Sunday, April 30, 2017

Robert K. Wittman

Robert K. Wittman is the co-author, with David Kinney, of The Devil's Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich. From Wittman's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You were involved in the efforts to retrieve Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg's missing diary. How did you and David Kinney end up writing a book about Rosenberg and the diary?

A: After we did the recovery in 2013, the diary was so important, and had never been transcribed or translated—it was in the files in Nuremberg during the trial, but the prosecutors didn’t really use it in the trial.

The diary was to be sent back to the National Archives, but…Robert Kempner [a German-born lawyer who worked on the trial] acquired it—he kept that and 8.000 pounds worth of documents that he did not turn over. He had it shipped to his home in Pennsylvania…

[Once it was recovered,] we wanted to do something to educate the general public. There is a historians’ group that studies World War II, and who are very familiar with it, but that’s probably one percent of the population.

We wanted to take a very important diary and put it in context—how it was discovered, who took it, the contents of the diary itself—and write it in a way that they general public could understand.

If you’re a historian, you’re probably not going to get a new perspective, but if you’re a general Joe, like me, you will learn a lot…This is the guy who indoctrinated the Nazi party. That’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout's latest novel is Anything Is Possible.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I absolutely loved Anything is Possible. Why did you bring back Lucy Barton?

You know, I really wasn’t sure about Lucy in this novel. I just wasn’t sure what to do with her. I wanted her there, but I didn’t want to tarnish her voice from My Name is Lucy Barton. So I played around with a few different things, and they didn’t work, and I almost gave up on her for this book. But then I thought: Oh, if I just show her, without getting into her head – and that story is all third person Pete’s point of view – then I thought, That may work. And so I decided to do it that way, to keep the camera sort of far away from her in a way. If you see what I mean.

I'm fascinated by how writers write. How do you?

I never map things out. My head just doesn’t work that way. In truth, I’m not sure how it works, but I do know that I never write anything from beginning to end, not a story, not a book, nothing do I do from start to finish. So I might be...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Strout's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 28, 2017

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles new young adult novel is The Edge of Everything.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Edge of Everything, and for your characters Zoe and X?

A: I was still working at Entertainment Weekly when I started thinking about giving a young adult novel a shot. I knew that I wanted it to be a blend of fantasy and reality (more on this in a second).

And then, one day at work, an opening scene popped into my head: A 17-year-old girl goes into a blizzard to save her little brother and their dogs, and stumbles on two men fighting on a frozen lake.

One of the guys is trying to drown the other in a hole in the ice. The girl doesn’t want to see anyone die that way—so she gets involved, and it changes her life. The more I thought about the scene, the more it felt like something I could build on.

The next step was just trying to figure out who everyone in the scene actually was. I decided to set the book in Montana because I’ve spent a lot of time here.

The girl became Zoe, who has just lost her dad, and the “murderer” turns out to be a bounty hunter from a Hell-ish dimension called the Lowlands, who’s come to Montana to take an evil soul.

When I was thinking about what sort of hell I wanted the Lowlands to be, I thought it would be interesting if no one had names, because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Peter Tinti

Peter Tinti is co-author, with Tuesday Reitano, of Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior.

From his Q&A with Phil Treagus for The Reading Lists:

Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far? How did it impact it?

George Packer’s memoir of his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, The Village of Waiting, had a profound impact on my career. I was a fan of Packer’s writing and reporting when I was an undergraduate student, and I had no idea that he was ever a Peace Corps Volunteer or that he wrote a book about his Peace Corps experience. I stumbled across The Village of Waiting as I was preparing to start my own stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa. It was just so much more honest and insightful than any of the other “westerner in Africa” books people were recommending to me. It would be interesting to revisit the book now that I am older, having spent several years living and working in West Africa, but at the time, as I was preparing to embark upon a pretty significant life event, the book resonated with me. More than anything, it made me want to write.

What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?

I am almost never asked for book recommendations. Given that there is so much good TV being made these days, it seems like I only ever get asked “what shows are you watching?” That said, I tell people who enjoy shows such as The Wire, Justified, and Breaking Bad that they should check out Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, and Don Winslow. Those guys are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the acclaimed author of over sixteen picture books and novels. Her earlier picture books include Enough, Silver Threads, Daughter of War, Aram's Choice and The Best Gifts. She won the Silver Birch Fiction Award for Making Bombs for Hitler and the Red Cedar Award for Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Making Bombs for Hitler?

A: It’s been in my mind for a long, long time. Both of my in-laws survived World War II in Ukraine and [a friend’s] parents survived under similar circumstances. I was hearing stories, but never seeing it in books—it made me curious.

I didn’t start on this topic until many years later [after my first book]—I couldn’t get people to talk to me. If they were found out, they could be sent to the Soviet Union, and later they were still afraid. Under Putin’s regime, too, it was not much better. People who escaped from there are...[read on]
Visit Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's website.

My Book, The Movie: Making Bombs for Hitler.

Writers Read: Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.

The Page 69 Test: Making Bombs for Hitler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yascha Mounk

Yascha Mounk is a Lecturer on Political Theory at Harvard University's Government Department and author of a new academic book, The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice and the Welfare State.

From his December 2016 Q&A with Zachary Laub for the Council on Foreign Relations:

Are illiberal politicians and states more effective messengers than their liberal counterparts?

It’s always easier in politics to be critical than to be constructive. But the establishment has to take this as a serious wake-up call, and they face a difficult task. They have to communicate clearly that many things about how the political system has functioned for the last twenty-five years need to change, and to be a credible messenger on this, they have to show that they really are dismayed with the status quo. At the same time, they need to combine this criticism with a positive vision for what measures they want to enact to improve people’s lives, and to make a passionate case for what about the current system needs to be preserved—liberal norms like the separation of powers or the insistence on treating all citizens equally.

We’ve seen a lot of cross-border connections among these parties, like Brexit leader Nigel Farage campaigning for Trump in Mississippi. How are these parties and candidates linked?

First are the empirical linkages. Russia is financially supporting a lot of radical parties in the West, both on the far left and far right. And of course Russia’s email hacks helped get Trump elected.

But that matters less than what sociologists would call diffusion. Five years ago, I was already worried about people falling out of love with democracy....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 24, 2017

Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers is the bestselling author of Accidents of Marriage, The Comfort of Lies, and The Murderer’s Daughters. Her books have twice been finalists for the Mass Book Award and named “Must Read Books” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

Meyers's new novel is The Widow of Wall Street.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new novel, and how closely are Jake and Phoebe based on Bernie Madoff and his wife, Ruth?

A: The idea did come just when the Madoff case first broke, and it fascinated me. How do you pull something like that off? As I saw all the people he had fooled, these were not naïve people! I thought, what is it like to be this family, and I didn’t think Ruth had done it. When everyone started hammering on her, I wondered, what is it like to be her?

I started doing a lot of reading. Some books came out immediately, but the book that really had me was The Wizard of Lies by Diana Henriques, a New York Times reporter. I read it six times. I found the details of how it was done incredible.

I was fascinated on two levels—very much on a human level, what would it be like to wake up and realize your marriage of 40 years was based on a huge lie?

And how it was done fascinated me, to the point that the book took a long time. I started reading court records…I had to let all that research go and start writing the book.

The hardest part was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Randy Susan Meyers' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Murderer's Daughters.

The Page 69 Test: The Widow of Wall Street.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss & J. Richard Gott are the authors of Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour. From their Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

What is the Cosmic Perspective?

NDT: A view bigger than your own that offers a humbling, yet enlightening, and occasionally empowering outlook on our place as humans in time, space, on Earth and in the Universe. We devote many pages of Welcome to the Universe to establishing our place in the cosmos – not only declarations of that place, but also the reasons and the foundations for how we have come to learn how we fit in that place. When armed with a cosmic perspective, many earthly problems seem small, yet you cultivate a new sense of belonging to the universe. You are, in fact, a participant in the great unfolding of cosmic events.

What are some of the takeaways from the book?

NDT: If you read the entire book, and if we have succeeded as authors, then you should walk away with a deep sense of the operations of nature, and an appreciation for the size and scale of the universe; how and why planets form; how and why we search for planets orbiting around other stars, and alien life that may thrive upon them; how and why stars are born, live out their lives and die; what galaxies are and why they are the largest organizations of stars in the universe; the large scale structure of galaxies and space-time; the origins and future of the universe, Einstein’s relativity, black holes, and gravitational waves; and time travel. If that’s not enough, you will also learn about...[read on]
See Neil deGrasse Tyson's 6 favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cammie McGovern

Cammie McGovern's latest book is Chester and Gus.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Chester and Gus?

A: There was a wonderful in-class “therapy dog” in my son’s second grade classroom who all the kids loved. My son would come home with funny stories about how the kids included “Brody” in reading time and math and dealt him cards to play Uno with them.

When I finally asked the teacher about the dog’s background, she told me he had failed out of service dog training and she just brought him to school with her because he was too young to leave at home alone. He wasn’t really a “therapy” dog but she had to admit, he was so smart and so sensitive, he’d performed that job many times during the course of that year.

It got me thinking about all the amazing jobs dogs do for people and how connected they are to the sense of “having a job.” Watching Brody in action, it seemed very clear to me that Brody was continuing the work he was born to do but...[read on]
Visit Cammie McGovern's website.

Writers Read: Cammie McGovern (July 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 21, 2017

Jerald Podair

Jerald Podair is professor of history and the Robert S. French Professor of American Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. His new book is City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles. From the author's Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

In your book, you discuss the political cultures of New York and Los Angeles in the years following World War II. How did they differ?

JP: I think the very different political cultures of New York and Los Angeles determined that Walter O’Malley would get what he needed—affordable land on which to build his privately financed ballpark—from one city but not from the other. New York’s municipal politics in the 1950s featured a strong orientation toward the public sector and organized labor that, while not necessarily anti-capitalist in nature, did not offer an entrepreneur like O’Malley a particularly sympathetic atmosphere. This meant that when he asked for assistance from New York City officials in acquiring land parcels in Brooklyn that were beyond his individual financial means in order to construct a stadium with his own funds, he was branded—unfairly, in my view—as seeking a “giveaway.” But in Los Angeles, publicly owned land at Chavez Ravine overlooking downtown was made available to O’Malley in exchange for property he owned elsewhere in the city. Los Angeles officials were thus willing to do what their counterparts in New York were not.

In my view, this was because the political culture of Los Angeles—where the statist reforms of the New Deal had less staying power than in New York—was more hospitable to businessmen, especially one like O’Malley whose private undertaking promised to advance the public good. In New York, the focus was almost obsessively on O’Malley’s profits; that the city would benefit from a new Dodger ballpark was deemed of lesser importance. In Los Angeles, the weight accorded these considerations was reversed. In deciding a taxpayer suit seeking to void the Dodger Stadium contract in favor of O’Malley, the California Supreme Court said as much. The Dodgers were permitted to make money on the deal, the court ruled in 1959, as long as there were tangible benefits accruing to the people of Los Angeles. Those benefits—a world-class stadium, not to mention millions of dollars in property taxes paid by the privately held stadium—were enough to justify state assistance to a private entrepreneur. O’Malley moved to Los Angeles for this very reason. Although O’Malley was a businessman and not a philosopher and probably would not have used the term “political culture” to explain his decision to leave New York, this is clearly what he had in mind. Had New York’s political culture been different, he...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Carol Weston

Carol Weston's new book is Speed of Life.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Speed of Life, and for your main character, Sofia?

A: For me, a novel is like a plant. It grows slowly and needs a lot of tending and pruning. I came up with the idea for Speed of Life because I knew a young mother in Spain who died of an aneurysm.

While I missed my friend, my heart broke for her young daughter. I’m an advice columnist and I often hear from girls who are grieving and are utterly bereft and at sea. So I wanted to shine a light on that terrible abyss but also to give hope.

Sometimes girls email me at Girls’ Life and say, “My dad died a month ago and I’m still sad. When will I get over it?” The answer is that you never get over the death of a beloved parent, but...[read on]
Visit Carol Weston's website.

The Page 69 Test: Ava and Pip.

The Page 69 Test: Speed of Life.

Writers Read: Carol Weston.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Alyssa Mastromonaco

Alyssa Mastromonaco is the author of Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House.

From the transcript of her interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us my guest is Alyssa Mastromonaco. Her new memoir "Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?" is about working for President Obama as director of scheduling and advance at the White House from 2009 to 2011 and then as assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for operations in the White House from 2011 to 2014. She's now an executive at A & E networks and a contributing editor at Marie Claire.

So another thing that you had to do as deputy chief of staff is work with agencies like the Department of Defense to run classified construction projects and maintain the continuity of government exercises, exercises so that if there's a nuclear attack or if Washington floods or the president is incapacitated, everyone knows what to do.


GROSS: Just mentally, emotionally, what was it like for you to be in charge of planning for the absolute worst?

MASTROMONACO: Oddly, it was actually very reassuring when you sit down with the folks who, again, from administration to administration keep this process alive and have this information. You know, you sit down, and they brief you. And you're like, oh, wow, if something happens, actually everybody does know what to do. And so I found it - on the one hand, it's very heady. You're like I can't believe that I'm seeing what would happen if a nuclear missile was launched from X and how long it would take to get here and what happens.

But it is comforting to see that these processes are pretty well socialized. Everybody knows them. You know, the 25th Amendment has been one of the funnier things that happens is you obviously notify the speaker of the House and the majority leader, minority leaders in Congress. And we realized that the - when we actually ran the exercise that all of the fax numbers were wrong because people didn't really use faxes anymore. So that was - we're like, oh, we should get new fax numbers. And you sort of do what's called validating the exercise every couple of years if you haven't used it in real time. You sit down, and you do what's called an exercise. And you run through all the steps to make sure nothing's changed, the fax numbers are still there and that the documents are still valid and don't need to be updated.

GROSS: Can you tell us what your role was supposed to be in case of the worst, like, where you would be and what your job would be?

MASTROMONACO: If - I can't really talk about what my job would be - but in both - in a scenario of the president being incapacitated, say, he needed to have surgery, I sort of ran the process, the many steps of the 25th Amendment and sort of bringing that to life. And then the - in, like, worst case scenario, if the president had to go some place, I would have been part of the crew that was evacuated with him.

GROSS: What was the closest you got to having to enact one of those plans?

MASTROMONACO: Goodness. Oh, I would say it was when the president had his...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ellen Meeropol

Ellen Meeropol's new novel is Kinship of Clover.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new novel, and for your character Jeremy's relationship with plants?

A: I already knew Jeremy from my first novel, House Arrest, where he was a sensitive and shy 9-year-old. I wanted to see how he had grown, how he had survived his oddball childhood, so I imagined him 11 years later as a college biology major.

I had become very concerned about climate change, was reading widely about the science and politics, and that reading no doubt informed Jeremy’s obsession with plant species loss.

Writing Jeremy’s magical connection with plants just happened. That’s the beauty of the writing process, that we can open ourselves to ways of seeing and telling that are not our usual language.

The first day I wrote a scene with the plants burrowing under Jeremy’s skin, I was sitting with a group of writers in a library “writing room.” I was totally surprised by the actions of the plants. While I...[read on]
Visit Ellen Meeropol's website.

See Meeropol's list of five political novels to change the world.

Writers Read: Ellen Meeropol (February 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 17, 2017

Yewande Omotoso

Yewande Omotoso's latest novel is The Woman Next Door.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think authors are haunted by something before they start writing a book. What was haunting you with The Woman Next Door?

Many things! I was around my grandmother just after my grandfather died and it got me thinking about what it is to be of that age, late 70s, 80s, to have so much of your life behind you. And then I began to dwell on that more. I wondered in particular what it might be like to be in the last years of a life that has largely been unfulfilling. The sense that the quality of the life you have lived will have some bearing on your experience of these final years. I wondered how late is too late - for friendship, for redemption.

I loved these two cranky old ladies feuding and then finding just enough of a chip of light to find something in common. Was there ever a moment in the book when you didn't think this would happen for them?

I didn't take it for granted that it would but I understood that part of the project of writing the book was to sit with this question on every page, to wonder it as I wrote their stories. I had to really balance this. I couldn't lie about what is possible for two such women but I also felt nervous about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Teri Kanefield

Teri Kanefield's new book for older kids is Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What do you think of Hamilton’s emergence as a pop culture phenomenon?

A: It’s fabulous! To quote former President Obama, the Broadway musical Hamilton is “a civics lesson our kids can't get enough of.”

Q: What are some of the ideas people tend to have, right or wrong, about Alexander Hamilton?

A: The most common misconception of Hamilton was that he was a monarchist who wanted to return to a British-style aristocracy.

The misconception came about because the Jeffersonians took control of the government and basically held it until the Civil War, so their views were the dominant views.

They believed northerners, bankers, and industrialists were nothing more than British-style aristocrats, while planters and farmers embodied the true spirit of America. They disliked Hamilton’s policies, and...[read on]
Visit Teri Kanefield's website.

The Page 99 Test: Guilty?: Crime, Punishment, and the Changing Face of Justice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jeff Guinn

Jeff Guinn's latest book is The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. From the transcript of his interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross:

GROSS: Like some other demagogues, Jim Jones became very obsessed with sex. And it's a kind of interesting revealing part of the story that I want to talk with you about. His wife, Marceline, had severe back problems which were worsened by pregnancy and childbirth. And so she could not participate in a full sexual life. And he used that as an opportunity to take on a mistress, a member of the cult. And then after that, more mistresses and eventually kind of whatever women he wanted, you know, in the cult. What did he use to justify that to himself and to the women?

GUINN: It's sad. And it's wrong. But it's also true that throughout history, and certainly up to the modern day, men in positions of power take advantage of women who need their support in some way or another. Jones convinced himself about the same time that he and Marceline couldn't have regular sexual relations anymore that it was vital for the cause that Jim Jones be fulfilled in every way possible, and that includes sexually.

He would swear to followers who knew what he was doing that he's not doing it for himself. He's doing it for the cause, that if it makes him feel better, healthier, more energetic, that's important. He would also claim sometimes he was having sex with these women to help raise them up out of themselves, that they didn't have enough self-respect that lying with Father would make them feel that they were special. And in at least one or two cases, it actually had that effect.

He also had sex occasionally with men within the organization. And when this would happen, he would often say he was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 14, 2017

Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline is the author of the novel A Piece of the World (2017), about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written five other novels — Orphan Train, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines — and written or edited five works of nonfiction.

From Kline's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, “For many reasons, [A Piece of the World] was the most difficult book I’ve ever written.” What are some of the reasons why?

A: It was the first book I’d ever written about a real story. Orphan Train was real, but my characters were fictional. The characters in A Piece of the World are based on real people, and some of the people in the novel are alive today. I had to enter with eyes wide open.

The fact that it’s a true story made other things more difficult. In real life, Christina Olson did things I would not have chosen as a novelist, but because I was trying to stick with the facts, I had to work backwards from the consequences of her actions.

Q: So what did you see as the right blend between the actual Christina Olson and your fictional character?

A: That part was fairly easy. I set the task of...[read on]
Visit Christina Baker Kline's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Christina Baker Kline & Lucy.

The Page 69 Test: Bird in Hand.

Writers Read: Christina Baker Kline.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nahid Siamdoust

Nahid Siamdoust's new book is Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran. From her Q&A with The Iranist:

THE IRANIST: Why would the Iranian government ban music after 1979 only to allow it later on?

NAHID SIAMDOUST: We really have to understand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s views on this, within the given circumstances of the time. In the summer following the revolution, Khomeini spoke to Radio Darya and called for the elimination of music altogether, saying it corrupted Iran’s youth. He was referring to the pop music that dominated state airwaves before the revolution. But not long before his speech, one of Khomeini’s dearest protégés, Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari, had passed away. Some people at state radio had made a song commemorating Motahhari and played it for Khomeini. The song was “Shahid-e Motahhar” (The Pure Martyr). Khomeini loved it so much that he requested to see its makers. In that meeting, Khomeini said, “I don’t cry much, but I cried when I heard your song. This is the most beautiful kind of music and if you continue making this kind of music, I will support you.” Until that point, rhythmical music was banned on state media. But after Khomeini’s statement, music started being produced again, not just marches or nohe-khuni (religious lamentation), but music with rhythmical passage—some even reminiscent of...[read on]
Visit Nahid Siamdoust's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sara Lövestam

Sara Lövestam, a writer as well as a huge jazz music fan, lives in Sweden.

Her novel Wonderful Feels Like This is now available in English.

From Lövestam's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Wonderful Feels Like This, and for your characters Steffi and Alvar?

A: I was actually thinking of this jazz musician, Povel Ramel, who was also a comedian who wrote (and sang) very witty and quirky lyrics. He's kind of old school, but I really enjoyed his songs when I was a young girl.

One day, a few years ago, I started talking to a male friend of mine about Povel Ramel. He was very surprised when I said I really liked him and knew all his lyrics. Turned out, in his mind anyone who likes Povel Ramel is an old man.

So I began to ask around: Who do you think of when you imagine "a person who likes Povel Ramel"? Everyone had the same answer: An old man.

So I asked myself: What is it about Povel Ramel that makes old men like him so much but that also, evidently, attracts a young girl to his music and lyrics? And those old men and the young girls that like him, what do they have in common that attract them all to Povel Ramel?

That's how the thought of writing this book came up - I wanted to explore a friendship between a young and an old soul, solely based...[read on]
Visit Sara Lövestam's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wonderful Feels Like This.

The Page 69 Test: Wonderful Feels Like This.

Writers Read: Sara Lövestam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder is the author of a novel, Nickel, and two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs A Drink, both optioned for television and film.

A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in Newsweek, Details, Salon, Parenting, Creative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition.

From the author's Q&A at the Leaf Storm Press website:

What’s the story behind your latest book, NICKEL?

NICKEL is based on over twenty years teaching teenagers as well as having two of my own. One of the most rewarding moments as a teacher is when you read the work of a quiet or quirky kid and you see that he or she has this wild (and often quite funny) interior life. I’ve also witnessed how much my students have had to deal with—divorce, death, illness, violence, loneliness, neglect, and I marveled at how they coped. When I started writing NICKEL, I heard Coy’s voice as an amalgamation of so many of intriguing kids I’ve known over the decades. I just followed that voice as honestly as I could.

What do you admire most about today’s teenagers?

So much. I love: 1) the way my daughter Poppy can send me a song by some obscure band that is exactly what I need to hear at the time, 2) the deep-rooted empathy of my son London, 3) the incredible creativity and possibility of a young artist, 4) the way a sharp kid can spot a liar a mile away, 5) the ability of a student to discover something new in a text I’ve read over 20 times, 6) teenage fortitude to withstand...[read on]
Visit Robert Wilder's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Daddy Needs A Drink.

My Book, The Movie: Nickel.

Writers Read: Robert Wilder.

The Page 69 Test: Nickel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jennifer Ryan

Jennifer Ryan's new novel is The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that some of the inspiration for the book came from your grandmother's stories about World War II. How much was drawn from her experiences and how much from your own imagination?

A: I like to think of historical fiction as the coming together of all the different threads of experience, from the tales told by my grandmother to the hundreds of books I read about the Second World War, all condensed into a general understanding in my mind in which I could let my imagination run free.

Some of the plot lines in the novel came directly from my grandmother, such as the choir and the parties, and others came from some of the old ladies I interviewed, such as the Women's Voluntary Service, the baby swap, and how everyone kept morale up with jokes and singing.

The memoirs and journals provided a lot of the atmosphere, of how it would have been like to live in a war situation, as well as the consensus about the status of women, sexuality, the upper classes, and homosexuality.

When I began to create Chilbury, I wanted to write a story that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Billy Collins

Billy Collins is the author of twelve collections of poetry, including Aimless Love (2013) and The Rain in Portugal (2016).

From his Q&A with Joy Biles for The Writer's Almanac:

You said something once, and it always stuck with me. You may or may not recall. Actually two things. One: Always put your best poems first in a book. And two: Avoid a poem with cicadas. I’m paraphrasing. But ever since I heard you say this, I notice poems with cicadas everywhere — every fourth or fifth chapbook has a poem mentioning them. They were not there before you pointed it out; I’m sure of it. It’s a curse on the poetry world that once seen cannot be unseen.

More importantly, I now always read the first five pages of any poetry collection, even if I end up skipping to other pages from there. Why put the best poems first? I think one might want to spread them around. How do you determine what is the “best” poem — or the ones to put first? Do you want readers to approach your collections sequentially?

Here are the two ways to arrange the poems in a manuscript: a) when you submit a ms, front-load it. Put all your best poems right up front. (If you can’t tell which ones are your best, it’s too early for you to be thinking about publication.) Editors are among the few people who read mss from front to back; if you catch their interest early, they might just keep reading. b) after your ms has been accepted, tell the editor you’d like to change the order of the poems. An editor doesn’t want to get in the way of that, leaving you free to fiddle the poems into some kind of “creative” order. Remember that what editors are looking for above all else in a manuscript is a reason to stop reading it.

Don’t get me started on cicadas. When I see one, I...[read on]
Learn about Billy Collins' six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Yoojin Grace Wuertz was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States at age six. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in fiction from New York University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and son.

Wuertz's debut novel is Everything Belongs to Us.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said that your inspiration to write this book came, at least in part, from your father's comments about his time at Seoul National University, and that the book became "the bridge between my parents and me." What do your parents think of the novel, and what do you feel you learned about their lives before they arrived in the United States?

A: My parents are thrilled with the book and the reception so far, which means the world to me. I overheard a family friend joke to my mom after my book launch event, “Now you’ll have to write a book about your daughter to tell your side of the story!” and my mom replied, “No, I’m happy with what she wrote. She already wrote my story.”

I should add that the book is fiction and the events pertaining to the characters are made up, but the historical and cultural details of this generation are deeply researched, largely with their help. Perhaps that’s what she meant when she said I told her story.

What I learned about my parents is that they’ve seen more in their lifetimes, and adapted to more changes culturally, economically, socially, politically, than I will likely ever be required to in mine.

Sometimes the transitions were less than smooth, which...[read on]
Visit Yoojin Grace Wuertz's website.

My Book, The Movie: Everything Belongs to Us.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Belongs to Us.

Writers Read: Yoojin Grace Wuertz.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill's new book is the essay collection Somebody with a Little Hammer.

From her Q&A with Laurel Nakadate for Interview magazine:

NAKADATE: When you were going through your essays and deciding which ones would appear in the book, did you have a sort of "this is your life" moment as you went through the essays from, say, the early '90s?

GAITSKILL: I did. It was more, oddly, a manner of tonality than subject matter. There were certain tones that I would never use now and that seemed very foreign to me. I think, as we go through life, we can sometimes, while still staying essentially true to ourselves, pick up mannerisms or modes of expression that are like curlicues. And there was a lot of that that I recognized sometimes. And I remembered, sometimes dimly, why those phrases felt so tasty to me, why that particular curl felt so good to me. But from my point of view now, it was almost inaccurate. It changed the meaning of what I was saying in a way that it seemed like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rebecca Schuman

Rebecca Schuman's new book is Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did Kafka become such a longtime passion for you, and how did it lead you to your fascination with all things German (given that, as you state in your new book, he wasn't German)?

A: Wow, great question. My relationship with Kafka has changed so much, and my relationship to the German language--and, by extension, culture--is directly traceable back to him.

My original attraction to Kafka was what, I think, attracts a lot of brainy-but-misunderstood teens: He was SO good at depicting this primal, visceral, almost desperate alienation from everyone around him. He was sort of the first-ever goth kid who nobody understands, you know?

There's this really short story (one of many he wrote) called "Bachelor's Unhappiness," about coming home to an empty house and having only a forehead to smack with your hand, and that just pierced directly into my soul when I was a teenager, largely ignored by boys (except for one REALLY important one, as the book reveals).

When you feel like nobody understands you, the best thing in the world is to find someone else to be misunderstood with. For me, that person was Franz Kafka.

But as I began to study him seriously, I realized that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sara Flannery Murphy

Sara Flannery Murphy grew up in Arkansas, where she divided her time between Little Rock and Eureka Springs, a small artists’ community in the Ozark Mountains. She received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis and studied library science in British Columbia. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and son.

Murphy's newly released first novel is The Possessions.

From her Q&A with Haley Weiss for Interview magazine:

HALEY WEISS: I'd like to talk about what spurred you to write this. Did one element come first, like a character, or was it a broader interest in grief and this idea of possession?

SARA FLANNERY MURPHY: I think it really began more with the idea of The Elysian Society itself. I started with the very broad notion of this organization where people could come and reconnect with their lost loved ones. I was fascinated at first just by the idea of what would this mean? Who are the people who come here? But also, the workers themselves, they definitely interested me a bit more than the clients because there's that intimacy involved in performing this service for other people, and yet they remain unknown to you—that mix of doing something very, very personal but for people who don't know you very well, and ideally will never know you that well.

After kind of thinking about that for a while, I was interested in the idea of...[read on]
Visit Sara Flannery Murphy's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possessions.

The Page 69 Test: The Possessions.

Writers Read: Sara Flannery Murphy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 4, 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 her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Shirley Jackson, and did your impression of her and her work change as you worked on this project?

A: I've always loved Jackson's writing, especially The Haunting of Hill House, her classic ghost story, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, her last and most mysterious novel. And of course no one forgets "The Lottery."

But it was actually Jackson's domestic work--her memoirs about her life as a mother--that made me decide to write her biography.

There's a story she tells in her first memoir, Life Among the Savages, about checking into the hospital to deliver her third child. The clerk asks her to state her occupation, and she says, "Writer." (This was only a few months after "The Lottery" was published to enormous sensation.) And the clerk replies, "I'll just put down housewife."

To me, this story perfectly encapsulates what it must have been like to be a writer like Jackson at a time when there was very little social support for that choice. It made me want to learn more about how she navigated that inherent tension.

I'd say my initial impressions of her and her work...[read on]
Visit Ruth Franklin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Shirley Jackson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 3, 2017

Steph Post

Steph Post’s new novel is Lightwood.

From her Q&A with The Thoughtful Dog:

TD: Your new book, Lightwood, opens the day Judah Cannon gets out of prison after three years and no one is there to pick him up. Within a day, he’s thrust back into the family business that landed him in jail. Lightwood is faithful to the gritty noir novels but also has some southern gothic twists in the charismatic religious leader Sister Tulah character. Can you talk a little about the inspiration for this book given there are surprising elements in it?

SP: Thank you! And I think you nailed it- Lightwood walks the line between Southern lit and noir and I’m sure the combination comes from my love of dark, subversive Southern fiction. I really enjoy writing about north central Florida, where I grew up. With Lightwood, I wanted to explore the dynamics of an established crime family. It’s hard to say where an ‘inspiration’ comes from, as the process of a novel’s inception is such a complex yet fluid one. The setting, obviously, comes from an area I’m familiar with. The narrative arc is somewhat classical but definitely inspired by sagas such as The Godfather. I’ve always been interested in counter-culture groups and I’m sure the Scorpions’ bike club comes from that and from growing up around motorcycles. And Sister Tulah? Well, I’ve always been fascinated with the Pentecostal religion as I’m one generation removed from the church myself. I wanted to explore the concepts of faith and power and fear, but do so in the crime genre. When all of the pieces began to fall into place, Sister Tulah just seemed...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Christina Kovac

Christina Kovac is the author of The Cutaway: A Thriller.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You spent many years working in TV news. How much was The Cutaway based on your own experiences?

A: Every single street I wrote about, I’ve walked on. The newsroom wasn’t one where I had worked, the people weren’t people I worked with, and Virginia certainly isn’t me! But this could definitely happen—this set of circumstances, these types of people. They’re all composite characters.

The story that got me thinking about the politics behind crimes against women was the Chandra Levy case. I did work on that. This isn’t close to that, but it’s an aspect of people using access to further their career. You try to hold onto the humanity of the victim. Those pressures are very real. But no one is real [among the characters in the book].

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

A: I was a young mother and 9/11 had just happened. Tim Russert pulled us into the office and said, We need to plan in case of another attack. My husband is also in TV, and he said, Obviously, you have to take care of the children. I said, I have to work too.

It became clear after all the chaos, missing pickups at day care, that...[read on]
Visit Christina Kovac's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Cutaway.

The Page 69 Test: The Cutaway.

Writers Read: Christina Kovac.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 1, 2017

J. Kael Weston

John Kael Weston represented the United States for more than a decade as a State Department official. Washington acknowledged his multi-year work in Fallujah with Marines by awarding him one of its highest honors, the Secretary of State’s Medal for Heroism.

Weston's 2016 book is The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the transcript of the author's interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is J. Kael Weston, author of the new war memoir "The Mirror Test." He served seven consecutive years in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2010. He was working as a State Department official and political adviser. Prior to that, he led American efforts in the U.N. Security Council to freeze and block al-Qaida-linked assets. He received the secretary of state's medal for heroism.

I think it's fair to say that the most personally devastating part of the war for you was when 30 men, 30 Marines and one Navy corpsman, died in a helicopter clash over the Anbar desert in Iraq. They were all killed. And you hold yourself responsible for the mission they were on and, therefore, consider yourself responsible for their deaths. That's a terrible burden to carry. What was the mission? And what was your goal in creating that mission?

WESTON: We had an Iraqi election coming up in January of 2005. So Marine leaders and I were in Fallujah trying to come up with the best strategy to allow, you know, those purple finger moments if we remember the Iraqi voters. And in a province as big Iraq, we had a couple of options. One option was to just focus on the two primary population centers, Fallujah and Ramadi, which had the support of a top general - in fact, General Dunford who's now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And it was a very logical, wise policy.

And then there was the other side of the argument, which I advocated. And that was we needed to go wide rather than just deep. We needed to give more Sunnis in Anbar, more Iraqis the opportunity to vote. And I believe that because one, politically, if you're a tribal leader in a small community and Marines have not protected your polling site and your people can't vote, the day after the election, you may point a finger at the Americans or at the election commission and say, you know, my people didn't have the chance to vote for me. So there was that practical side.

The problem was - and here's where the conscience comes in - is that the Sunni leaders had been telling me they were going to boycott the election. So I basically overruled the staff officers. And it was a political issue. It was a State Department issue. And so we decided to go wide. And that is the mission they were on, flying low and fast over a dark, cold desert, and one of the helicopters crashed. And to make tragedy even more tragedy, the lives were lost and, sure enough, very few voters voted. I also think that, you know, responsibility and accountability in wartime goes to...[read on]
Visit J. Kael Weston's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Mirror Test.

--Marshal Zeringue