Thursday, November 30, 2017

Natalka Burian

Natalka Burian's new young adult novel is Welcome to the Slipstream.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Welcome to the Slipstream and for your main character, Van?

A: Van, or at least a proto-Van, was actually a secondary character in another novel I was working on. I wanted to keep writing about her, and realized quickly she needed her own book. That first book never made it out into the world, but I’m glad Van has.

Q: The book is set in Las Vegas and the Southwest. How important is setting to you in your work, and do you think this could have been set elsewhere?

A: For me, the setting is like another character in every story I write. I love the contrast between Las Vegas and the desert, and found it to be kind of an irresistible location for Van’s family to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Dennis Glover

Dennis Glover is the author of The Last Man in Europe, a fictionalized account of George Orwell's life as he wrote 1984.

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

SIMON: And that "Last Man In Europe" - that was a working title Orwell had, wasn't it?

GLOVER: Yes, it was the original title of the novel, which he changed at the last minute, I think, at the prodding of his publisher Fred Warburg who thought that "1984" would - was a bit more commercially appropriate. And he's probably right because it gave the book a great renaissance in the actual year 1984.

SIMON: Yeah. And was it also because he was writing in the late '40s? Was it as simple as he wanted to reverse it?

GLOVER: Well, there is a thought that he did it because he simply reversed the four and the eight. I think it's a bit different. If you look at the manuscript and the early typescripts of the novel, what you'll find is it begins April 4, 1980. And then you can see Orwell takes his pen and strikes it over at some later stage and writes '82. And then he strikes it over again and writes '84. I think he was - it took him so long to write the book. He was trying to keep 40 years between the writing of it and the story.

SIMON: By the time we meet Orwell, he is sick and despondent, even though he's become so successful with "Animal Farm."

GLOVER: That's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Deanne Stillman

Deanne Stillman's new book is Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that this book’s inspiration came from a story about a horse that Buffalo Bill had given to Sitting Bull. Can you say more about that?

A: When Sitting Bull returned to Standing Rock after traveling with Cody for four months in 1885, Cody gave him a horse. That was symbolic because the horse had been stripped from the tribes during the Indian wars. It was not enough to deprive them of the buffalo; they had to be dismounted.

Five years later, while Sitting Bull was being assassinated in his cabin doorway, the horse was outside and started to dance as the bullets were flying. That was because it had been trained to do so at the sound of gunfire in the Wild West show.

Sitting Bull’s murder and the dancing horse that echoed it happened at the height of the ghost dancing frenzy  - an apocalyptic call for a return to the old ways and the resurrection of the buffalo. So here was this horse joining in, a ghost horse really, a representative of the Wild West and all that came with it.

While I was working on my book, I called Chief Arvol Looking-Horse, a prominent Lakota spiritual figure, for his insight into this matter.  What he said stunned me, beyond what I already felt, and I talk about all of this in much greater detail in my book.

By the way, I couldn’t shake the image of the dancing horse for years, and it...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 27, 2017

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie's new novel is The Golden House. From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: So, this is a novel different from some of the other things you've written. It feels very contemporary. It feels like you're describing the world we're living in.

So, I have to ask you as a social observer, what is, to your mind, the dominant reality of America, of New York, of its big cities today?

RUSHDIE: Well, I think it's - first of all, one of the realities is the incredible division between the big city and the hinterland, the fact that New Yorkers think one way and Middle America thinks in a radically different way.

To the extent there's always been that split, that New York and America have never been completely happy with each other. That's true about Paris in France and London in England as well. So, it's something about the nature of the metropolis.

But, right now, that rift is so exaggerated.

ZAKARIA: It's set in the Obama years, very clearly in the Obama years. You made a conscious decision to do that. It's a thing you're told not to do as a writer, which is to write right up against the present moment, to write the book which is about the moment in which the book is being written, and to react, to be reactive to things that happen.

And as a novelist, what strikes you about the Obama era?

RUSHDIE: What I felt was that there was this movement from incredible optimism to its antithesis.

That's to say, I mean, I remember, I was here on the night of the first Obama election. And I was walking around the city in the middle of the night in places where people gather, like Union Square and Rockefeller Plaza, like that.

And just looking at people's faces, the extraordinary joy and hope in those mainly young faces, I thought, was a remarkable thing to witness.

And now...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ian Stewart

Ian Stewart's newest book is Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematicians. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this new book, and how did you pick the mathematicians to include?

A: The idea emerged during a lunch with my editor John Davey, who died recently of throat cancer -- the book is dedicated to him. We often used to bat ideas around to see if anything grabbed us.

Selecting whom to include was tricky. The typical length for a popular science book is at most 100,000 words. The publisher set a target of 90,000, later expanded to 95,000.

So I knew I could include at most 25 people. That’s far too small to cover every really important mathematician! I say explicitly early on that the people featured are a selection. I made an initial list of about 50, and then whittled it down.

I decided that someone got in only if their mathematics was top quality and highly influential, if their personal story was interesting in its own right, and if they were dead. I considered it absolutely vital to include...[read on]
See Ian Stewart's top ten popular mathematics books.

The Page 99 Test: Why Beauty Is Truth.

The Page 99 Test: In Pursuit of the Unknown.

The Page 99 Test: Visions of Infinity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Luke Harding

Luke Harding's new book is Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

Terry Gross: Luke Harding, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So the dossier said that the Russian regime had been cultivating, supporting and assisting Donald Trump for at least five years with the goal of encouraging splits and divisions in the Western alliance. You write that the Russians had their eyes on Donald Trump as early as the 1970s when he married Ivana Trump, who is from Czechoslovakia. Why were they keeping an eye on him in the '70s? What were they looking for?

LUKE HARDING: Well, the KGB really forever has been interested in cultivating people, actually, who might be useful contacts for them, identifying targets for possible recruitments possibly to be agents. That's not saying that Donald Trump is an agent, but the point is that he would have been on their radar certainly by 1977 when he married Ivana, who came from Czechoslovakia, a kind of communist Eastern bloc country. And we know from Czechoslovak spy records de-classified last year that the spy agencies were in contact with Ivana's father, that they kept an eye on the Trumps in Manhattan throughout the 1980s. And we also know, from defectors and other sources, that whatever Prague learned, communist Prague, would have been funneled to the big guys in Moscow, to the KGB. So there would have been a file on Donald Trump.

But I think what's kind of interesting about this story, if you understand the kind of Russian espionage background, is Trump's first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987. He went with Ivana. He writes about it in "The Art Of The Deal," his best-selling memoir. He talks about getting an invitation from the Soviet government to go over there. And he makes it seem kind of rather casual. But what I discovered from my research is that there was actually a concerted effort by the Soviet government via the ambassador at the time, who was newly arrived, a guy called Yuri Dubinin, to kind of charm Trump, to flatter him, to woo him almost. And Dubinin's daughter, sort of who was part of this process, said that the ambassador rushed up to the top of Trump Tower, basically kind of breezed into Trump's office and he melted. That's the verb she used. He melted.

GROSS: That Trump melted when he was flattered.

HARDING: Yeah. That Trump melted with this kind of flattery. And several months later, he gets an invitation to go on an all-expenses-paid trip behind the Iron Curtain to Soviet Moscow. Now, a couple of things which were important here. One of them is that his trip was arranged by Intourist, which is the Soviet travel agency. Now, I've talked to defectors and others who say - this is actually fairly well-known - that Intourist is basically the KGB. It was the organization which monitored foreigners going into the Soviet Union and kept an eye on them when they were there. So kind of he went with KGB travel. Now, according to "The Art Of The Deal," he met various Soviet officials there. Who they were, we don't know. But what we can say with certainty is that his hotel, just off Red Square, the National Hotel, would have been bugged, that there was already a kind of dossier on Trump. And this would have been supplemented with whatever was picked up from encounters with him, from intercept, from his hotel room.

You know, we can't say that Trump was recruited in 1987. But what we can say with absolute certainty is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 24, 2017

Catherine Reef

Catherine Reef is the author of Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, a new young adult biography of Queen Victoria.

From Reef's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on Queen Victoria in your latest biography?

A: I had written two books on subjects from Victorian England, The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne and Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. I wanted to write one more biography before leaving that fascinating time and place, and I thought, why not focus on the woman who gave her name to the period, Queen Victoria herself?

Looking into her life, I discovered a terrific tale to tell, one that included family drama, palace intrigue, and a great love story, all involving a woman of singular character.

Sir Henry Ponsonby, who was the queen’s private secretary from 1870 until 1895, said this of her: “Never in her life could she be confused with anyone else, nor will she be in history.” How...[read on]
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 69 Test: Frida & Diego.

My Book, The Movie: Noah Webster.

The Page 99 Test: Florence Nightingale.

Writers Read: Catherine Reef (January 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sujatha Gidla

Sujatha Gidla’s new book is Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India.

From the author's conversation with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Can you explain why someone’s caste in India is so hard to hide? I think a common American response could be, why do you tell people what your caste is?

Oh, caste is a village social institution. The village social institution persisted for a very long time, and it still does because 80 percent of Indians still live in villages. In villages, castes are very distinct by their occupation, for one thing, and second where they live. Each caste has its own colony. That is where they live. All castes don’t live together mingled. Each has separate colonies.

Because of that, everybody knows who you are and also because of what job you do. When it comes to cities, people who came from villages, they still carry those, “Oh, you are such and such person’s relative,” this and that, so they would know. Apart from that, the way you dress, your surname, what you eat, what gods you’re worshiping, and whether you can wear jewelry or not and how you cut your hair. All of these things show your caste. And because the system is 3,000 years old, even if it scientifically does not have a genetic imprint, it has something very close to it. People’s body language—the way they carry themselves—shows what caste they are.

I’m sure their physical health, too.

Oh yeah, of course.

Why are even left-wing political parties in India so casteist?

The Communist Party of India was dominated by the land-owning Kamma caste, and it’s indistinguishable from a caste-based party. That’s why Communists are all upper-caste. … They bring in their own ideology, instead of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 22, 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 Eig's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What did the research involve for this book, and what type of cooperation did you receive from his relatives and friends?

A: I interviewed more than 200 people, dug through Ali’s old business records, found court files showing that Ali’s grandfather was a convicted murderer, listened to old audiotaped interviews with Ali from the 1960s, got the FBI to release case files on Ali, did original research counting every punch of Ali’s career, and conducted a study with speech scientists at Arizona State University to measure the effect of all those punches on Ali’s speech rate.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This was more than four years of work. I poured everything I had into this. Ali’s second and third wives sat for multiple long interviews. His fourth and final wife coached me and answered a few questions but declined to do a long session.

Some of his kids cooperated, some didn’t. Almost all...[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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ray Dialo

Ray Dalio is the founder and co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates, which, over the last forty years, has become the largest and best performing hedge fund in the world. Dalio has appeared on the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world as well as the Bloomberg Markets list of the 50 most influential people. His new book is Principles: Life and Work.

From the transcript of Dalio's interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: You have this fascinating new book out. I don't want to let you go without asking you about one thing that everybody wonders about because you talk about it in the book and you are famous for it, which is that, at your firm there is this idea of radical transparency, which means people have to disagree clearly, publicly with others.

And people always wonder, do you take it to the point where people in your firm, actually, routinely look you in the eye and tell you, Ray Dalio, you're the boss, but you're completely 100 percent wrong?

DALIO: I need that. Yes. And I need that. I do it because I need it. I set up a company. If I don't have that engagement, besides my not hearing things that I need to have, can you imagine what it's like for you to be in the company, being in a position where you have to hold that inside of yourself? And then, you're walking around, thinking I did something stupid around in a company and you can't speak up?

You can't build a culture that way. In order to have independent thinkers around to get at the best ideas and have great collective decision-making, you have to be able to have thoughtful disagreement to rise above it.

I think that there's a challenge a lot of people have emotionally to being able to have disagreements. Shouldn't disagreement be a source of curiosity?

And also, if people are disagreeing, then somebody must be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 20, 2017

Kathryn Erskine

Kathryn Erskine's new novel for kids is The Incredible Magic of Being. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Incredible Magic of Being, and for your main character, Julian?

A: Like all of my fictional characters, Julian popped into my head unannounced. I never know where they come from, or why, until I start writing down what they say, how they interact with a variety of characters who also arrive in my head, where they live, what’s bothering them, and eventually I figure out the real life circumstances that gave birth to them.

I started this novel not long after cancer treatment and I think my appreciation for life, and a feeling of urgency to experience and enjoy everything we can, even when things (and people) around us aren’t perfect, came through in Julian and the story itself.

Of all my characters, Julian is the most like I was as a child — except I didn’t...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Kathryn Erskine's website.

Check out Erskine's top 10 first person narratives.

Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher.

The Page 69 Test: The Badger Knight.

Writers Read: Kathryn Erskine (September 2014).

My Book, The Movie: The Badger Knight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Candida R. Moss & Joel S. Baden

Candida R. Moss & Joel S. Baden are the authors of Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby. From their Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

What does the crafting store Hobby Lobby have to do with the Bible?

For those who know Hobby Lobby simply from its hundreds of stores, the connection with the Bible may not be immediately apparent. But the owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, have been major players in the world of evangelical Christianity for many years. In the last decade or so, they have been working toward the opening of a new Museum of the Bible, scheduled to open in November 2017 in Washington D.C., just a few blocks from the National Mall. To this end, they have been collecting biblical artifacts at an astonishing rate: around 40,000 items in total. A group of scholars has been recruited to study and publish much of this material. The Greens have also created a Bible curriculum, originally intended for public schools, and now marketed to home-schoolers. The question we try to address in the book is how the evangelical beliefs of the Green family have influenced these various Bible-oriented ventures, and what it means for the kinds of products, including the museum, that they are producing.

Forty thousand items— that sounds like a lot!

Indeed. Most collections of that size take generations to build, but the Greens acquired the bulk of their collection in just a few years. The speed with which they went about this came with some complications, though, as was featured in the news earlier this summer: thousands of cuneiform texts from Iraq had been illegally imported to the U.S. and were seized by customs officials, with the result that Hobby Lobby had to forfeit them. In the early years of their buying spree, they seem not to have been especially careful to observe the proper cultural heritage laws.

What about their Bible curriculum?

Originally, the curriculum they developed was going to be used in American public schools, as part of an elective course. When the ACLU got their hands on the draft of the curriculum, however, it quickly became apparent that this was not a purely secular view of the Bible that was being presented. It was ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson's latest novel is Goodnight from London.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: While your other novels focused on World War I and its aftermath, your new novel focuses on World War II. Why did you decide to move on to a different time period?

A: I think it was largely a feeling of wanting to keep things fresh – it’s easy to find yourself revisiting similar themes or conflicts if you stay focused on one period for too long. And the Second World War is nothing short of a gold mine for any novelist who is looking for inspiring and memorable stories to tell.

Q: Your main character, Ruby, is an American journalist working in London, and your own grandmother was a journalist during this same time frame. What do Ruby's experiences say about the role of women journalists in the WWII era?

A: The barriers that Ruby faces, along with the prejudices against women in her profession, are pretty typical of the era; to quote my own grandmother, newspaperwomen (her preferred term) needed to...[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 (February 2016).

My Book, The Movie: Moonlight Over Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 17, 2017

Andrea J. Ritchie

Andrea Ritchie is a Black lesbian immigrant and police misconduct attorney and organizer who has engaged in extensive research, writing, and advocacy around criminalization of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people of color over the past two decades. She recently published Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color.

From her Q&A with Adeshina Emmanuel for the Columbia Journalism Review:

How does the media help shape the public’s understanding of police violence?

I think media plays a pivotal role in two respects: by reinforcing the silence around experiences of black women and women of color and in breaking it. The mainstream media has reinforced over and over again that police violence is a story about black and brown men who are not queer, who are not trans, and that certainly is an essential part of the story.

I would never dream of saying black and brown men are not disproportionately targeted by state violence. There’s just no question about that, and you will see me in the streets on any given day at protests for Laquan McDonald, or Amadou Diallo back in the day, or Rodney King.

Sandra Bland was definitely heavily on my mind this month on the second anniversary of her death. But somehow her story is not placed in the broader narrative around racial profiling and mass incarceration; it’s somehow almost an anomaly. Like, “let’s read a list of 10 or 12 black and brown men and then we’ll throw in Sandra Bland,” as if it’s an outlier.

Recently video surfaced of a Florida state attorney being profiled and stopped by a police officer, and, again, that wasn’t an anomaly. That was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Shelley Tougas

Shelley Tougas's new novel for kids is Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life, and for your main character, Charlotte?

A: I lived in Mankato, Minnesota, for 20 years, so Laura country was in my backyard. I'd been to Walnut Grove (the setting for On the Banks of Plum Creek), and the kernel of an idea formed.

It's a small town - about 800 people - and it's very Laura-centric. There's not just a single museum. It's a complex. There's a reconstructed sod house, an old school house, an old church and more. Plus there's the dugout site near the town. And every summer, the community puts on a pageant with a musical production about the town's history and the Ingalls family.

I wondered, what's it like to grow up in a town like that? A small town with such an interesting identity? When I got my second contract with Roaring Brook, I knew I wanted to use that kernel for my novel.

I didn't want to write historical fiction, though. I wanted to write a contemporary novel that had parallels to Laura's story and include lots of Easter eggs for Laura fans.

The first sentence in the book, for example, is exactly...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Kathleen Rooney

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

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

From Rooney's Q&A with Jac Jemc at Newcity Lit:

The character of Lillian Boxfish is inspired by a real poet and ad woman. How do Boxfish and Fishback diverge?

Without Margaret Fishback there wouldn’t be a Lillian Boxfish, but they’re not the same person. Lillian has aspects of Fishback’s biography, but the events of the novel are invented and imagined. I was the first researcher in the Fishback archive at Duke University in 2007—it took me years to figure out what to do with that material. My own love of flânerie ended up being the key. Lillian’s orientation toward the world is that of an inveterate urban walker, a decision made totally for the novel. I believe that Fishback herself is worthy of greater attention—I worked this December to get her long out-of-print light verse included in the Poetry Foundation archive and wrote an essay detailing her innovations as a pioneering ad woman—but...[read on]
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

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

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

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

Writers Read: Kathleen Rooney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Noah Strycker

Noah Strycker is the author of Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Of the 6,000-plus bird species you saw during your record-breaking year, were there any that particularly impressed you?

A: In Brazil, near the beginning of the year, I saw a Harpy Eagle, the most powerful raptor in the western hemisphere. The Harpy lives only in large rainforests in South and Central America, and eats monkeys and sloths.

I was lucky to stake out a nest near the Pantanal in central Brazil, where the male Harpy Eagle flew in carrying half a coati (a raccoon-like animal) in its talons, which are as long as a grizzly bear's claws. When it spreads out its toes, this eagle's feet are the same circumference as a dinner plate. That bird is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 13, 2017

David Miliband

David Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. His new book is Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time..

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

SIMON: You know, whatever impression we might have from the news, are most of the world's refugees coming to America or Western Europe or some of the poorest and, if I might put it this way, most unstable parts of the globe?

MILIBAND: Well, that is a great point - that the top 10 refugee hosting countries, places like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Bangladesh now with the Rohingya refugees who've come from Burma - Myanmar. The top 10 refugee hosting countries account for only 2 and a half percent of global income. And so the challenge for the richer parts of the world I think is twofold. First of all, to engineer, to lead an international humanitarian aid system that really does meet the challenge of the times that gets refugees into employment, that gets kids - half of the world's refugees are kids - gets them into education. And, tragically, at the moment, less than 2 percent of the world's humanitarian budget goes on education.

But the second half of the challenge is to stand with those countries who are hosting refugees, stand with them substantively but also symbolically by welcoming refugees to our own shores. And it is tragic that after 50 or 60 years in which the United States has led the world in refugee resettlement, hosting an average of about 90,000 refugees a year into this country - people who've then gone on to make extraordinary contributions to this country - that the U.S. administration should now be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Nigel Cliff

Nigel Cliff's latest book is Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story--How One Man and his Piano Transformed the Cold War. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about Van Cliburn and the 1958 piano competition in Moscow?

A: I couldn’t resist it; the story grabbed hold of me from the moment I came across it. For one thing, it’s so deliciously improbable. A young Texan pianist on his first overseas trip conquers Cold War Moscow, returns home to rock-star fame, and becomes an unofficial ambassador between hostile superpowers.

I wanted to write about the Cold War, and here was a way to put a human face on a rather ponderous subject. Van Cliburn is a touching and unusual character who saw no difficulty in being friends with Soviet and American leaders and was a hero to people on both sides of the divide; crucially, that gave me an entrée into everyday lives as well as intimate glimpses of the political elites.

A good story needs to put its hero in danger, and its writer, too. Finding the language to describe a piano concerto to non-specialists, like myself, was my biggest challenge.

Yet the deeper I went, the more I found myself on...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Nigel Cliff's website.

The Page 99 Test: Holy War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bill Crider

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award finalist. An English college professor for many years, he’s published more than seventy-five crime, Western, and horror novels, as well as a number of children’s books.

From Crider's Q&A at Western Musings:

Mr. Crider, sincere thanks for taking the time to provide us with some thoughts on the Western genre. With that said, I want to get down to brass tacks and offer what I consider one of my favorite first sentences of the past year. You open Outrage at Blanco with this gem: “Jink Howard sat in the shade of a tree and ate tomatoes while Ben Atticks raped the woman in the wagon bed.” That is pure attention-grabbing gold. I heard a fine piece of writing advice years ago “Let your readers know what’s at stake, right up front.” This sentence does that in spades. Is this a philosophy you adhere to as well?

I always heard a different version of that advice, which was "Shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph."  I do try to have something there that will get a reader's attention, but I'd never shoot the sheriff.  Sheriff Dan Rhodes has been way too good to me for me to do a thing like that.​

Staying with your novel Outrage at Blanco, but also staying spoiler-free so that new readers can have the joys of following up on that whip-cracking sentence; the character Ellie Taine goes through a bit of transformation in the course of this novel. It calls to my mind the film Hannie Caulder [which was minor at best, aside from an excellent Robert Culp.] In Hannie Caudler the transformation is a bit superficial and rote, but Ellie has real depth to her. Her actions make sense to me. May I ask what spawned this character?

​As is so often the case with my writing, I have no idea what spawned the characters or the plot. I...[read on]
Visit Bill Crider's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 10, 2017

Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson's newest suspense novel is House. Tree. Person. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new novel, House. Tree. Person., and your character Ali?

A: I can half-answer this. I went to the Writers Police Academy in Wisconsin in 2015 and, in a workshop on sociopaths (presented by the wonderful Dr. Katherine Ramsland), the subject came up of the "house-tree-person test" for personality disorder. It's diagnostically discredited and not much used in clinical settings these days, although I believe it's still applied to children in Waldorf education.

Anyway, as I sat there, the idea came to me of a silent individual who only ever drew a tiny square with a cross through it, a symbol none of her carers could interpret. And a big chunk of the plot of this book just slotted into my head.  It was wonderful.

As to Ali: Much more typically, I started with a little pip of an impression - I think it was her Juicy velour sweatsuit - and just wrote and wrote until she came into focus. By the end of the first draft, she seemed like herself. Then I went back to the start and changed everything in...[read on]
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

Writers Read: Catriona McPherson (September 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Marcia Butler

Marcia Butler was a professional oboist for 25 years, until her retirement from music in 2008. During her musical career, she performed as a principal oboist and soloist on the most renowned New York and international stages, and with many high-profile musicians and orchestras. She lives in New York City.

Butler's memoir is The Skin Above My Knee.

From her Q&A with Ileana Florian for Pank Magazine:

Florian: How did you start thinking about writing a memoir?

Butler: Well, that’s an interesting question because I didn’t set out to write a memoir at all. I was writing about creativity, actually. I’d been a musician for about 25 years, and then was an interior designer for 15 years. As a designer, I began blogging and quickly realized that the more fertile subjects for me were the overarching principles of the universality of design, aesthetics and creative thrust. How all this binds us together as a society and how we...[read on]
Visit Marcia Butler's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Skin Above My Knee.

My Book, The Movie: The Skin Above My Knee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Daniel P. Bolger

Daniel P. Bolger is the author of Our Year of War: Two Brothers, Vietnam, and a Nation Divided. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this book focused on Chuck and Tom Hagel, and how unusual was it for two brothers to serve in the same platoon during the Vietnam War?

A: The idea for the book came from E.J. McCarthy, my long-time editor and now my agent. An author we both respected greatly, the late Keith W. Nolan, had been researching one of his many fine Vietnam military histories when he learned about the Hagel brothers. Sadly, Keith died before he had time to follow up. But E.J. and I talked about it and the idea really resonated. 

I had met Chuck Hagel once as a senator and once when was the secretary of defense. That time in Vietnam shaped him and his brother Tom. And their time in Vietnam in that terrible year of 1968 seemed to me to be the part for the whole, offering some real insight into what Americans did in Vietnam, and what Vietnam did to us in America.

It was—and is—pretty unusual for two brothers to serve in the same small unit. In World War II, the five Sullivan brothers died together when their light cruiser went down off Guadalcanal in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's latest book is The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Dave Davies:

DAVIES: You know, [Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman's] approach to decision-making I gather has affected, you know, things that leaders do in government and medicine and finance and probably military strategy. You know, I'm wondering if - how it affects we ordinary people who make routine decisions like voting, for example. And I wondered what you think they might observe of the election of Donald Trump.

LEWIS: Well, let's - I'll give you a grab bag of things I think they would have said about the election. But I'm putting words in their mouth because of course they didn't speak to the election. The first thing they would say is they would notice how after the election, all sorts of people had explanations for why it was basically inevitable that Trump was going to win who never predicted it, that the world instantly set about trying to make itself seem more certain than it actually was and denying that - kind of a large random component in any election - that a lot of things could have happened where Trump wasn't president.

But people started to kind of explain the world as if that was what was meant to happen. So they would have been very interested in that, just for starters. And they would have said, you know, it's basically a phony exercise pretending to be able to explain what you never could have predicted. And reality is much more complicated than that. So, they would have said that.

Then they would have said I think that Trump's appeal is in part the way he eliminates the uncertainty of the world, that Obama - as successful as he was as president, Obama himself acknowledged that it was always problematic for him having to seem sure of things that were clearly inherently probabilistic, that people do not want to be led by someone who's saying, well, there's a 68 percent chance we won't be in a nuclear war (laughter). They want to be led by people who say, I'm going to - not going to let that happen. And that aspect of Trump's character they would have seen as appealing to basically human nature.

They would then have said about Trump that he is a case study of all of the problems with intuitive judgment because he gives into his own so totally, that he's so totally devoted to his own gut instincts. And they had identified all kinds of problems with gut instinct. The gut instinct led you to naturally think in stereotypes, for example, to naturally overweight whatever you've just heard or just seen, to naturally think that things that are vivid or memorable are much more likely to happen than things that aren't.

So they would have been - they would have fought - I think they would have been alarmed - very alarmed by Trump's - the lack of a sense he had that he needs to check his own gut against anything. I don't think they would have felt that their research basically explained the election. I don't - I think they would have said it was deeply...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 6, 2017

Janice Warman

Janice Warman is a South African–born journalist whose career spans the Observer, the Guardian, the Spectator, the Daily Mail, and the BBC. She has published two nonfiction books for adults, including The Class of ’79, about three students who risked their lives to help abolish apartheid.

Warman's latest novel is The World Beneath.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The World Beneath, and for your main character, Joshua?

A: I had always been keen to write about apartheid for children who had grown up in a world in which it no longer existed. I felt that like the Holocaust of the Second World War, it should never be forgotten. And as racism and xenophobia are still prevalent in the world, the subject remains timely.

The inspiration for my main character, Joshua, was the daughter of our housekeeper, Beauty, whose name I use for Joshua’s mother in the book. I was aware that Beauty had children of her own who lived far away with their grandparents, while she cleaned our house and took care of us.

Then her little girl came to visit, and although I was quite young myself, I remember trying to teach her to read, and reflecting how Beauty must miss her, when my mother had...[read on]
Follow Janice Warman on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: The World Beneath.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Rachel Kadish

Rachel Kadish is the award-winning author of the novels From a Sealed Room and Tolstoy Lied: a Love Story, as well as the novella I Was Here.

Her latest novel is The Weight of Ink.

From Kadish's Q&A at the blog of The American Philosophical Association:

Can you tell me what The Weight of Ink is about?

The novel opens in contemporary London, when the renovation of a seventeenth-century house is interrupted by the discovery of shelves of documents hidden inside a staircase. Helen Watt, a British professor with a very personal reason for her passion for Jewish history, is called in to examine the documents, most of which are signed by an obscure seventeenth-century rabbi. It’s not long before Helen realizes that there’s something about the documents that doesn’t make sense—there are, in fact, radical statements contained in the letters. Helen–along with Aaron Levy, an arrogant American grad student she brings in to assist her—quickly realizes that the documents were written by a scribe for the rabbi, who was blind…and that the scribe was a woman.

The narrative alternates between the story of the contemporary scholars trying to solve the mystery of the documents, and the story of the seventeenth-century woman who undertook a grand deception in order to write them: Ester Velasquez, a member of the same Amsterdam Portuguese-Inquisition refugee community that excommunicated Spinoza.
Ester and her brother, both orphans, have come from Amsterdam to London in the household of the blind rabbi—and when the brother is unwilling to serve as a scribe, it’s Ester who...[read on]
Visit Rachel Kadish's official website.

The Page 69 Test: Tolstoy Lied.

My Book, The Movie: The Weight of Ink.

Writers Read: Rachel Kadish.

The Page 69 Test: The Weight of Ink.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Georgia Hunter

Georgia Hunter is the author of We Were the Lucky Ones. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: This novel was based on your own family’s story, which you only found out about as a teenager. Can you describe how you learned about it, and the impact it had on you?

A: I was very close with my grandfather and my grandmother. When I was growing up, we lived a mile apart, and spent a lot of time together. He died when I was 14. He was very sick the last few years of his life. I look back on, how did I miss the little signs [about his background]?

At 15, my English teacher assigned us a research project. We were tasked with interviewing a relative to learn about our roots. The goal was to learn something about ourselves. With my grandfather’s memory so fresh, I sat down with my grandmother and in that interview I learned he was not born in America but in Poland, and he was from a family of Holocaust survivors.

[I didn’t know] the Jewish piece of my history. It was a piece of his past—he wanted to fit into his neighborhood; he was the only Jew in the neighborhood. My grandmother was a Presbyterian from the South. He would coordinate trips to Brazil [to see his family] with Passover, but he wouldn’t make a big deal of it.

I’ll never forget that hourlong interview…it sparked a lot of curiosity and questions. I was not feeling defensive. It was shocking, but not in a negative way, but in a way of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 3, 2017

Elizabeth Kolbert

Elizabeth Kolbert is a writer at The New Yorker and the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. From her Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

How do you think we should approach climate change deniers? There’s one school of thought that says “You know, it’s a free flow of ideas. People should be able to offer their opinion and then in a debate the best ideas will win out.” Another says “Well no. It’s crazy that any major news organization would publish anything even in an op-ed page about climate change denial.”

If you read the Scientist and the Times or science stories in the Washington Post or even in the Wall Street Journal, which has its own politics, about a medical breakthrough or gravity waves or anything where certain norms apply, you don’t [quote] people who say “Oh. I don’t believe that. I didn’t see that.”

I think you have to understand that [climate science] has been purposely construed this way as if it were not a science just like all these other sciences are. It is, and basically we’re talking about pretty simple geophysics here, and we’re talking about science that has actually been understood and is basic for over a hundred years, so we’re not talking about cutting-edge science even. I don’t think that there’s an excuse anymore really for the “he said, she said” when you’re covering climate change.

Now, we can have policy debates. We can have very vigorous debates about what your reaction to this information should be. But the same way we no longer debate “Is there a connection between smoking and lung cancer?” we can no longer debate that there’s a connection between drawing a lot of CO2 into the air and warming the planet. It’s just really...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Ben Bernanke

Ben S. Bernanke served as chairman of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014. He was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" in 2009. Prior to his career in public service, he was a professor of economics at Princeton University.

Bernanke's latest book is The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath.

From the transcript of his May 2017 interview with NPR's Rachel Martin:
MARTIN: You were thrust into the worst economic recession this country has seen in generations and were forced to make very difficult decisions in dramatic fashion to prop up the economy during the recession. When you look back now and when you look forward, are you confident that we won't see the likes of that in the near term or medium term?

BERNANKE: Well, we had to stabilize that situation. And then we had to take strong action to help the economy recover. We - and I say - now, I'm talking about policymakers in general and the whole economy - have been successful in recovering and bringing the economy back to a more normal situation. Now, I do have some concern about this in that we did a lot of work following the crisis to improve our oversight of the financial system to make sure that banks have more capital. And I'm a bit concerned that some of the proposals in Congress today would roll back a lot of those important regulations.

I don't mean to say that all regulations are effective. I'm not saying that you can't make changes. But the key elements of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reforms that were done, including higher capital levels, tougher oversight and in particular the tools we needed to unwind a failing financial giant so it didn't bring down the whole economy. Those things were put in place, and I'd be very, very concerned about the future if those things were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Suzanne Chazin Chazin's new mystery novel is A Place in the Wind, the fourth in a series featuring detective Jimmy Vega. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your new novel focuses in part on the issue of DACA, which is very much in the news today. Why did you choose that as one of the subjects of the book?

A: You know how long it can take to write a book. I started this in the spring of 2016. There was a sense that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president, and there was a dark horse on stage with Donald Trump making strong statements about immigration. I saw the story following, but dismissed it.

But I was intrigued by the idea of someone like him who took a local issue and magnified it through the lens of immigration. DACA was a desperation move by President Obama who tried to [help the Dreamers] and finally created an executive order.

I felt it would explode in the future—either someone like Hillary Clinton would be in office and would change it into eventual citizenship, or DACA would become a road to nowhere.

I spoke to the Westchester Hispanic Coalition and asked, Is there someone this would affect? They introduced me to someone who became a good friend. It’s something near and dear to my heart. Unlike most of immigration, it’s a clearer issue. They came as children, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue