Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Benjamin Reiss

Benjamin Reiss's new book is Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you become interested in the topic of sleep, and why did you decide to write this book?

A: I’m attracted to curiosities, and there’s really nothing more curious than sleep. I’ve written previous books about freak shows and insane asylums, and in a certain light sleep is a universal experience freakishness and madness.

I was also interested in the challenge of writing history from the point of view of unconsciousness: what does the world look like when we adopt the point of view of the sleeper, or the nervous wreck who can’t sleep?

Q: You write that “whether or not our society is suffering a significant decline in the quantity of sleep, we seem to be experiencing an erosion in the quality of sleep.” Why is that?

A: It’s arguable whether our society sleeps less now than in previous eras. We have all sorts of advantages that were previously unavailable: fireproof homes, comfortable mattresses, pest control systems, police forces, alarm systems, and even modern dentistry. (Ever tried to sleep with a toothache?)

But it’s indisputable that we...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jeffrey Gettleman

Jeffrey Gettleman's new book is Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: So when people think of Africa, they think -- the images, I think, are mostly still poverty and conflict. What do you think of when you think of Africa?

GETTLEMAN: I think of some of that, too. Unfortunately, the states in Africa are among the weakest, poorest states in the world, and that breeds all sorts of problems that we don't see anywhere else, like famines, for instance. Where else in the world do we have a problem of famine in the 21st century? In Africa, unfortunately, that's happening right now.

One of the bigger stories I covered was the Somali pirates. Everybody loved the pirates. They, kind of, represented modern-day outlaws. Where else do you have modern-day pirates to that extent like in Africa?

But there's -- there's so much more. And you, kind of, laid it out in your introduction. It is one of the most physically blessed parts of the world I've ever seen. There are so many places that look like nowhere else on earth, the pristine environment, the thick jungle, clear lakes and rivers, untouched...[read on]
Visit Jeffrey Gettleman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 29, 2017

Benjamin Ludwig

Benjamin Ludwig's new novel is Ginny Moon. From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said Ginny Moon was based on your own experiences as an adoptive parent. How did you come up with the character of Ginny, and was it difficult to capture her voice?

A: Ginny’s voice came to me fully formed one night after my daughter’s Special Olympics basketball practice. It wasn’t my daughter’s voice at all, but something much more intense and fast, and very, very honest in a way that was sometimes funny, sometimes tragic.

Once I heard the voice, I sat down to write what Ginny was saying – and at that point I could barely keep up with her! Aside from her voice, Ginny’s background is inspired by the many foster and adopted kids I’ve met over the years, mostly as a public-school teacher.

In my experience, every child who isn’t living with his parent wants to somehow get back to his mom and dad. Our parents are our origin, and if our origin is a mystery, then we need to...[read on]
Visit Benjamin Ludwig's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Benjamin Whitmer

Benjamin Whitmer was born and raised on back-to-the-land communes and counterculture enclaves ranging from Southern Ohio to Upstate New York. One of his earliest and happiest memories is of standing by the side of a country road with his mother, hitchhiking to parts unknown. Since then, he’s been a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, an activist, a kitchen-table gunsmith, a squatter, a college professor, a dishwasher, a technical writer and a petty thief.

His first novel, Pike, was published in America in 2010 by PM Press, and in France in 2012 by Éditions Gallmeister. Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers, a memoir co-written with Charlie Louvin, was released by Igniter Books in 2012.

Whitmer's second novel is Cry Father.

From the author's Q&A with Danyelle C. Overbo at Fiction Unbound:

DCO: Your books are considered neo noir or "hard-boiled" fiction. How does this genre encourage the sort of "anti-hero" characters that are sometimes considered unlikeable?

BW: My first two novels get called noir and I agree with that, for the most part. The definition of noir is pretty simple to my mind. It’s Dennis Lehane’s definition: Noir is “working class tragedy.” And in tragedy, the characters have to be tremendously flawed. That’s built into what tragedy is. You can’t find me the blandly likable protagonist in Macbeth or Oedipus Rex. They’re not there because that’s not what the genre does, and those aren’t the questions it addresses. It’s a genre that does a different kind of work.

I’m not sure there’s really any place for it in the American crime fiction genre. Most of what’s sold in the US as crime fiction is really superhero fiction. It’s just these superheroes are detectives or cops and get the occasional bourbon hangover or whatever. And that’s nothing I have any interest in doing. I like reading some of it, and think there’s some great writing in the genre, but it’s not my bag.

DCO: What do you like about writing characters who are flawed in this way?

BW: It’s not really something I like or dislike. I mean, I’m...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Cry Father.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein was born in New York City, grew up abroad, and currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children. She is an avid flyer of small planes. She also holds a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include the acclaimed Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire, and Black Dove, White Raven.

Wein's new novel is The Pearl Thief.

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

Q: Why did you decide to write this prequel to your novel Code Name Verity?

A: So many reasons!

I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. When Code Name Verity won the Edgar Award, I was thrilled to become a member of the Mystery Writers of America.

I am so proud of that Edgar, and for some time now I’ve felt that I sort of owe it to the MWA to produce a classic mystery novel – I mean, one that isn’t in disguise as a thriller (Code Name Verity) or historical fantasy (my third novel, The Sunbird, was also nominated for an Edgar, though it didn’t make the short list).

I really love 1930s mysteries, and Dorothy L. Sayers in particular is one of my favorite authors. I thought first about setting a story in the 1930s… and then thought it would be fun to set it in Scotland… do you see where this is going?

Then I thought, hmmm, Julie (one of Code Name Verity’s two narrators) would have been in her teens in Scotland in the 1930s… wouldn’t it be fun to make this her story?

Another reason I decided to make this a prequel to Code Name Verity is because...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Wein's website.

The Page 69 Test: Black Dove, White Raven.

The Page 69 Test: The Pearl Thief.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Wein.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 26, 2017

Melodie Winawer

Melodie Winawer's new novel is The Scribe of Siena.

From her Q&A at the Columbia University Medical Center website:

Q: You are a full-time researcher and a practicing neurologist. How did you find time to write a novel?

A: Oh my God, I absolutely have no idea. In addition to being a neurologist and a neuroscientist, I run two—about to be three—courses in the medical school, and I have three children. They were 2, 2, and 5 when I started writing this book, and now they’re 9, 9, and 12.

The short answer is I wrote on the subway a lot. I have a three-hour total commute. I live very far into Brooklyn and I figured out how to travel at a time when I could get a seat. I have occasionally crouched, when I’m desperate, in a corner with my laptop on my knees. I’ve done a lot of my writing—grants, papers, and fiction—on trains. I find that I’m sort of divorced from time and I don’t know what’s going on around me—that can be a good thing. I disappear into whatever I’m writing and then look up and I’m at 168th Street. Or, sometimes, I’ll miss my stop entirely.

Q: Does medicine make an appearance in the book?

A: The protagonist is a neurosurgeon. She has an unusual degree of empathy, which used to help her in her work. She literally feels what her patients feel, and it made her a superb doctor. But that empathy begins to take over in a way that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hala Alyan

Hala Alyan's new novel is Salt Houses. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said that your novel started as a short story. At what point did you decide you would write a novel about your characters, the Yacoub family?

A: I don’t know that I ever actually made the active decision to write a novel. The very term terrified me and whenever I described what I was writing, I used the phrase “longer project.”

Rather, I think that I just became very curious about the other family members and was excited to try to give them each a chance to tell their story. I kept chasing that desire until, eventually, I had accidentally written a novel!

Q: You write from the viewpoints of many different members of the family. Were there particular characters you particularly enjoyed writing about?

A: I loved writing Linah’s chapter, because the perspective of a child is such a challenging thing to replicate. I also always enjoyed writing about Alia and Souad: their decades-long bickering was always enjoyable to...[read on]
Visit Hala Alyan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chris Kraus

Chris Kraus, a writer who began her career in experimental film, is the author of I Love Dick, a novel based on her own life. From her Q&A with Rachel Cooke at the Guardian:

Dick Hebdige is said to be “appalled” by the way you used him in the book. Do you ever feel bad about that?

I never identified him, revealed his surname or the name of his books. So I don’t feel that I’ve done anything wrong. He identified himself in his zeal to denounce the book. I’m not sure why he was so appalled. Really, the whole thing was pretty benign and I would have been pleased to acknowledge him as a collaborator, if he’d wanted it.

Younger women have acclaimed you as a feminist writer. Is this how you see yourself?

I didn’t see myself as a feminist, capital “F”, when I was writing I Love Dick. I thought of myself as a gendered person – a woman – who was writing a book. Those issues of cultural presence, who gets to speak, are important to me. But class is as significant as gender in I Love Dick. Class is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Colleen Oakley

Colleen Oakley is an Atlanta-based writer and author of the novel Before I Go. Her articles, essays, and interviews have been featured in The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, and Martha Stewart Weddings. Before she was a freelance writer, Oakley was editor in chief of Women’s Health & Fitness and senior editor at Marie Claire. Close Enough to Touch is her second novel.

From Oakley's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Close Enough to Touch?

A: As a health journalist, I wrote a few articles about the astronomic rise in allergies the past 20 years— and I was fascinated by the fact that experts and researchers, while they have their theories, really have no idea what’s caused it.

As a novelist, I knew there was a lot there to explore, but I, of course, wanted to take it one step further— what if you were allergic to other people? How would that affect someone, emotionally, to not ever be able to be hugged by their mother as a child, or to hold hands with their first love? Could you even fall in love?

Q: You write the book from the alternating viewpoints of your characters Jubilee and Eric. Did you always plan to do that, or did you originally think of telling it from only one perspective?

When I started I was only planning to write it from...[read on]
Visit Colleen Oakley's website.

Writers Read: Colleen Oakley (March 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 22, 2017

Katherine Heiny

Katherine Heiny's new novel is Standard Deviation.

From the transcript of her Q&A with NPR's Scott Simon:

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Audra is an artist who's charming, endearing, spontaneous and effusive. Her husband, Graham, is a buttoned-down businessman and a man of routine. What he cherishes about his second wife is also exactly what sometimes exhausts him. Then, his first wife, Elspeth, re-enters their lives. She is composed, deliberate and organized. Her arrival causes both Audra and Graham to reflect on the spark that grew into their love and if it ever flickers a little in the winds of real life. "Standard Deviation" is the first novel from Katherine Heiny, an acclaimed short-story writer, and she joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

KATHERINE HEINY: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

SIMON: When the novel opens, the couple, Audra and Graham, are shopping an upscale supermarket in New York. They have a happy life, don't they?

HEINY: I think they have a very good life. The novel is kind of about how much they value what they have.

SIMON: Yeah, and each other, for that matter, when all is said and done.

HEINY: Absolutely.

SIMON: They have a son named Matthew who is utterly devoted to origami. And Matthew, their son, melts my heart. But a son like this can be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ed Tarkington

Ed Tarkington is the author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart. From his Q&A with Steph Post:

Steph Post: I'd like to go ahead and start with the coming-of-age theme running through Only Love Can Break Your Heart. At its core, the novel is about Paul, and then his younger half-brother Rocky, coming of age, exploring their identities and learning their places in the world. In this day and age, most novels dealing with these themes are considered YA, but I definitely felt that Only Love Can Break Your Heart was written for adults. Who was your intended audience with the novel and why?

Ed Tarkington: I try not to think too much about audience when I’m writing. I begin with a character and an emotion or conflict and just go from there. Only Love Can Break Your Heart came from a deep-rooted desire to resolve or make sense of some difficult and disillusioning events from my own childhood, so it just seemed natural to tell a story that began in the narrator’s early years and encompassed the ensuing process of growth and reckoning. I think most writers are in search of insight or epiphany regarding the people and events or circumstances that gnaw at them. I still have a fairly romantic view of where writing comes from. The first audience is me. If the text feels true on the page, I figure maybe the people who read the same books I read and love will be moved by the story I’m telling.

Regarding the YA thing: I have to admit, the concept was not something I’d thought about at all until I started traveling to promote Only Love Can Break Your Heart and have met some YA writers and seen them in action at trade shows and festivals and so forth. The YA writers I’ve met are amazing people, and amazingly talented. I know a few novelists who are intentionally writing in that genre and producing incredible work for younger readers. But I know others who, like me and probably you too, just wrote the best book they could about the things they cared deeply about, and then an agent or editor said “we could do well if we pitched this as YA.”

If “Coming of Age” is a YA theme, then The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a YA novel. So is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens's novels include Still Missing, Never Knowing, That Night, and Never Let You Go.

From her Q&A with Heather Gudenkauf:

Heather Gudenkauf: Your sixth novel, NEVER LET YOU GO, was recently released to rave reviews. It’s the story of a woman and her child who escape an abusive relationship and eleven years later the threat returns. I was immediately drawn into the story of Lindsey and Sophie Nash – you have such a gift for developing real, relatable characters. It’s the age old chicken and the egg story – do the characters come to you first or does the plot?

Chevy Stevens: It’s been different for each book. With STILL MISSING, the premise came to me when I was a real estate agent, working all alone at an open house. I imagined all the terrible thingsthat could happen, and somehow it began to evolve into a book idea. For months I thought about it in the back of my mind. One day I “heard” the character talking in a sarcastic, tough voice. She was telling the story to someone and quickly I realized she was talking to a therapist. Annie wasn’t a big stretch of the imagination because she was a lot like me at that time in my life–dark, unhappy, and trying to find her way through her pain. My third book ALWAYS WATCHING was inspired by Nadine, the therapist from my first two books. I thought she deserved her own story and I wanted to know more about her. NEVER LET YOU GO was an unusual situation for me. I had been working on a different book for nine months and it wasn’t coming together. After talking it over with my editor, I decided to set it to the side and start something new, but I was nervous about finding something fresh, something I could connect to. My editor and I discussed my strengths and the kind of characters I write the best, which so far seem to be blue-collar, hard-working women, who end up in terrible situations and have to use their inner strength, courage, and intelligence to survive. We discussed some jobs that are difficult and not always appreciated, like cleaning houses, and what would be really creepy to find if you were working alone. Then I started thinking about...[read on]
Visit the official Chevy Stevens website.

My Book, The Movie: Still Missing.

The Page 69 Test: That Night.

My Book, The Movie: That Night.

The Page 69 Test: Never Let You Go.

Writers Read: Chevy Stevens.

My Book, The Movie: Never Let You Go.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 19, 2017

Daniel Ziblatt

Daniel Ziblatt is the author of Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy. From his Q&A with Matt O'Brien at the Washington Post:

What about the rise of cable news—especially the influence Fox News seems to exert on the Republican Party? There were a lot of uncomfortable parallels for me between that and the story you tell about Germany's big media mogul of the 1920s, Alfred Hugenberg, taking their Conservative Party over and pushing it far to the right.

Absolutely. We tend to think that the media technological revolutions we're living through now are the first ones ever, but similar kinds of revolutions took place in the past. And the guys who were at the forefront of those could deploy them for political purposes. So in Weimar Germany, the equivalent kind of media revolution was the emergence of the news wire. That let Hugenberg create a common message across a bunch of newspapers throughout the country, and integrate this right-wing radical message into one. He owned these, and then also took over the party.

The Republican media-industrial complex is a similar thing. I think it's an indicator of the degree to which the party is weak, that you have these outside forces shaping the message of the party and putting real pressure on it. And, again, I can imagine people saying, “Oh, that's so elitist to say that the party should have control over the message,” and I think in some sense that maybe it is. But I'm just trying to point out that there's a cost to this fragmentation.

What about the other big piece of this puzzle: campaign finance?

Well, as the party has lost its monopoly over money, this means that ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Sandeep Jauhar

Sandeep Jauhar was a Ph.D. student in physics at Berkeley when a girlfriend’s incurable illness made him yearn for a profession where he could affect people’s lives directly. Once situated at a New York teaching hospital, Jauhar wrestled with his decision to go into medicine and discovered a gradual but deepening disillusionment with his induction into the profession. Jauhar’s conception of doctoring and medicine changed during those first eighteen months as he asked all the hard questions about medicine today that laypeople are asking—and reached satisfying and often surprising conclusions about the human side of modern medicine. Today he is a thriving cardiologist and the director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. He writes regularly for the New York Times. He lives with his wife and their son and daughter on Long Island.

Jauhar's 2014 book is Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician.

From the transcript of his 2014 interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross:

GROSS: So because early in your career as a cardiologist you were have trouble making ends meet, you basically tried moonlighting. And you worked for a private practice. And the financial and work arrangement that you had with the head of the practice opened up your eyes to what some of the problems are that doctors in private practice face. So tell us a little bit about the work and financial arrangement that you had there.

JAUHAR: Well, a lot of academic physicians actually do moonlight to supplement their salaries. And I was introduced to a cardiologist who was mainly working in Queens and started working for him both in the hospital by seeing some of his patients in the emergency room for which I was paid a fixed supplement to my salary. And I also worked in his private office as well as satellite offices.

And so I would go on the weekends, see patients, and if the patient's needed cardiac testing, those patients would be referred back to his main office to get stress tests or echocardiograms. And what was made very clear from the beginning is that seeing patients was not financially that rewarding for the practice because seeing a patient, spending 20, 30 minutes with a patient might be reimbursed $80, $90. But sending a patient for a nuclear stress test was much more profitable. A nuclear stress test at the time when I started working was reimbursed roughly $800 to $900 and an electrocardiogram was reimbursed $350 to $400. So the whole point of the practice was to see patients - as many as possible - and order as many tests.

Now I wasn't ordering any of those tests, but I was - I mean, unless the patient really needed it. But I was supervising the stress tests that had been ordered by this physician who I was working with as well as some of his physician assistants. So even though I wasn't ordering the tests, I was in the office while these tests were being performed. And I felt very dirty about it.

GROSS: You felt that a lot of these tests were really unnecessary?

JAUHAR: Well, they were unnecessary. There's no question....[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Sandeep Jauhar's website.

The Page 69 Test: Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation.

The Page 99 Test: Doctored.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Renée Rosen

Renée Rosen's latest novel is Windy City Blues.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about the Chess brothers and the Chicago blues in your new novel?

A: This was definitely a group decision made by my editor, my agent and myself. We all knew that we wanted to do one more Chicago historical novel and we needed a compelling anchor or backdrop.

It was my editor who first said, “What about the blues?” I honestly didn’t know that much about Chicago Blues at the time so I did some preliminary research and it quickly became apparent that any story about the blues had to include the Chess brothers.

I couldn’t have dreamed up better characters than Leonard and Phil Chess. I think what’s so remarkable about their story is that here you have two white Jewish guys, with zero musical abilities of their own, who go on to launch the careers of such icons as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, Chuck Berry and...[read on]
Visit Renée Rosen's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Windy City Blues.

The Page 69 Test: Windy City Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ellen Meeropol

Ellen Meeropol's latest novel is Kinship of Clover. From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always wonder where the idea for a book comes from? What was haunting you?

Actually, a character from my first novel was haunting me. Pestering me, really. Jeremy was nine years old in House Arrest, and at the end of that book he was left in a vulnerable place. The cult he grew up in had fallen apart and his father went to prison. “Don’t you want to know what happened to me?” he kept whispering. I did want to know. That interest sparked the new novel.

All I knew of Jeremy when I started writing was his nine-year-old self. He had a twin brother and they lived with their mom. Jeremy was the sensitive twin, who had loved to hang out in the family greenhouse and draw plants. Eleven years later, in the new novel, his interest has become an obsession with disappearing plant species.

Like Jeremy, I am haunted by the rapid destruction of our planet and the apparent lack of will on the part of the human species to make the change necessary to turn things around. To write this novel, I re-imagined this character as a college Botany major. As I wrote, Jeremy’s beloved endangered and disappeared plants...[read on]
Visit Ellen Meeropol's website.

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

The Page 69 Test: Kinship of Clover.

Writers Read: Ellen Meeropol.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 15, 2017

Miriam Busch

Miriam Busch's new children's picture book Raisin, the Littlest Cow (illustrated by her husband, Larry Day). From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Raisin, the Littlest Cow?

A: Larry came home from work one afternoon with a photograph of a raisin, around which he’d inked a charming adult Holstein – the raisin was the spot on the cow’s back. (He draws advertising storyboards as well as illustrating picture books; this was from an ad campaign.)

“Here’s Raisin,” he said.

Ha. If that spot were truly raisin-sized, I thought, that would be one tiny cow. We had a moment of hilarity as we imagined this tiny cow running across a breakfast table, squirting milk into cereal bowls.

He handed me the art. “There’s a story here,” he said.


“Absolutely not,” I said. I probably backed away. (Let me just say: I was ear-deep in several manuscript revisions, but even if I weren’t busy, anyone – even my husband - suggesting story ideas sends me running for the hills. Screaming.)

I try to write every morning just to warm up – I usually just ramble around for a few pages before I get to work on my manuscripts. And in my rambling that morning, I wandered back to Raisin.

I found myself asking “what-ifs”: what if Raisin was a calf? What would she want? What if what she wanted was connected to her size? I was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Scaachi Koul

Scaachi Koul's new book of essays is One Day We'll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter. From the transcript of her Q&A with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

SCAACHI KOUL: It starts with death, as all good things should. I promise this book has a lot more lighthearted (laughter) than I'm presenting it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it is a funny book about sex and money and race and class. It's called "One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter." Koul's understanding of race was shaped by her life in Canada but also by her trip to India where she felt privileged, whiter somehow.

KOUL: You know, being in North America, I have a very specific understanding of how my race affects me as I move through the world. I am a visibly brown person, and that can sometimes not work in my favor. And then when I went to India, I realized that I had this very specific kind of fair skin privilege. And it was such a strange split. It felt like I was kind of being pulled into two pieces. And how can these two things be true at the same time but just in different places?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did it show you about attitudes towards whiteness in North America?

KOUL: I think whiteness is adored everywhere. I mean, it doesn't matter where you go. It's just about having a sliding scale. So for example, because, you know, I'm darker skinned, in Canada, I am treated sometimes with a lot of derision. There's a lot of anxiety about me when I take flights, for example (laughter). When I went to India, it was sort of interesting to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Susan Coll

Susan Coll is the author of the novels The Stager, Beach Week, Acceptance, Rockville Pike, and

Her work has appeared in the Washington Post,, and a variety of other publications including The Asian Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune. Acceptance was made into a television movie starring the hilarious Joan Cusack.

From Coll's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you choose a home stager as one of your main characters in The Stager?

A: I’ve long been obsessed with trying to capture the way we live in contemporary suburbia, and the idea of home staging seemed especially rich with metaphor. The Stager’s goal is to create illusions about the way we live---or more accurately perhaps, the way we want to envision ourselves living.

I also love the symbolism of neat exteriors masking messy interior lives. Essentially a stranger comes into the home to strip it of personality, to symbolically declare that the house is no longer the emotional property of the homeowner.

Add to this already volatile emotional situation the fact that the Stager is presumably a complete stranger who has access to the very private realm that is one’s home.

When I had my own home staged at the behest of a Realtor, my admittedly dark imagination began to churn: what if the Stager was not a stranger? What if she had her own agenda? What if she was a person with no boundaries? What if she was...[read on]
Visit Susan Coll's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Susan Coll & Zoe.

The Page 69 Test: The Stager.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 12, 2017

Carol Graham

Carol Graham is the author of Happiness around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires and the newly released Happiness for All?: Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream. From her Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

What are your key findings for the land of the American Dream?

CG: Most markers of well and ill-being, ranging from life satisfaction to stress, are more unequally shared across the rich and the poor in the U.S. than they are in Latin America, a region long known for high levels of inequality. The most remarkable finding is that the belief that hard work can get you ahead in the future – a classic American dream question – is the most unequally shared metric. The poor in Latin America are almost four times as likely to believe that hard work will get them ahead than are the poor in the U.S. In contrast, the rich in the U.S. are more likely to believe that hard work will get them ahead than the rich in Latin America. Meanwhile, stress, a marker of ill-being, is significantly higher among the poor in the U.S. than the poor in Latin America. The stress which is typically experienced by the poor is related to constant negative shocks which are beyond individuals’ control. This kind of stress makes it hard to plan ahead, much less invest in the future, and is distinct from stress that is associated with goal achievement – which is more common among those with more means and control over their lives. These findings highlight very different incentives – and capabilities – for making investments in the future across the rich and the poor in the U.S.

Were there any other surprises?

CG: The most surprising of the findings were large gaps in optimism across racial cohorts, which did not run in the expected direction. In the fall of 2015 – about the same time as the riots against police violence against blacks in cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore – I found that the most optimistic group among the poor were...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Happiness Around the World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Claire LaZebnik

Claire LaZebnik's new young adult novel is Things I Should Have Known. The main character is a teenage girl with a sister on the autism spectrum.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: You've discussed your own experiences as a mother of a son on the autism spectrum. How much did your experiences influence your decision to write your new novel?

A: I have children who are outside the recognized norm in all sorts of ways—in addition to a son on the spectrum, I have a son who’s gay and a daughter who has a rare autoimmune disease and another son who’s uninterested in sports (and if you think that doesn’t count as being outside the norm, you haven’t hung out with a lot of teenage boys lately!).

All of this feeds into my quest to see more diversity in books, movies, and television, and much more acceptance of diversity in our society.

Since I have the luxury of being a novelist, I make it a goal in every book I write to include characters who, in some way, don’t conform to society’s expectations and who are wonderful, interesting, positive people. My first goal as a writer is to...[read on]
Visit Claire LaZebnik's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

David W. Blight

David W. Blight is professor of American history and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale, and author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. From his Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at Slate about the controversy and the debate over how Americans should think about the Confederacy and its leaders:

Are you still constantly amazed at the speed with which Confederates, especially Robert E. Lee, became heroes after the war throughout the entire country?

It took some time before Northerners of any scale warmed up to Lee, but it did happen by the turn of the 20th century. It happened in part because the Confederacy was allowed to craft its own legacy, to build its own memorials, to create its own story, and historical memory is always about the politics of who gets to control the story.

Lee is gone in 1870. He didn’t write a memoir like Jefferson Davis, who wrote this long, turgid, 1,200-page defense of slavery and states’ rights. Lee doesn’t do that. And he was portrayed as this Christian solider-hero who fought for his home. Some of that is nonsense. Lee was a Confederate nationalist who fought for its cause and knew the cause. But in the popular memory, he became the military figure who was overwhelmed by, as he put it himself, superior numbers and forces. And fought to the bitter end as a good Christian. There was something attractive about that in the 19th and early 20th centuries because they saw Lee as one figure among many whose image could begin to reconcile the country. And his image became as much the man who became a college president for a couple of years as it did the aggressive Confederate nationalist who fought to the bitter end to destroy the United States. Nobody puts that on a Lee monument....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Kathleen Barber

Kathleen Barber is the author of the forthcoming novel, Are You Sleeping. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your character Josie, and why did you decide to make her a twin?

A: This probably sounds weird, but Josie and her twin sister Lanie predated Are You Sleeping by probably a decade. I was really interested in the idea of a pair of twins who think they know everything about each other, but then something happens that completely changes their world—and they have completely opposite reactions to it.

Both girls think that their reaction is the correct one and it rips this huge hole in their previously indestructible relationship: Josie can’t understand why Lanie rebels the way she does, and Lanie can’t understand why Josie doesn’t rebel.

Over the years, I had written out a couple different scenarios for them along these basic lines, but nothing really seemed right until...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 8, 2017

Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson's latest novel is Goodnight from London.

From her Q&A with M. K. Tod:

Are historical novels inherently different from contemporary novels, and if so, in what ways?

Many years ago I asked this exact question of Margaret Atwood, and I was surprised when she insisted that fiction was simply fiction – she didn’t like adding the term “historical” to it. I have to (respectfully) disagree, if only because the recent past and the distant past are such different animals in terms of research and the author’s imagination. Yes, technically, the 1990s belong to the past, but I experienced them directly and have clear memories of the decade; it isn’t terribly hard for me to establish a believable setting for a book set in 1992, for instance. It’s also the case that there are plenty of living witnesses to interview, and with their contributions I can enrich the narrative I’m creating.

But as soon as you go back a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand years, you are on your own. You can’t ask any questions – you can only read the answers that people have left behind. Resources dwindle, and you’re at the mercy of your own preconceptions and assumptions about how people thought and spoke, what they believed, how they looked, and even what they found funny or moving.

I know I make mistakes in my books, and I know they present an incomplete picture, at best, of the past. But the point is...[read on]
Visit Jennifer Robson's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer Robson & Ellie.

My Book, The Movie: After the War Is Over.

The Page 69 Test: After the War Is Over.

Writers Read: Jennifer Robson.

My Book, The Movie: Moonlight Over Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron's latest novel is The Last Neanderthal.

From her Reading Group Choices Q&A:

RGC: How did you decide what to include that was based on research vs. what was based on creativity and imagination? Now that you are done writing, can you tell the difference – where you see the research-driven portions and where you added imaginative information? It’s interesting to read it and not know what might be based on truth and what might not, and more often than not we just accepted it all as truth and then had to remind ourselves that it’s fiction so it might not be.

CC: I did about five years of research and I know every little crack that shows between creativity and imagination, but I love to hear that it’s disguised for you. That was what I tried to do.

I used the research like a set of creative constraints to write the story within. So when I found compelling evidence, it became a rule. One example: Neanderthals had hyoid bones. This is a small U-shaped bone in our neck that anchors the tongue and allows for our nuanced speech. They also had the FOXP2 gene, which in modern humans helps to enable communication and speech. Those are things we know.

Then I moved on to informed speculation by experts. Another example: A vocal expert speculated that the Neanderthal larynx, or voice box, might have been shorter and squatter than ours, which might make their voice come at a higher pitch. She also speculated that they probably had to force out words, so their sounds were probably loud, louder, and loudest.

Taking all this kind of research together, I came up with my theories about how Neanderthals talked and their cultural attitudes towards conversation. But, when I build them into the story my theories become firmly in the realm of the imagination, as they should be.

The sound of a voice doesn’t fossilize. Scientists can’t hear a word that was spoken 40,000 years ago. A novelist is...[read on]
Visit Claire Cameron's website and Facebook page.

See Cameron's five notable stories about unlikely survivors.

My Book, The Movie: The Line Painter.

Writers Read: Claire Cameron (February 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ryan Lobo

Ryan Lobo is the author of the novel Mr. Iyer Goes to War. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for a Don Quixote story set in in modern-day India?

A: I spent some time on the Ganges making documentaries for various clients including one some years ago at the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which tens of millions of Hindus gather to bathe in the Ganges.

I recall watching a very old couple slowly and painstakingly negotiate their way through the crowds towards the river. Later, when I spoke with them, they told me that they knew this was the last time they were going to the Kumbh, an event their ancestors had taken part in for centuries.

It was astonishing, the noisy and chaotic spectacle of the Kumbh, but I felt there was something more special about that old man and his wife walking down to the river in absolute silence themselves.

In India, particularities long suppressed due to poverty or colonial rule have begun to flow again with an increase in the living standard.

Regardless of what the land has been through something had survived through the ages that compelled that couple to travel great distances on foot and on trains to bathe at that river.

In these times when globalism seems to be swinging in the direction of local, I felt a need to tell the story of the "native" who believed that his culture, environment and faith was under attack but who was making a stand, no matter the odds.

The idea of a conservative iconoclast came to mind, a character who...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 5, 2017

Jason Zinoman

Jason Zinoman is the author of Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night. From his Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at Slate:

How do you think Letterman would be handling Trump if he were on air?

That’s a good question, and I actually think that while a lot of Letterman fans like to think that he would have the most trenchant stuff on Trump and go after Trump the way others wouldn’t, I am actually skeptical of that. I don’t think it’s in his comedic DNA to do exactly what Bee and Oliver do so well. I think he was a different kind of performer. Letterman has a long, long history with Donald Trump, which spans from 1985 until the end. In some ways Donald Trump was introduced to the mainstream on television through appearances on Letterman’s show. I am inching towards doing the most Slate thing possible, which is to defend Jimmy Fallon, but you could make an argument that Letterman’s shows normalized Trump as much if not more than Fallon.

But Trump wasn’t a racist lunatic in the 1980s, or people didn’t know he was, right?

Well, I don’t know. The Central Park Five happened a long time ago.

That’s a good point.

Letterman called Trump a racist on-air and then had him back on the show, several times.

When was this?

When the birther thing happened.

Let’s put it this way:...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mary Losure

Mary Losure's new book for older kids is Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal'd. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this book for younger readers about Isaac Newton?

A: It began when I discovered that as a boy, Isaac Newton had lived all by himself in the attic of an apothecary’s shop and kept a tiny, secret notebook. I also knew he’d grown up to be an alchemist—a kind of sorcerer.

I hoped kids would be interested in a book that was not about the bewigged-old- guy- on- a- pedestal many people picture when they hear the name Isaac Newton, but about a lonely, angry boy who somehow grows up to be the world’s greatest alchemist.

Q: How did you research the book, and what particularly surprised you in the course of your research?

A: I built the story around three main sources: one was the secret notebook, which is now in the Morgan Library in New York City. (It’s also on-line at a fabulous site called The Newton Project.)

The other two sources were books we know Newton read as a child—he copied bits and pieces of them into the notebook. They’re called The Mysteries of Nature and Art, and Mathematicall Magick. Together, the notebook and those two mysterious books offered a window into Newton’s childhood.

When I went to England, I was surprised to see...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 3, 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 transcript of an exchange he had with Fareed Zakaria during an April 2016 group discussion:

ZAKARIA: Tim Snyder, you wrote a book where you worried about Trump implicitly as being somebody who was almost a threat to American democracy, not just the issue of changes in policy here or there. What have you learned in these 100 days?

TIM SNYDER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY: I've seen that a number of his challenges to American institutions seem to be rather close to core beliefs. He talks about the Judiciary as president much the same way as he talked about it as a candidate, scornfully. He talks about the free press much the same way now as president as he talked about it as a candidate, with contempt.

So we're looking at a situation where someone who we have no particularly good reason to believe cares about American institutions is in charge of American institutions.

So when I contemplate the first 100 days, I think less about legislation. In a way that's both too much and too little to expect from this team. I think more about the way in which this person has not adjusted himself to what we thought were the basic norms of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Katherine Heiny

Katherine Heiny's new novel is Standard Deviation.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Standard Deviation, and for your characters Audra and Graham?

A: A​ long time ago—seriously, like 20 years ago—a friend of mine went to a wedding where she knew nothing about the bride other than the fact that bride gets very wet during sex.

Much later, I began writing about that wedding, or how I imagined that wedding​, and I developed a character who has no filter, who would not only know such a detail but have no problem revealing it. And then I wondered what it would be like to be married to such a person. The rest of the novel grew from that idea.

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The book’s protagonist, Graham, is very scientifically-minded yet he’s married to a woman who is almost totally ruled by impulse and emotion. “Standard Deviation” has always seemed like an oxymoron to me, and it seemed to describe their marriage...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 1, 2017

Bryn Chancellor

Bryn Chancellor's new novel is Sycamore.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think that writers are haunted to write the book they need to write. Was it this way for you?

Oh, haunted—that’s a lovely way to capture the sense of urgency to write, and yes, that was true for this one. This makes me think of what Joan Didion says in “Why I Write” about the pictures in her mind, the “images that shimmer around the edges.” I know I’m in the clutches of new work when those ghostly shimmers arrive. I wake with them behind my eyes. In the case of Sycamore, it took me awhile to pay attention to them because I had been wrestling with a different novel (one that’s in a drawer now). In my frustration, I started writing what I thought were stories. I wanted to go back to the short form; I missed it for the precision, the intense focus, the unity of effect. I also wanted to just finish something. Then Jess kept popping up, and I was like, Ah, hell, this is a novel! I finally stopped worrying about what it was or would be and let myself be seized by what had been hovering at my door: this place (based on my hometown region in Arizona), these wounded characters, this mystery. I got down the first mess of a draft in one month—and I never write that fast. Partly it was that I was at a...[read on]
Visit Bryn Chancellor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue