, toys, you get the tools to shape the child to be a better adult—is incredibly pervasive. But it’s actually recent.

Q: And why do you describe that as terrible?

A: It doesn’t fit well with...[read on]
Visit Alison Gopnik's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kate Merkel-Hess

Kate Merkel-Hess's new book is The Rural Modern: Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China. From her Q&A with Jeffrey Wasserstrom for the Los Angeles Review of Books:
Let’s begin with The Rural Modern: Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China, your forthcoming book. Can you tell our readers a bit about it? Who are some of the main figures in it? What’s the main thing you want readers to take away from reading it?

In The Rural Modern I describe an incredibly vibrant effort to mobilize China’s rural people in the 1930s and 1940s, an effort that contested the state’s prioritization of urban areas. When I describe it this way, at least some people will assume I’m talking about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which built a revolution against the ruling Nationalist (Guomindang) Party in China’s rural areas at precisely this time. But the CCP wasn’t the only rural reform organization in China during this period. In fact, there were thousands of other rural reformers – urban intellectuals, government officials, missionaries, educators, public health workers, agricultural outreach specialists, committed social activists – who started hundreds of rural reform projects in rural China and experimented with efforts to reach out to rural people that look a lot like the rural outreach programs the CCP adopted. In the course of my research, I even found individuals who started in some of these neutral or Nationalist-affiliated programs who then took their expertise to the CCP base areas – very direct evidence of the connections between these two seemingly separate groups of rural activists. The Rural Modern tells the story of what I call the second most important rural reform movement of the period (second to the CCP, that is). Describing the breadth and depth of this undervalued movement complicates the notion that the CCP rural strategy “succeeded” and everyone else’s “failed” and places the CCP reforms within a much broader context of efforts to remake the countryside – the milieu in which the CCP actually functioned at the time and from which it drew a lot of ideas, personnel, and strategies of rural engagement.

This is a story with fascinating, charismatic figures, like the Yale-educated literacy evangelist Yan Yangchu (known as James “Jimmy” Yen in the U.S.) who worked his Ivy League connections to fund his outreach project in Dingxian, southwest of Beijing, but also many others who have been forgotten or who...[read on]
--Marshal Zerinue

Monday, August 8, 2016

Erika Janik

Erika Janik's new book is Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you get interested in the topic of female detectives, and why did you decide to write a book about them?

A: Even though I grew up reading some detective books and watching Sherlock Holmes movies with my Dad (Basil Rathbone for the win), this book really began when I ran across an ad from around 1900 for a female private eye in Chicago.

In the ad, she said she could solve any case but really marketed herself to other women, asserting, in part, that she would do a better job with women’s cases because she was a woman herself.

I was surprised to see that a woman was running her own agency (and that there weren’t outraged letters about it in the newspaper!) at that time so I started looking deeper into women in detection.

Something that motivates much of my work is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen's latest novel is Purity. From his conversation with Isaac Chotiner at Slate:

Are there writers you envy?

I don’t feel that so much now that I am settled in who I am.

But in the cartoon universe of the writer’s imagination, every two years, three years, four years, five years, the entire nation should put down what it is doing and pay attention for several months to that writer’s new book. And it should be reviewed everywhere, and there should be endless packed houses wanting to hear what that writer has written, and it should stay atop the best-seller list for several years, and then all should fall quiet until the next book comes out. So no matter how well you are doing, if you don’t have a book out, and you are seeing somebody get attention, there is a little part of you that says, “Why are they paying attention to that person? Has everyone read my book?” It’s insane. It’s completely insane, what the writer secretly wants.

I actually, despite feeling over-rewarded, think, “Oh yes, but I didn’t get this prize nomination. What was that?” It’s not really envy, but in the writer’s imagination, there is a zero-sum game. Everything someone else is getting is being taken away from you. You can be very rational about it and say, “That’s insane, it’s a big tent, there’s room for lots of us.” But I don’t know. Maybe this is not a universal feeling. Maybe I am a very bad person....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Teresa Toten

Teresa Toten is the author of the acclaimed Blondes series, as well as The Game, The Onlyhouse, among other books. Toten has twice been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Born in Zagreb, Croatia, she arrived in Canada 13 days later, and now lives in Toronto.

Toten's new novel is Beware That Girl.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Beware That Girl, and did you plot out the whole story before starting to write it?

A: I never plot or outline any of my novels! Every page, scene and chapter is propelled by what went on before and where the characters think they are heading. It’s a nerve-wracking way to write but it’s the only way I know how!

For Beware That Girl, I had that opening scene of the two blonde girls in the ICU, one in the bed comatose and the other in the chair covered in mud and blood for a long time. Page by page I discovered which girl was in which position and why as I wrote the book. I had...[read on]
Visit Teresa Toten's website.

The Page 69 Test: Beware That Girl.

Writers Read: Teresa Toten.

My Book, The Movie: Beware That Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 5, 2016

Jessica Anya Blau

Jessica Anya Blau's books include The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, Drinking Closer to Home, and The Wonder Bread Summer.

Her new novel is The Trouble with Lexie.

From Blau's Q&A with Jacob Budenz at jmww:

Jacob Budenz: Lexie is uncannily lifelike and relate-able even in the most absurd moments. Without incriminating yourself, or anyone you know, can you talk a little bit about where your inspiration for Lexie came from? Or your process for getting into the head of the character?

Jessica Anya Blau: Oh, I’m always incriminating myself in everything I write! My characters are all flawed in many of the ways I’m flawed. Lexie does some stupid things, and so have I. It’s interesting to me that the best reviews I’ve gotten for my books have almost universally come from male readers. Female readers can be much more critical and they are often critical about the same thing: the fact that my characters fuck up in big ways. But if our fictional characters aren’t behaving poorly, or aren’t getting in trouble, or aren’t making poor decisions, where is the story? We read books to live other people’s lives. That’s the joy in reading—to feel what it would be like to be someone else even if that person’s a fuck up. Or maybe, for me, there is more joy if they’re a fuck up, if they’ve done worse than I have.

I haven’t made any mistakes (yet, knock on wood!) as massive as a couple of the mistakes Lexie makes, but I certainly have thought about doing most of the things she does. In writing about Lexie, it was sort of an act of letting ideas and impulses inside me play out without having to let them play out in real life (where there would be major consequences). There are some ways in which Lexie is me exactly: the...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Anya Blau's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Jessica Anya Blau and Pippa.

The Page 69 Test: The Wonder Bread Summer.

My Book, The Movie: The Wonder Bread Summer.

The Page 69 Test: The Trouble with Lexie.

My Book, The Movie: The Trouble with Lexie.

Writers Read: Jessica Anya Blau.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Nicholas Guyatt

Nicholas Guyatt is the author of the new book Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You begin and end the book with the story of Edward Coles. Why did you choose him as a focal point for the book?

A: Edward Coles is a really interesting figure that most Americans will never have heard of. He was born in 1786 in a slaveholding dynasty in Virginia, but at college he decided that slavery was morally wrong. He kept his epiphany from his family, for fear that they’d prevent him from inheriting his father’s slaves (which he planned to free).

He became private secretary to President James Madison in 1811, following his boss to the White House and urging him to do more to promote the abolition of slavery. Then, in the summer of 1814, a few weeks before the British burned Washington to the ground, Coles became the only person ever to confront Thomas Jefferson on the slavery question with Jefferson’s most famous words: “All men are created equal.”

Jefferson was then in retirement at Monticello, but Coles thought that the former president should do more to promote the abolition of slavery. Wasn’t it time, Coles told Jefferson, “to put into complete practice those allowed principles contained in that renowned Declaration?”

Jefferson did his best to wriggle away from this challenge, and insisted that it would be impossible for slaveholders to free their slaves without also making arrangements to settle them outside the country — a plan that went under the name of “colonization.”

Coles initially seemed to take a different view: in 1819, he...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Providence and the Invention of the United States, 1607-1865.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Iris Bohnet

Iris Bohnet is a behavioral economist at Harvard University, where she is a professor, Director of the Women and Public Policy Program, and Co-Chair of the Behavioral Insights Group at the Kennedy School of Government. Her latest book is What Works: Gender Equality by Design.

From the transcript of her interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: Now, when trying to understand gender bias, one of the things you talk about is auditioning for orchestras, which would seem to be a very simple test. But you say that you could find gender bias there and that there was a solution?

BOHNET: There's actually a lot that we can learn from orchestras. In the '70s, many of our major orchestras realized that they only had 5 percent female musicians. And they came up with something quite creative. They introduced screens and had musicians audition behind the screen. It turns out that dramatically increased the fraction of female musicians. We now have almost 40 percent female musicians on our major orchestras. And these screens played an important role in doing so.

ZAKARIA: And this was basically people playing behind a black curtain so that you couldn't tell whether it was a man or a woman, or if somebody was black, white or Asian?

BOHNET: That's exactly right. In some instances, they even asked people to take off their shoes, so that we couldn't hear whether a male or a female was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dana Spiotta

Dana Spiotta's new novel is Innocents and Others. From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Innocents and Others focuses on female friendship. Why did you decide to write about that topic, and how did you come up with your characters Meadow and Carrie?

A: I am interested in writing about nonromantic relationships, which are less addressed in fiction. In my previous book it was a sibling relationship, and in this one a life-long friendship between two women.

I like how a novel can track the ups and downs, the way how, over time, who has the upper hand changes and then changes again.

There is a line that Carrie says at one point:

“Unlike a marriage, which must be fulfilling and a goddamn mutual miracle, a friendship could be twisted and one-sided and make no sense at all, but if it had years and years behind it, the friendship could not be discarded. It was too late to change her devotion to Meadow, even if Carrie hardly ever felt it returned lately.”

I was curious about those kinds of connections. I value them, as there is...[read on]
Visit Dana Spiotta's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 1, 2016

Peter Spiegelman

Peter Spiegelman's new novel is Dr. Knox. From a Q&A at the author's website:

Q: When did you first get the idea or inspiration for Dr. Adam Knox?

A: The character of Dr. Knox had been percolating in my head for years before I wrote the first words of the book, and arose from my long interest in the parallels between the doctor and the fictional detective. There are the similarities in their observational and deductive skills, of course (recall that Dr. Joseph Bell was one of Conan Doyle’s inspirations for Sherlock Holmes), and also, I think, in their worldviews. Both are privy to some of life’s most grim and intense moments, and see human experience stripped of pretense and nicety. Because of this, they stand at a remove from the workaday world, and are both empowered and isolated by this distance. In Dr. Knox, my desire was to create a character who isn’t a traditional detective but has some of those same talents, and who shares something of the hardboiled P.I.’s perspective, world-weariness and stubborn appetite for justice.

Q: This new novel is set in Los Angeles. What drew you west?

A: My choice of setting for Dr. Knox, Los Angeles, has roots in my childhood. I lived in L.A. for several years in the late sixties, and saw the city through the eyes of a largely unsupervised child. To my gradeschool self, it was mysterious and impenetrable, and also vast, glamorous and frightening. To some extent, I still see the city through that lens—and so L.A. remains endlessly fascinating to me, equal parts...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Spiegelman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Red Cat.

Writers Read: Peter Spiegelman (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue