Thursday, May 31, 2018

Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers's new novel is A Shout in the Ruins. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that your new novel is based in part on actual events that took place in Richmond in the 19th century. What did you see as the right blend between the fictional and the historical as you wrote the novel?

A: I wanted to tell a story that would allow this period to feel lived in for a reader. I love history, but much of it seems to exist on a macro level, the movement of forces and systems at work and so forth.

So while it was important to me to represent historically accurate details that reflected the character of the times, I wanted to focus more on the micro level of what it might have been like to live in those times.

Although there are examples of diaries and first person records that I turned to in my research, invention allowed me to explore multiple points of view and the kinds of dynamics that would exist within the constraints of the times among individual actors.

Q: The book takes place over more than a century, with different chapters told from the perspectives of various characters. Did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus on one character's story at a time?

A: My hope in structuring it the way that I did was that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Richard Powers

Richard Powers's newest novel is The Overstory.

From his Los Angeles Times Q&A with Patt Morrison:

It's a novel about people and trees, so I’ll ask you about the seed, the germination for this book.

It actually started here in California. I was living in Palo Alto, and it's quite a crazy place. On the one hand, you're right in the heart of Silicon Valley, and up on the other side was the Santa Cruz Mountains, a second-growth redwood forest. And I would head up there to escape Silicon Valley.

I guess I was walking up there under the redwoods one day, and it's a spectacular thing. I think anybody who's walked even in a second-growth redwood forest feels that sense that it's like being in an enormous, enormous cloister.

And I came across an uncut tree, and I had been marveling at these redwoods. What a redwood can do in a hundred years is incredible, but when you let them go a thousand years, it seems like something from another world altogether.

In front of this thousand-year-old tree which was as wide as a house and as tall as a football field, I had a sense of what these mountains must have looked like before we got to them. They were cut down to build San Francisco a couple of times, and it occurred to me that Silicon Valley was down there because these forests were up here. There was some kind of link that had never been really made explicit to me. That long relationship, that dependency, and the war between people and trees, felt very, very powerful and very dramatic.

And I felt the need to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Rachel Devlin

Rachel Devlin's new book is A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America's Schools. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: In your book, you ask, “Why, then, did so many young women and girls file school desegregation lawsuits and volunteer to desegregate schools?” Why do you think that was the case?

A: There’s the moment in which you volunteer, and then there’s following through. I thought about this for many years. First, you have to have the commitment, to see yourself in a white school and believe that being in a white school has meaning.

Girls believed this pretty much uniformly. Young men saw the desegregation of public spaces, of voting, of pools, of libraries, as important, and there were some young men in the ‘60s who desegregated schools, but as a group, they were less sure this was the next step.

What helped girls and young women to see that was they could imagine themselves in these spaces. You can expect hostility, but it’s a mysterious process. Girls had developed skills for dealing with white people—on the streets where there was a great deal of scrutiny. They were familiar with that.

And there was the [experience] of going to work with their mothers inside white homes. In the mid-century South it was very hard to find anybody who didn’t spend time in a white home.

They watched their mothers being verbally combative in social spaces. There was a long history back to the 19th century of verbal conflict between black women and white women, and a sense of, I can confront this hostility and know how to respond.

The other component is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2018

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's new novel is The Great Believers.

From her Newcity Lit interview with Toni Nealie:

“The Great Believers” is a heavyweight, longer than your previous books and significant in content. At what point did you realize this would be an epic—both in magnitude of story and in cultural importance?

I’ve been joking that it’s a doorstop. Although I don’t want to scare anyone away from it—it’s under 500 pages, I swear, and very good for pressing leaves. This novel really found its own shape and that wasn’t something I wanted to fight. One thing that dictated the scope of the book was the trajectory of the HIV virus itself. A point of ignorance when I started writing was that I didn’t realize it would often take five years from infection to first symptoms, even back before there was good medication. Learning this changed the timeline of the novel, forced me to write about a much broader swath of time. We so often see the suddenness of AIDS depicted in art, but not its horrifying slowness. At the same time, I wanted this to be the story of a group of friends, not just one person. That tilted things toward the epic as well.

I was scared to write something this long, in part because I have a theory that long books by men are seen as big, important cultural touchstones—a kind of literary “manspreading”—while long books by women… well, there just aren’t as many. I did an experiment on my Facebook page where I asked people to name 400-plus page books from the past decade. People named the same women over and over (Donna Tartt and Meg Wolitzer) while meanwhile there were dozens of men named. I took that as a reason to...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

The Page 69 Test: The Hundred-Year House.

My Book, The Movie: The Hundred-Year House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's newest book is Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces.

From his Guardian interview with Alex Preston:

If Manhood for Amateurs was about taking on responsibility, Pops feels like it’s about letting go as your kids grow up.

Eventually, one of the things you come up against as a parent is the limitation of your importance in your kids’ life. They go off and forge relationships and make families by choice, in one way or another. You recede and dwindle in importance. If you are parenting properly, you’re parenting yourself out of a job.

In the introduction to Pops, you recall a long-ago conversation with an older author who told you that you had to choose between being a great novelist or a father.

I realised I wasn’t interested in the question of balancing one’s art and one’s life as a parent. I’m not saying it isn’t a problem, but I was trying to consider a different question – what difference does it make in the end, either way? Either your books will be forgotten or even if you are remembered in 100 years, you...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2018

L.M. Elliott

L.M. Elliott is the author of the new YA historical novel Hamilton and Peggy! From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on Peggy Schuyler, the sister-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, in your new book?

A: My editor, Katherine Tegen— who is so gifted at spotting groundswells in cultural trends and interest—suggested I do something about Hamilton, given the national fascination with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical.

I didn’t want to touch Hamilton himself, as he’s become sacrosanct legend now. I also didn’t want to rehash the Alex-Eliza romance so beautifully depicted in Miranda’s work and already explored in a half-dozen novels. So, I looked for minor characters, those Rosencrantz and Guildenstern style witnesses to a much beloved and known narrative.

It actually was easy to choose—what about “AND Peggy,” I thought, the littlest sister who makes a tantalizing brief appearance in the Schuyler Sisters Song (by my count given only 36 solo words) and then is gone. The actress playing her doubles as Hamilton’s lover Maria Reynolds in the musical’s second half.

Of course, I had to find out if “AND Peggy” warranted a whole novel. My first quick-hit bit of research revealed family lore that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 25, 2018

Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu's latest novel is The Hunger.

From her Chicago Review of Books Q&A with Greer Macallister:

Greer Macallister: The Hunger is billed as a reimagining of the Donner Party “with a supernatural turn.” Why a horror twist on this famous historical tragedy?

Alma Katsu: I can understand why anyone would think that what happened to the Donner Party was bad enough; does it need any embellishment? But as a storyteller, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

The Donner Party holds a special place in the American imagination. Here are the facts: In the late summer of 1846, the Donner wagon train headed down a little-known route in the hope that it would cut hundreds of miles off the trek to California. Instead, it took them through a hellishly impassable landscape that put them weeks behind schedule. Just as they arrived at the last mountain pass standing between them and their destination, the worst storm of the century descended. Out of food and already pushed to the point of starvation, they had only one choice if they wanted to survive.

With that alone, you have the makings of a great tale. Add to it the stories of the men and women in the wagon party: why did they decide to pull up roots, leave family and friends behind and make an incredibly long, hard journey through the wilderness? Some were looking for a new start or better opportunities, yes, but some were running away from trouble, debt, or disgrace.

Now you have an even better story.

It wasn’t until I started the research that I realized...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

My Book, The Movie: The Hunger.

The Page 69 Test: The Hunger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall's new book is No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that you’ve been working on this book for many years, and that it took different forms. What initially made you want to write about your family, and how did you decide on a memoir in the end?

A: My dad wanted to find a ghostwriter to write his story. I was working as a magazine journalist in London, and I didn’t want anyone else to write our story. All those years he was in prison, he was writing a manuscript, and he would send me chapters to read…

He was keen as well, and I quit my job in London and moved to Los Angeles. I interviewed him every day. It was a special time for us both. I was only 24 then, and thought I could write this in a year. Then you realize you don’t know how to write a book.

I realized that telling his story almost made me feel angry at him again, and that we’ve heard the story of the male kingpin whose wife and children [were sidelined]. I wanted to tell [that less-told aspect of] the story.

I was trying to recreate scenes from the 1970s and I didn’t have the experience [to do that]. I started writing what...[read on]
Visit Tyler Wetherall's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson is the author of Negroland: A Memoir, which won a National Book Critics Circle award, (for autobiography) and was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize, and On Michael Jackson.

From her Guardian Q&A with Arifa Akbar:

You write that Michael Jackson, since his death, has been rehabilitated into the music canon – that “he got it all back with his art” after his death. Do you think we can separate his music, wonderful as it was, from the allegations that dogged him?

No, we can’t. But his death allowed the canon simultaneously to reacknowledge the greatness of his art and to look at him as a damaged, harmed, and harming person. I have to live with, and keep analysing, this contradiction. In deciding I love Michael Jackson I take it all in – his music, the crimes he may have committed, his inner turmoil. I need the pleasure and the complications he gives me. As F Scott Fitzgerald said: “The test of a truly first-rate intelligence is to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Jackson the child star was thrown into an adult world and abused by his father but you also call him a pioneer. Can he be both victim and pioneer?

I’ve long been interested in child stars. It’s a fascination that goes back to watching Shirley Temple, but in his case, a gifted child star becomes an equally gifted adult, and a ground-breaking figure. Was he a victim? He was conscripted by a domineering father into very tough, demanding work. There are accounts of the hours of rehearsing he did and the travelling. But he was also pioneering. The black child in American culture tended to be seen as someone too young to be dangerous yet. He was the male version of Topsy from Uncle Tom’s Cabin or the hired “piccaninny”. What he managed...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Margaret Bradham Thornton

Margaret Bradham Thornton's new novel is A Theory of Love. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for A Theory of Love, and for your characters Helen and Christopher?

A: If I try to distill that question, I would say the idea of my novel came from a seagull and a circus performer. One day I was walking along the beach and I saw a seagull in the dunes and it was clear it was in distress and was dying. And there was nothing I could do, and I knew to go near it would only cause further distress.

And as I walked away I thought about how many animals spend most of their lives alone and most die alone and it made me wonder about the human condition: what is it that makes us want to be with another person.

About the time that I was thinking about this question I traveled to Cuba. I was so amazed by the grandeur of Havana that I wanted to read about its history so when I returned I contacted an antiquarian bookseller to see what might exist about this period and I got sidetracked by one of their books.

It was the memoir of a circus performer who had joined the circus as an orphan when he was seven and traveled extensively in Cuba in the 1830s and ‘50s.

Instead of finding a colorful description of Cuba and other places he had traveled, I found...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2018

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan's latest book is How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, And Transcendence. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Pollan. You probably know him from his books about food, like "The Omnivore's Dilemma," and "The Botany Of Desire," which is also about how plants can influence the mind. And his new book takes that a step further. It's a history of psychedelic drugs, including how they're being used today in research settings. And the book is called, "How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, And Transcendence."

So I want to ask you how all of this has affected your food life.

POLLAN: (Laughter).

GROSS: Seriously. 'Cause you've written about eating plants, you've written about eating animals. Are you eating any differently than you were before using psychedelics? Because you also talk about feeling that the plants in your garden have a spirit. I don't know how that translates to eating them.

POLLAN: (Laughter). Well, one of the really interesting things that happens to some people on psychedelics is that their sense of nature changes. And nature becomes more alive. They're almost animistic. And so I've always had this sense that plants have their own point of view or subjectivity, and that we're not the only perceiving subject on the planet and that's our arrogance to think so. And that was for me an intellectual conceit, but it became real on this psilocybin trip I had, a different psilocybin trip, where I was outdoors for most of it. And I had a sense of that there were spirits in all the plants, and that they were looking back at me in some sense.

I know how wacky that sounds. But they were benign. I was in my garden, and I felt part of it. I felt like another creature among other creatures - you know, that there were many spirits here and I was one of them, and they were others and they were communicating to me. But I still eat them. (Laughter). I mean, you have to eat plants, you know? You can give up on animals. And I've never thought plants...

GROSS: Have you given up on animals?

POLLAN: Almost. I'm a kind of a very reluctant carnivore. I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rebekah Frumkin

Rebekah Frumkin's new novel is The Comedown. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Comedown, and for the two families you write about?

A: I came up with the idea for something that would become this book when I was 21 and feeling sort of hungover after a night spent in what we'll call "high spirits."

I was sitting on my bed in my dorm room and reading over a scene I'd written about a type-A project manager at a hedge fund who puts on his high-tech performance wear and goes for a run.

How hilarious would it be, I thought, if this guy were my brother? He'd be so angry about my collegiate debauchery. That project manager became Leland Jr. and the college-aged recipient of his animus Lee. That was the origin of the Bloom-Mittwoch family.

The Marshall family came when Reggie, cornered into selling coke, emerged as more than a foil to Leland Sr.'s madness. Natasha had always been around as the arch academic and would-be widow of Reggie, so it only made sense that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Alex Segura

Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of the Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery novels, all via Polis Books.

Segura's new novel is Blackout.

From the author's Q&A with A. J. Frost at The Beat:

AJ FROST: Hi Alex! So nice to chat with you. Your new mystery novel, Blackout, I would argue, is your most ambitious yet. There are more dips and dabs between time periods and emotions. Where did the story and emotional tone for this new book come from?

ALEX SEGURA: Hi AJ! Well, first off, thanks for saying that. It means a lot. The story was a byproduct of the stuff I was reading—partially for “research” but mostly because I was interested in the topics. Stuff like cults, politics, Miami cold cases, and so on. Once I was through some of that, the kernel of the plot or mystery cropped up, and it dovetailed nicely with the emotional arc I wanted to give our detective, Pete Fernandez. I knew I wanted this to be a turning point for him, a chance to look back on his past and come to terms with it, so he could finally start living, as opposed to just wallowing in this “middle” state, feeling bad about his past mistakes and not feeling like he deserved to be part of the world.

FROST: This is our fourth go-around with Pete and, while he’s gotten better, he still travels around with a multitude of inner demons. As a writer—let alone a writer of hard-boiled crime yarns—what’s the most alluring and most demanding aspect of creating a flawed hero like Pete?

SEGURA: I think it is grist for the mill. I’m not interested in writing about the iconic hero, the perfect man or woman. Complex, flawed characters interest me as a reader; those are the books I gravitate toward. I’m keen to show Pete’s progression from passed out drunk when we meet him in my first novel, SILENT CITY, to now. And the journey isn’t over. In BLACKOUT, Pete’s better: he doesn’t drink and he’s working as private investigator. But he’s still...[read on]
Visit Alex Segura's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blackout.

Writers Read: Alex Segura.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 18, 2018

Anshel Pfeffer

Anshel Pfeffer, a senior correspondent and columnist for Haaretz, is the author of the new book Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu. From his Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

What do you think [Netanyahu']s long-term plan is for the region, both in regard to the Palestinians and the Iranians? Is it anything other than the status quo, which looks to many liberals in America like a deteriorating one?

Netanyahu would disagree with the word deterioration. He sees the situation as Israel’s standing in the region improving. He sees its military advantage over its neighbors increasing, and it has increased partly because Israel is continuing to improve its military technology and partly because the countries around Israel have been consumed by chaos. So there is no real military rival to Israel in the immediately surrounding Middle East, not including Iran. And its economy is growing at a record pace, and the prosperity of Israelis has increased. So he is not seeing a deterioration. And at the same time, he is seeing the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two main Arab nations, getting closer to Israel over their joint enmity and rivalry with Iran, and the fact that the Saudis and Egyptians are much more prepared to openly disregard the Palestinian issue. So as far as he is concerned, the status quo is improving, and all us liberals and leftists who have been saying for 51 years that the occupation was unsustainable are being proved wrong because it is eminently sustainable. He doesn’t address the situation of Palestinian rights or the issue of what it is doing to Israeli society and democracy being a nation that holds another nation in subjugation. Those matters don’t really concern him.

Occasionally he has to deal with something that happens in Gaza, but he believes they are passing episodes where the world will be angry for a few days and then go on to other things.

His long-term plan is to get peace through deterrence, not a peace through compromise, and he believes the Palestinians will...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ava Dellaira

Ava Dellaira's latest young adult novel is In Search of Us. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: How did you come up with the idea for In Search of Us, and for your characters Angie and Marilyn?

A: The initial idea to write a story that goes back and forth between a mom and a daughter when they are each 17 popped into my head while I was sitting in LA traffic (which seems to be serving me well as an author so far!).

I think in part the concept came out of my connection to my own mom, and my longing to know things about her that I would never be able to ask (she had died several years before), as well an interest in exploring the ways in which echoes of the past reach into the present.

A few weeks later, I happened to stumble on a BBC article on someone’s Twitter feed called “Do the Dead Outnumber the Living,” about population growth and the number of people living on earth now, versus the number of people who have ever lived.

Just after the reading the article, while I was taking a walk on the beach, I began to hear...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Michael Sfard

Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer, is the author of The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights.

From his Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Do you think this Israeli government is particularly dismissive of human rights concerns compared to its predecessors?

There is no question about it, yes. The current Israeli government, given the uncritical backing of the American administration, feels that it can do anything. The prime minister can oversee the killing of [58] people and still call it a good day for peace, as he did at the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. The current government is the most right-wing, nationalistic government Israel has ever had in 70 years of its existence. Some of its coalition members hold views, a worldview that I would even call racist and definitely undemocratic and illiberal, and I don’t think there has been any other government in the past that was as dismissive of the human rights of Palestinians and of dissenting voices in Israeli society as this government.

In this government, the process of peeling off democratic principles has accelerated to the degree that it is difficult to say today that Israel is an open and democratic society.

Such as? What principles?

Such as official incitement, governmental incitement against individuals and NGOs who are critical of governmental policy; legislation that is meant to curb political freedom of speech and impose sanctions on political rivals; the attempt to shut down the ability of dissenting elements to find funding; and most viciously, the incitement against the Arab minority in Israel, which was not something done by some peripheral member of Parliament, but by the prime minister himself and the minister of defense, who are both engaging in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Elissa Brent Weissman

Elissa Brent Weissman's new middle grade novel for kids is The Length of a String.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Length of a String and for your character Imani?

A: The inspiration for The Length of a String came from three different places.

Growing up, one of my closest friends had been adopted from Mexico. She and her sister, who was adopted from within the U.S., were raised Jewish, like me. Thinking about their experience—especially what it might be like to look different from everyone else at Hebrew school—gave me the idea for Imani.

The second idea came from an episode of “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR in which many people were calling in and sharing their stories about being children of Holocaust survivors.

One caller said that her grandparents had saved up money to send their children to America, but they could only afford to send two. When they got to the boat, the smuggler said, “Sorry, price just doubled.” Now they could only afford to send one.

I heard that and immediately began thinking about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2018

Michael McFaul

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul is currently a professor of political science at Stanford University, the director of Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His new book is From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.

From McFaul's Q&A with NPR's Rachel Martin:

MARTIN: So let's talk about what that ended up looking like [when you arrived in Moscow in 2012 as the U.S. ambassador] because you are almost immediately painted as someone trying to unseat the current political system and to bring some kind of American-style democracy to Russia. Explain what kind of pressure you and your family were under.

MCFAUL: Yeah, it was unpleasant. I don't want to sugarcoat it in any way. I loved being ambassador for so many different reasons. It was the honor of a lifetime, but Putin had a story he wanted to tell the Russians - that we were out to get them, that we were giving money to the opposition and that we were the enemy. And that was a way to mobilize his electoral base. Remember, he's running for president in the spring of 2012. And I, therefore, became a poster child of some of these attacks on the opposition. The night that a video went viral accusing me of being a pedophile - that was probably a low point in my time as ambassador. And to this day - if you Google my name and pedophile on a Russian search engine - Yandex - 4 million hits still come up. And I tell you that story because it's a story about disinformation, right? It's a story about distortion and using technology to frame debates in different ways. And I've got to say, honestly, we struggled with how to respond with it. We did not have a game plan for how to combat those kinds of very personal, horrible, ugly stories.

MARTIN: So setting aside the smear campaign against you, which I understand was a difficult thing to live through, but the substance of the critique that you were there as a representative of the American government which would prefer there to be some kind of democratic government in Russia - I mean, that's not crazy...


MARTIN: ...For Putin and Russian officials to think that you would prefer that, especially in light...


MARTIN: ...Of your activism in your younger years.

MCFAUL: I think that's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Joan DeJean

Joan DeJean's new book is The Queen's Embroiderer: A True Story of Paris, Lovers, Swindlers, and the First Stock Market Crisis. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you learn about the story of the Magoulet and Chevrot families, and at what point did you decide you’d write a book about them?

A: I began one day—I was doing something that I thought would be a tiny project on the first luxury shops in Paris. I went to the archives—I imagined it would be an afternoon.

Instead, I found two documents. The first was [Jean Magoulet’s] appointment as Royal Embroiderer, and then the second was a woman’s name, with the same last name. The woman with the same last name was shipped to Louisiana in 1719. That meant she was declared undesirable.

I found a police file on the young women’s address and deportation, so the outline of the story was there. It was incredible that the daughter of such a high-ranking person would end up like this. I knew [the story] would be wonderful, but it seemed so hard. I walked away.

The next time I showed up at the front desk [of the archives, a woman who worked there] said, What are you doing? I said, I’m leaving it. She said, You can’t!

I knew how hard it would be. But...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: How Paris Became Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rumaan Alam

Rumaan Alam's new novel is That Kind of Mother.

From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST: Rumaan Alam writes women well. His first acclaimed novel, "Rich And Pretty," followed two young women, best friends who grow up and then part. His new second novel, "That Kind Of Mother," begins as another story about a female relationship - this one between Rebecca, a white poet and first-time mom, and Priscilla, a black woman who works as her nanny.

RUMAAN ALAM: I think it is an inherently complex relationship and one that is not often discussed. I am somebody who has two children of my own. And my husband and I have had three different child care providers. And they were our employees, but we relied on them with the only thing that matters in our lives, which is our children. And so the level of trust and intimacy that is an important part of that relationship elevates it from a traditional understanding of what it is to have an employee or what it is to have an employer, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So these two characters - their relationship is actually transformed when, suddenly, the families truly become a family. Rebecca adopts Priscilla's child. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because, obviously, there is not only the issue of their relationship, but there is a race issue and a class issue here, too.

ALAM: Absolutely. I think that the way that we talk about complicated political issues now is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2018

Michael Zadoorian

Michael Zadoorian's new novel is Beautiful Music. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Beautiful Music, and for your main character, Danny?

A: Like most of what I write about, it’s something that I’d been thinking about for a long time. I wanted to write about music.

In some ways, I wanted to write my own version of the film Almost Famous. I love that film and I definitely was a product of that same era. I certainly didn’t want to copy the film, but I was interested by the idea of a coming-of-age story through music. Of course, I wanted it to take place in Detroit, where no one is famous. (Except maybe Iggy.)

I just started writing everything I could remember about being a teenager, about starting high school, all the fears and anxieties I had, the problems, the other kids, what I was interested in then, the music I listened to, how my body was changing.

I also thought about what was taking place in Detroit after the violent summer of 1967, the things that were happening in my neighborhood, in my high school, all of it. I just wrote page after page of notes.

Slowly, a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Chris Hughes

Chris Hughes has spent his career working at the intersection of politics and technology. He was a co-founder of Facebook, a digital architect for President Obama’s campaign, and the publisher of the digital and print magazine The New Republic. His new book is Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn.

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

ZAKARIA: So you start the book by talking about how you grew up, which is very different circumstances than you're in now. What was it like?

HUGHES: So I grew up in a little town called Hickory, North Carolina. It's in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. And my mom was a public schoolteacher. My dad was a traveling paper salesman. And we grew up pretty much as middle class as they come. We went to church almost every Sunday and weekends were spent doing housework. My parents worked hard to make ends meet.

I got a scholarship to go to a fancy boarding school and then later on to Harvard and, while there, roomed with Mark Zuckerberg. And the Facebook story took off. The rocket-ship rise has been well- documented. And my life dramatically changed. I went from being part of the middle class to very much being part of the 1 percent. Specifically, in the book, I talk about how I made nearly half a billion dollars for three years' worth of work. And the fact that there's nothing else to call that but what it is, a lucky break.

And in the years after that, I started to think, well, my story is extreme. It's -- you know, not everybody is the roommate of Mark Zuckerberg, et cetera. And I realized, over time, though, that, while my case might be extreme, it's not that uncommon. A small group of people in our economy is getting incredibly wealthy at the same time as everybody else is working just as hard as they have historically and can't make ends meet.

And I think a guaranteed income of $500 a month for working Americans making less than 50 grand is actually the most powerful thing that we can do to not just combat inequality but also restore the American dream.

ZAKARIA: So the argument against the kind of proposal you're putting forward is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Andrew Kirtzman

Andrew Kirtzman is the author of Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City (2000). From his interview with Slate's Issac Chotiner:

What was Giuliani’s relationship with Trump like when he was mayor?

A lot of us New York reporters have been talking to each other about when this all began. None of us could recall any moment when the two of them were particularly close during his time as mayor. The most high-profile collaboration was the video of Giuliani in drag going shopping with Donald Trump, and it was obvious from that that they were pretty simpatico. But I don’t recall them being close. Giuliani’s friends at the time tended to be the people who were close to him politically. It is a very small crew wherever he has gone, and Trump was not it.

I am not asking you to diagnose him, just to be clear. But when you watch him on television now, versus 15 years ago, how do you think he seems?

The brilliant thing about Giuliani from the time he was prosecutor through Sept. 11 was this very lawyerly, factual way of communicating. Even when he was attacking someone, he was extremely persuasive. And that persuasive quality really disappeared at the Republican convention for Trump. It was just a horrible, horrible spectacle. I can’t get into his head as to what happened, but it is depressing. I was with Giuliani on Sept. 11 and experienced that morning with him. I was overwhelmed by his leadership and his calm and his methodical approach to putting things back together, and the inspiring way that he calmed the city and lifted our spirits. It’s always been kind of fashionable in certain liberal circles to hate Giuliani, but I was never on that bandwagon. At all. I have seen him display greatness, and that is why it is so sad to see what...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Paul Goldberg

Paul Goldberg's new novel is The Ch√Ęteau. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: In his review in Tablet, Alexander Aciman writes, “The sign of a great literary noir is one that cannot decide whether it is about crime or about an existential crisis. This is the story of Paul Goldberg’s novel The Chateau…” What do you think of that description?

A: It was so on target. That’s exactly where I was going with this. My character is going through an existential crisis, and also the country is going through a political crisis. Every crisis you can imagine is taking place outside in the streets, and this character is trying to deal with this. [It takes place] during the week prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump, and everything is going to be a crisis.

[The main character, Bill,] lost his job. That’s my fear—how can I be [in that situation]? Some people find a next act, but it’s an existential crisis to do that. It’s not a job, it’s a “you.” Here’s a guy who loses his identity. I love my job. I decided to make the character something I’m not, if I were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 7, 2018

Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright's latest book is God Save Texas: A Journey Into The Soul Of The Lone Star State. From his Slate interview with Isaac Chotiner:

What are your biggest fears about Texas, and are they distinct from your fears about the future of the country?

They are very much tied up. Ten percent of all the schoolchildren in America right now are Texans. We’re really failing in the education of our future workers in the state, and it has national repercussions. Texas is going to double in population by 2050, but the infrastructure of the state is already challenged. There’s been very little planning to accommodate that massive influx of population. Both Dallas and Houston are expected to have populations of 10 million people in just 12 years, and yet the cities are really, really struggling with the infrastructure. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the state has done so little to provide the kind of infrastructure that Texas really...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Alexandra Monir

Alexandra Monir's new YA novel is The Final Six.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You’ve said that your character Naomi from The Final Six is your favorite of all the characters you’ve created. What do you especially like about her, and how did you come up with her and your character Leo?

A: Yes, Naomi is totally my favorite! And I think that has a lot to do with the fact that she is the first protagonist I’ve written who shares my Iranian-American heritage. We both come from immigrant families, and so much of who we are was shaped by this beautiful culture we share, so that made her feel closer to me than all my other characters. I also love how brilliant and brave Naomi is—she’s not just a brainy science whiz, she’s also quite the rule-breaker!

Meanwhile, Leo is actually the character who came to me first. As soon as the idea for The Final Six flew into my brain, I envisioned an Italian boy who was one of the last survivors of a flooded Rome. I could hear his voice speaking to me, and...[read on]
Visit Alexandra Monir's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is CNN’s chief Washington correspondent and the New York Times bestselling author of The Outpost. His debut political thriller is The Hellfire Club.

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

ZAKARIA:...The novel is set in early 1950s Washington at the height of McCarthyism. People often say that novels are in some way autobiographical, that you write about what you know. So in what sense is this, you know, about what you know?

TAPPER: That's a great question. I think that it is an expression of concerns I have about Washington. The hero is a young Republican congressman, the Eisenhower era. He's a World War II hero and an academic who's, kind of, thrust into this world and he and his wife experience a conspiracy. But one of the themes of the book is the compromises that the main character, Charlie Marder, makes, along the way. He comes to Washington to do good. He wants to be a good congressman. He wants to protect people. And little by little, bits of his soul are eroded by the system.

And that's something that I've seen happen. A lot of people come to Washington to do good things. And they find themselves immersed in the swamp, bit by bit, and next thing you know, they're in over their head and they lose themselves.

ZAKARIA: And what do you think is the system that makes all this -- you know, all this -- all these good people turn bad?

Is it partly pandering to special interests? Is it pandering to voters? You know, how do you see -- what is the perverse incentive that makes people make all these compromises?

TAPPER: I think the first one is money. Money really runs Washington. People's self-preservation is about getting campaign contributions and about big donations. So that's one. And two, a lot of people go down to Washington to do good and then they ultimately end up getting trapped in the system, and there are all of a sudden all these favors that they're getting and all of a sudden they're living a lifestyle that they're not used to. And then preserving that, holding on to that power, becomes more important than why they were sent there.

ZAKARIA: Now, you -- you used the title, "The Hellfire Club," comes from a British...

TAPPER: Well, you know this.

ZAKARIA: ... 200-year-old society.


ZAKARIA: What I'm struck by is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 4, 2018

Terri Libenson

Terri Libenson's new book is Positively Izzy.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this spinoff of Invisible Emmie, featuring Emmie's friend Brianna?

A: I thought that Emmie’s story was done, for now. Not that I wouldn’t write for Emmie again, but I wanted to rotate characters and focus on someone else, just to keep things fresh. I enjoy having this setting where I can switch it up and peek into different people’s lives.

Q: How did you come up with the character Izzy?

A: As with Emmie, I wanted to present two characters that were different in nature, yet had more in common than you’d think. Izzy seemed to be that: a daydreamer and entertainer -- as opposed to Bri, who is...[read on]
Visit Terri Libenson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Yunte Huang

Yunte Huang's new book is Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: Yunte Huang, welcome to FRESH AIR. Describe for us how Chang and Eng were physically joined.

YUNTE HUANG: Well, there was a band of flesh, which was about 4 inches long, that tied them at the bases of their chests. So it's the - where the livers are. And so it was, you know - it was 4 inches long, but over the years, you know, through wear and tear, it was stretched to about 5 1/2 inches in length.

GROSS: So they were called Siamese twins because they were from Siam, which is now Thailand.

HUANG: Right.

GROSS: But they were part of the Chinese community in Siam. They were 17 when they were taken to America. Who took them, and why?

HUANG: Well, they were born of a Chinese father and a Siamese and Chinese mother. To their neighbors in Thailand at the time, they were actually called Chinese twins, not Siamese twins. So Siamese twins was a more kind of American brand when they came to the United States. So they were growing up in Siam in this kind of fishing village. And one day, they were swimming in the river in the canal, and they were discovered by this traveling Scottish businessman by the name of Robert Hunter. And he thought he saw something kind of mysterious, kind of creature literally walking out of Greek mythology, almost. And when he got closer, he realized it was actually two boys joined together. And so he immediately realized it was a business opportunity. And so he tried to talk to the boys, but also to the mother - and trying to convince them that he would take them back to England or United States, you know, for a touring exhibition.

But the Siamese king, actually, did not approve. Everything in the kingdom at the time belonged to the king. A few years later, Robert Hunter...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Melissa Ostrom

Melissa Ostrom's new young adult historical novel is The Beloved Wild.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Beloved Wild, and for your character Harriet?

A: The history of the Genesee Valley has interested me ever since I moved to Orleans County 20 years ago to teach English at Kendall High School.

This area holds special historical significance in terms of our country’s first wave of westward expansion: in the early 1800s, many young men left the comforts of their New England homes and, after purchasing their parcels from the Holland Land Company, settled here.

The region (sometimes called Lake Ontario fruit country) still fosters prosperous farms. Between the sweeping lake, orchards, quaint cobblestone houses, and Erie Canal, it’s quite lovely. Genesee comes from the Seneca word for “beautiful valley.” An apt name, indeed.

But though the area’s history has long intrigued me, an idea for a novel didn’t begin to take shape until one day when I was trudging around an old cemetery, searching for a patch of trilliums that I remembered spying the previous spring.

I came upon a family plot that gave me pause. If I was interpreting the names and dates on the antique headstones correctly, they suggested that one man must have had three consecutive wives. The nearby infant burials provided some explanation.

I wondered what it must have been like for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ronen Bergman

Ronen Bergman is the author of Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: The big question I suppose everybody has is, did Israel need to have this kind of a lethal policy, targeted assassinations, to survive? Was this a crucial part of what Israel needed to do, or could it have done without it?

BERGMAN: Well, it's very hard to play counter-factual history, "what if." But I can tell you that Israel, from day one, had to use force. Even putting aside the trauma of the Holocaust, every decade they had one, at least one enemy, and a very important one, who calls for Israel's destruction -- Nasser of Egypt, the PLO, Yasser Arafat, who wrote in the "Palestinian Covenant" that all the Jews that came to Israel after 1917, meaning all of them, and their descendants should be expelled; Saddam Hussein, who threatened to burn half of Israel (inaudible) these countries and organizations took steps to annihilate Israel.

David Ben-Gurion, the most important Jew in the last 1,000 years, thought that Israel could not sustain long wars, so instead he established this very strong intelligence community that could bring an alert for preemptive attack, but not just that, that could launch, pinpoint, focused operation, way beyond enemy lines, destroy an installation, plant a virus in one of their computers, or kill an individual in order to prolong the time or even prevent the next war.

ZAKARIA: What about Arafat? What are the -- what are the most interesting stories about the Israeli war against the PLO?

BERGMAN: So, you know, Arafat was by far the -- the target for numerous attempts on his life. Some of them in retrospect look a little bit funny. One Israeli psychiatrist, military psychiatrist, said, "I looked -- I had watched the movie "The Manchurian Candidate." I could do the same. Bring me an Arab PLO prisoner and I will do to him -- I will hypnotize him and I will send him Jason-Bourne-style to kill Yasser Arafat." And they give him an installation with pictures of Arafat popping from the table so he would shoot it. He was fully hypnotized.

On a stormy night in September 1968, they helped him to cross the Jordanian river. The psychiatrist said, "He is fully hypnotized; he has the code word; he is going to kill Arafat," he was sure. The guy (inaudible) sent a message of a gun.

Only a few hours later Israeli intelligence learned that he went straight to one of the police stations in Jordan and said, "The stupid Jews thought they hypnotized me. I am loyal to Arafat. Here is the gun; here is the radio. I want to come and swear allegiance to Yasser Arafat."

But not all of them were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue