Monday, December 31, 2018

Fintan O’Toole

Fintan O’Toole writes for the Irish Times and is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. His latest book is Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain.

From his Q&A with Andrew Anthony for the Guardian:

You argue that English nationalism is the ghost in the Brexit machine. Why do you think that is?

From the turn of the century onwards, you have this extraordinary rise of the idea of England as a political community [ie, a popular desire for England-only legislation voted on by English-only politicians]. All the public opinion surveys show this. It’s very odd and I can’t think of any other parallels where it happens without a political party, without newspapers, without a national theatre. There’s no WB Yeats of English nationalism. So it’s not very well articulated. It’s a set of feelings rather than a political programme and Brexit offers itself as the way to address it. It says here’s the way to express yourself with an English identity. But it doesn’t answer it.

In your book, you criticise the way parallels have been made between Brexit and the 100 years war. What is the main problem?

A single word: vassalage. What on earth is this word doing in political discourse in the 21st century? I was struck by its re-emergence. It comes originally from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, this mad idea that somehow the 100 years war shows the English capacity to throw off feudal vassalage. It’s a ludicrous misunderstanding of history. The war was more like Charles Taylor in Sierre Leone – a hideous crime against humanity. To go back to that as the only thing you have to express what English freedom might mean in the 21st century shows...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ethan Shagan

Ethan Shagan is the author of The Birth of Modern Belief: Faith and Judgment from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

What led you to write this book?

Good works of history often begin with a chance discovery that sticks like a splinter in the historian’s mind: something weird or surprising in the historical record that demands an explanation. In this case, that oddity was something I found in Martin Luther’s collected writings: his claim that most people do not believe that God exists. This struck me as utterly outlandish. Besides the fact that more or less everyone in sixteenth-century Europe believed in God, Luther also wrote elsewhere that atheism was virtually impossible because knowledge of God is imprinted on all human souls. So what on earth was going on? Upon further research, I found other versions of this same bizarre claim popping up elsewhere in the sixteenth century. John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that anyone who follows their own passions in defiance of heavenly judgment “denies that there is a God”—the translator of the modern English edition changed this passage to “virtually denies that there is a God,” presumably because he thought the original must have been some sort of mistake. The radical spiritualist Sebastian Franck claimed, far more drastically, that “there is not a single believer on earth!” These remarkable and unexpected ideas were not written in obscure places, nor were they written by unknown people. So why had no historian ever written about them before?

These discoveries set me on a journey that has lasted seven years. I started with the intuition that “belief” itself had changed its meaning over time. Thus, for instance, Luther could say that everyone knows God exists, but he could still argue that most people do not believe God exists, because he took “belief” to be a more difficult condition. But from there I had to figure out what preexisting, medieval understandings of belief Luther was rejecting. Then I had to figure out ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Lou Berney

Lou Berney's new novel is November Road.

From his Q&A with Don Winslow:

What was the original inspiration for NOVEMBER ROAD?

My brother-in-law, who is several years older than me, grew up in rural Kansas in the 1960s. When he was a kid, his parents warned him to never ride his bike to the next town over. He found out later that it was because the next town over was where the mob sent guys to “cool-off” and lay low after a job. I was fascinated by the idea of a dangerous, big-city criminal forced into contact with a world, and with people, he’d never really encountered before.

The novel follows three principal characters: a charmingly amoral mob fixer, a wife and mother from small town Oklahoma, and a terrifying hit man. Why did you choose to tell the story from these points of view?

The real joy in writing fiction for me is getting into different heads and seeing the world in ways that I normally wouldn’t. In this novel, I wanted to create three very different characters who all experience something similar: their lives are upended by events outside their control and, because of that, they’re all given the opportunity to change. Whether they do change or not, and in what specific ways, was something I didn’t really figure out until...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lou Berney's website.

The Page 69 Test: Gutshot Straight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 28, 2018

Sara Blaedel

Sara Blaedel is the author of The Midnight Witness.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: The Midnight Witness is the first in your series featuring Louise Rick and Camilla Lind. How did you come up with the idea for these characters?

A: I started my career as a journalist, and had been captivated, from early in my life, by suspenseful and mysterious stories. I was an avid reader from young childhood, and even then, was always in search of compelling stories in which I became invested and involved, whose characters were well-developed and organic - who came to life, breathed air - whom I believed were real and allowed under my skin.

And so, when I decided to take the terrifying jump into writing a book for the first time, I went with what I loved and knew. I tried to create these women who were tough and able and skilled, but also...[read on]
Visit Sara Blaedel's website.

Writers Read: Sara Blaedel (February 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Rebecca Bedell

Rebecca Bedell is the author of Moved to Tears: Rethinking the Art of the Sentimental in the United States.

From her Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

Where did the book begin? What launched you on this project?

As an art historian and teacher, I have been thinking about these issues and themes for a long time. But in a way, this project began in a big way for me during Barack Obama’s presidency, when he was selecting a new Supreme Court justice. He said that one of the qualities that he valued in jurists was empathy. The backlash against that statement was so intense and powerful that it shocked me. To me, empathy, an ability to think oneself into the subject position of someone different from oneself, seems a critically important quality in a judge. Where did this angry, visceral reaction against the connective emotions of the sentimental come from?

At the same time, in my readings in my field of American art, I was continually coming upon statements such as, “Winslow Homer was never sentimental,” “John Singer Sargent’s paintings of children are never sentimental.” Yet their works—at least some of them—looked sentimental to me. Why this need to deny the presence of the sentimental in the works of artists we admire?

All of this came together to launch me on this project. I had become conscious of a broad societal aversion to and rejection of the sentimental in both art and public life, and I wanted to understand it historically. What caused this aversion? Where did it come from? When...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison's new novel is Not of This Fold.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new Linda Wallheim mystery, Not Of This Fold?

A: My editor and I sat down at Bouchercon 2016 and shook out some basic ideas. I'd been wanting to talk about race and Mormonism for a while, and considering the political climate, it seemed like an apt time.

It was the first time I outlined a book before writing it, and I remember working feverishly on it on the plane ride home. After the election, there were some significant changes that had to be made, however: first my assumption that Hillary Clinton would win, and then my assumption that talking current politics was a good idea in a novel series.

Q: This is your fourth novel about Linda Wallheim. How do you think she's changed over the course of the series?

A: Linda has become angrier about the lack of social progress in the Mormon church, especially since For Time and All Eternities, set after the new policy excluding same-sex married couples and their children from participation in the church.

However, I decided that...[read on]
Visit Mette Ivie Harrison's website.

The Page 69 Test: His Right Hand.

Writers Read: Mette Ivie Harrison (January 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 24, 2018

Ally Condie

Ally Condie's forthcoming YA novel is The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe.

From the author's Q&A with David Canfield for Entertainment Weekly:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you feel now was the time to get back into YA?

ALLY CONDIE: It’s been since 2014, which is crazy to me — that it’s been that long. I actually started writing this book in 2014: It was going to be my next YA. I liked the idea, I felt really good about it, I liked the setting, I was getting some really positive feedback on the opening chapters from some readers. It’s a revenge-novel…I realized something I was missing. And it turned out that was rage! [Laughs] You kind of have to have that to write a revenge novel. Then 2016 came around and, all of a sudden, I had it all. [Laughs]

I don’t know how political anyone wants to be with any of this… but there was a lot, especially right around the time of the election and since — we had the Kavanaugh hearings, things that had been happening to young women and the way that that’s reacted to. That made me very angry. It was very easy to channel that into this character because she’s an extremely strong woman who’s working against a society that is stacked against her all the way. But she has a lot of — like, rage is the word, but there’s also a lot of love. That was the important thing…. That comes together any time we’re talking about politics and stuff: We feel anger, and then there’s that strange side of the coin where you realize, “Oh, but the only way to fix this is to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Marjorie Herrera Lewis

Marjorie Herrera Lewis is the author of When the Men Were Gone.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that you first heard about Tylene Wilson from her great-niece. How did you end up writing a novel about her?

A: In the instant that I heard of Tylene's existence and what she had done, I knew I would write a book. What I thought at the time was that I'd write a biography, considering I've been a career sportswriter.

After about three years of research -- off and on -- I discovered I had many parts but not one whole. The story had been lost to time. I decided to write a novel so I could memorialize what Tylene had done through fiction, with threads of reality throughout, and bring Tylene's story to life.

Q: What did you see as the right blend between the historical Tylene and your fictional creation?

A: It was important to me to accurately represent Tylene, the human being, so I remained true to her character, to how she lived her life and to who she was. I then took the pieces of what I knew and wrapped a story around them. The real, historical Tylene...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Samuel Schwartz

Samuel Schwartz is the author of the new book No One At The Wheel: Driverless Cars And The Road Of The Future. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

Terry Gross: Sam Schwartz, welcome to FRESH AIR. In your book, you write that AVs, autonomous vehicles, will be the most disruptive technology to hit society worldwide since the advent of the motorcar. Give us a couple of examples of industries or jobs or roadways that we might not realize will be profoundly affected by AVs once they start to really dominate.

SAMUEL SCHWARTZ: I think everybody is expecting fewer drivers, and, you know, that's no surprise. But it also means that there're probably going to be fewer repair shops because AVs lend themselves to fleet operations, especially if they're going to be offering rides, as opposed to selling maximum vehicles. So car dealerships may disappear. So this is going to have wide impacts. Truckers, of course, are going to be impacted - how we move about in so many different ways. But lots of industries will be affected. The insurance industry, certainly, will be affected since we will have fewer crashes, and about a third of the insurance industry is based on crashes. And if we have fewer crashes, there are going to be fewer cases in court. There'll be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 21, 2018

Lydia Kiesling

Lydia Kiesling is the author of The Golden State.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: One of the themes the book deals with is immigration. Why did you choose that as a topic to include in the novel, and how do you feel your characters' situation resonates with recent headlines?

A: I had friends of friends who went through an immigration experience that was similar to the one in the book.

I was very struck, watching them move through our immigration system, by the combination of inefficiency and malevolence that characterized their experience. They had some bad luck, but in some ways the system seemed designed to maximize opportunities for bad luck.

The family in the novel is being separated in a much less violent way than the very literal separations that are occurring at our border right now. But it is still a separation--our policy is not built around keeping families together, and the policies have only become...[read on]
Visit Lydia Kiesling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Richard Parker

Richard Parker is the author of Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America.

From his 2014 Q&A with Rudolph Bush, editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News:

There’s a dark side you write about: the impact of drought and climate change that Texans must take more seriously. It’s hard to see evidence that’s happening.

I call them thunderheads on the horizon. In Texas, it’s almost forbidden in public discussions to talk about climate change. We don’t have a political class that will touch that phrase. That’s a problem. We have to grapple with population growth in what is generally a semi-arid environment. I have a hard time seeing how we are going to have 50 million people and all of the associated uses of water when we’ve only got water for the population as it was in the 1950s. That’s not an issue the political class has taken as seriously as they should....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tom Barbash

Tom Barbash's new novel is The Dakota Winters.

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

SIMON: How do you make John Lennon a major, plausible character in a novel, assuming that you and John weren't buddies?

BARBASH: No, we weren't. I sort of felt like I needed to have something new to say about John. And I'd read a good deal about it last year. There was a book by John's personal assistant, Fred Seaman, that was helpful. There was a book by his tarot card reader. There were - you know, I read memoirs. I read his letters. But my sense, what I wanted to say is that John's last year, to me, seemed about being a father and thinking back on his own father and about going to sea.

So John learned how to sail that spring. He bought a sailboat, the Isis, and he sailed out of Cold Spring Harbor. And then he planned this trip through the Bermuda Triangle, from Rhode Island to Bermuda. And along the way, he had a harrowing storm. And the captain, a man named Captain Hank Halstead, turned the boat to John - over to John at one point because everybody else was seasick, and John wasn't because he was on a macrobiotic diet, and Captain Hank had been sailing for 30 hours. Turned the boat over to John and then, supposedly, singing filthy Liverpool shanties at the top of his lungs, John sailed the boat through the Bermuda Triangle in a storm and saved everybody's life.

And when he gets to Bermuda - he's had a five-year drought before that - and he writes all of "Double Fantasy" in about 10 days.

SIMON: Now, to be clear, this actually happened. It's also in your novel, but this happened, so far as we know.

BARBASH: This happened. So...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Justin Martin

Justin Martin is the author of A Fierce Glory: Antietam--The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the battle of Antietam in your new book?

A: This was the Civil War’s most pivotal battle. I would argue that it was more important than Gettysburg.

The battle took place near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on Sept. 17, 1862, and it was the culmination of a first-ever Confederate invasion of the North.

The Rebels had cooked up a diabolically clever scheme. Score a victory on Northern soil and England and France might interfere on the South’s behalf, the Union midterm elections might be disrupted, the state of Maryland might even secede and join the Confederacy.

However, Lincoln had a sly secret plan of his own, contingent on a Union victory. He planned to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which to this point was hidden away in his desk, known only to his closest advisors. By freeing the slaves, the Proclamation promised to invest the Union war effort with a new and nobler purpose.

So the stakes were huge. Whatever side won at Antietam was likely to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2018

Kate Heartfield

Kate Heartfield is the author of the historical fantasy novel Armed in Her Fashion and two time-travel novellas from Publishing, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives. She has also published several dozen short stories and an interactive novel for Choice of Games. A former journalist, she lives in Ottawa.

From Heartfield's Q&A with Paul Semel:

To start, what is Alice Payne Arrives about?

It’s about a highwaywoman in 18th century England who gets tangled up in a war between rival factions of time travelers from the future.

Where did you get the idea for Alice Payne Arrives and how did that idea evolve as you wrote it?

The mystery element of the story came first: I had an idea about a highwaywoman leading a double life who has to solve a crime before the parish constable does, so that said parish constable doesn’t discover her secret while he’s poking around. That element is still what kicks off the story in the book, but the answer to the mystery creates bigger problems for Alice.

It sounds like Alice Payne Arrives is a science fiction story. Is that how you see it, or is there a better way to describe this story?

Absolutely. The time travel in the book is technological, and some scenes in the book take place in the future.

When it came to describing how time travel works in Alice Payne Arrives, did you base it on a specific fictional depiction or did you look into real-world theories?

I’ve...[read on]
Visit Kate Heartfield's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice Payne Arrives.

Writers Read: Kate Heartfield.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 16, 2018

John Kaag

John Kaag is the author of Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are.

From his Q&A with Skye Cleary at the blog of The American Philosophical Association:

What excites you about philosophy?

The chance to teach students with virtually no philosophical training to be just a bit more reflective, to think and live in meaningful ways, to give an account of their lives that can comfort and compel them in times of crisis. Yes, I know—it is incredibly idealistic, but isn’t maintaining this idealism one of the perks of the job? I think so. This isn’t just Pollyanna optimism. One of the tricks of grappling with existential questions—the questions that the sciences will never be able to answer—is realizing how inadequate most conventional solutions are. The first step of being a young philosopher is often being disaffected, depressed, cynical, nihilistic—I think that one of the jobs that we have, a job that I will never tire of, is letting students explore this risk against the backdrop of genuine care.

What excites me about the discipline of philosophy right now is the resurgent sense that philosophy can matter in the public sphere. It can still effect change in politics and society at large, at a time when thinking and reading is quickly becoming a subversive act. My friend Clancy Martin said, and I think this is right, that there have been times in the history of philosophy when philosophers have had to stake a great deal on their thoughts. And I think we are...[read on]
Visit John Kaag's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Paula Brackston

Paula Brackston's latest novel is The Little Shop of Found Things.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Little Shop of Found Things, and is this the start of a new series?

A: I have always loved delving around in antique shops or attending auctions. Sometimes you can get a really strong sense of the history of an object just from holding it. I can’t help being curious about its story.

I heard about the gift of psychometry a while back and thought it would make a perfect way for a character to explore those stories. Psychometry allows a person to detect hidden information about an object when they touch it.

Yes, this is Book I in what is planned as a continuing series, so the story and the characters will go on in the next book.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write the novel? Did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: I decided I really had to spend some time exploring Marlborough and the county of Wiltshire. This meant I was compelled to...[read on]
Visit Paula Brackston's website.

Writers Read: Paula Brackston (February 2013).

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Paula Brackston & Bluebell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 14, 2018

Kai-Fu Lee

Kai-Fu Lee is the chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, a leading technology-savvy investment firm focusing on developing the next generation of Chinese high-tech companies. Before founding Sinovation in 2009, Lee was the President of Google China. His new book is AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order.

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

ZAKARIA: Everybody believes that the next great technology of the future in a sense (inaudible) technology is artificial intelligence.

LEE: Yes.

ZAKARIA: And you argue that China is probably going to be ahead in this -- in this absolutely critical front. Why?

LEE: Well, in the implementation -- I think the U.S. has been and is and will be ahead in the research. But A.I. is actually a set of algorithms that take a large amount of data and then make very smart decisions about a single domain, such as speech recognition or ad targeting or things -- or giving out a loan, determining to give or not to give.

And the Chinese entrepreneurial approach is just stronger at very quickly iterating and developing such algorithms and trying every which way to find ways to make money and satisfy users.

And also, the other huge advantage is A.I. is hungry for data. So the more data you have, the more accurate the A.I. becomes. So in the age of A.I., data is the new oil and China is the new Saudi Arabia, so...

ZAKARIA: Just to explain, if data is the new oil, Chine has four times as many people as the United States, right? And so it's going to have a lot of data?

LEE: Even more than that because, now, if you think about Chinese users are using mobile payment, mobile bicycle sharing, mobile delivery of food, they use their phones more; more data gets captured, so it's four times as many people times maybe two or three times more data. So it's actually more like a 10-time advantage...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kitty Zeldis

Kitty Zeldis is the pseudonym for a novelist and non-fiction writer of books for adults and children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY.

Her new novel is Not Our Kind.

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

Q: You write that your time as a Vassar student in the 1970s was the inspiration for Not Our Kind. How did your own experiences shape the characters you created, and why did you choose to set the novel in post-World War II New York?

A: I loved being a student at Vassar and feel very fortunate that I was able to attend the college. But it was also my first encounter with WASP culture on such a large scale and it both intimidated and fascinated me.

And as much as I loved Vassar, I distinctly felt that the historically, the institution would have been one that excluded me—I was the "not our kind" of the book’s title.

I chose post-World War II New York as the setting for the book because I felt that the issues it raised were even more sharply delineated then. The word “restricted” (which was the working title of the novel for quite a while) was a word used...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: Not Our Kind.

Writers Read: Kitty Zeldis.

Coffee with a Canine: Kitty Zeldis & Dottie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's latest book is The Fifth Risk.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: President Trump, the head of the federal government, scoffed at the [climate change report of November 2018], telling The Washington Post, "A lot of people like myself -- we have very high levels of intelligence, but we're not necessarily such believers."

Such a response does not surprise my next guest, the bestselling author Michael Lewis, who spent more than two years reporting on first the Trump transition, then the Trump administration. "The Fifth Risk" outlines the potentially catastrophic consequences when the federal government is led by people who don't believe or care for what it actually does."

Michael, you begin the story with the transition itself, the Trump transition team. Tell that story.

LEWIS: Right. So -- so Trump, by law, was strongly encouraged to prepare to be president before the election, as was Hillary Clinton. They built this transition team basically over Trump's objections. Chris Christie does it for him.

Trump is basically saying to Christie all along, "Don't spend any money on it." And I think it's because he thought he wasn't going to win. He wins, and he has in place, thanks to Chris Christie, what is, by independent observers' judgment, actually a fairly competent transition, hundreds of people who are ready to go into the federal government and receive the government from the Obama administration.

Trump fires this entire operation right after the election. So he has nobody. The -- the kind of briefings that go on, where you learn the basic functioning of the government, like -- this isn't an ideological question. It's, sort of, like you go into the Center for Disease Control and you learn how they manage the Zika virus.

ZAKARIA: You have a -- you have an interview with the deputy, I think, director at the Department of Energy who says, "The election happened and then we just sat around waiting and we heard nothing from the Trump administration."

LEWIS: So, from the other side of things, the Obama administration had prepared what amounted to the best course ever prepared on how the federal government works because they had been encouraged to do such a thing. And so places like the Energy Department, which is the department of nuclear weapons. I mean, it's where the nuclear weapons are tested, are managed, where loose nuclear material is cleaned up. I mean, it's like -- it's a mission-critical kind of thing, expected the next day that dozens of people would come in to start to learn about what they were managing.

And they, you know, the sort of thing like they had set aside the parking spots and the conference rooms and they wait and wait and wait and no one shows up the next day or the next week or the next month.

I mean, it was -- so my interest in this was, like, what don't they know that they need to know? And I wandered around the government and I got...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Jaclyn Gilbert

Jaclyn Gilbert's debut novel is Late Air.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Late Air, and for your characters Murray and Nancy?

A: One afternoon in graduate school, I was running along the Bronx River Parkway past a local golf course when I wondered what would happen if a stray golf ball hit me. All through my time as a runner at Yale I had trained for cross country on a golf course, and suddenly the threat of this accident seemed terrifyingly plausible.

I spent the next five years researching this hypothetical accident and writing draft after draft to refract its ghosts as fragments and ruptures through the point-of-view of Murray, a running coach obsessed with training his star athletes as a means of escape from a deep trauma from his past.

Developing the question of Murray’s past gave birth to his wife Nancy, someone who appeared so unlike him on the surface, but inside she was just as hyper focused and perfectionistic in her pursuits.

When I tried to imagine a plausible scenario for their falling in love, my mind circled back to my own experience...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2018

François-Xavier Fauvelle

François-Xavier Fauvelle, author of The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages, is senior fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Toulouse, France, and one of the world’s leading historians of ancient Africa.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

How did [The Golden Rhinoceros] come about?

This book came about for two reasons. The first is scholarly. As an historian and archaeologist, I have worked in several regions of Africa (the Horn of Africa, South Africa, and countries on both sides of the western Sahara) and have been lucky enough to visit archeological sites in other places. My research has made me understand that despite the profound cultural differences between these different regions there existed a point of convergence: their participation in a global system of exchange during the Middle Ages. This phenomenon had similar and synchronous effects on several African societies, particularly their participation in religious, economic, political and architectural “conversations” with other powers of the time, notably within the Islamic world. The second rationale behind this book is civic. French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech in Dakar in 2007 where he claimed that “the African has not fully entered into history,” made me understand that there was a severe shortage of works on African history that were both serious and accessible. Some Africanist historians took it upon themselves to respond to this scandalous speech. For my part, what I found scandalous was not that this speech could be delivered, but that it was audible in our society, that there was room for it to be heard. For me, the blame lies with scholars rather than politicians. The Golden Rhinoceros attempts to address this by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sarah Selecky

Sarah Selecky's new novel is Radiant Shimmering Light.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've written about your characters Lilian and Eleven before--how did they change from your original story to this novel?

A: I’ve been writing about these two women for more than 15 years! Why? They’ve been in my imagination for so long, and I’m still unsure why that is. I guess sometimes characters just hang around and haunt you. I thought I was finished with Lilian after that short story — but then I realized there was more I wanted to know about her.

In many ways, Lilian is the same Lilian. Just older and… wiser? Well, more experienced, let’s say! In relationships, she’s still the same well-intentioned, vulnerable, and insecure woman she was in the story. She’s still searching for where she belongs, and she doesn’t know how to find and nurture true connection. That part of her character was the driving force of both the story and the novel.

In the novel, I gave her a magical superpower and got to spend time developing it — she has the ability to see auras, and she’s an artist.

Eleven is a bit different. She was a mysterious presence in the earlier drafts of that short story. Lilian was obsessed with this person, desperately hoping...[read on]
Visit Sarah Selecky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Wallace Stroby

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and the author of eight novels, four of which feature professional thief Crissa Stone, whom Kirkus Reviews named "Crime fiction's best bad girl ever."

His new novel is Some Die Nameless.

A Long Branch, N.J., native, Stroby is a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore. His debut novel The Barbed-Wire Kiss, which The Washington Post called "a scorching first novel ...full of attention to character and memory and, even more, to the neighborhoods of New Jersey," was a finalist for the 2004 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

His 2010 novel Gone 'til November was picked as a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, as was the second Crissa Stone novel Kings of Midnight. In 2012, the Crissa Stone novels were optioned by Showtime Networks for development.

A graduate of Rutgers University, Stroby was an editor at the Star-Ledger of Newark, Tony Soprano's hometown newspaper, for 13 years.

From Stroby's Q&A with John Dwaine McKenna for Mysterious Book Report:

Who’s your favorite literary character?

I have a bunch. Of the ones I wish I’d created, foremost would be Will Graham from Thomas Harris’ RED DRAGON, and Ray Hicks from Robert Stone’s DOG SOLDIERS. They’re both multi-dimensional characters in incredibly stressful situations. The same is true of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux – 22 books later, he’s still one of the most compelling characters in American fiction. He’s a guy with more than his share of demons, but who still strives to do the right thing and live an honorable life.

And though she’s not strictly a literary character, I’d include Jane Tennison from TV’s PRIME SUSPECT, created by Lynda LaPlante and unforgettably played by Helen Mirren. A brilliant detective and usually the smartest person in the room, but not...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his novels at the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

The Page 69 Test: Gone 'til November.

The Page 69 Test: Cold Shot to the Heart.

The Page 69 Test: Kings of Midnight.

The Page 69 Test: The Devil's Share.

Writers Read: Wallace Stroby (August 2018).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2018

Hassan Malik

Hassan Malik is the author of Bankers and Bolsheviks: International Finance and the Russian Revolution.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:
Many scholars, writers and filmmakers have engaged with the period you chose to write about. What in particular attracted you to it?

I was always struck by how frequently financial history surveys focus on a few set stories and episodes – the Dutch Tulipmania of the seventeenth century, the hyperinflation in Weimar Germany, or the 1929 stock market crash – but how rarely they mention Russia, especially given the scale of the Russian borrowing binge in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a banker living and working in Moscow during mid 2000s, I was constantly walking by pre-revolutionary buildings that had once housed banks. These vestiges of a previous Russian boom piqued my interest in the role of finance during the revolutionary period and inspired me to approach the subject through the archives and writings of key individual players in this drama. The Russian case was particularly interesting given that all the major players in global finance were able to participate in Russian markets. Unlike other emerging markets that were dominated by a single country or bank, the Russian story featured a diverse group of actors, and so provided an ideal vantage point from which to write about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Kristina McMorris

Kristina McMorris is the author of Sold on a Monday.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said that the inspiration for your new novel came from a photo. How did that image lead to this book?

A: I was online one day, actually researching for another novel, when I happened across a photo. It was a black-and-white image of four children huddled on a stoop in Chicago, with their mother shielding her face from camera and a sign that read: “4 Children for Sale, Inquire Within.”

As you can imagine, I was stunned. I could understand a mother giving up her children for their betterment, but what would push a parent to ask for money in return?

That question kept haunting me until I finally did some research about the photo and discovered a recent follow-up article about the kids (now adults), and how some of them were reuniting for the first time since childhood.

Learning that the 5-year-old girl in the picture (whom I’ve since befriended) was sold for two measly dollars—apparently so her mother could have bingo money!—was astonishing. As was a claim by some family members that the photo was...[read on]
Visit Kristina McMorris's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Carol Potenza

Carol Potenza is the author of Hearts of the Missing: A Mystery.

From her Q&A with Paula Munier at The Thrill Begins:

Paula: Tell us a little more about Nicky Matthews. What inspired her character? What do you love most about her? What worries you most about her?

Carol: Nicky was inspired by my sister-in-law who is a police officer on a Native American pueblo in New Mexico. I was fascinated by the stories she would tell about the pueblo and the traditions and culture of the people who lived there. But when I’d want more details about a ceremony or ritual, she’d shrug and tell me she’d never asked because it wasn’t her business. She believes the people she serves deserve their privacy on issues they don’t choose to share with outsiders. I wanted to make my protagonist like that, with the kind of respect my sister-in-law has for the pueblo.

What I love about Nicky is her total dedication to the people she serves. To do her job, she needs to walk right up to the edge of the pueblo’s traditions and culture, and put one foot in their world, but she won’t and can’t cross over completely because it breaks a trust. She believes her job fulfills her, but at the end of the day, she must leave that place and the people and go home to an empty house. What worries me about Nicky is that her choices have thrown up barriers to her happiness. Some she can work to overcome, but others, she can’t. She will always be...[read on]
Visit Carol Potenza's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga was born in India in 1974 and attended Columbia and Oxford universities. He is the author of Selection Day, the Booker Prize-winning novel The White Tiger, and the story collection Between the Assassinations.

From his interview with Alex Clark at the Guardian:

Selection Day is about a father who envisages a grand future in Indian cricket for his sons. Was it prompted by your love for the sport?

No. Actually, it comes from something close to disgust with the way cricket is played in India. It’s often said that cricket and Bollywood are the two real religions of India, which unite people of all backgrounds, and there’s much truth to that.

What is it that repels you about it?

There’s always been a fair amount of money involved in cricket in India. But what has happened in the last two decades is that, ironically, this game that in some ways began in England and was, if you will, an aristocratic backlash against emergent industrial capitalism – that game has become the spearhead of the new Indian capitalism, in the sense that cricket is used to...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2018

Steve Watkins

Steve Watkins's new young adult novel is On Blood Road.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for On Blood Road and for your character Taylor?

A: I guess it grew out of the idea that we were all tourists in a weird way, in terms of our involvement in the War in Vietnam. During the war you actually could go there as a tourist, and many did.

Plenty of family members made the trip over--at least to Saigon and protected areas on the coast. Continental Airlines flew direct from the States, I think.

If you read accounts of the war from the American perspective, most of them barely mention the Vietnamese, except as marginal players--either illiterate villagers who were either Viet Cong spies or hapless victims, evil North Vietnamese who happily tortured, ambushed, maimed, and killed in cowardly ways, or prostitutes.

None of which was true, except in the popular American consciousness, and the terrible John Wayne film The Green Berets.

So I wanted to take a privileged kid from the States, clueless about what was really going on and not having to think too much about it, and drop him into the center of the insanity. Also...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Daniel T. Rodgers

Daniel T. Rodgers's new book is As a City on a Hill: The Story of America's Most Famous Lay Sermon.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

How did you come to write this book?

Like many book projects, this one began when with a sense of surprise. “We shall be as a city on a hill” has been part of the core rhetoric of American nationalism since the 1980s when Ronald Reagan began using it as a signature phrase in his speeches. In modern times, it is virtually impossible to discuss the “American creed” and the main themes in American civic culture without it. Like other teachers of American history, I had taught the Puritan text from which Reagan had taken the phrase to hundreds of students. “A Model of Christian Charity,” John Winthrop had titled his “lay sermon” in 1630. Here I said, with the confidence of repeating a rock-solid certainty, lay the origins of the idea of special, world-historical destiny that had propelled American history from its very beginnings.

But I was wrong. The closer I looked at the text that speechwriters, op-ed contributors, preachers, historians, political scientists, and so many others thought they knew so well, the more I began to realize that the story of Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” held a string of surprises. Rather than running as a continuous thread through American history, Winthrop’s text had almost immediately dropped out of sight where it stayed, unread and unimportant, for generations. When historians and social commenters revived it two and a half centuries after its writing, they did so in the act of making it into a radically different document than it had been at its origins. Winthrop had placed a plea for charity and intense mutual obligations, not greatness, at the heart of his “Model.” How had this core meaning been lost? How had Winthrop’s sense of the acute vulnerability of his project been replaced by confidence that the United States had a unique and unstoppable mission to be a model to the world? How had this story of forgetting and remembering, erasure and revision, reuse and contention actually unfold? It was when...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Age of Fracture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Michele Weber Hurwitz

Michele Weber Hurwitz's new book is Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What do you think the books say about sibling relationships?

A: Ethan and Erin are polar opposites, but they come through for each other in crucial moments. I think a lot of siblings have that deep kind of love/hate relationship. They annoy each other constantly but would stand up for the other in a heartbeat. My two older kids are like that, and I drew a lot from their relationship.

All of the characters in the book are very relatable. They go through friendship troubles, crushes, misunderstandings, awkwardness, and frustrations, but they all learn that they have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 30, 2018

David Hu

David Hu's new book is How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future.

From his Q&A with Matthew Taylor at the Princeton University Press blog:

Why this book now?

The last twenty years have seen an explosion in the number and types of investigators studying animal motion, in large part due to the greater number of tools that can visualize the motion of animals. High speed videography has gone digital. CT-scanners originally for use in hospitals can now see the shapes and insides of animals with better clarity than ever before. These shapes can now be printed using 3-D printing and then subjected to physically tests, for example to show that a shark’s scales can increase its fuel economy.

What is unexpected about this book?

Many concepts from animal motion have no analogy in the built world. For example, most of the things we ride around on are hard, like the stiff frame of a car or bicycle. However, a great number of animals, especially insects, have evolved crushable bodies that enable them to survive impacts with their surroundings. Bees for example are so rushed to obtain pollen that they collide with hundreds of thousands of plant stems and flowers in a lifetime. Their wings have origami-based crush zones. Their hinges are made of a material called resilin, that is more springy than the springiest human-made material, Zectron, the main component in the 25-cent super ball.

What makes you qualified to write this book?

My laboratory...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Yona Zeldis McDonough

Yona Zeldis McDonough's new book is Courageous.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What kind of research did you do on Dunkirk, and did you learn anything surprising?

A: Because I knew very little about the subject, I did a lot of reading about it—first-hand accounts, books by historians and even poems—I found several.

I also saw the recent movie that came out, which I also found very helpful with certain small but telling visual details, like the fact that many of the small boats chose to raise the Union Jack as they crossed then channel or that the men stranded at the shore became covered with sand. Those are the sorts of things that can really bring the story to life in the mind of the reader.

What impressed me was the...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Yona Zeldis McDonough's website.

The Page 69 Test: You Were Meant For Me.

My Book, The Movie: You Were Meant for Me.

Coffee with a Canine: Yona Zeldis McDonough & Willa and Holden.

Writers Read: Yona Zeldis McDonough (February 2016).

The Page 69 Test: The House on Primrose Pond.

My Book, The Movie: The House on Primrose Pond.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thelma Adams

Thelma Adams is the author of the historical novel Bittersweet Brooklyn, the bestseller The Last Woman Standing and Playdate, which Oprah magazine described as “a witty debut novel.” In addition to her fiction work, Adams is a prominent American film critic and an outspoken voice in the Hollywood community. She has been the in-house film critic for Us Weekly and The New York Post, and has written essays, celebrity profiles and reviews for Yahoo! Movies, The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine,, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Parade, Marie Claire and The Huffington Post. Adams studied history at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was valedictorian, and received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives in upstate New York with her family.

From Adams's Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think there is a why now moment for an author to write any book. What were the origins of this one for you?

This book was a long time cooking. It began with personal essays and memoir, and expanded when my father shared a half-written short story he'd drafted with his-daughter-the-writer a few years before his death at 62 from a brain tumor. His prose – half typed, half scrawled, disappearing into an ellipse before it concluded – cracked open a new understanding of my father's past, one that was too painful for him to reveal in the jokes and banter and tall tales he told about his Brooklyn childhood.

He and my mother named me after my paternal grandmother, Thelma, who died the year before I was born. When I arrived, her death was new, still raw for my father. I presume there were a lot of heavy unresolved emotions when I entered the world, cross-eyed with an unformed hip and squalling angry. As I grew up – not a Mary or a Bonnie or a Sara – I found Thelma a heavy name to carry on the sunny schoolyards of Southern California where my Brooklyn-born father transplanted us. There were no other Thelma's. It was an old and odd name in a world that honored new and unexceptional. With that name, and the wild temper I inherited, I couldn't go with the flow.

In some ways the name shaped me – and it was only a matter of time before I tried to figure out the widow whose name I had, and wonder why she'd left so few memories behind. I swam myself out of Southern California through strong academics, went to Berkeley, embraced feminism, wrote poetry, believed that I could own and shape myself and my future. It was a very optimistic time: the cusp of the 80s. I was still being pushed along by the social reform movement of the 60s and 70s. I would make change. I would own my sexuality and not let men define me. And, yet, when I considered my grandmother, and imagined her with my strong spirit and intelligence and energy, I really wondered what...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Thelma Adams' website.

The Page 69 Test: Playdate.

My Book, The Movie: Playdate.

The Page 69 Test: Bittersweet Brooklyn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Steven Ujifusa

Steven Ujifusa is the author of Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Greatest Clipper Ship. Barons of the Sea tells the saga of the great 19th century American clipper ships and the Yankee merchant dynasties they created. It is a story of high-stakes competition on the high seas, groundbreaking technical innovation in shipbuilding, and intense family rivalries. Nathaniel Philbrick described it as “A fascinating, fast-paced history…full of remarkable characters and incredible stories” about the nineteenth-century American dynasties who battled for dominance of the tea and opium trades.”

Fron Ujifusa's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you first get interested in the 19th century clipper ships, and why did you end up writing Barons of the Sea?

A: I have been fascinated by ships and the sea since early childhood. My first book, A Man and His Ship: America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the SS United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), grew out of my love of the great transatlantic ocean liners of the 20th century.

When considering a topic for a second book, I decided to go back a century and look at another type of fast ship that revolutionized global commerce.

Barons of the Sea also is about a quest to build a transcendently beautiful type of vessel, the American clipper ship, but it is also the story of...[read on]
Visit Steven Ujifusa's website.

The Page 99 Test: Barons of the Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2018

Sarah McCoy

Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables; The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post, Read It Forward, Writer Unboxed, and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilbert, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

From McCoy's Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I absolutely loved all the historical details. The writer Mary Morris once told me that in doing research, forget the dates, but look for the stories, the human drama. Can you talk about your research? What surprised you?

Out of the hundreds of cable channels, I could honestly do with just four: History Channel, Biography Channel, Turner Classic Movies, and PBS. I am a proud history geek. You can’t beat the drama of historical narratives. It’s too wild for anyone to make up! I write historical fiction because that’s what fires me up.

Lucy Maud Montgomery gave us two complicated, yet deeply lovable characters in Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. She left an excellent literary breadcrumb trail, and I considered it a joy to follow it backwards to discover their younger selves. The most important part of doing Marilla justice was to pay attention to the Green Gables world that Lucy Maud Montgomery created. I...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website, Facebook page, Instagram page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Marilla of Green Gables.

Writers Read: Sarah McCoy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Nina Burleigh

Nina Burleigh's latest book is Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump's Women.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Did you learn anything particularly surprising during your research for the book?

A: The biggest surprise - the biggest printable surprise anyway - was the fact that, in the U.S. Census for 1929, Trump's mother lived as a maid, in the Carnegie mansion, at the bottom of a retinue of 20 servants, footmen, chauffeurs.

This fact, never reported before, is, to me, Trump's "rosebud," the key to his yearning for class and royal pomp, and even Ivanka's reported contention that the Trumps are America's royal family. This all came down from Ma Trump, a poor Scottish fisherman's daughter, gazing in at the life of one of America's richest families.

The second thing was how terrified women in this circle are - and some men.

The third thing is that Trump's infected with a sense of primeval taboo about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Peter Frankopan

Peter Frankopan is a historian at Oxford University, where he is Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford and Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research.

His books include The Silk Roads: A New History of the World and The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World.

From the author's interview with Andrew Anthony at the Guardian:

Were you surprised by the success of The Silk Roads?

I’m flabbergasted by how many people read it. I work on these parts of the world that I think are very interesting and important, like Turkey, Russia, Iran and further eastwards, and normally when I talk about what I do at dinner parties nobody wants to talk about these things with me. So I had no expectations at all that people would read my book or that the reviews would be so incredibly generous. So it was a huge shock. I was very lucky with the timing when it came out.

Has it affected your work in any notable ways?

I’ve just been at an event where we’ve had a visiting minister from Russia and that’s what’s changed. So yes insofar as I get grander and probably more exciting invitations to go and give lectures, which is flattering. On the other hand I’ve been an academic here at Oxford for more than 20 years and the satisfaction is in people realising that moving away from Eurocentrism and learning about different parts of the world in the past and the present is important.

Some critics suggested that your opinion in The Silk Roads that the region was rising again was rather optimistic. Is this new book an effort to back up that position?

No, in fact I think that’s a sloppy reading of someone who probably read the last paragraph. What I was saying in that book and in this book is that the global events of the past and the present are taking place in that land that’s between the eastern Mediterranean and China. Although we’re obsessed about Brexit and Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, the stuff that really matters is...[read on]
Visit Peter Frankopan's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Silk Roads.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 23, 2018

Amanda Searcy

Amanda Searcy's new novel is Watch You Burn.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Watch You Burn and for your character Jenny?

A: This book started with an image—like a photograph—in my head of these two girls standing in the ruins of an old motel pouring milk into a saucer for a kitten. I didn’t know much more than that, or even what kind of story it would be.

Over time my subconscious started collecting other bits and pieces and glued them together. I knew something had happened to Jenny. When I started focusing on her, it was Jenny herself who told me about her relationship with fire.

The other girl—Jenny’s friend Ro—popped into my head after I went to a lecture about services for people experiencing homelessness. Ro isn’t homeless, but there’s a reason she’s hanging...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A. L. Kennedy

AL Kennedy's latest book, The Little Snake, is a novella written to mark the 75th anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

From her Guardian Q&A with Lisa Allardice:

What was it like to return to Saint-Exupéry’s much-loved classic?

If you read The Little Prince as a grownup it is pretty bloody sad. You think: “Oh shit, it’s about death.” There’s a funny snake and a snake that kills him. So I thought, I’ll do the snake because I quite like snakes.

The Little Snake is incredibly moving, yet joyful. It made me cry. Has it had that effect on other readers?

It does make people cry. It came out in Germany first and 50% of the time, during readings, we’d have to stop because too many people would be crying. It is about the inevitability of losing everything you care about. The rest of it has to be quite joyful otherwise you couldn’t read it. I hope. With some subjects, such as death, you can’t look at it directly, you have to look at it out of the corner of your eye. You have to have a balance, you have to have the salt and the sweet.

Did you intend it to be for both children and adults?

It’s for very young people up to old people. I don’t have any children, but it is all the things I would...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue