Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A. James McAdams

A. James McAdams is the William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs and director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His many books include Judging the Past in Unified Germany and Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification.

His latest book is Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party. From the author's Q&A with Debra Liese at the Princeton University Press blog:

What led you to write a book about the communist party?

My initial motivation was that I couldn’t find any systematic political histories of the party. I felt that scholars and other interested readers would benefit from a broad comparative study that accounted for both this institution’s tremendous staying-power over the past century and then its swift collapse by the early 1990s. The communist party was more than a fleeting political organization. It was the principal rival to the other, prevailing form of party rule in modern times—liberal democracy. During the past century, over a billion and a half people were ruled by communist parties, roughly 38 percent of the world’s population.

I was also motivated by a factor that was missing in my discipline. Political scientists have written an impressive number of books on party behavior in both developing and advanced democracies. But they have generally neglected the communist party. This may be due to the assumption that that all communist parties have adhered to a stereotyped definition of “Leninism,” i.e., an organization characterized by dictatorial practices, rigid hierarchies, and rampant brutality. Yet, as I show in my book, the communist party took multiple forms over its long history, just like liberal-democratic parties did in the West. Although all communist parties had certain features in common—especially the conviction that the progressive march of history was on their side—they also...[read on]
Learn more about Vanguard of the Revolution at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Vanguard of the Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 30, 2017

Diana Harmon Asher

Diana Harmon Asher is the author of Sidetracked, a new novel for kids.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

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

A: My first inspiration for Sidetracked was my oldest son’s experience with cross country. He was in the resource room, and, as he’ll be the first to admit, not a gifted athlete. He joined the cross-country team in seventh grade, and he’s now a marathoner and running coach.

I really wanted to portray the world as Joseph saw and felt it, including the confusions and self-doubt. As I started writing, Joseph developed a unique personality, with his own peculiarities and strengths.

When Heather and Grandpa entered the storyline, I realized that a theme common to all of them was the way expectations weigh us down, and I tried to write a story that showed each of them trying to reconcile who they are with what they are expected to be.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: That’s a really interesting question. I’ll try to answer without giving away the ending! I knew that I wanted Joseph to grow, and to have a victory, but in a realistic way. I didn’t want him to join the team and suddenly discover a hidden talent that makes him “okay.”

But I also didn’t want to give him...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is the co-author of The Trainable Cat. From the transcript of her 2016 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: [A]s you point out, you can't train cats the same way that you train dogs. I mean, it's similar but different because cats respond to different things and they have different sensory ways of intaking information. One of the things you point out is that dogs are creatures of habit, cats are creatures of place. What does that mean?

ELLIS: OK, so yeah, I think the fundamental difference between dogs and cats and how it influences the way that they perceive training is that dogs are innately very, very sociable. They have evolved from a social animal, the wolf, and they are incredibly sociable not just to their own species but to humans. The cat, however, has evolved from a solitary ancestor, the North African wildcat, and that process of domestication has also been much, much shorter, if you like. And therefore, the cat hasn't had the chance to develop these social tendencies that the dog already has.

So because of that, the cat's a little bit more on the back foot or the back paw, if you like. They're less likely to understand our - the cues that we may give, for example, things like pointing. They're less likely to naturally attune to us. So they're much less likely to look at our faces, to be able to read our expressions.

GROSS: When you say cats are creatures of place, not of habit, what do you mean by that?

ELLIS: OK, so going back to this idea that dogs are really sociable and cats less so - because of that, the primary attachment for a dog is generally its owner. By an attachment bond, think of, like, a mother and their child. It's that bond being around - a child to be around its mother and creates a feeling of safety and security. And when you go to a new place as a child, as long as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ilana Kurshan

Ilana Kurshan's new memoir is If All the Seas Were Ink.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and what do you hope people take away from it?

A: I never set out to write a memoir about the Talmud. When I began learning I was in the throes of a painful divorce. I was living in Jerusalem, thousands of miles from my family and closest friends, and I was awfully depressed. I felt like time stretched ahead of me inexorably, and all I had to look forward to was the prospect of growing older with every passing day.

I had a friend I used to jog with, and one morning, on one of our runs, she mentioned that she had started studying daf yomi, Hebrew for “daily page,” an international program to complete the entire Talmud in seven and a half years at the rate of one page a day.

Immediately something lit up inside me. I thought about how if every day I learned another page of Talmud, then with each passing day, I would not be just one day older, but one day wiser. I thought about how moving on is about putting one foot in front of the other, or turning page after page. And I told myself that if every day I turned a page, then eventually a new chapter would have to begin.

And so for a runner like me, daf yomi was like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 27, 2017

Jardine Libaire

Jardine Libaire is a graduate of Skidmore College and the University of Michigan MFA program. White Fur is her second novel. She lives in Austin, Texas.

From Libaire's Q&A with Kristina Perkins at Midwestern Gothic:

KP: White Fur embraces the gritty, the raw, and the heavy, discussing themes such as drug use, mental disorder, racism, and poverty. When conceiving your plot and characters, how do you find balance—in the form of hope, love, or growth—within this heaviness?

JL: There were times when I was writing White Fur when the balance was off, it was too negative, and I have to admit, it felt grim, icky, to be involved. It became a process not unlike some sort of self-care to recognize that this imbalance was happening, and, as in life, to seek out the positive. And that rhythm of ups and downs is woven into the book itself because of that process.

In life, I’m often overwhelmed or enchanted by the darkness and the ugly parts, and just as overwhelmed and enchanted by the beauty and the joy and the eccentricities too. So I kept calibrating the book to some internal register of what felt like a correct ratio. White Fur is a little bit noir, so it does lean slightly more to the...[read on]
Visit Jardine Libaire's website.

Writers Read: Jardine Libaire.

The Page 69 Test: White Fur.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Jake Burt

Jake Burt's new novel for kids is Greetings from Witness Protection!.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Greetings from Witness Protection! and for your main character, Nicki?

A: As a teacher, one of the most onerous parts of my job is proctoring standardized tests. It's basically cycling around my classroom for predetermined chunks of time, telling kids, "Sorry, I'm not allowed to answer that," every so often.

In one particularly boring stretch (I think it was during the quantitative reasoning section), I started thinking about the phrase, "high stakes testing." I asked myself, "For whom might this test have the highest stakes?"

From there, I jumped to a kid in witness protection - she endangers her family if she fails, and she endangers her family if she succeeds spectacularly.

Once I started letting that idea roll around in my head, Nicki (the novel's protagonist) just sort of ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi's new book is I Can’t Breathe.

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

GROSS: So you've just written this new book about Eric Garner's life and how he died at the hands of police. You've also covered white-collar crime that has happened on Wall Street, financial crimes. Are you struck by the differences in how the white-collar financial crimes and selling smuggled cigarettes on the street are dealt with?

TAIBBI: Absolutely. Yeah, no, I think that's a preoccupation of mine. That's how I came to the story in the first place is because years and years ago - I think it was 2010, 2011 - the few of us who in the media who were covering the fallout of the financial crisis from a criminal perspective who were waiting for indictments to be handed down for things like subprime mortgage fraud or money laundering or bribery or any of the many things that went on before 2008 that led to the crash, when we started to notice that nobody was getting indicted, there became a preoccupation - at least on my behalf - of trying to understand why that was. Why weren't we bringing cases against these rich and powerful people?
And the flip side of that question is, well, if we're not - if we're not bringing cases against these people, who are we sending to jail? You know, why - if we have two and a half million people in the prison system in America and none of them are the people who are responsible for this mess, who are these people? And why - and how easy is it for somebody to get to jail? So that led me to write a book called "The Divide." And that's how I learned a lot about community policing, and that's how I got interested in the Garner case I think to begin with. So yes, absolutely.

I mean, that's one of the ironies of the Garner case is that you would never see a law enforcement officer actually put his hands on an offender in the white-collar crime arena, even someone who was guilty of the worst kinds of offenses. But in Garner's case, where he hadn't actually even done anything that day, they had no compunction about jumping on top of him, putting him in a chokehold. So the dichotomy is really stark. And it's much more important - it makes it much worse than it would be in a vacuum, you know? If you compare it to how people are treated...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee's new novel is Never Coming Back.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to return to your characters Clara and Tamar in your new novel, Never Coming Back?

A: I wanted to return to Clara and her mother Tamar long ago, but every time I tried, they were a closed book (didn’t intend that pun but I’ll let it stand).

I kept wondering what they were up to. Had Tamar found any ease in her life? Had Clara become a writer? Had she gone to college? Had she left Sterns? When I last saw Clara, at the end of my previous novel Shadow Baby, she was 12 years old and just beginning to figure out her path in life.

When I began feeling my way into Never Coming Back–and that’s what writing a book is like for me, because I don’t know what they’re going to be about when I begin—all I knew was that it was about the relationship between a parent (I didn’t know if it was a father or mother) and their adult child.

Then, a few months in, the startling image of a young woman appeared in my mind. She was dangling a carton of orange juice from her fingertips and confronting a thin, frowning middle-aged woman. The image was clear and precise, and when it came to me I knew two things: that ...[read on]
Visit Alison McGhee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 23, 2017

Helen Benedict

Helen Benedict's new novel is Wolf Season.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I loved Wolf Season and I always want to know what the "why now" moment was, the springboard that made you feel you just had to sit down and write this book.

My short answer to what inspired me to write Wolf Season would be an interview and a hurricane.

The interview happened while I was researching my nonfiction book, The Lonely Soldier, and talked to a veteran of the Iraq War who lived in the woods with several wolves and her child. I never met her, only spoke to her on the phone, but her life sparked my imagination. Out of that grew the opening line and the voice that was to become Rin.

The hurricane happened while I was in my house in upstate New York, forcing me and my husband to hide in one room for a day and a night while nature went haywire. That was Irene, the one that destroyed upstate towns while leaving New York City virtually untouched.

But I also knew I wanted to bring the war home after my previous novel, Sand Queen, which was set in Iraq – that is, I hoped to explore how war affects not only those in the midst of it, but those who love them. Somehow, the hurricane, the wolves, the woman and the war...[read on]
Learn more about Helen Benedict and her work at her official website.

Writers Read: Helen Benedict (July 2009).

My Book, The Movie: Sand Queen.

Writers Read: Helen Benedict (September 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Sand Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Elizabeth L. Silver

Elizabeth L. Silver's latest book is The Tincture of Time: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "The Tincture of Time is a mantra for anything that poses the proverbial question, 'What if?'" How did you end up choosing that as the book's title, and what else does it signify for you?

A: The title came from a conversation I had with my husband while we were in the NICCU with our daughter. A physician himself, he mentioned that he sometimes writes, “the tincture of time” at the bottom of some patient notes. I stared at him in shock. Sometimes time is the only cure, the only medicine or treatment to a medical ailment, he continued.

We had a long conversation about this topic. It’s not the cliché that time will heal all wounds, because it may for some and may not for others, but rather time as the only answer for your questions. I realized how specifically that applied to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth L. Silver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

My Book, The Movie: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Writers Read: Elizabeth L. Silver (July 2013) .

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Kate Winkler Dawson

Kate Winkler Dawson is the author of Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City.

From a Q&A at her website:

Q: How did you discover these two relatively unknown stories? What first caught your attention and why did you decide to braid them into one narrative?

A: During my senior year of college, I studied in London while working at United Press International, and I fell in love with the city. I feel so comfortable there. When I was searching for compelling stories for my debut book, I discovered the story of The Great Smog was immediately intrigued. The smog was a story that no one had written about—it is one of the most forgotten environmental disasters in history—which made it all the more alluring. I knew I had to write about.

As I was delving into the research, I began digging through newspaper archives for 1953. (The fog happened in December of 1952, but the debates in Parliament began in January 1953) As I searched through the headlines looking for smog news, I began to see headlines like “Murder House” or “Third Body Found.” They were, of course, in reference to John Reginald Christie, one of the most infamous serial killers in history. I began exploring John Reginald Christie’s story and realized that Christie and the fog were two killers with many parallels. The fog ultimately killed 12,000 people and Christie claimed at least eight victims of his own – many by asphyxiation. Individually, each story is fascinating, atmospheric, and creepy—together, they are a writer’s dream.

Beyond this, I also became interested what happened after the...[read on]
Visit Kate Winkler Dawson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 20, 2017

Sara Taylor

Sara Taylor's new novel is The Lauras.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Lauras, and for your characters Alex and Ma?

A: The Lauras was originally going to be a short story that begins with a small child being kidnapped from their parents’ house. I had planned for it to be slowly revealed that the kidnapper was a relative who had taken the child for very good reasons, but before I could get there it became clear that the narrator I was writing was much older than the four or five-year-old I had envisioned.

I liked that voice too much to throw it away, and I recognised the situation that Alex was in, of not wanting to question the parent in charge not because you think they know what they’re doing but because you’re worried they don’t, as one that I’ve been wanting to explore in fiction, so I went with it. Both of their characters then...[read on]
Visit Sara Taylor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman in US history to become the presidential nominee of a major political party. She served as the 67th Secretary of State—from January 21, 2009, until February 1, 2013—after nearly four decades in public service advocating on behalf of children and families as an attorney, First Lady, and Senator. Her new book is What Happened.

From the transcript of Clinton's conversation with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: What should Democrats do to try to deal with the reality that there is this cultural anxiety? Is there -- you know, is there any way to connect with it without succumbing to prejudice?

CLINTON: Well, I have said, and I really believe this that I'm not going to give up on the progress of the last 50 to 60 years in our country. We are a fairer, better nation because we have the Civil Rights Act. Because women's rights were recognized and we both knocked down discrimination and created more doors of opportunity, that we are treating gay people with respect and giving them their equal rights as citizens.

That, you know, when you look at freedom of religion, something that was so critical to our constitution why are we scapegoating Muslims? You know? People who are here in our country making contributions. So my view on this is it's a terrible mistake for Democrats or anybody to walk away from these core values and rights.

We have to stand up for them and we have to do a better job, number one, of explaining to people, you are being snookered. But you know what? The real threat to your future is a government that doesn't care about you and is taking actions that will make your life even harder and is favoring the wealthy beyond anything we've ever, ever seen before.

ZAKARIA: But doesn't it distrust you then that you watch here, you make up that argument, that very cogent argument, and he plays with the NFL controversy?

CLINTON: Yes. Yes.

ZAKARIA: Which is purely symbolic.


ZAKARIA: And it's clearly an attempt to, again --

CLINTON: But look...[read on]
Follow Hillary Clinton on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Abby Stern

Abby Stern is the author of the new novel According to a Source.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for According to a Source, and for your character Ella? Did your own experiences working in Hollywood factor into the story at all?

A: When I first started freelancing for a celebrity magazine and would tell friends both in and out of LA what I did, they were intrigued and asked me a million questions. They couldn't believe I got to go to parties and red carpets to interview celebrities and would sometimes get to hang out after.

As I became more immersed in that side of the industry I got to know other people who did different things at magazines and in my gut I felt like there was a really fun story to tell. I was a huge fan of The Devil Wears Prada and thought the same kind of narrative could work for a Holllywood story so I sat down and started writing.

There is definitely some of me in Ella, good and bad. It's more of the younger version of me. People don't approach decisions they make in life ever intentionally trying to do the wrong thing, but they do. And people aren't always likeable. I wanted to make sure Ella was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Jonathan Eig

Ken Burns calls Jonathan Eig a "master storyteller." Eig is the author of five books, two of them New York Times best sellers.

His new biography is Ali: A Life.

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

DAVIES: You know, you're right that in 1965, he was probably the most hated man in America or at least in white America. And then by the '70s, it all began to change. Why?

EIG: It's fascinating to see this happen. And you know, we forget sometimes that Ali was so deeply hated because the Ali of the '70s is very different. When he comes back from his exile, first of all, the war is wildly unpopular. And the - so the - when he began his protest, there was still a, you know, very strong support for the war in Vietnam. But by 1971, people can say, wow, Ali was right; that war has been a disaster. No wonder he didn't want to fight over there.

He also has suffered. He's given up three and a half years of his career and millions of dollars. And then he comes back to the ring. And he fights Joe Frazier, and he gets whooped. I mean, Frazier knocks him on his butt with his vicious left hook. Ali gets up. He keeps fighting. This is one of the greatest and most vicious fights in boxing history. And Ali loses, but he stays on his feet. He survives this thing.

And I think then you begin to see him as a martyr, as a hero, as somebody who gets knocked down and keeps coming back. And he's got to start earning his way back toward another shot at the heavyweight championship. And this is when you begin to see the public attitude changing. There's a - you can't deny...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Eig's website.

The Page 99 Test: Get Capone.

The Page 99 Test: The Birth of the Pill.

My Book, The Movie: Ali: A Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 16, 2017

Edward Kelsey Moore

Edward Kelsey Moore's newest novel is The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Did you know when you wrote the first Supremes book that you'd be writing another one?

A: I knew that there was more to the story of the three main characters of The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat when I finished it and I hoped to return to them.

After my first novel was published, I began working on another, not-Supremes-related novel. But ideas for what became The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues kept interrupting my work on that book. I decided to write the book that wanted to be written.

Q: How do you think your characters changed from the first book to the second?

A: During the five years since the end of the first novel and the start of the second, the main characters have adapted to the altered lives they were left with after the events of the first book.

Odette is the survivor of a serious illness now and she has fully accepted the strange inheritance she received from her mother. Clarice has the career she had always dreamed of. Barbara Jean is with the love of her life.

However, in the second book, they are forced to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis's latest novel is The Address.

From her Q&A with Jennifer Vido at MomTrends:

What inspired you to write The Address, set in the Dakota in New York City?

I love the history of old buildings. I always begin with an architectural landmark when I’m figuring out a new book. Back in the Gilded Age, the Upper West Side of New York was largely undeveloped. The owner and architect for the Dakota took a huge risk in putting up a luxury apartment house that far away from the city proper. I did some research and discovered that the Dakota has a rich history – from the time it was built in the 1880s up to today – full of tragedy, intrigue, and drama. It made for a perfect setting for a work of historical fiction with two timelines.

Let’s talk about the alternating time periods of the story. How much research was necessary in order for the novel to ring true with your readers?

For the story line set in 1884, I read novels and newspapers from the period, as well as books and articles on the Dakota and New York City. I toured the building and got an inside look, from the basement to the top floors where the servants used to sleep. The second timeline, set in the 1980s...[read on]
Visit Fiona Davis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Address.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Elizabeth Rosner

Elizabeth Rosner's newest book is Survivor Cafe: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her other books include the novels Electric City and The Speed of Light.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You begin your new book with what you term “The Alphabet of Inadequate Language.” How did this idea come to you, and why did you start the book this way?

A: One day it just came pouring out of me. Language is something I think about all the time. There’s a chapter called The S-Word, about the problematic issues I have with the word “survivor.” I’m aware of how much we pack into a single word.

The language associated with the Holocaust feels so meager to me, and how we got so casual about it…loaded bombs should be going off every time we say these words. It just became part of the conversation. I started listing words alphabetically that had that kind of condensed power…

It was a compendium of everything I really wanted to cover in the book. I kept wanting to go back and do more, but by putting it at the beginning, it creates a hovering effect, a ghostly umbrella of words introducing you to the scope of the conversation—you’re joining a big conversation, and...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Rosner's website.

The Page 69 Test: Electric City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 13, 2017

Michael Poore

Michael Poore’s short fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Southern Review, Agni, Fiction, and Asimov’s. His story “The Street of the House of the Sun” was selected for The Year’s Best Nonrequired Reading 2012. His first novel, Up Jumps the Devil, was hailed by The New York Review of Books as “an elegiac masterpiece.” Poore lives in Highland, Indiana, with his wife, poet and activist Janine Harrison, and their daughter, Jianna.

Poore's new novel is Reincarnation Blues.

From his Q&A with Bryan Furuness:

This book's got a big hook: Your main character Milo has lived 9,995 lives, and has five more chances to "get it right," or he falls into oblivion. Tell me the origin story of this idea.

This idea came from Arizona.

At Christmastime in 2001, I had this magical visit with my dad and stepmom in Tucson. It seemed that everything we did, everywhere we went presented me with the seed for a story. One of those stories fell into my lap when we drove up to see my stepbrother, Steve, in Phoenix. Steve was--and is--a nationally-ranked bicycle racer, an incredible athlete. He rides up mountains, for Chrissake. He also makes handcrafted prosthetics for people, and he showed us around his shop and office, talking in a general way about his patients. Many of the people he worked with were Native Americans of the Tohono O'odom nation, whom he admired.

Well, this visit instantly flashed into an idea...I remember taking notes all the way home, and it turned into a story titled "Chief Next Lightning's Phantom Hand" (StoryQuarterly #39). The story featured an elderly Tohono O'odham chief who visited a prosthetic specialist (and racer). No matter what anyone did, though, the chief was nearing the end of his life. In fact, his death--which looked exactly like him--was approaching across the Southwest as the story progressed. Sometimes hitchhiking, sometimes catching a bus. Eventually, death caught up with the chief at the picnic table outside his trailer, and they smoked a cigarette together.
That's Part One of the idea.

Part Two took place in Arizona as well, eleven years later. I was on vacation with...[read on]
Visit Michael Poore's website.

My Book, The Movie: Reincarnation Blues.

The Page 69 Test: Reincarnation Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran's latest novel is Lucky Boy.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said that the inspiration for Lucky Boy came from a story you heard on NPR. How did you come up with your characters Soli and Kavya?

A: Soli was the first character I started writing, and it took me a long time to find my way with her. She started out much older than she is now—in her mid-20s, rather than 18—but there’s a naivete to her that felt better situated in an 18-year-old.

I started out by putting her through the motions of plot, while grasping to understand her character, and I struggled with this for a while.

Then I found a way to get to Mexico for a couple weeks, and stayed in a little town outside of Oaxaca. Once I did that, and could physically experience the sort of town that Soli might be from, I began to feel her character more strongly and write her more confidently.

Kavya was an easier character to write, at the outset. Her life isn’t very different from mine. The challenge with her lay in...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Shanthi Sekaran's website.

Writers Read: Shanthi Sekaran (June 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ed Lin

Ed Lin's latest book is Incensed. From his Q&A with Evelyn Nien-Ming Chien for Hyphen magazine:

Evelyn Ch’ien: Taiwan is the setting for Ghost Month and your Taipei Night Market series. Could you talk about your exposure to Taiwan?

Ed Lin: My formal understanding of Taiwan came through my parents and then extensive research. Martial law had been imposed, so you couldn’t really talk about Taiwan [politics] until the late ‘80s. The Kuomintang (KMT) had their spies all over the United States, in restaurants and on college campuses. If you were talking about Taiwanese independence or overthrowing the KMT, your relatives back in Taiwan would suffer. They would suddenly disappear or have their passports confiscated, things like that. My father didn’t really talk about Taiwan until martial law was lifted. And then he was like, “Taiwan must be free!”

In that sense, Taiwanese American identity is still developing. Just the fact that you're allowed to have it now is pretty remarkable. I was interviewed by a woman at [the Chinese-language newspaper] China Daily about Ghost Month and I found that really interesting because [China Daily is] basically a Chinese government publication. I asked, “Is it okay to talk about Taiwan?” And she said, “It’s okay to talk about Taiwan.” I couldn’t use the word “Taiwanese,” though. [Laughs.]

One thing that helped me a lot [in my research] was Columbia University Press' "Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan" series that translated a lot of contemporary and fairly recent Taiwanese works into English. I think I’ve read every single book in the series to date.

I visited Taiwan a few times when I was a kid, but the hardcore research started in 2012. I know someone who works in the music and entertainment industry in Taiwan where there’s often an element of organized crime -- because, how else to scrape the money to record a song? Through that contact, I have been able to talk to people involved in organized crime. I also met this guy online who had been an anti-KMT activist in the ‘70s who was part of a group that filmed themselves spray-painting government buildings and holding protests. There was a whole network that distributed those films to stir up Taiwanese nativist feelings.

So this guy, who apparently was the driver on a number of fire-bombings of government buildings (no one was killed, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ed Lin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Snakes Can't Run.

The Page 69 Test: One Red Bastard.

My Book, The Movie: Ghost Month.

Writers Read: Ed Lin (October 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tara Sullivan

Tara Sullivan is the author of the young adult novel The Bitter Side of Sweet. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Bitter Side of Sweet, and for your three main characters?

A: When I decide to write a book, it’s because I’ve found an issue that won’t let go of me: some injustice that resonates deeply.

For The Bitter Side of Sweet, it was the idea that children in one part of the world have to work in modern slavery conditions so that children in another part of the world can have inexpensive treats.

Researching the human rights issue leads me to the setting: The Bitter Side of Sweet needed to be set in the Ivory Coast because it is both the largest producer of cocoa in the world and has, at a conservative estimate, over 200,000 children working in unpaid and un-free conditions to do so.

Once I know my setting, I move on to character. Whose voice is the best one to tell the story I need to tell? Whose experience would be most representative of the conditions I want to reflect? For The Bitter Side of Sweet, my answer to those questions led to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin is a Tony Award-winning musician, comedian, actor, and writer. In 2009, he was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to write the music and lyrics for a stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Matilda the Musical has won over 50 international awards, including seven Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards. His new children’s book, When I Grow Up, is based on the lyrics of the songs from Matilda.

From Minchin's Q&A with Michael Hogan for the Guardian:

[Minchin] I’m interested in how the world’s changed since I last properly did comedy in 2010.

What’s been your view of that from over in LA?

Pretty bleak. It feels a bit post-jokes. Maybe “Post-Jokes Jokes” should be the name of my next live show. In this post-factual era, the horse called “evidence” seems to have bolted. That horse is in the knacker’s yard. California is obviously a liberal heartland but I really have a problem with this country. They call it populism, but it’s just nationalism. In a global world, nationalism is a fantasy and it’s poison. It used to be appropriate but it’s not any more and we haven’t learned that lesson yet. Trump is a nationalist. Brexit wouldn’t have got across the line without nationalistic philosophies. Even Australia’s stubbornness about gay marriage, which is as upsetting as everything else at the moment, is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Valerie Geary

Valerie Geary is the author of the novel Crooked River as well as the new novel Everything We Lost. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Everything We Lost, and why did you decide to make UFOs a part of the story?

A: There wasn’t one thing that sparked this book, rather assorted bits and pieces coming together at the same time. I was on five weeks of bed rest after breaking a bone in my back and was watching a lot of X-Files. I loved the dynamic between Scully and Mulder, the skeptic and the believer.

I was also thinking a lot about memories, how quickly they change, and about the experiences we have as children, how challenging it can be to interpret those memories many years later. Finally, I wanted to write a book exploring big mysteries and those life questions that don’t always have answers.

I wanted UFOs to play a role in this book from the start, but it wasn’t until I started doing research that I understood what exactly this would look like.

As I dove deeper into the history and the beliefs surrounding ufology, I began to see a lot of similarities between ufology and other more mainstream religions. Having been raised in a fundamentalist religion, and having since left that religion, this...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Valerie Geary's website.

Writers Read: Valerie Geary (November 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Jan Elizabeth Watson

Jan Elizabeth Watson was raised in Maine, where she currently lives, writes, and teaches and which also serves as the backdrop for her novels Asta in the Wings (Tin House Books) and What Has Become of You (Dutton). From her Q&A at Bookmaester:

Who is your favorite character in ASTA IN THE WINGS and why?

I'll always have a soft spot for Asta, the eponymous character of my first novel. She is a seven-year-old girl who, despite living in peculiar circumstances, has an awful lot of my early worldview. I remember being such a serious child, very fanciful and pragmatic at the same time. I was also somewhat critical. I related more to other adults than to other children for the most part but also silently disapproved of the things a lot of adults were saying and doing. It was fun to give voice to that mindset through Asta and to sneak in so many little memories from my own school days and from the neighborhood I grew up in. For instance, in the novel there's a mention of a "Satan church" and a school crossing guard who committed suicide, and both those things happened in my town when I was a child. It was a strange town at that time... lots of weird goings-on that I'm sure inspired me in some way. My friends who grew up with me there can attest to that, I think.

We live in divisive times. Should your religion/politics influence your writing?

This is probably not going to be a popular answer in this particular moment in time, but...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: What Has Become of You.

Writers Read: Jan Elizabeth Watson.

My Book, The Movie: What Has Become of You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 6, 2017

Jessica Brockmole

Jessica Brockmole is the author of the novels Letters from Skye, At the Edge of Summer, and the recently released Woman Enters Left. From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Woman Enters Left, and for your character Louise?

A: When researching and writing historical fiction, I always have more material than I can use in the work-in-progress. Uncovered history, unused bits of research, and unexpected ideas all get jotted on blank index cards and tucked into a box.

When I’m brainstorming a new novel, I pull out my cards, spread them out, and pull together ones that could make a whole story.

Woman Enters Left was the intersection of a few of those cards. Golden Age Hollywood, the House Un-American Activities Committee, Route 66, road travel in the 1920s, the Radium Girls. I plucked these index cards from my stack and thought of how I could tie them all together to make what I hope is a compelling story.

I knew my main narrator would be from the ‘50s and would be from Hollywood, but the story of her genesis...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Brockmole's website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Letters from Skye.

Writers Read: Jessica Brockmole (July 2013).

My Book, The Movie: Letters from Skye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman in US history to become the presidential nominee of a major political party. She served as the 67th Secretary of State—from January 21, 2009, until February 1, 2013—after nearly four decades in public service advocating on behalf of children and families as an attorney, First Lady, and Senator. Her new book is What Happened.

From the transcript of Clinton's conversation with NPR's Rachel Martin:

I'd like to start our conversation about your new memoir by asking you to recount a particular event. This is a campaign event that you did in Mingo County, West Virginia, a town called Williamson. This is coal country, and you had met many voters there weren't happy with you. They were angry over comments that you had made around that time about wanting to "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." So you knew this was going to be a tough appearance and you wrote in the book the following quote: "All I knew for certain was they were angry, they were loud and they hated my guts." Can you just describe what that day felt like to you and what it signified as you moved forward in your campaign?

Well, it was a particularly difficult, even painful day because I had made clear for years, starting back in my 2008 campaign, that I understood what was happening in the changing fortunes of coal, that were largely global market forces, but also a growing recognition of the challenges that climate change posed. And I had given a number of speeches. I had a very well-developed plan to invest money into the area, and then in the midst of explaining that I said a sentence which I would, you know, I regretfully say, was taken out of context, blown up, and really was a rallying cry for people and others who were running the campaign against me to come out and blow this up out of all proportion. Now my campaign said, really, there's no point going to West Virginia because Democrats haven't won it in years. It didn't matter whether you said something or not, a Democratic candidate was not going to win it. But I felt a personal responsibility to the people in that state who had been good to me in the past, and to my husband, and I also wanted to make clear that I was much more than one gaffe, and I had a very strong commitment to helping them, so off I went to Mingo County, and when I got out of the car, when I got to the health center that I was going to be visiting, there was a large, very vocal demonstration against me, and the people were yelling all kinds of insults and attacks. And in the crowd was a man named Blankenship, who had just been convicted — in fact, was on his way to jail — for the negligent deaths of a number of the coal miners that his company employed. So it was a fraught, really incredibly difficult time. I went inside and met with a group of people who were trying to do what I think we should be doing in communities like the ones I was visiting across our country, particularly in rural and small town America. They were trying to make things better. So this health center, which had been strongly supported with federal dollars, was providing better health care with a particular emphasis on the opioid crisis. We sat and talked through what...[read on]
Follow Hillary Clinton on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Claire McMillan

Claire McMillan is the author of The Necklace and Gilded Age, which was inspired by Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You’ve noted that some of the inspiration for The Necklace came from family memorabilia. How did these letters and journals help lead to the creation of the novel?

A: My husband’s great-grandmother’s scrapbook memorializing the house parties she threw in the 1920s was a useful primary document. Looking at it was almost like looking in a portal as it provided such a direct glimpse into another time.

We moved into a family house about 10 years ago, and the scrapbook had always been in the house. I revisited it a lot while writing the 1920s portions of the book as it helped to get me in the mood of the ‘20s.

I also had access to Amasa Stone Mather’s journals and letters of a grand tour he took around the world in 1907. The...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Claire McMillan's website.

Writers Read: Claire McMillan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Masha Gessen

Masha Gessen's new book is The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.

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

SIMON: Let me begin with a question this blunt. Is Russia and Vladimir Putin trying to cause unrest in the U.S.?

GESSEN: Is he trying to cause unrest in the U.S.? Yes. But, you know, if you are going to - I wouldn't draw the conclusion from it that we know something about collusion during the 2016 presidential campaign.

SIMON: No. But what about the misinformation campaign that we keep discovering more about, hacking, what seems to be just a lot of Russian involvement on a lot of different fronts? Why - what is the Russian interest in causing unrest or consternation in the United States or Western Europe?

GESSEN: Well, actually, I think that causing unrest and consternation is an end in itself. And part of it - part of the goa; is psychological. You know, all of us are interested in seeing our worldviews affirmed. And Russia's worldview - the Russian - the contemporary Russian ideology is that the whole world is rotten. Everybody is corrupt. Everything is for sale. Elections and the United States are just as rigged as they are in Russia. And so sowing the kind of disruption that Russia is sowing first and foremost pursues the goal of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 2, 2017

B.G. Firmani

B.G. Firmani's new novel is Time's a Thief.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Time’s a Thief and for your main character, Chess?

A: First, thank you for this interview—it’s beautiful to have thoughtful readers. There were a lot of different things that smashed up together that led to this book.

One really was the experience of crossing 34th Street right after the NYPD had graduated its cadet class of 2008 and having the streets around me suddenly flooded by a sea of blue—the visual moment of that was so striking.

(I’m trying to remember which of the Kieślowski “Three Colors” trilogy, maybe “Blue,” that has this crazy thing where a group of little girls with pink water-wings suddenly runs into the frame and jumps into the pool—a sort of throwaway incursion that’s just fantastic to the eye.)

It stayed with me, the idea of a character being in an accidentally charged moment and then coming into contact with a piece of “public” information that provides a very private shock to her—in this case, the obituary of Clarice Marr, a woman who has caused the narrator so much pain, right there on the front page of The New York Times.

Another current was that I’d had a notion to write a sort of retelling of Brideshead Revisited in a late 20th century American context—the class outsider captivated by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lenora Chu

Lenora Chu's new book is Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve. From the transcript of her Q&A with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly:

CHU: There is an element to Chinese culture where you use shame to compel behavior. And that's what I saw in this classroom. But what I did find is there are a few things the Chinese do well. And one of this is this sort of concept of eating bitter in the classroom - you know, hard work pays off in the classroom. I began finding studies that showed that in America, we're more likely to believe in talent and innate ability when it comes to performance in the classroom. And that means we're giving up on some kids because we don't believe they have what it takes.

KELLY: You're talking about a system that values effort over innate talent. Is that so very different from the emphasis that a lot of American schools are increasingly placing on effort, on instilling those values in students - call it grit?

CHU: That's right. The difference that I see is, in the U.S., you don't get universal buy-in. There's a lot of, I would say, parental revolt - when we push our kids harder, we're trying a different way to learn math. There is a fear, in part because we are afraid our kids aren't going to feel good about themselves if they can't get it. And you're not hearing Chinese parents really talk in that way. And what's interesting to me is if you look at the way we Americans look at sports, we believe in that - you know, training, getting faster, working harder contributes to results. And I feel that if we just put a little bit of that attitude into the classroom, we'd....[read on]
Visit Lenora Chu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue