Friday, March 31, 2017

Deb Olin Unferth

Deb Olin Unferth's new story collection is Wait Till You See Me Dance.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What themes do you see running through the whole collection?

A: I guess one thing I feel is something I write about a lot…is that there’s always someone trying to help someone else and being inadequate at it, or not supposed to do it….

I feel that’s in a lot of stories. It’s the way I’ve lived my life. My last book [Revolution] was about when I was 18 and went to Central America to try to join a revolution with my boyfriend. Now I run a prison program here in Texas…. How do I teach these people who are so different from me? It’s a bigger challenge than I’d thought.

I’m trying to help people and animals—I’m a vegan; it’s a huge thing in my life. Every time I try to help it ends up a mess [especially earlier on]--a lot is based on...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dave Zeltserman

Jacob Stone is the byline chosen by award-winning author Dave Zeltserman for his new Morris Brick series of serial-killer thrillers. His crime, mystery and horror fiction has won top praise and has been translated into six languages. His novels Small Crimes and Pariah were both named by the Washington Post as best books of the year. Small Crimes topped National Public Radio's list of best crime and mystery novels of 2008 and is being made into a feature film.

Stone/Zeltserman's latest novel is Deranged, the first Morris Black thriller.

From his Q&A with Emma R. Murphy for the Needham Times:

How did you get your start writing novels?

While in school and later working as a software engineer, I never would've imagined having a story or novel published. But I always read a lot from very early on—first science fiction and fantasy, and then mystery and crime fiction, and at different times I'd be drawn to writing. My early attempts were pretty bad, but somewhere along the way I found my voice and started writing short stories that I thought could be published, and when they were, I started my first novel, "Fast Lane," which was a pitch-black noir crime novel. I was working sixty hours a week as a software engineer then, and it took two years to write it in whatever spare time I could find, but eventually "Fast Lane" was published, first in Italy, and then by a micro-press in the US.

Where do you get ideas for your books? 

The ideas for my short stories and novels come from...[read on]
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Deranged.

The Page 69 Test: Deranged.

Writers Read: Jacob Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Michelle Brafman

Michelle Brafman's latest book is Bertrand Court. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Would you describe the book as a novel or as linked short stories, and why?

A: It's most accurate to describe Bertrand Court as a collection of linked stories, but it definitely has an arc, which is expressed via life’s passages. The book opens with a story narrated by a fetus and proceeds to explore: a couple’s burning desire to conceive, a disastrous bris, a kindergartner’s birthday party mishap, a fading politico’s midlife torpidity, and an heiress’s desperate search for meaning.

In the final chapter, on the eve of his 50th birthday, an upstanding father and husband subconsciously risks his marriage because he is terrified of his mortality and wants to destroy...[read on]
Visit Michelle Brafman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Bertrand Court.

The Page 69 Test: Bertrand Court.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bruce Feiler

Bruce Feiler's new book is The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us. From the transcript of his Q&A with NPR's Michel Martin:

MARTIN: I could argue that this is, perhaps, the most challenging of the books that you have asked people to kind of reconsider the biblical story. But I'm really interested to know how people are responding to it and if they feel appreciative that you've given this new opportunity or are people just kind of, look, you know, you can't change my mind about this? This is one of the arguments that some people make about why they've walked away from organized religion because they feel that all it really does is kind of provide the warrant for suppressing certain people and particularly women.

FEILER: There's a fascinating paradox to me about religion that we don't talk about a lot. And that is that nothing has been more aggressively discriminatory against women than organized religion. And exactly the moment in the last whatever hundred years, 50 years, 15 years where religion has become voluntary, who could have blamed women for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 27, 2017

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 latest novel is The Trouble with Lexie.

From Blau's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Trouble with Lexie, and for your main character?

A: The story started after I met a man who had just come out of prison. I asked him what he’d gone in for and he said he had been addicted, broke into someone’s house, and stole drugs from their medicine cabinet.

I said something dumb and simple, like, “Bummer.” And he said, “The problem wasn’t so much that I had stolen the drugs. The problem really was that I had fallen asleep on the bed of the owner of the drugs.”

Those two sentences stuck with me and I used versions of them in the opening scene of The Trouble with Lexie. From that moment on, I was asking myself, who is this person who was so desperate she took these drugs and crashed on this bed?

Essentially, I worked backwards. I found the place where she was (passed out on the bed) and wrote the whole book as a way of getting her to that bed.

The more I wrote, the more she became a version of me....[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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

John Scalzi

John Scalzi's new novel is The Collapsing Empire.

From his interview with NPR's Petra Mayer:

You've said that the book — and its title — aren't a reference to any kind of current events in the U.S., but as I read it I kept thinking there had to be some kind of historical parallel, some great empire that fell when its trade routes failed or its ports silted up. What was your inspiration?

In fact I did think very generally about the "golden age" of European exploration, roughly corresponding to the 15th through 17th centuries, in the sense that the empires that rose out of that era were wholly dependent on natural forces (wind, ocean currents, rivers) to move their ships and shape their destinies with regard to trade and exploration. We're so used to having at least some mechanical control of our travel that it's hard to put oneself back into a mindset where travel took months, not hours, and was not always a safe and predictable thing.

So there was no one particular empire in our past I was borrowing from, but rather, a whole historical gestalt, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sharon Begley

Sharon Begley's new book is Can't Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about compulsions, and what do you see as the best definition of the term?

A: It’s from casual observation, mostly in my work life. Just a few years ago, it was obvious nobody could go anywhere or do anything—a trip to the cafeteria or the ladies’ room—without their phone attached to them, as if it’s an oxygen tank.

I was watching that, and…asking why that is. Many of the things we do are because they’re fun, but this was very different. We’re attached to our phones, or hoarding, or [expressing] manifestations of OCD because if we didn’t do them, we would be puddles of anxiety. It’s all about keeping anxiety at bay.

I was trying to get experts to explain the difference between addictive and compulsive behaviors…When I got to people who did understand it, [the idea was that] compulsion arises from an anxiety…Addictive behavior arises because...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Sharon Begley's Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 24, 2017

Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of numerous books of European history, most recently, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. From the English version of an interview with Matthias Kolb published in Süddeutsche Zeitung on February 7, 2017:

You wrote an article for Slate in November, comparing the rise of Donald Trump with the rise of Adolf Hitler. Why did you feel the need to publish such a piece?

It’s very important that we use history to our advantage now, rather than finding in history taboos and ways to silence one another. The history of the 1930s is terribly important to Americans (and Europeans) right now, just as it is slipping from our memories. I was not trying to provoke one more fruitless series of conversations about comparability. I was trying to help Americans who were generally either shocked (people who voted against Trump) or surprised (people who voted for him, who generally thought he would lose) find their bearings in a new situation. The temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed. That is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change. Anyway, I didn’t actually compare Trump to Hitler, I didn’t use these two names. What I did was to write a very short history of the rise of Adolf Hitler to power without using his name, which might allow Americans to recognize certain similarities to the moment they themselves were living through. I know that these comparisons are a national taboo in Germany, but at the moment its rather important that Germans be generous with their history and help others to learn how republics collapse. Most Americans are exceptionalists, we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: “We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.” It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics. We don’t realize how...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cara Hoffman

Cara Hoffman's latest novel is Running.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that Running was inspired by your own time in Athens in the late 1980s. Did you plan for a long time to write a novel with that setting, and how did you come up with your three main characters?

A: Running is a novel that's gone through many drafts. I began taking notes for the novel when I was 19 years old living in a hotel in the red light district of Athens and working as a runner.

The three main characters are based on people I knew. Running is illegal work--basically hustling tourists to stay in low-end hotels in exchange for a free room and a small commission. It was a good way to live for free if you wanted to travel for long periods of time.

I love Athens--it's gorgeous, gritty, and complex and I always knew I would write about it. Athens is the city where I became...[read on]
Visit Cara Hoffman's website.

Writers Read: Cara Hoffman (March 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Peter Singer

Peter Singer's books include Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter.

From his Q & A with Linch Zhang for the Huffington Post:

Linch: One of your largest focuses as a public figure is emphasizing the harms of climate change and the need to do something about it. I’m guessing this is probably not a question you ever get outside of effective altruism(EA) circles, but what is the rationale for emphasizing climate change? As a sanity check, depending on various estimates, climate change kills between 150,000 and 400,000 people a year, and is projected to approach 600,000 in 2030. This is no doubt extremely horrifying. But at the same time, roughly the same number of people die from malaria every year, while climate change gets far more attention, and seems harder to solve. At the margins, why should a concerned aspiring effective altruist or a HuffPost reader focus on mitigating climate change instead of malaria or other highly neglected problems?

Singer: The number of people dying from malaria is, fortunately, declining, while the number dying from climate change is, unfortunately, increasing. And it could get much worse after 2030, so that within decades, the numbers dying or becoming refugees could reach the tens or even hundreds of millions. That’s the most important reason to...[read on]
Peter Singer is Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He is the author, co-author, or editor of more than thirty books, including Animal Liberation, widely considered to be the founding statement of the animal rights movement, Practical Ethics, and One World: Ethics and Globalization.

Visit The Life You Can Save website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 99 Test: The Life You Can Save.

The Page 99 Test: The Most Good You Can Do.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sara Blaedel

Sara Blaedel's latest novel is The Lost Woman. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your new novel The Lost Woman focuses on the issue of assisted suicide. Why did you decide to look at that issue, and how is it viewed in Denmark?

A: As is the case in the USA, the subject of assisted suicide is hugely controversial in Denmark. There is a great and growing debate about legalization. Some 70 percent of the population are in favor, but the government is staunchly against passing laws to enable Danish citizens to legally assist the afflicted who wish to end their lives in their suicidal acts.

There is also a deeply personal element for me, with regard to my decision to explore assisted suicide in The Lost Woman. I lost my parents four years ago, which was crushing for me.

During my mother’s illness, she spoke frequently and at length about her desire to control when her life would end. She referred, constantly, to no longer feeling like or being herself.

Of course, the discussion was heartbreaking and unthinkable for me for quite some time. I couldn’t think about losing her, let alone being involved in any way with hastening her passing.

I tried...[read on]
Visit Sara Blaedel's website.

Writers Read: Sara Blaedel (February 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kevin N. Laland

Kevin Laland is Professor of Behavioural and Evolutionary Biology at the University of St Andrews, U.K. His book is Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind.

From a Q&A with the author:

What does this book have to say about animal intelligence?

Our research into animal behavior has established that mammals, birds, fishes and insects all acquire knowledge and skills through social learning. Mostly animals copy useful things, such as how to find and process food, but social learning can generate extraordinary habits. For instance, capuchin monkeys possess habits of sucking of each other’s body parts, whilst some chickens have a taste for cannibalism. Animals can be highly innovative. For instance, apes have contrived clever means of extracting palm hearts from trees with vicious spines, whilst gulls have devised the habit of catching rabbits and killing them by dropping them onto rocks. From these foundations, human culture evolved through a runaway autocatalytic process in which innovation, social learning, tool use, and brain expansion fed back on each other.

Animals can be smart, but humans are clearly far more intelligent. Why is that?

Studies of how the brain evolved in primates suggests...[read on]
Visit the Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony website.

The Page 99 Test: Darwin's Unfinished Symphony.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 19, 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 Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that Lillian Boxfish is based on a real advertising woman and poet named Margaret Fishback. How did you decide to write a novel based on her life, and what did you see as the right balance between history and fiction?

A: [My friend Angela McClendon Ossar] happened upon Fishback's papers, she knew instantly that Fishback...would appeal to me as a person, and that her comedy in both her ads and her light verse would appeal to my sensibility.

Thanks to Angela, I got to be the first non-archivist to work with her materials. But it took me almost a decade to decide what form my work on Fishback would take.

The key that let me decide--and that also let me strike that balance between history and fiction--was my own love of flanerie: aimless walking through an urban environment. I knew that if I let my Lillian Boxfish be a city walker, I could free myself up to do the imaginative work necessary to make it a novel.

Q: What type of research did you need to do to recreate the decades you write about, and was there anything that especially surprised you?

A: I tried to follow the rule of...[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, March 18, 2017

Michael Kinsley

Michael Kinsley is a columnist at Vanity Fair, a contributor to The New Yorker, and the founder of Slate. He has served as the editor of The New Republic and Harper's, the managing editor of The Washington Monthly, and the American editor of The Economist. His latest book is Old Age: A Beginner's Guide.

From Kinsley's Q&A with Kate Kellaway for the Guardian:

When you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you went into denial. Is denial underrated as a coping strategy?

In the early years, after a Parkinson’s diagnosis, there are very few symptoms and it was all about foreboding, so denial worked perfectly. I could convince everybody, including myself, there was no problem. Yet, as a journalist, I am in favour of ruthless revelation and, if you are writing about yourself, that means the opposite of denial.

Your book insists baby boomers face facts such as that, of 79 million of us, 28 million are expected to develop Alzheimer’s. But is there any point worrying about something we can’t control?

No… but when I gave up on denial, I went in the opposite direction. The main thing I wanted to achieve was to try to laugh through the tears. There are people who are much worse off than I am. In fact, some are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 17, 2017

Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman's new novel for kids is Effie Starr Zook Has One More Question. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new novel, and for your character Effie?

A: The real Effie was a woman who made wreaths and other things she cobbled together after she was widowed. She was a country girl in Pennsylvania, nothing much like the Effie in the book. The name fascinated me. Her daughter lived on a farm with goats in Central Pennsylvania, and my daughter volunteered on her farm.

All my books come from a hodgepodge…I did a reading at a fair in Central Pennsylvania. A little girl whispered in my ear that she wasn’t allowed to tell me her name. I came up with an idea that there were conservative religious people out there, very private.

I concocted a whole story about [this]. It was more interesting to invent the whole beard idea [that's in the book], less controversial than using a real religion or cult-esque idea.

It sometimes feels like whatever I ate for breakfast, or what I saw out the window [inspires my writing]. With the solar airplane, I was thinking of Howard Hughes, and...[read on]
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari's new book Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow. From th etranscript of his interview with NPR's Ari Shapiro:

SHAPIRO: One of the ideas that stood out to me from your book is that there is no clear line that separates healing from upgrading. So for example, plastic surgery may have begun as a tool to repair people, and it quickly became a tool to improve people. And you suggest that physical improvements of other kinds will likely follow the same path. Give me an example.

HARARI: I think in general, medicine in the 21st century will switch from healing the sick to upgrading the healthy. This is true not only of plastic surgery and improvements to the body but also improvements to our cognitive abilities - for example, memory. If you find ways to repair the memory damaged by Alzheimers disease or dementia and so forth, it is very likely that the same methods could be used to upgrade the memory of completely healthy people.

And if you find ways to connect brains and computers, you can rely on memories in immense databases outside your own brain. We are starting to do it in a way with our smartphones and computers, but what we may see in coming decades is humans actually merging completely with their smartphones and computers.

SHAPIRO: As you imagine this world in the not-too-distant future where people have the option of upgrading their bodies and upgrading their minds, what happens to people who don't exercise that option, who decide to stay natural?

HARARI: The real problem is not those who choose to stay natural but the fact that I think very few people at least in the beginning will have that choice at all. It's likely that all the upgrades, at least at first, will cost a lot and will be available only to a small elite.

So for the first time in human history, we might see economic inequality being translated into biological inequality. And once such a gap opens...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Jeannine Atkins

Jeannine Atkins's books include the newly released young adult novel in verse, Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the sculptor Edmonia Lewis in your new book, and how did you research her life?

A: I came across the work and life story of Edmonia Lewis while researching another 19th century artist for Little Woman in Blue: A Novel of May Alcott, and couldn’t get her out of my mind.

Both women struggled making art in the 19th century, when many men expected women to confine their ambitions within homes.

Women might paint work to hang in parlors, but Edmonia Lewis chose to focus on sculpture, which requires expensive material and may take up space in a room or outdoors.

As someone whose father was Haitian and whose mother was Ojibwe, she also faced prejudice while beginning her career just after the Civil War, when some New Englanders were delighted that she meant to use her talents to make sculptures of abolitionists, freed slaves, and Native Americans, but others considered her too...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sheelah Kolhatkar

Sheelah Kolhatkar is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and the author of the new book Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, And The Quest To Bring Down The Most Wanted Man On Wall Street. From the transcript of her Q&A with Fresh Air's Dave Davies:

DAVE DAVIES: Well, Sheelah Kolhatkar, welcome to FRESH AIR. First, tell us about this guy, Steve Cohen. What made him distinctive and unique?

SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Well, Steve Cohen is a legendary figure on Wall Street, largely for his prowess as a trader. So he made billions of dollars, one of the largest fortunes in the United States, almost completely on the basis of his ability to sort of sit in his chair, look at the market screens and trade based on his gut and what he saw was going on. And, you know, he has the lifestyle to reflect all that. He lives in a 36,000-square-foot house in Greenwich, Conn. There's an ice rink and a Zamboni for the ice rink. He decorates his office and his home with artwork of the sort you'd expect to see in the Museum of Modern Art.

And, you know, he really has a sort of rags-to-riches story that people in the financial world love. He grew up very middle-class in Long Island. They were certainly not poor, but they were not wealthy. And I think that growing up, he was surrounded by a lot of affluence in Great Neck. And he was motivated early on to make money. He was a very, very talented poker player in high school. And then he went off to Wharton, studied business there. And then he launched his hedge fund, SAC Capital, in 1992 with $25 million and very quickly achieved enormous success.

DAVIES: There are a lot of jobs in the financial sector, and it's confusing to people. There are bond traders and stock traders and people who are in - work for investment banks and private equity people. Steve Cohen made his fortune with a hedge fund. What is a hedge fund?

KOLHATKAR: Hedge funds were originally conceived as these very sort of bespoke products that catered to wealthy investors. So if you were a very rich person, you know, a CEO of a company, you had a vast fortune, you were trying to figure out how to manage all that money, you might have parked a slice of it in a hedge fund where the idea was that it would be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 13, 2017

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates's newest novel is A Book of American Martyrs. From the transcript of her Q&A with NPR's Ari Shapiro:

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: A man who considers himself a soldier of Christ shoots a doctor who performs abortions. Over the next 700 pages, we see the consequences of that act rippling through both families - the doctor's and his killer's. The novel is called "A Book Of American Martyrs," and Joyce Carol Oates joins us now. Welcome to the program.


SHAPIRO: You wrote this book before Donald Trump won the presidential election, and it now feels impossible to read the novel without seeing it through the lens of current events. Do you think the book reads differently now than you imagined it?

OATES: Well, what you're saying is so, so true. And when I was working on it, I remember being so immersed in that world, which of course is 1999 and 2000, early 2000. And no, I had no idea what we were moving toward.

My novel deals with the sort of grassroots resentment of elite, you know, Washington people and just a kind of somehow very deep, visceral hatred of the liberal imagination, which is usually secular. So the novel is suffused with the kind of emotions that all came out in the election and really brought us to this populist demagogue Trump.

SHAPIRO: For the first more than a hundred pages of this book, we really only see the world through the eyes of Luther Dunphy, the man who kills the doctor who performs abortions. We experience his childhood, his struggles, his inner thoughts. It almost feels as though you want to force the reader to see this man as more than an extremist, somebody who you cannot simply just dismiss. Why did you begin the book this way?

OATES: Well, Luther's very...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Richard Mason

Richard Mason's newest novel is Who Killed Piet Barol?. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you research this book, and was there anything that particularly surprised you in the course of your research?

A: I knew that I, as a white South African, couldn’t create nuanced, three dimensional black characters. The Apartheid regime of my childhood kept South Africans of all races very effectively apart.

Who Killed Piet Barol? is set in South Africa in 1913, and many of the characters are Xhosa. I knew I’d have to go on a quest for lived experience before trying to bring them to life. So I upped sticks and went to live in a tent on a hillside in the rural Eastern Cape. I threw myself into helping found a centre for green business skills, which took me right to the heart of Xhosa village life.

The experience was amazing and appalling, hilarious and miserable, in approximately equal measure. Certain mysteries were revealed to me, and any things had to happen before, several years later, I was ready to create a Xhosa village from my own experience - with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue's books include the award-winning Room. From the transcript of her 2010 Q&A with NPR's Melissa Block:

BLOCK: And I was in a bit of a quandary when I started thinking about how to talk to you about this book because there's so much I don't want to give away. It's revealed so beautifully throughout the course of the book. And I've actually put reviews down that I was reading in the course of reading your novel because I was learning too much. I wanted to learn it on the page. What do you think people can know safely without ruining the experience, going into "Room"?

Ms. DONOGHUE: Well, what Jack discovers early on, which is a complete shock to him, is that Room is not all there is. I mean, he spent five years thinking that he's in this world with his mother, and that outside there's outer space with stars and planets zooming around.

He thinks that he and his mother are the only two real human beings, and that the man who visits every couple of nights - Old Nick - is kind of borderline -maybe human, maybe not. And he thinks everything he reads about in his few books or on TV is then just fictional. You know, it's all just cartoons. And Jack's discovery that, in fact, they are prisoners is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bill Schutt

Bill Schutt's new book is Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History. From his Q&A with NPR's Angus Chen:

I hadn't heard of the medicinal cannibalism you described in Europe, starting with the Ancient Greek physician Galen of Pergamon and continuing to the 20th century. That was one thing that really surprised me.

Yeah, especially given the Western taboo around cannibalism, which has been around since the time of the Greeks, to find out that for hundreds of years, for many countries in Europe, pretty much every body part you can think of was used to cure something or the other. That was a complete shock.

I don't even know where some of these [purported cures] came from. That blood was going to cure epilepsy or how human fat could cure skin diseases? The most interesting one to me was mummies, and I think that was a mistranslation. To the Arabs ... the word mumia meant this stuff they used to bind wounds and prep mummies. In the translations, the Europeans thought they meant real mummies had medicinal values, so they started...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Rae Meadows

Rae Meadows is the author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel, and the widely praised novel, Mercy Train (released in hardback as Mothers and Daughters).

Meadows's latest novel is I Will Send Rain.

From her Q&A with Kristina Perkins at Midwestern Gothic:

KP: You chose to set your newest novel, I Will Send Rain, in the fictional town of Mulehead, Oklahoma during the height of the 1930s Dust Bowl. While most consider Oklahoma outside the purview of the Midwest, do you see any relationship between life in Mulehead and traditional Midwestern values?

RM: Most definitely. The characters in the book are hard-working, laconic, humble. They are people who do instead of talk about it. I associate those traits with a Midwestern sensibility. Although the Oklahoma Panhandle is a pretty stark and lonely terrain, there is a rootedness to the people who live there that I was attracted to, a trait I might also ascribe to traditional Midwestern culture. I think farm life is something that I have been drawn to as a writer all along, and the iconic nature of the family farm is something that spans the two regions.

KP: In a recent interview with WNYC, you mention that you’re able to write better about a place if you don’t live there. For you, what about this distance lends itself to good writing?

RM: I find that I have to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Rae Meadows's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mothers and Daughters.

The Page 69 Test: I Will Send Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's new novel is Harmless Like You. From her interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SIMON: Please tell us about your central character, if we could, Yuki. She's a teenager living in New York in the late '60s. And her parents leave to go back to Japan, and she decides she doesn't want to leave New York. Does she leave them, too?

BUCHANAN: I don't think that she would see it that way. I think she doesn't realize how long it will be before she ever sees them again because, at that time, it would have been harder for her to travel. And she is trying to figure out herself in the city, and she doesn't want them to see her until she's figured it out. And the figuring out takes a lot longer than she thinks it's going to. To answer your question another way, at least in my experience, I think children rarely realize how much their parents need them.

SIMON: She ends up with a guy I don't like at all, Lou. Without giving anything away, he's the only one in the novel I think is guilty of anything really serious.

BUCHANAN: I'm sure somebody could write a novel about a man like Lou where you would understand exactly his history and exactly where he was coming from. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Daphne Merkin

Daphne Merkin’s new book is This Close to Happy: A Reckoning With Depression. From her Q&A with Isaac Chotiner for Slate:

Isaac Chotiner: What, if anything, about the act of writing the book changed the way you think about either your own depression or depression more generally?

Daphne Merkin: I went through different stages writing it. There were periods where I was depressed and didn’t write. Cumulatively, it gave me some kind of perspective on depression and its landscape. With rare cases, it completely remits, and people are never depressed again. But usually it does have a life of its own, and it is not all that predictable. It will taper off and then recur when it recurs.

I think one of the hardest things about being in a severe depression is that you don’t think it will end. I think most people who have been in one would say that. That’s undoubtedly what leads to suicide: the idea that you’re going to be stuck in this painful, in a way noisily painful yet also silent, illness forever. Writing the book, I became more aware that depressions don’t last. With or without medication, they have a lifespan. I don’t think they suddenly abate. They stop, and they recur. There were times when I was significantly not depressed. I think at the very end of the book I said the opposite of depression isn’t some state of great, extraordinary happiness. The opposite of depression is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 6, 2017

Paul Auster

Paul Auster's new novel is 4 3 2 1. From the transcript of his Q&A with NPR's Robert Siegel:

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: The hero of Paul Auster's new coming-of-age novel, "4 3 2 1," is Archie Ferguson, born in 1947 in New Jersey to middle-class, Jewish parents. In fact, the heroes of Auster's novel are four different Archie Fergusons, each born to the same circumstances, the same parents but each with his own story.

In each story, Archie Ferguson's life takes a set of distinctive turns. His parents may divorce or stay married. In one story, Archie's father's business thrives. In another it collapses. He may die young or live. He may go to college or not go to college. Auster has dealt his baby boomer protagonist four different hands and each set of cards leads Archie Ferguson to a different place by the book's end. Paul Auster, welcome to the program once again.

PAUL AUSTER: Thank you, Robert. That was a very precise and apt description of the book - the structure of it - so thank you for that.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) You're welcome. Like Archie Ferguson, you were born in New Jersey in 1947...

AUSTER: True enough.

SIEGEL: ...To a middle-class, Jewish family.

AUSTER: True enough.

SIEGEL: Like all the Archies, books and writing matter a lot to you. And like more than one of them, Paris is some place special to you. Is "4 3 2 1" a kind of fractured mirror that reflects different versions of Paul Auster?

AUSTER: It's really...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bren McClain

Bren McClain is the author of the novel One Good Mama Bone. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for One Good Mama Bone?

A: Let’s go back to a hot summer’s night in 1994 in Atlanta, Georgia, when a neighbor called me over to his porch to tell me about a secret he’d been carrying around since he was 6 years old. He had turned 60 that day.

He proceeded to tell me about a night in Alabama when his mother woke him from sleep and summoned him to the kitchen, where he was made to witness an atrocity. He said he was telling me, knowing, “You’re a writer.” I carried that story around with me for years and then wrote a novel around it. A failed novel.

Then, in 2007, I was visiting my father’s farm in Anderson, S.C., only to be awakened in the night by sounds that drew me outside to a gathering of mama cows, huddled in the corner of a barbed wire fence.

I would come to know that their babies had been weaned from them the afternoon before. These mamas were calling for them, deep guttural calls, which seeped into my bones and made me think of my failed novel, what I had hoped to be a celebration of motherhood, but I had not pulled that off.

There, in front of me, with these mama cows, lay the missing piece. The mama cow in the center had her eyes cut hard at me. I told her I could not bring her baby back, but I could...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Melissa Febos

Melissa Febos's new book is Abandon Me. From her interview with Hafizah Geter for PEN America:

Obsessions are influences—what are yours?

In many ways, Abandon Me is a conversation with all of my obsessions and influences: Winnicott and Jung, poets, hickies, the sound of my own name, mythology, the books of my childhood, the sea, my complicated family situation, sex, Labyrinth, the way we replicate our traumas in the people we choose, the parts of us we disown, the way narrative shapes us and is shaped by us, abandonment in all its forms, Billie Holiday, the music of certain words.

I’ve loved music as long and almost as hard as books, and it feels inextricable from my writing and living processes. I still listen to songs the way I did as a kid—like each new obsession is my oxygen, the prayer that will save me. Certainly, it has both accompanied and shaped my understanding of language and sound, and what I strive to do in my own art. I could write a book about my relationship to music. I sort of feel like I already did, in the cumulative mixtapes (yes, actual cassette tapes) that I made before you could just drag and drop songs into an infinitely long playlist. I loved mixtapes the way I love personal essays: you have a finite amount of source material and space, and it’s part alchemy, part puzzle to shape it into....[read on]
Visit Melissa Febos's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 3, 2017

Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman's new novel is On Turpentine Lane. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You are known for writing really wonderful dialogue. What can you say about how you create it?

A: Dialogue is the easiest part of the writing for me. I always want to get into a scene as late as possible and leave it as early as possible, so I dispense with the “hello, how are you?” and the “good-bye, nice to meet you."

I seem to have a good ear for the way people talk, so it’s hard to describe the work that goes into it. I try to avoid what I call speechifying and pamphleteering.

I also try never to plant information in dialogue. (An example of that no-no would be a character who said, “Here we are on our first date, at the restaurant around the corner from the office where we both work as administrative assistants.”) That’s...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Elinor Lipman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Family Man.

The Page 99 Test: I Can't Complain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Nigel Hamilton

Nigel Hamilton's latest book is Commander in Chief: FDR's Battle with Churchill, 1943.

From the transcript of Hamilton's Q&A with Fareed Zakaria:

HAMILTON: [E]ven though [FDR] admired Churchill very much as a leader and a spokesman for democracy and principles of freedom, freedom of speech, nevertheless, he really -- he and Churchill were at opposite poles in terms of how they viewed the future.

ZAKARIA: Big differences; as you point out, Churchill lived to write his memoirs, in which he presented his version of everything, including World War II. He pretended he was in favor of the Normandy invasion, when you point out he was opposed. But Franklin Roosevelt never got to write his memoirs. And it's really strange to me that, until your project, we have not really had Roosevelt's view of -- of World War II.

HAMILTON: I think that's a tragedy. I mean, part of the problem, of course, is that Churchill was a brilliant writer. He wrote six volumes about how he won World War II, and it was so wonderfully written that it won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Well, that is very difficult for most historians to combat, and it was very much how Churchill saw his own -- the way he considered himself to be the mastermind, the architect of the winning of World War II.

What I'd like to do is to change history, if history is the way we look at the past, by showing how, at every step in World War II, it was the president of the United States who was directing the war, not just in terms of vision and diplomacy but in terms of the military, the strategy for defeating first Nazi Germany and then the empire of Japan.

ZAKARIA: And you point out that, almost always, Roosevelt was right and Churchill was wrong. Roosevelt was vindicated by history.

But I'm going to leave it to people -- they
...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Brooke Davis

Brooke Davis is the author of the novel Lost & Found. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Of your three main characters, one is very young and two are elderly. What role do you see age playing in the novel?

A: When I first started writing the book, I think it was about self-preservation: I found it difficult to write about things from my own point of view because it felt too close. I wanted to keep a distance so I could have time to work out how I felt.

This eventually evolved into the feeling that I wanted to represent grief as a thing that we all deal with differently. I felt like I couldn’t do that from my own singular point of view; that it required the freedom of both fiction and multiple points of view.

The very young and the very old also have these really interesting positions within Western culture—there’s an invisibility to them. They’re not really heard.

The very young are constructed as being pre-social-awareness, and the very old as the opposite but exactly the same, a kind of post-social-awareness. And the idea of tackling a subject we struggle to talk about like death via characters who aren’t listened to—it was a very compelling idea to me. It made sense.

There was such a sense of freedom in writing from their point of view—I was able to ask those real thorny questions about The Way Things Are that I was afraid to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue