Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Amy Adamczyk

Amy Adamczyk is the author of Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe. From her Q&A with the John Jay Research blog:

LL: Tell us about your book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality. What sparked your motivation for such a project, both in terms of the subject matter and methodology but also in terms of taking on such a large endeavor? Have you always seen yourself as wanting to write a book? What are you most exited about and what are some of the key take-aways?

AA: Public opinion about homosexuality varies substantially around the world. While residents in some nations have embraced gay rights as human rights, people in many other countries find homosexuality unacceptable. In the book I use survey data from almost ninety societies, case studies of various countries, content analysis of newspaper articles, and in-depth interviews to examine how individual and country characteristics influence acceptance of homosexuality. The survey data show that cross-national differences in opinion can be explained by three primary factors -the strength of democratic institutions, the level of economic development, and the religious context of the places where people live. The world’s poorest, least democratic and most religious countries are more likely to have laws that punish same-sex sexual behaviors and have a high proportion of residents who disapprove of homosexuality. While the United States has high levels of economic development and a strong democracy, it has been slower to change its laws and attitudes about homosexuality than some of its European counterparts, in part, because the US is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 30, 2017

Marina Budhos

Marina Budhos is the author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction. Her novels for young adults are Tell Us We’re Home and Ask Me No Questions. Her nonfiction books include Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers and Sugar Changed the World, which she cowrote with her husband, Marc Aronson.

Budhos's latest novel is Watched.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Watched, and for your main character, Naeem?

A: I had been noodling around for quite a while with an idea of doing a “companion” book to Ask Me No Questions, which is about an undocumented Bangladeshi family in the wake of 9/11.

Many of my readers had asked me if I would do a sequel, but one, I don’t do that kind of thing, and two, it didn’t feel true to the book, which is intentionally left open-ended. But I knew I wanted to return to this world, and what I see as the next “beat” in this post 9/11 world, particularly for Muslim teenagers.

Then one evening I was out with a friend and she told me the story of a young man who came into her law office who was boasting and hinting that while his father was a shopkeeper in Jackson Heights, he was “in the know with the powers that be” as an informant. This completely fascinated me—the idea that he felt empowered, but apparently also trapped--and the novelist in me began to spin with a story.

I learned just enough about surveillance and sting operations and then focused on Naeem—a well-meaning kid, who...[read on]
Visit Marina Budhos's website.

My Book, The Movie: Watched.

The Page 69 Test: Watched.

Writers Read: Marina Budhos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and Creative Writing at DePaul University and is the author of eight books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including the novel O, Democracy! (Fifth Star Press, 2014) and the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012). With Eric Plattner, she is the co-editor of René Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016 and Alma Books, 2016). A winner of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, her reviews and criticism have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Magazine, The Rumpus, The Nation, the Poetry Foundation website and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay.

Rooney's new book, her second novel, is Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

From Rooney's Q&A with Adam Morgan at the Chicago Review of Books:

Adam Morgan: What does flânerie mean to you personally? How has it impacted your writing and your relationship with Chicago?

Kathleen Rooney: Walking saves my life every day. It’s one of my favorite things to do in the world, simultaneously so basic and (ha) pedestrian, but also magical and transcendent. I despise cars (so bad for our health, our earth, and our society), but I adore mapping a place with my feet. Physically and emotionally, walking feels right to me in a way that being in a vehicle never, ever does.

I love the opportunities to read the city like a book in super-close detail—walking is near and slow enough to do that. And I love the chance encounters with people and places you get on foot that you don’t quite get from other forms of transportation, even on a bike (which I say as someone who also likes to bicycle around the city).

Chicago is a tough city to walk, I can’t lie, because it’s so huge and spread out, and because its neighborhoods are so unevenly resourced. But those are some of the reasons I love to walk here. My flaneur friend and DePaul colleague Eric Plattner and I often set out early in the morning and walk from 9 am to 5 pm, covering 10 miles, 12 miles, 15 miles. And doing that—traversing so many different landscapes—teaches you things about a city and the people in it, as well as its history and future. Who has power and who lacks it, who is remembered and who is forgotten, who is thriving, who is struggling—all of those things about who is at the margins and who is at the center.

I wish Rahm Emanuel would take more walks. I think...[read on]
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

Writers Read: Kathleen Rooney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Elizabeth Minnich

Elizabeth Minnich is the author of The Evil of Banality: On The Life and Death Importance of Thinking. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You begin your book with Hannah Arendt. What do you see as the similarities and differences between her phrase "the banality of evil" and your formulation of "the evil of banality"?

A: Well, first, there's a rhetorical difference. I know that may not seem important, but people's first reactions to the two phrases have been startlingly different.

When Arendt took me with her to public discussions of her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on The Banality of Evil, some who attended were painfully angered by the very idea that evil – in this case, the undeniable evil of the Holocaust – could be associated at all with "banality."

No, no: it has to be monstrous, and the man, Eichmann, on trial for his effective participation in making genocide possible, had to be in a sense worthy of it by being monstrous himself.

I wondered then if more people might be able and willing to hear what Arendt was actually saying better if she had spoken of "the evil of banality," which inflates "banality" by association, rather than seeming to deflate "evil." It turns out it works.

Asking people to think with me about the searing question that drives this book -- How is it actually possible to do horrific harm to others day after day after day, as the close-in perpetrators of extensive evils such as genocide, enslavement, child prostitution, life-distorting economic exploitation indeed do? – surely asks me in turn to speak in ways that invite minds to stay open.

And that matters a lot: understandably, we want to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 27, 2017

Joshua Kurlantzick

Joshua Kurlantzick is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been a correspondent in Southeast Asia for The Economist, a columnist for Time, the foreign editor of The New Republic, a senior correspondent for the American Prospect, and a contributing writer for Mother Jones. He has written about Asia for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to The New York Times Magazine. He is the winner of the Luce Scholarship and was selected as a finalist for the Osborn Elliot prize, both for journalism in Asia.

Kurlantzick's new book is A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA.

From the transcript of his interview with Fresh Air's Dave Davies:

DAVIES: So around in 1960, when the United States began to consider a more active role in the conflict in Laos, the U.S. had a guy on the ground there for years already, a CIA operative named Bill Lair. Tell us about him.

KURLANTZICK: In '60 and early '61, he had already been involved in doing some work in Laos. And he saw that the Laos war was going to get larger. And he believed that the United States had a role to play, but that that role had to be that the CIA and the United States in general should be arming and training local fighters, mostly of the Hmong ethnic group, because they had proven to be the most effective fighters, but that this operation he had kind of sketched out in the back of his mind had to be one in which the U.S. was not at the forefront.

The U.S. was the provider of arms. The U.S. was the trainer, I should say the CIA, mostly. But it was going to be the Hmong Laotians' war. It was going to be their war to protect their land, their war to protect their pretty nascent sense of democracy. But it was going to be the United States behind them, and these sort of local leaders pushing it. And the reason for that is because the more that you identified the U.S. with the war, the more you ran the risk - which had happened before in Vietnam with the French, and has happened many, many times - that the war would be perceived to be an American war. And Bill Lair did not want that. He wanted it to be a Hmong, a Laotian nation war where the U.S. helped.

DAVIES: So Bill Lair had this deep relationship with the Hmong people, these people that lived in these - this rugged territory in central Laos and were prepared to fight. They had a charismatic leader, a guy named Vang Pao. Tell us about him.

KURLANTZICK: He had basically spent his entire life, since his childhood, doing nothing but war. He worked with other older Hmong people when he was just a teenager to help fight off the Japanese who had taken over part of Laos. He had then started fighting with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Serhii Plokhy

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. A three-time recipient of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies prize, his books include Yalta: The Price of Peace, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, and the recently released The Man with the Poison Gun: A Cold War Spy Story. The Man with the Poison Gun focuses on KGB assassin Bogdan Stashinsky, who defected to West Germany in 1961, and his trial.

From Plokhy's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you research the book, and what surprised you most?

A: The core was the proceedings of the trial, where the story was told. The idea was to look at whether it was true, and [place] it in a broader context of the Cold War. Today people have to be reminded of what that was—that was the task, placing it into Cold War history from Washington to Bonn to Moscow.

The killing and the revelation that came after had international repercussions. It changed the way clandestine war was waged by the KGB, and the impact was huge on the situation in Western Germany, when Nazi criminals were put on trial, they were trying to use the Stashinsky defense, an accessory to murder rather than perpetrators.

That was the context, the broader impact of what happened, the result of the assassination going public.

Q: So can you say more about the legacy of Stashinsky’s actions, and the impact on the Cold War?

A: He was able to convince judges and the public that the order to kill two leaders of a radical Ukrainian [organization] came from the top of the Soviet Party apparatus. In 1962, it was the height of Cold War tensions, and he was testifying it was the head of the KGB [who was involved].

[At the same time] the head of the KGB was promoted—he became the head of the Central Committee, Aleksandr Shelepin. He was the main rival of Brezhnev. Once they removed Khrushchev in 1964, people believed Brezhnev [was temporary] and Shelepin was the real power behind the throne.

He linked [this leader] with potential killings, and it caused...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Jarett Kobek

Jarett Kobek is the author of I Hate the Internet. From his Guardian Q&A with Carole Cadwalladr:

So, do you actually hate the internet, Jarett?

Not particularly. There’s part of it that I find really contemptible. The title is offered like the sneer of a 15-year-old into Twitter, after they’ve just seen a meme of someone having sex with a chicken or something. I hate parts of it. I certainly think it’s been enormously detrimental to society.

You seem particularly down on Twitter.

It’s not Twitter per se. It’s the undue amount of importance that very serious people put on Twitter. That, to me, is what’s infuriating. It’s a social network that makes everyone sound like a 15-year-old and then very serious people take it way too seriously. And that’s not how to run a society. That’s not how to effect change.

You say: “One of the curious aspects of the 21st century was the great delusion… that freedom of speech and freedom of expression were best exercised on technological platforms owned by corporations dedicated to making as much money as possible.” And yet you’re not exempt from that: your novel is available as an ebook…

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Molly Haskell

Molly Haskell's new biography is Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, “I had never been an ardent fan” of Steven Spielberg’s work. Why was that, and did your work on this book change your opinion?

A: I think because he was working in fantasy and genres that didn’t appeal to me—thrillers, Jaws. I have come to think of Jaws differently, maybe not E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

It was a challenge. I was not sympathetic to these genres. What turned me into a movie nut was European films. He and George Lucas were [going in a different direction]. Directors [had been] making European-style movies with Hollywood movies, and the nature of film production was changing.

[There was a move] into summer hits and blockbusters, and Steven Spielberg seemed responsible for that. That’s why I wasn’t a fan, though some of his later films, I did like some and liked them even better as I wrote the book…

Q: You opted to tell his story through his films. Why did you choose that approach?

A: [Spielberg has said] all my life is in my films. That’s how I wanted to tell the story. I looked forward to the opportunity of seeing the films again.

That leads to the question, Did I ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 23, 2017

Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman's new novel is Dark at the Crossing.

From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SIMON: Where does the character of Haris come from? In your own experience?

ACKERMAN: You know, I think he's a man of two identities. He is an Iraqi born in Iraq but a naturalized American citizen. And he's someone who stands in conflict with himself. He feels a draw back to that part of the world, specifically what's going on in Syria, you know, a cause that he feels, at least at face value, is just, meaning fighting for democratic reforms in that country - you know, as opposed to the experience he had had in his own country, fighting alongside the Americans in a war that he felt to be unjust. So, you know, he's a conflicted person.

SIMON: Do romance and revolution get all mixed up in your experience?

ACKERMAN: You know, absolutely. The person Haris meets, Amir, who is a Syrian refugee and a former activist in the revolution, is stranded in this border town, which is a place called Gaziantep, which today is a real crossroads for anyone engaged in the Syrian civil war. And Amir's there with his wife, Daphne. And as you quickly learn, they...[read on]
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Green on Blue.

Writers Read: Elliot Ackerman (February 2015).

My Book, The Movie: Green on Blue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Susan Rivers

Susan Rivers is the author of The Second Mrs. Hockaday. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that your novel was based on a real incident. Why did you decide to write a novel based on this incident, and how did you balance the historical and fictional aspects of the book?

A: This may sound far-fetched, but I don't actually "decide" that I'm going to write about a particular topic or event. I hear or see something or visit some place with intense atmosphere and -- wham -- the creative part of my brain, the part that spins stories, revs up and tells me to start writing or get left in the dust.

That's how it happened with the book I'm working on now, about a textile mill town at the turn of the century. I saw one of Lewis Hines' photos from his child labor series, taken when he went undercover in the early 1900s.

It shows a lint-covered child standing at the window of the spinning room where she was working 11 to 16 hours a day, in a mill only a few miles from my home.

I had to leave the slide show at UNC Chapel Hill and collect myself, because the slide caused me to spurt tears like a busted boiler. I knew I was going to tell that child's "story."

It was the same with The Second Mrs. Hockaday, my book that came out Jan. 10. Back in 2014 I was teaching summer school at the local college and had some time to revisit notes I'd made a year earlier on a possible story idea about the Civil War.

I went to the tiny library near my home to look through the jumble of historical material they have and I stumbled across the summary of an 1865 inquest. As soon as I read it, I knew this was a story begging to be told in novel-form.

A Confederate soldier who had been away from his teen-aged wife for four years arrived home at war's end to confront rumors that his bride had become pregnant while he was away. It was alleged that she had given birth to a son who had been killed and buried on their farm. The baby's remains were unearthed and the angry husband pushed to have his wife indicted for murder.

For her part the young woman refused to speak about the baby, to name the father, or to explain how he was conceived. She maintained this silence for the rest of her life, even though she and her husband eventually reconciled.

I was electrified by the plight of this young woman and by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 21, 2017

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 Mark Rubinstein at the Huffington Post:

The Travelers takes readers from the beaches of France, to Barcelona, New York, Argentina and to Iceland, all places hiding a dark story of surveillance, lies and espionage. How did you acquire so much knowledge about clandestine espionage operations?

[Laughter] I don’t think I’ve acquired much knowledge about espionage.

I imagined this novel as a story about people who don’t really know for whom they work. We all live in a universe in which we’re either asked to or are forced to accept certain premises about our employment without having the opportunity to verify them. There are some types of employment where it’s perfectly clear for whom you’re working: for instance, teaching in a public school, your boss is the principal, who works for the Board of Education which is publicly funded, it’s very clear.

It’s less clear in the private sector. We go to work every day and often don’t know who owns the company or what their real agenda may be. We don’t truly know what kind of contribution we’re making to some hidden end-game. It took me a decade of working for a large company before I had the curiosity to find out who actually owned that company.

That experience became the premise of this novel. Espionage is somewhat incidental to the story I wanted to tell.

In most espionage novels, the characters risk their lives trying to save somebody, or while protecting a nation from some threat. In The Travelers, that’s not what’s going on. I used espionage as a device to heighten the characters’ personal dramas.

Self-interest thrusts the characters into conflict with one another. Deceit in both personal and business relationships results in...[read on]
Visit Chris Pavone's website.

See: Chris Pavone: five books that changed me.

Coffee with a Canine: Chris Pavone & Charlie Brown.

The Page 69 Test: The Expats.

The Page 69 Test: The Accident.

The Page 69 Test: The Travelers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 20, 2017

Phyllis Birnbaum

Phyllis Birnbaum is the author of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about Kawashima Yoshiko?

A: My friend, the Japanese novelist Funado Yoichi, was writing a long novel about Manchuria, and he suggested that I write about Yoshiko. He felt that she would give me a way to discuss not only her wild life, but also the historical background in all its fascinating, complicated aspects. That was the direct reason for choosing her.

But there’s another, indirect influence on my book. Long ago, I read a book by Edward Seidensticker about the Japanese writer Nagai Kafu, called Kafu the Scribbler.

It was not only a biography of Kafu, but also told the fascinating story of his times, effortlessly weaving Japanese literature and Japanese history together. The writing shows Seidensticker’s love of Kafu and of old Tokyo, all introduced in a very engaging way.

In my biography of Yoshiko and other biographies I’ve written, I’ve kept Seidensticker’s Kafu in mind, as I try to find...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Foz Meadows

Foz Meadows’s books include An Accident of Stars and its forthcoming sequel, A Tyranny of Queens. From her interview with Joel Cunningham (and Keith Yatsuhashi) at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog:

It seems like both of you are dealing with traditional fantasy tropes in real ways: urban fantasy and portal fantasy. Were you trying intentionally to subvert them?

Keith: I wasn’t. I fly by the seat of my pants, and it just sort of happened organically.

Foz: So, I have wanted for years to write about someone who goes from our world to another world. As a teenager, it was kind of an escapist fantasy, but I could never get it off the ground. It took an adult look at portal fantasy books, and going, ok, they’re a traditionally safe genre for the protagonist. You’ve got the Pevensies going to Narnia, and they come back, and time has folded up and they’re children again. Dorothy comes back from Oz, and Alice comes back from Wonderland. The thing that always frustrated me as a kid was the denial of consequence. All of these wonderful things they’d learned and done and experienced were held not to have mattered somehow, because the adventure has folded up.

On the other hand, there was a movie in the ’80s called Return to Oz, and it begins with Dorothy being institutionalized, because she’s been talking about what happened in Oz. And it’s this terrifying scene of her being locked up and having to escape, and I loved that, because it felt like, “ok, there is a consequence to this.” So I just wanted to write what I keep calling “an epic portal fantasy with the safeties off.” She’s not magically suspended in time, she’s aware that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

John Green

John Green's books include The Fault in our Stars and Paper Towns. From his Q&A with Kate Kellaway for the Guardian:

I’ve read that you once wanted to be a preacher? Where were you born and what did your parents do?

I did – although my parents were not very religious. I grew up in Orlando. Dad worked for Nature Conservancy, an organisation that preserves land. My mother was a community activist, working with victims of domestic violence and marginalised young women. My brother and I feel a need to do values-driven work – that is the only way to make our parents proud, they are not at all impressed by me hanging out with famous people. I want to make my parents proud, I have the highest regard for them.

What were you like as a teenager?

I was a poor student but a very engaged reader. I went to boarding school, was quite nerdy and surrounded by other pretty nerdy people. I was troubled in the sense that I smoked cigarettes and drank. In my head, I felt different, on the outside of everything, disconnected from people. I felt like an observer, a tail to a comet rather than a comet. I always felt I wasn’t the protagonist of the story.

Are there any teenagers in your life now?

I don’t know any teenagers and I don’t know much about them. Even...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

David Eric Tomlinson

David Eric Tomlinson's new novel is The Midnight Man. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Midnight Man, and why did you set most of it in the 1990s?

A: I was jogging. Lungs burning, legs hurting. Suddenly an image comes to me: a man running along the railroad tracks that bisect downtown Oklahoma City. Where was this guy running? What was he running from? I spent the next five years trying to answer that question.

I grew up in the manufacturing town of Perry, Oklahoma, and had always wanted to write about the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City. Perry is where Timothy McVeigh was caught, one hour and 18 minutes after detonating his bomb.

The bombing, I decided would be my subject. Early drafts involved only a few characters. There were several detours and false starts. At one point I was writing flashbacks that followed Timothy McVeigh as he prepared for the event. But it was very dark, too dark, and I ended up cutting all of this.

Eventually the story grew into a more structurally complex but emotionally satisfying one. It takes the social forces of that time and place, personifies them – in five very different characters – and follows each, as he or she struggles with complicated racial, political, and social pressures.

While the historical and political forces of the time are all converging toward a horrifying climax, these five characters are overcoming...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 16, 2017

Yaa Gyasi

Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi is the author of the debut novel, Homegoing. From her Q&A with Kate Kellaway for the Guardian:

Why trace your story through the generations?

I began Homegoing in 2009 after a trip to Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle [where slaves were incarcerated]. The tour guide told us that British soldiers who lived and worked in the castle often married local women – something I didn’t know. I wanted to juxtapose two women – a soldier’s wife with a slave. I thought the novel would be traditionally structured, set in the present, with flashbacks to the 18th century. But the longer I worked, the more interested I became in being able to watch time as it moved, watch slavery and colonialism and their effects – I wanted to see the through-line.

How did the dungeons make you feel?

I was devastated. I felt immense rage. The dungeons still smell after hundreds of years. There was grime on the walls and a tiny air hole at the top. When they closed the door, there was no light. Hundreds of people were kept there for three months at a time before being sent God knew where. The terror they must have felt – not knowing what was to become of them. You can imagine and you cannot...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is the author of critically acclaimed Dust and Shadow, and is featured in Best American Mystery Stories 2010. She is a true New Yorker in the sense that she was born elsewhere.

Faye's love of her adopted city led her to research the origins of the New York City Police Department, the inception of which exactly coincided with the start of the Irish Potato Famine. Her second and third novels, The Gods of Gotham and its sequel Seven for a Secret, follow ex-bartender Timothy Wilde as he navigates the rapids of his violently turbulent city, his no less chaotic elder brother Valentine Wilde, and the perils of learning police work in a riotous and racially divided political landscape.

The latest volume in the series is The Fatal Flame.

From Faye's Q&A at The Life Sentence:

Kim: Going back to the role of fire in your books, I’m curious about whether you’ve had personal experience with fire. How did that become a motif?

Lyndsay: Half of this answer is interesting, and the other half is the most boring thing that you have ever heard. The interesting part is that I have PTSD problems because I had a bad accident when I was six years old, so I know what panic attacks look like. I was squished in an elevator shaft.

Kim: Oh my gosh.

Lyndsay: I’m lucky to be alive. I had seventy stitches on the back of my head.

Kim: Whoa.

Lyndsay: So the interesting part is that I know what it feels like to freak out. The other part was in the year 1845, when the NYPD was founded, three hundred buildings burned down. Six million dollars’ worth of property damage. This is in 1845, right? That’s an astronomical figure. The whole downtown was just burned. I thought, what could be a more dramatic circumstance than putting your hero right in the middle of that event? The scarred, damaged but stalwart hero is something that I just poached from the zeitgeist. I thought, okay, he’s in this real historical fire. He’s been fire scarred. Since he’s fire scarred, he cannot return to his job bartending. Since he cannot return to his job bartending, he has to take this job from his brother, whom he thinks hates him and whom he hates almost equally.

Kim: Right.

Lyndsay: In The Fatal Flame, the reason there’s so much fire going on is because I’m a terrible person. Every time I love a character I’m like, what’s the worst thing I could do to them? So when I thought to myself, what’s the worst thing I could do to Timothy investigating a crime that has to do with seamstresses? I thought, arson. He would hate that. I don’t mean to be glib about it because it was very painful to write. I just think it’s better storytelling if the stakes are very high. And it was so satisfying to me to see him grow up to the point that he can follow his brother into a burning building.

Kim: We seem to be really interested in antiheroes right now, and Timothy is...[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 (March 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Kristen Orlando

Kristen Orlando is the author of You Don’t Know My Name.

From her Q&A at Criminal Element:

In your book, Reagan is a master of mortal combat and weaponry. What type of research did you conduct to make sure Reagan's life was as realistic as possible?

I did a ton of research for this book because, even though it’s a high-concept contemporary novel, I really wanted readers to walk away thinking, “Well … maybe there is a super-secret underground group like the Black Angels in the CIA. Maybe teen spies-in-training like Reagan really do exist!”

I did my own research, but I also spoke with people in the military and law enforcement about the types of weapons my characters would carry in everyday life, on a mission, etc. I even went to a gun range and learned how to shoot a gun for the first time because I wanted to know what it felt like. I wanted to accurately be able to describe the weight of it in Reagan’s hands, the way it knocks you back when you pull the trigger, and the way the sound rattles against your chest. I have to say, guns scare the crap out of me! But, I thought it was really important to learn so that I could really help capture all of those important moments in You Don’t Know My Name.

As far as the mortal combat, I have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys's most recent young adult novel is Salt to the Sea. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Salt to the Sea?

A: My father's cousin knows that I love hidden history and underrepresented stories. She told me about the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff and I was passionate to write not only about the single largest maritime disaster in history, but about the refugee evacuation as well.

Q: You write from the perspectives of four different characters. How did you settle on these characters, and what did you do to differentiate their voices?

A: As I was researching the novel, I traveled to many different countries. I quickly learned that even if human beings experience the same event, they all have different interpretations because we all look through our own unique lens. So I created characters to represent the various lenses I encountered.

Differentiating their voices was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran's new novel is Lucky Boy. From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always say every book starts with a yearning. What was yours?

My earliest emotional impulses around this book centered around curiosity. I’d heard about undocumented mothers having their children adopted away from them and I was intensely curious about what the actors in these situations were thinking. I suppose I yearned to get into the heads of people like Rishi and Kavya and Soli (my characters.) I wanted to get past intention—past the benevolent intentions of the adoptive parents, and understand how they came to believe that they could justifiably adopt the children of living and able mothers. I knew that their actions were driven by love, not hostility or hate, but I didn’t understand that love. I didn’t understand how their love could justify...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Shanthi Sekaran's website.

Writers Read: Shanthi Sekaran (June 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Brad Taylor

Brad Taylor's new thriller is Ring of Fire, the latest in his Pike Logan series. From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Ring of Fire?

A: Actually, it's hard to pin Ring of Fire down to one single idea. The leak of the Panama Papers intrigued me on a strategic level, as well as the redacted pages from the official congressional inquiry into 9/11 about Saudi Arabian complicity.

Beyond that, I'd seen a few intel alerts about ISIS using "toy" drones for attacks, and then that the 15th anniversary for 9/11 had serious threats in play. Luckily, none of them came to pass, but the book itself had many, many different attack points that coalesced.

I wanted to do a traditional intelligence hunt, showing how hard it is to separate the wheat from the chaff when trying to prevent such attacks, and had a myriad of different points to provide inspiration. I always try to weave current, real-world problems into my writing, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry's novels include the Jane Whitefield series (Vanishing Act, Dance for the Dead, Shadow Woman, The Face Changers, Blood Money, Runner, Poison Flower, and A String of Beads), Death Benefits, Pursuit, the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for best novel, and The Butcher's Boy, which won the prestigious Edgar Award.

Perry's new novel is The Old Man.

From his Q&A with Robert Rotstein for The Big Thrill:

THE OLD MAN tells the story of Dan Chase, a retired 60-year-old widower who lives in Vermont and who enjoys walking his two large dogs. Yet, Dan isn’t exactly who he seems. What motivates Dan?

As a young military intelligence operator 35 years ago Chase made an ill-considered decision motivated by a misplaced but noble sense of duty. After delivering U.S. aid money to a middleman, he learned the middleman kept the money instead of delivering it to Libyan rebels. He retrieved most of the money and brought it home to the U.S., but his superiors tried to arrest him and blame him for the deaths of the rebels who went unsupplied. Enraged, he held onto the money and disappeared. Thirty-five years later, he has been married and widowed, raised a daughter who’s become a doctor, and lived a good life. But now, someone has come for him—not to arrest him, but to kill him. His motivation now is simply to...[read on]
Writers Read: Thomas Perry.

The Page 69 Test: The Old Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 9, 2017

Carin Berger

Author and illustrator Carin Berger's new children's picture book is Good Night! Good Night!. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Good Night! Good Night!, and why did you pick bunnies as the characters?

A: Like many kids, my daughter was a sleepless wonder...always finding one more reason to delay bedtime. The delicate balancing act of nighttime rituals...the parental goal of ending the evening and the delicious cuddliness of that particular point in the day was the inspiration for Good Night! Good Night!.

As for bunnies...well...we have a beloved pet rabbit, Pearly, who is now 100 years old in bunny years, and he [or bunnies] appear in some form in many of my books.

Q: How do your illustrations and your writing come together for you when you're starting a book project like this? Does one happen before the other, or do you work on them simultaneously?

A: In most of my books, including this one, the writing...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Molly MacRae

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

Her latest novel is Plaid and Plagiarism, book one in the Highland Bookshop Mystery series.

From MacRae's Q&A with Kings River Life Magazine:

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.

Molly: Why did I choose a bookshop in the Scottish Highlands as the setting for Plaid and Plagiarism? For the same reason my main characters buy the shop and uproot their lives to move there and run it. It’s Scotland! The Highlands! A bookshop! Janet Marsh and her three business partners see the move as a great retirement/change of career scheme.

Janet, an American, is a retired librarian who loves everything about books. She and her family spent many summers in the Inversgail, Scotland, the town where the bookshop is located. Janet is joined in the scheme by her daughter (a burned-out lawyer), her daughter’s old college friend (a newspaperwoman who needs to reinvent herself in an age when print newspapers are disappearing) and Janet’s longtime friend Christine, a Scot who lived in the States for thirty years and plans to move home to Inversgail for the business and to care for her aging parents.

The setup is a little farfetched, but I researched the UK laws on Americans buying businesses and moving over there; I once managed a bookstore; and I lived in Scotland. So yeah, I think it could be done. Well, okay, probably only...[read on]
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

Writers Read: Molly MacRae.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ross Montgomery

Ross Montgomery's latest novel for kids is Perijee & Me.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Perijee & Me?

A: It originally started off as an idea I had for a short story - it would follow a similar plot, but take these great big leaps of time between passages.

(SPOILER ALERT!) It would start with Caitlin finding Perijee, then jump to it being much more grown five months later, then more grown after another few months... then it suddenly exploding in size, then jumping ahead again a few months to when he's taken over the world, and so on!

In the end I liked the idea so much I decided I wanted to flesh it out as a longer book and made quite a few changes.

The original spark of inspiration was a very strange one - I was walking through a park near where I teach, feeling worried because my publisher wanted me top come up with some new ideas, when I saw a man lying on the ground.

He was a typical London businessman, just like all the others in the park - pinstripe suit, black shoes, briefcase - but he was lying straight as a plank and flat on his face.

It looked like he'd been dropped from a great height and was trying to copy everything around him in this very strange way - which got me onto thinking about him as an alien. I immediately started thinking about a girl discovering a shape-shifting alien...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ruth Franklin

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. She has written for many publications, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Salmagundi, to which she contributes a regular film column. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Franklin's new book is Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

From the transcript of her interview with NPR's Linda Wertheimer:

WERTHEIMER: "The Lottery" is a kind of template for some of [Shirley Jackson's] other work, characters that seem ordinary, nice, normal, small-town folks but then who participate in a terrible tradition in their village. She said in one of the lectures that you quote something to the effect that simmering under the surface of ordinary life is extraordinary evil. What created this world view, do you think?

FRANKLIN: I think her tendency to see evil in the most mundane circumstances came from her childhood. She had a difficult childhood, a difficult relationship with her mother especially, who was a socialite who wanted to mold Jackson in her image. And it became clear quite early on, I think, that Shirley wasn't going to be the kind of daughter her mother had hoped her to be.

So I think there was this kind of fundamental conflict in which she felt unloved and unappreciated in the setting that should have been...[read on]
Visit Ruth Franklin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Shirley Jackson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ann Bausum

Ann Bausum's latest book for older kids is The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the March Against Fear?

A: This was history I had a glimpse of as a child—it was partly to complete a loop back to my childhood, and explore the history that seemed so perplexing when I witnessed it. It was a memory without context into my adult life. I didn’t realize it was this march I had seen.

It was partly to satisfy the childhood [memory] and partly to understand what happened to the civil rights movement, and use this endeavor as a way to look at what was going on with the civil rights movement mid-decade. Having written about it already, this felt like a missing piece.

Q: How did you research the book, and was there anything that especially surprised you?

A: The research was extensive, including a drive in 2012 which retraced the route of the March Against Fear, going South and then back North the way [James] Meredith walked the next year. I’d done that with other history. I find it...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Teddy Wayne

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novels Loner, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, and Kapitoil. From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SIMON: You must have finished this novel last year.

WAYNE: I did, yes.

SIMON: But it's hard to read it and not think of the recent case of Brock Turner, the former Stanford student who got out of jail just a few days ago after serving just three months for felony sexual assault. What would you tell readers who try and make comparisons?

WAYNE: Well, the Brock Turners of the world are a different type of character from [my character] David. They're the alpha males. David's a decided beta male. But both are products of what's called frequently toxic masculinity, which is the ways that the patriarchy can be damaging to men, not just women. And that it trains them to be dominant, to be aggressors, to be violent, to not betray any vulnerability or sensitivity.

So both are flip sides of the same coin of toxic masculinity. David is additionally angry that he does not have the rewards that Brock Turner has. He's pushed to the side, whereas Brock Turner is a hailed athlete.

SIMON: Mr. Wayne, does David stay with you? I mean, I've been having nightmares, and the character didn't begin in my mind.

WAYNE: Yeah. At this point, I'm - I don't mean to make - to sound glib. I'm more concerned - I got married this summer and I'm more concerned at this point with people in my wife's family reading it who I've tried to dissuade from reading it. As for...[read on]
Visit Teddy Wayne's website.

The Page 69 Test: Kapitoil.

Writers Read: Teddy Wayne (September 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Benjamin R. Barber

Benjamin R. Barber is the author of If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. From the transcript of his December 2016 interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: Ben, what I'm struck by is that, you know, the difference in perspective. [Los Angeles mayor] Eric Garcetti clearly, you know, feels that immigrants, for example, are a vibrant part of the DNA of the city. And yet, there is this reaction. I was looking at the numbers. You know, you look at all these charts; it does look like a sea of red that Donald Trump won, versus these little slivers of blue. And then you realize cities make up 3.5 percent of America's land space, but they house something like 55 percent of the population?

BARBER: And produce 80 percent of the wealth and 95 percent of the universities and 98 percent of the culture and 99 percent of the patents. That's true right across the world. That's not just true in the United States. Cities are the life blood; they are the fuel and the engine of the economy. They are what make this country run. Farmers are great. Suburbs are fine. We've got to all work together -- no question about that. But the division here is not Eric Garcetti making war on the suburbs or the countryside but voters out there feeling resentment at cities because there are peoples of color, because there are minorities, because there are immigrants and because there are Muslims.

I very much appreciate the mayor's pragmatism. And he's right to say the first job of a mayor is to work with the new president, whatever party. The new president has said we will not tolerate sanctuary cities, cities that say we will not deport immigrants who are workers here and are living lawfully, in terms of keeping the law and sending their kids to school and holding jobs and so on.

If that happens, mayors are going to have to be ready to say not just "We're going to work with you, Mr. President, but we are not going to let you do certain things."

Mayor de Blasio said just two weeks ago in a remarkable speech at Cooper Union, where Lincoln spoke a long time ago -- he said...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 2, 2017

David Savill

David Savill's debut novel is They Are Trying To Break Your Heart. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've spent time in both Bosnia and Thailand. Why did you decide to combine the Bosnian war and the 2004 tsunami in Thailand in this novel?

A: How do we put ourselves back together after the worst of disasters? This was what interested me. The idea that in the darkest of times, we also find the most beautiful light.

It’s an idea a lot of Americans might need just now. I had witnessed the aftermath of both war and natural disaster, and it was the fact of survival, and hope, that stayed with me.

In the story, three characters have been confronted with different kinds of disaster; the pain of having a loved-one go missing, the grief of having your childhood stolen by a war, and the injustice of being a victim to a terrible crime.

The story doesn’t flinch from its realities. The world is trying to break the heart of my characters. But in the end, we are seeing these people struggle towards...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Susan Scott Parrish

Susan Scott Parrish's new book is The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History. From her Q&A with Debra Liese at the Princeton University Press blog:

There were other major disasters in the early 20th century U.S. What was unique about the flood you focus on?

SP: Unlike other devastating floods of the era—in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (1889), Galveston, Texas (1900), and the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida (1928)—which all occurred in a matter of hours, this Mississippi River flood moved so slowly and lasted so long that national audiences could be pulled in, through newly established media circuits, to the events as they unfolded. One of William Faulkner’s narrators called it “the flood year 1927” because the disaster truly lasted an entire year. Moreover, unlike the Johnstown and Okeechobee floods, both also man-made disasters, in which the powerful industrialists involved in the first case and the Florida boosters in the second sought to avoid publicity, in 1927 white southerners, as well as African American pundits and environmentalists throughout the nation, were determined to bring attention to the flood. I would argue, in fact, that not only was this the “worst” flood of the entire 20th century in terms of displaced persons and property damage, but it was also the most publicly engrossing U.S. environmental disaster. As such, it allows us a signal opportunity to ask the following questions: How do—and how should—humans communicate with themselves about politically charged eco-catastrophes? What are the stages through which mass-mediated societies encounter disaster? Do certain media entail better, or more productive, or more democratic epistemologies of crisis? What can we learn from 1927 about how to make transformative expression, and knowledge, out of disaster today and in the future?

Why was this flood so meaningful to people?

SP: Because the course of the flood moved from north to south, retracing the 1863 river-borne assault on the Confederate strongholds of Mississippi and Louisiana, this flood had the peculiar power to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue