Sunday, March 31, 2019

Karen Abbott

Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City, American Rose, and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and Amazon.

Her new book, The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz- Age America, will be out in October.

From Abbott's Q&A with Pamela D. Toler, author of Women Warriors: An Unexpected History:

What was the most surprisingly thing you’ve found doing historical research for your work?

A great question–and this gets to the heart of why research is the best part of the job. You’re a detective on the hunt, hoping that the next box or folder or envelope will yield an important clue, or a psychological insight into one of your characters. I’ve had memorable and lucky finds for all of my books. For SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, I went through the papers of the Everleigh sisters’ rival madam, Vic Shaw. Among them I found a business card belonging to one “Lil Kowalski.” She looked like the headmistress of a private school, all Victorian ruffles and tight chignon, but she was actually a “whipper,” in charge of disciplining the prostitutes on staff. The card said: “Lil the Whipper: beat 1,000 harlots bloody.” It was surreal, and a reminder of the cruelties of that time and place. For AMERICAN ROSE, it was the sheer—sometimes frightening—intensity of my conversations with Gypsy’s sister, June Havoc. I was the last writer to speak with her before she died, and many of our conversations had the feel of a confession. For LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDIER SPY, I found one of the death threats received by Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew. The message was scrawled in red pencil and said: “Old Maid, your house is on fire. Give us some of your blood to write with.” I shivered right there in the rare books room of the New York Public Library; it was genuinely upsetting. I can’t imagine how terrified Van Lew herself felt reading that message back in 1864. And for THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK, I found...[read on]
Visit Karen Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sin in the Second City.

The Page 99 Test: American Rose.

The Page 99 Test: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Laurie Gwen Shapiro has most recently written articles for publications including The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, Slate, Aeon, Los Angeles Review of Books, and has her own history column focusing on unsung heroes for The Forward. Shapiro is also a documentary filmmaker who won an Independent Spirit Award for directing IFC’s Keep the River On Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale and an Emmy nomination for producing HBO’s Finishing Heaven.

Shapiro's latest book is The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica.

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

Q: How did you first learn about Billy Gawronski, and at what point did you decide to write a book about him?

A: I mainly read literary nonfiction. I wanted to write the kind of nonfiction book I love to read -- think David Grann, Susan Orlean -- and was looking for a forgotten story.

But in the meantime I decided I would keep practicing on local stories as my experience was previously as a fiction writer and documentary filmmaker. In my mind I would write a nonfiction book that unfolded like a novel, using both of my skill sets.

Q: The book includes so many details about his life--how did you conduct your research, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: I made a resolution in January of 2013 to...[read on]
Visit Laurie Gwen Shapiro's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Stowaway.

Writers Read: Laurie Gwen Shapiro.

My Book, The Movie: The Stowaway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 29, 2019

Aaron Shulman

Aaron Shulman's new book is The Age of Disenchantments: The Epic Story of Spain's Most Notorious Literary Family and the Long Shadow of the Spanish Civil War.

From his interview with Caren Beilin at Full Stop:

I have been wanting to ask you about research because the bibliography at the back of this book is like its own novella! You travelled, you visited a lot of cool archives, and met with amazing people—but the Paneros are gone. I’m working on a project now that involves a lot of solicitation of people way outside of my ken and this process has a lot of highs and lows. I want to make contact with all kinds of people, but not everybody’s just, there. People are in their lives, it feels like a miracle when the energy matches and someone feels impelled enough to be generous, to be storytelling to you and kind and, you know, respond to emails. When that happens, everything feels possible again. Sergio Pitol begins the book I mentioned earlier—you’d love him, do you know this great Mexican writer?—with an epigraph from E. M. Forster: “Only connect…”

Can you say who you connected with that simply blew your mind, who you got to talk to for this book?

Writing an interview-intense book makes for a challenging, but really special experience. Most people were astoundingly open when I reached out to them, usually by email. My wife Elisa thought this had something to do with me being American—people’s curiosity about my curiosity, or maybe some weird cachet an American writer might have (even though Spaniards love shitting on the US) that earned me an opening of some sort. There’s also a long tradition of Anglophone writers and historians coming to Spain and producing respected books, and this may have helped me more than I realized. One person actually told me he had decided to speak to me because of how much he respected Ian Gibson, Lorca’s biographer. Also, a lot of people cared about the Paneros, or cared about giving their perspective on the Paneros, and that was why they were willing to speak to me. All in all, I had very good luck “only connecting,” in part because people I had good rapport with people who connected me to other people, or people I sought out for their expertise or wrote chasing a chancy lead were just really generous.

For example, a local historian from a town in northern Spain named Ernesto Burgos helped me track down the daughter of a woman who had a brief romance with Leopoldo Panero when he was a soldier stationed in her town during the Spanish Civil War. She had memories of her mother’s memories. That was really exciting, a kind of miracle, like you say, but like you also point out, people are...[read on]
Visit Aaron Shulman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Lisa See

Lisa See's new novel is The Island of Sea Women.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus your new novel on women divers on the Korean island of Jeju?

A: In many ways I feel that they called to me. I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room, leafing through magazines, as we all do. I came across a tiny article—just one paragraph and one small photo—about the diving women of Jeju Island. I ripped it out of the magazine and stuck it in my purse. I hung onto the article for eight years before I decided that now was the time to write about the haenyeo.

They have a matrifocal society—a society focused on women. The women hold their breath for two minutes and dive down 60 feet (deep enough to get the bends) to harvest seafood. They are the breadwinners in their families, while their husbands take care of the children and do the cooking. In the past, women would retire at age 55. Today, the youngest haenyeo is 55.

I was and am amazed by their bravery and persistence, as well as the camaraderie—sisterhood—that they share with each other. It’s said that in about 15 years, this culture will be...[read on]
Visit Lisa See's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

J.M. Berger

J.M. Berger is the author of Extremism (MIT Press, August 2018). He is a research fellow with VOX-Pol and a PhD candidate at Swansea University's School of Law, where he studies extremist ideologies. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: You say a crisis narrative is really important in creating extremist identities and extremist groups.

BERGER: Yeah. Extremist ideologies have three major components. One is identity. So that's the group you're in and the group you hate. One is a crisis narrative. So that's an argument that things are happening in the world, usually threatening but not always, that require decisive action to protect your identity. What we call the in-group is the group that you belong to. So the crisis narrative then leads to a solution narrative. And the solution for extremists is hostile action against what we call the out-group, which is the enemy identity.

And so the president and many of his allies in both, you know, mainstream politics and mainstream, semimainstream media are able to provide a just constant stream of crisis narratives. So this is just red meat that's out there for extremists to pick up. If everybody is talking about a crisis, then the question turns to, what kind of solution do you propose to the crisis? And that's where the extremists come in. So they come in with a solution that is deport everyone or create concentration camps or kill everyone.

GROSS: So a couple of great examples of crisis narratives would be there's a caravan of migrants headed our way. They're going to invade the country. What are some other crisis narratives that Trump has put forward?

BERGER: That caravan is a great narrative for these guys because it resonates with materials that they already know about. There's a lot of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Leah Henderson

Leah Henderson is the author of the middle grade novel One Shadow on the Wall, an Africana Children’s Book Award notable, and a Bank Street Best Book. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for One Shadow on the Wall, and for your character Mor?

A: It all started with a boy. I was on vacation in Senegal while in grad school and happened to look out a car window and saw a young boy sitting on a beach wall. I’m not really sure what it was about him that captured my attention, but he did.

For the rest of the day, I thought about him. I wondered what his day was like and if it was similar in any way to mine. Then later, when my friends and I drove past that same area, the boy was still there. I jumped out of the car, raced across the street and asked his permission to take his photograph.

In the image I took of him, I am convinced he was giving me a challenge. He stared at me in the photo, daring me not to see him, with his shoulders back and his chin held high. He wasn’t an invisible face, or just another picture.

I did see him.

And when I got back to my room that night, I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 25, 2019

Steph Post

Steph Post's new novel is Miraculum.

From her Q&A with Erica Wright at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

The world of this story is populated by outcasts, people who for one reason or another can’t live openly in the Deep South of the 1920s. What drew you to these characters?

I love writing about outsiders. I think every book I’ve written has a cast of misfits, trying to navigate a world that has largely tossed them aside. I wish I had a nice, succinct reason for why I’m drawn to these characters, but I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that in real life, these are my people. I’ve always felt a little on the fringe, sometimes dancing back and forth between two worlds. And, honestly, aren’t these characters the most interesting? With the Starlight Miraculum setting, I wanted to be able to let these outcasts roam. The carnival is their turf, a place with their rules, and there’s a clear demarcation between themselves and the “rubes” and “marks” they pander to. They have the power in the story, and I really wanted to play with how much they own that knowledge, but are still trapped by it as well.

You seem to like forgotten places as well as forgotten people in your work. What is it about a backwoods town that appeals to you?

I grew up in an area, and on a piece of land in particular, that felt out of time in some ways. As a kid, I...[read on]
Visit Steph Post's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Steph Post & Juno.

My Book, The Movie: Lightwood.

The Page 69 Test: Lightwood.

My Book, The Movie: Walk in the Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Maura Roosevelt

Maura Roosevelt is the author of the new novel Baby of the Family. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Baby of the Family?

A: I’ve always been interested in how families are made, and the tales that become family lore.

The novel actually began with a short story that I wrote, that was only about Shelley and how she left college, broke and unsure about her future.

After writing that short story, I began to imagine what Shelley’s life was like in the past, and then I began writing about her family. Roger emerged, and then Nick. And then all these other characters popped up, and I had an early draft of the novel…

Q: As the great-granddaughter of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, how much was your creation of the Whitby family affected by your own family’s history?

A: This book is very much a work of fiction—the Whitby family is very different from my own family. The main similarity between my family and the book, though, was that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Andrew Ridker

Andrew Ridker was born in 1991. His first novel, The Altruists, is out now from Viking/Penguin. It will be published in seventeen other countries. He is the editor of Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, Guernica, Boston Review, The Believer, St. Louis Magazine, and elsewhere. He is currently an Iowa Arts Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

From Ridker's Q&A with Rebekah Frumkin at Full Stop:

Rebekah Frumkin: There is certainly no shortage of books about middle-aged white men, but The Altruists stands apart in its thoughtful and frequently comic exploration of Arthur Alter’s contradictory thinking. How did you choose this character to be at the center of your novel’s orbit?

Andrew Ridker: Growing up, I read a lot of these great postwar novelists – the Great American Narcissists as David Foster Wallace would call them – and it’s just a very interesting thing to read those books and be a twentysomething in 2019. I find the artistry to be phenomenal, they had a huge impact on me, but there’s no question that some facets of those books haven’t aged super well. And now we find ourselves living in very different times with different people around us. For me, Arthur was a chance to take a character you’d find in one of those books and place him in a context that was alienating to him, to decenter that patriarchal figure without completely jettisoning him. I wanted to drag that kind of writing...[read on]
Visit Andrew Ridker's website.

Writers Read: Andrew Ridker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 22, 2019

David Wallace-Wells

David Wallace-Wells is the author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.

From his Q&A with Amy Brady for Guernica:

Guernica: Let’s begin by discussing the speed at which climate change is happening, which you say is greatly misunderstood.

David Wallace-Wells: One of the largest and most problematic misunderstandings that we have about climate change is that it’s slow, that it unfolds on a timescale of many decades, or even centuries. Even [climate scientist] James Hansen’s big book about climate change is called Storms of my Grandchildren. But the truth is that half of all emissions produced from fossil fuels have taken place in the last thirty years—an astonishingly short amount of time. I’m thirty-six years old. I remember what it was like thirty years ago. My life contains the whole trajectory of this story that took us from a relatively stable climate to where we are now, on the very brink of climate catastrophe. This has all happened since Al Gore published his first book on warming and since the United Nations established the IPCC report.

Guernica: Do you see our understanding of climate change evolving as its effects grow worse?

Wallace-Wells: There are more people now that understand that climate change is real and happening—quite a lot of people, actually, and the numbers are growing. But what’s not yet clear is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Keely Hutton

Keely Hutton is a novelist, educational journalist, and former teacher. She is the recipient of the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop scholarship at Chautauqua. She has worked closely with Ricky Richard Anywar, the founder of the international charity Friends of Orphans who was a child soldier in Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, to tell his story in her first novel, Soldier Boy.

From Hutton's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you end up working with Ricky Richard Anywar on Soldier Boy, and why did you decide to write it as a novel rather than as nonfiction?

A: In March 2012, my cousin, John Fay, emailed me about his friend, Ricky Richard Anywar, a man he’d met while working with non-profit organizations in Africa.

Ricky had been trying for over eight years to find a writer to tell the story of his time as a child soldier in notorious warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), but no one would take on the project.

Although Ricky’s story of survival captured my attention, I politely declined John’s request that I speak with Ricky three times. I believed a story as important as Ricky’s deserved both a published author with name recognition and a writer with life experiences similar to Ricky’s. I was neither.

Fortunately for me, my cousin emailed again about Ricky, and even went as far as involving my mother in his push to make the Skype call happen. Finally, I agreed, and Ricky and I scheduled a time to chat.

Five minutes into our first Skype conversation, I was certain of two things: 1. Ricky’s story needed to be told. and 2. even though I still questioned if I was the writer to tell it, I knew I wanted to help Ricky and his work at Friends of Orphans in northern Uganda in any way I could.

I agreed to ...[read on]
Visit Keely Hutton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Soldier Boy.

My Book, The Movie: Soldier Boy.

Writers Read: Keely Hutton (July 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

William J. Burns

William J. Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2014 after a thirty-three-year diplomatic career. He holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service, career ambassador, and is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become deputy secretary of state. Burns's new book is The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal.

From his Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker:

When you look at the last two years, you could argue that we haven’t had a huge war compared to what we had in previous Administrations, and the world seems to be chugging along. People are angry at us more, but fundamentally things are O.K., and that gives you a certain amount of hope about American foreign policy, even if you have a bad man in the White House. Or you could argue that groundwork has been laid for future problems. How do you view those two options, or am I thinking about it wrong?

I think we’re doing a lot of corrosive damage to ourselves in the world over the last couple of years. I would emphasize that the drift in American diplomacy certainly was not something that was invented by Donald Trump. Throughout the post-Cold War era, I think we oftentimes tended to downplay the importance of diplomacy in the way in which we exercise leadership in the world, despite a number of accomplishments over those years. But I think what we’re doing now is digging a pretty deep hole for ourselves internationally, and what I worry about is that eventually we’ll stop digging, and we’ll climb back to the top of the hole, but we’ll look out at a landscape that has hardened in a number of ways against our interests.

The biggest concern I have is that what Trump has really turned on its head is the notion of enlightened self-interest. And again, we pursued that very imperfectly over the years, and I try to be honest about all the ways in which I got things wrong. But the Administrations of both parties thought we had one thing that sets us apart from lonelier powers like China and Russia, and that’s the capacity to invest in alliances and mobilize other countries, whether it’s to deal with challenges to regional order or big overarching problems, like the one existential problem that faces us today, which I’m convinced is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ayesha Harruna Attah

Ayesha Harruna Attah is the author of the novel The Hundred Wells of Salaga.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that you were inspired to write this novel by your own family history. How did your great-great-grandmother's story lead to your writing the book?

A: While drawing up our family tree with my father, I learned that my great-great-grandmother had been enslaved in West Africa. I didn’t know much about slavery within the African continent at that point and I wanted to find out more about what that could have looked like and what my ancestor would have gone through.

Q: How did you come up with your characters Aminah and Wurche?

A: Aminah was inspired by my great-great-grandmother, so her spirit was modeled on the closest person to her that I got to meet: my father’s mother. She was a quiet woman, but one could tell that she had a strong spirit.

Wurche was inspired by a line I read in a book called Salaga: The Struggle for Power, by J. A Braimah, which said that princesses from this particular region could choose whomever they wanted to be their lovers, even if the man were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 18, 2019

Michael E. Mann

Michael E. Mann is a noted climate scientist and Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University. From the transcript of his Q&A with Steve Curwood for PRI's Living on Earth:

CURWOOD: So, you're famous research-wise for doing what some folks would call paleoclimate work. That is, you look back at what happened hundreds, thousands of years ago to say what might be happening in the future. Talk to me about that. And why did you become intrigued with that?

MANN: Yeah. So what we did is we used all the natural archives that we could get our hands on: tree rings, of course, tell us something about past conditions related to tree growth -- rainfall and temperature. So we can glean information about climate from the thickness and even the density of the rings in tree cores from sort of continental, extratropical locations. Tropical trees aren't useful for tree ring research. So you're only getting information really from the extratropical continents, and that's not the whole planet, right? So you need to fill in those gaps. Well, we do that by using other data like ice cores, which come from high latitudes or even in some cases the tropics, at very high elevations, like Mount Kilimanjaro or in the Andes. So now you're starting to fill in those gaps. You've got the tropics, you've got the polar regions, then the oceans; well, we can turn to corals. The calcium carbonate skeleton of a coral contains, typically, annual growth rings. And we can look at the isotopes of oxygen in those growth rings; that tells us something about the seawater that that coral was growing in. And so what our project was about was taking this increasingly rich information coming from scientists around the world producing these different kinds of records, and assimilating them into a single reconstruction of past large-scale temperature patterns around the globe. Now to us, the most interesting thing about those reconstructions was what we could learn about the regional patterns of past climate -- the El Nino phenomenon; what happened during the largest prehistoric eruptions. It was those sort of regional patterns that we were really interested in, what they could teach us about climate dynamics. But what ended up becoming by far the single most prominent aspect of that research was what happens when you average over all of the regions, you average away a lot of those interesting details. And you come up with one number for each year, the average temperature of the Northern Hemisphere. And we could plot that back in time. And when you do that, what you see is that it was relatively warm about 1000 years ago. And then we descended into the depths of the Little Ice Age, in the 17-, 18-, 1900s; and then we see this warming spike, of the past century. And it is so sharp that it takes us well outside of the range that we see over the past thousand years. So laid on its side, it looks like, you know, the sports implement that we refer to as a hockey stick. And that's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Daniel Golden

Daniel Golden is the author of the 2006 book The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.

From his interview with Isaac Chotiner for The New Yorker:

Colleges obviously still rely a lot on legacy admissions. Are they relying on it less than a decade or two ago, and might this lessening be causing legacy admissions or the rich and famous to be more desperate to get their kids in by any means necessary?

Actually, regarding legacy admissions, what’s happened in the last couple decades is two contrasting things. The first is that, yes, the percentage of legacies admitted has declined. It’s less of a guarantee of admission than it used to be. On the other hand, the over-all acceptance rate at these √©lite schools has declined even more. So legacy, proportionally, is a bigger advantage than it once was. If you take a typical Ivy League school, maybe twenty or thirty years ago, they might admit two-thirds of legacy applicants. Now they might admit one-third of legacy applicants. But, at the same time, their over-all acceptance rate has probably gone down from between twenty and twenty-five per cent to between five and ten per cent. So, proportionally, being a legacy is even more of an advantage. But, in any particular case, a legacy is less likely to get in than they used to.

Now, the pressures over all are generally working a little bit the other way. They are working for the benefit of donors rather than to their detriment. What’s happened is that other sources of income for universities have stayed level or declined. The percentage of small, grassroots donors—alumni who give a little bit—has declined, and universities are more dependent on big donations, the kind that often carry a kind of admissions tit for tat. Similarly, there hasn’t been big growth in terms of federal funding for research and other sources of income for universities. So universities are actually more dependent on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Dana Czapnik

Dana Czapnik is a 2018 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Fiction from The New York Foundation for the Arts. In 2017, she was awarded an Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Center for Fiction. Czapnik earned her MFA at Hunter College where she was recognized with a Hertog Fellowship. She’s spent most of her career on the editorial side of professional sports including stints at ESPN the Magazine, the United States Tennis Association and the Arena Football League. Her debut novel, The Falconer, will be published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in January of 2019. A native New Yorker, she lives in Manhattan with her husband and son.

From Czapnik's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Falconer, and for your character Lucy?

A: I’ve always known I wanted to write a bildungsroman about a young woman like Lucy. I’d never read about a female athlete in literary fiction and I think the experience of being a woman in a space that’s been traditionally occupied by men is a way to open the door to writing about gender and navigating womanhood.

I also knew I wanted her to be a young woman who is open to the world, even as she’s often times questioning it. My favorite young male characters are ones who are searching for their own philosophy and grappling with the injustices of the world. I wanted to write a book that creates the space for a young woman to have that same experience.

I also was interested in writing about New York in the early ‘90s, just before the money started to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 15, 2019

Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman is the author of Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir. Her recent writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The New York Times Magazine, Brevity and Hippocampus. She holds a BA in Middle Eastern studies and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and a PhD in English from the University of North Texas. She teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University, where she recently won the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. In her spare time she enjoys cooking (Italian), dancing (Beyoncé), and dreaming up clever Halloween costumes (Large Hadron Particle Collider).

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

SIMON: You were in an orchestra that played music on tour 2002 to 2006, but the music you played was not what the audience heard.

HINDMAN: That's right. I am a pretty good, amateur high school violinist. But when I performed for this orchestra, the microphone in front of me was off and a CD recording of a much more talented violinist was being blasted towards unsuspecting audiences.

SIMON: "Sounds Like Titanic" because the music sounded like...

HINDMAN: "Titanic" (laughter).

SIMON: ...Like the theme from the film "Titanic," right?

HINDMAN: Yes, absolutely - the 1997 film. Yes.

SIMON: But it wasn't that music.

HINDMAN: Yes, I think a few notes shy of whatever copyright infringement that would be.

SIMON: And you identify this person always as a composer. And I guarantee you, I have been all over the Web trying to figure out who this is, as I'm sure any reader would, because this - you guys performed a series of concerts for PBS over the years.

HINDMAN: Yes, that's correct. Yeah.

SIMON: So why do you...[read on]
Visit Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Sounds Like Titanic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mike Winchell

Mike Winchell is the author of Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World, a new book for young adults. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse, and how would you describe the dynamic among them?

A: To be honest, nonfiction wasn’t really on my radar initially. I had always written fiction, but after shopping a couple projects with my agent we had a conversation and she recommended I explore writing nonfiction.

She saw something in my writing that indicated my voice would translate nicely to narrative nonfiction. I must admit, she was right. I took to it immediately.

The Gilded Age is such a fascinating time period because our country was spreading its wings when it came to science and invention. I knew a decent amount about the war of the currents already, but as I started delving deep into my research, I knew this was a story that needed to be shared with young adults.

I think young people are only told about “the great Thomas Edison” in the typical classroom, and I feel it’s important to share the true story with them. If ever there was a man who was corrupted by competition and cutthroat capitalism, it was Thomas Edison.

The fire in his eyes with regards to his main competitors, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, became a raging inferno. Edison stopped at nothing to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

William Boyle

William Boyle's new novel is A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself.

From his Q&A with Gabino Iglesias at Southwest Review:

Gabino Iglesias: Your work is tied to the atmosphere, accents, and psychogeography of New York City. Do you rely on memories and knowledge acquired by living there or do you research everything you write about?

William Boyle: Mostly memories and knowledge, which is why I tend to stick to the places where I’ve lived and spent the most time. This book is set in the part of Southern Brooklyn where I grew up and where my family still lives (as all of my books are), but it also moves to the Bronx neighborhood where my wife’s family is from and then outside the city to a Hudson Valley town where her family now lives. I’m back home often, so occasionally I’ll do something that resembles research to make sure I’m getting a place right or to map things out or even just pick up details, but mostly I’m digging up things I remember or relying on things that have been burned into my memory. The voices are always there.

GI: A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself subverts the mob narrative by focusing on the women who live on its periphery. That said, you have a series of narratives about Cosa Nostra members in the book, including their deaths. Why did you decide to make the three main characters women trapped in and, in some ways, shaped by this context?

WB: The book was always going to be about...[read on]
Visit William Boyle's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

The Page 69 Test: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

Writers Read: William Boyle (September 2018).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Serene Jones

Serene Jones is the first woman to head the Union Theological Seminar and author of Call It Grace: Finding Meaning in a Fractured World.

From her Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker:

Let’s say you were sitting in a plane, and the person next to you says, “What’s your faith, and do you believe in God?” They don’t know who you are. What is your first response?

If they mean by that question, do I believe in the God of Heaven and Hell, who judges and sentences those who act against God to eternal damnation, or do I believe in the God of the Southern Baptist Convention and all of its prohibitions, then I would have to say no. That’s not the God I believe in. I don’t believe in God in that sense. But if God is understood as a descriptor of what I refer to as our ultimate destiny in love, then, yes, I really do believe that.

In the book, you write, “But if you mean believing the universe is ultimately loved by a divine reality that is greater and more wonderful than we can begin to imagine, and that in this reality we find our ultimate destiny, the purpose of our existence, then yes.” Forgive me, but what does this mean?

The fact that that statement is hard to grasp is part of the nature of that statement, because God, as I understand it, isn’t something we can ever pin down or grasp like we can describe any object or entity. But what I’m trying to point toward in that statement is the belief that the ultimate—and I use this word gently—the ultimate truth about all existence is that it is beloved. It is valued in and of itself for itself, not because of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 11, 2019

Katrina Carrasco

Katrina Carrasco is the author of The Best Bad Things. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Best Bad Things, and for your character Alma?

A: Alma is the product of my personal interests combined with historical details. I wanted a queer main character through whom I could explore gender and sexuality in the 1880s, and a female character who was unabashedly physical and hungry — for food, sex, violence, etc. (In fiction — as in life — women are often constrained in terms of what they can do and the desires/emotions they can express.)

On the historical side, I was interested in the disbanded Pinkerton’s Detective Agency Women’s Bureau. For a time the agency employed female spies, but when it was decided spying was not “women’s work,” the female agents were dismissed.

What would happen, I thought, if several highly trained female spies were suddenly out of a job and not too happy with how they’d been treated by authority? Alma came out of a mix of all these factors.

Then I needed to find a setting that was as interesting as she is — and my research into the real-life opium smuggling and related corruption in Port Townsend showed me it was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sheena Kamal

Sheena Kamal was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to Canada as a child. She holds an HBA in political science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness.

The Lost Ones/Eyes Like Mine is her debut novel, followed by the sequel, It All Falls Down.

From Kamal's conversation with Karin Salvalaggio for Bookanista:

KS: Nora Watts is difficult to pin down. She doesn’t react to situations in a way most people would consider normal. It makes her interesting but also unpredictable. She reminds me of Isabelle Huppert’s character in the film Elle. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Can you tell us a little bit more about Nora’s background and what inspired her character?

SK: Going into the first book of the series, I knew that Nora was going to be a loner, a misfit, a troubled soul. Nora used to work for a small private investigation outfit in Vancouver. She’s not a licensed investigator herself, but she did a lot of the off-books work for them because she has a knack for discerning lies. At the beginning of It All Falls Down, Nora’s skills from that world are put to use as she looks into her father’s death, which happened many years ago. Her character is largely inspired by my interest in writing a more diverse and representative Canada, and also by my fascination with blues music, which I often use as a tool to get into her head.

A surprising number of people warm to Nora even when they sense they shouldn’t. I’m referring to private investigator Brazuca and the Detroit detective Sanchez specifically, but there’s also Harvey, Simone, Kovak and a host of other characters. People seem to want to protect her, sleep with her, confide in her or kill her. What do you suppose it is about Nora’s character that provokes such extreme reactions?

Nora lives life on her own terms and doesn’t care much about others’ opinions of her. People have strong reactions to her – mostly negative. However...[read on]
Visit Sheena Kamal's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Ones.

My Book, The Movie: It All Falls Down.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Soniah Kamal

Soniah Kamal's new novel is Unmarriageable.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write an updated version of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan?

A: There were no stories written in English and set in Pakistan when I was growing up and these were something I longed to read alongside Judy Blume, L.M. Montgomery, and Enid Blyton. As such, I used to transpose stories I read, so English scones would become Pakistani samosas, etc.

As soon as I read Pride and Prejudice, a tale which seemed to be quintessentially Pakistani with its marriage-obsessed mother, themes of close friendships and sisterhood, and biting social satire, I knew that I wanted to read a Pakistani version in the form of a parallel retelling. I decided that, if I could, I would write it one day.

Q: What do you think modern-day Pakistan and the England of Jane Austen's time have in common?

A: Women in Regency England lived terribly constrained lives. They could not own property or, unlike servants, if they were from the middle class and above, they could not work for a living. Marrying well was literally their means to survival.

This is not the case at all in...[read on]
Visit Soniah Kamal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 8, 2019

Andrew G. McCabe

Andrew G. McCabe served as deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from February 2016 to January 2018. He began his career at the FBI in 1996, working first as a street agent on the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, and eventually as its supervisor. Later, he led the FBI's Counterterrorism Division, the National Security Branch, and the Washington Field Office, and was the first director of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which developed new methods for lawfully and effectively questioning suspected terrorists. He lives in Virginia with his wife Jill, their two children and a dog.

McCabe's new book is The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

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

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew McCabe, who's written a new memoir called "The Threat: How The FBI Protects America In The Age Of Terror And Trump." And he had a long career in the FBI. And when James Comey was fired as director, Andrew McCabe became acting director.

Another thing you write about in the book, you participated in some of the presidential daily briefings that President Trump received. These are the briefings at which he gets all the intelligence reports that he needs to start the day. Give us a sense of what those briefings were like, how he responded, questions he asked, or things that he understood or things he didn't understand and how that affected the actions he took or didn't take.

MCCABE: Yeah. So let me just be clear. So the president's daily brief - or, as we refer to it, the PDB - is something that we looked at every day. And then, three times a week, we would gather with the leadership from the Department of Justice, so the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, some other folks who do national security work in the department. And we would go over the intelligence products in the PDB and, you know, other matters.

The president also received the PDB on those days, presumably. I was not present for the president's review of the PDB on a daily basis. My knowledge of the president's consumption of intelligence really came from more targeted or directed briefings that we prepared and delivered to the White House, so for things like homeland security sessions and briefings on particular issues, like the one I relate in the book concerning the Russian dachas.

It was a challenge. It's always a little bit of an adjustment as you have a new administration. Understanding how the president and his senior staff prefer to receive intelligence is a - there's always a period of kind of adapting to that new style, those new preferences. But what we saw with this administration to me, from my perspective, was very different.

The president was - it was challenging to get his attention on intelligence during these briefings. It was reported to me as challenging to keep his - you know, to keep him focused on the issue at hand. He's a - as I said earlier, he's a person who likes to kind of jump from topic to topic and often winds up discussing things that were, you know, not on the table or not on the agenda.

GROSS: Did you feel like he comprehended what he was being told about the intelligence?

MCCABE: Well, certainly not in the instance that I relate in the book.

GROSS: Tell us about that story.

MCCABE: Sure. So this had to do with the infamous Russian dachas, which were two properties, one in New York, one on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, that were maintained by the government of Russia and purportedly for the purpose of giving their diplomats some place to - you know, to relax and kind of go on vacation. It was our strong feeling in the FBI that the Russians were using those locations for intelligence purposes, which is a violation of what they're supposed to be doing there. Both were kind of closed and reclaimed by the United States under the Obama administration.

And during the Trump administration, the Trump administration needed to decide whether they would continue to close those facilities or they would turn them back over to the Russians. So we felt very strongly that they should...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Pam Houston

Pam Houston's new book is Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "This book has been an effort to write my way to an understanding of how to be the final days, if not of the earth, then at least of the earth as I've known her." What initially inspired you to write Deep Creek, and how did writing the book affect you?

A: I wanted to honor this piece of ground that has healed me, parented me and grown me up into an adult, this piece of ground that taught me how to take responsibility for something larger than myself. That was the original impulse.

Over the last decade of thinking about it and writing it, I, like many people, have become increasingly aware of the climate trouble our planet is in, and that hard truth, that the earth is dying at our hands and we need to figure out how to be in that dying, is probably, whether we know it or not, the most all encompassing reality of our lives.

Loving and losing my beloved animals, dogs and horses has taught me how to be with the dying, how to love the dying right up until the moment of death and beyond, and I think that is what is being asked of us for the earth right now. We need to...[read on]
Visit Pam Houston's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Pam Houston and Fenton Johnson.

The Page 69 Test: Contents May Have Shifted.

My Book, The Movie: Contents May Have Shifted.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Snowden Wright

Snowden Wright is the author of the novels Play Pretty Blues and the newly released American Pop. He has written for The Atlantic, Salon, Esquire, and the New York Daily News, among other publications. A former Stone Court Writer-in-Residence, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

From Wright's Q&A with Matthew Turbeville at Writers Tell All:

MT: What about this novel made you decide to base it around a “pop” or “soda” company? I always am asked by people from other states, other regions, if I call something pop or soda. How do you feel the title, and the industry the novel concerns, has been developed by your writing?

SW: So funny you should ask this question. Lately I’ve been asked by people, to paraphrase, “How can you name this book American Pop when in the South, where it’s set, nobody calls soda ‘pop.’”

I’ve answered them by explaining that the second word of the title has multiple meanings and subtexts, all of which I intended: soda, popular culture, popularity, explosion, “pop” as in “goes bust.” In other words, American Pop isn’t just about soda. It’s about America and all the myriad ideas wrapped up in the concept of it. It’s about a family and all the myriad elements wrapped up in the concept of one.

That said, the soft-drink industry is, of course, a major part of the novel. It’s the mechanism by which I tried to explore, providing as much entertainment as possible, the ideas of America and the elements of a family. “Why read fiction? Why go to movies?” I quote in the novel from an issue of Beverage Digest, “[The] soft drink industry has enough roller-coaster plot-dips to make novelists drool.”

MT: What books and authors have truly influenced you? What books and authors do you return to time and time again? What book helped you with creating and executing this novel?

SW: Got a couple hours? Because...[read on]
Visit Snowden Wright's website.

The Page 69 Test: American Pop.

Writers Read: Snowden Wright.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

J. Albert Mann

J. Albert Mann is the author of five novels for children. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her new work of historical fiction about the early life of Margaret Sanger is What Every Girl Should Know. Born in New Jersey, Mann now lives in Boston with her children, cat, and husband listed in order of affection.

From Mann's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this novel about Margaret Sanger’s early life, and why as fiction rather than nonfiction?

A: The real reason I wrote about Margaret Sanger is that when I was in college and dating my college boyfriend, he invited me to his house. I went to Marymount in Manhattan. The house was a brownstone, with a plaque on the outside of the building.

We had a wonderful dinner, and after dinner his stepmom said, Why don’t you take Jen on a tour of the house, including the basement? We went down to the basement, and there was a strange table with stirrups. He said this was the first clinic of Margaret Sanger’s in Manhattan.

I said, Who was Margaret Sanger? I was on birth control at the time, and I was using the privilege in one of the places where she began to hand out that privilege. This was in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.

I never forgot that moment, or her, and I do write fiction, but I never considered writing about Sanger until a few years ago when I picked up Ellen Chesler’s book [about Sanger] again.

I could never get past her childhood. It’s who she ends up becoming. There were...[read on]
Visit J. Albert Mann's website.

The Page 69 Test: What Every Girl Should Know.

Writers Read: J. Albert Mann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 4, 2019

William Boyle

William Boyle's new novel is A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself.

From his Q&A at The Book Spine:

Congratulations on your upcoming release, A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself, I couldn’t get enough of it. The main characters are three strong-willed women. Were they inspired by anyone in particular?

Thanks so much! There are bits and pieces of people I’ve known in these characters, people from around my neighborhood in Brooklyn or in the Bronx where my wife’s family is from, but I’d say they’re equally, if not more so, inspired by actors I love in movies I love. Gena Rowlands in Gloria was an inspiration, as was Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight. I thought often of Michelle Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob. Everything I write, in some ways, is inspired by Edie Falco and Marisa Tomei. I thought of Susan Sarandon and Helen Mirren a lot. I definitely saw Jessica Lange as Mo.

A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself definitely has a big screen feel to it. Several movies and TV programmes get a mention in your new book. What’s your all-time favourite TV show and movie?

Oh, wow. It’s tough to narrow it down. Twin Peaks is my all-time favorite show, but there are many others I love: The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, and Freaks and Geeks especially come to mind. As for movies, it’s an even tougher call. My list of favorites is constantly shifting and changing. I love...[read on]
Visit William Boyle's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

The Page 69 Test: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

Writers Read: William Boyle (September 2018).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Elizabeth Letts

Elizabeth Letts's new novel is Finding Dorothy.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What first got you interested in the life of Maud Gage Baum, and were you always a fan of The Wizard of Oz?

A: I vividly remember my first time seeing The Wizard of Oz when I was 4 years old—the local TV store opened their doors to the public so that neighborhood folk could watch it on a color TV.

But I knew nothing about the life of L. Frank Baum and his wife Maud until I was reading the book aloud to my son a few years ago and I noticed anew how strong and vivid the female characters were. I wondered why I knew nothing about the author of such a famous story.

That was when I discovered the Gage women—his wife, Maud, and his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage. I was intrigued to learn that Baum’s wife was raised to be very modern and independent by her mother, a famous suffragist and close friend of Susan B. Anthony.

But it wasn’t until I saw a photo of Maud Baum on the set of the 1939 movie with actress Judy Garland that I realized I had a story to tell.

Maud was a widow by then, strong-minded, but as an older woman it could not have been easy to make her voice heard in male-dominated 1930s Hollywood, and Judy Garland was barely 16 when she seem to capture the very essence of hope when...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Letts's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 2, 2019

William Davies

William Davies is the author of Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason. From his interview with The New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner:

About that conflicted public realm: you start one chapter of the book talking about President Trump and the crowd size at his inauguration, and you use this as an example of our contested reality. But is this a contested reality? Or is it a reality that everyone agrees on but one group of people is lying about? I would assume that if you gave everyone in the Trump Administration truth serum, they would all acknowledge that Trump’s crowd size was smaller than Obama’s. I think that a lot of Trump supporters enjoy the fact that Trump says his crowd size was bigger than Obama’s, but if you gave them truth serum, they would also acknowledge that it wasn’t. Let’s say I’m right about this. It seems to me that we’re not, then, arguing over reality.

In that sort of thought experiment, I probably don’t disagree. What I found very fascinating about the whole issue was that the park service no longer offered official estimates of the crowd size. There was no official data on this, and this is because they didn’t want to become embroiled in the controversy over the Million Man March. But crowds, in general, are things that lack very simple measurement devices. So, our ability to resolve these arguments doesn’t work in quite the same way. I’m not disputing that Trump’s crowd wasn’t much smaller than Obama’s.

I know you’re not. But is there actually a dispute about the crowd size? Or is everyone actually in agreement, but one side is just lying and doesn’t care and is doing it for their own end?

That may be true. But then the question is: Why are they doing that? What they’re doing is attacking the very idea that there might be a neutral basis for resolving political disputes. That’s more my point: they’re trying to undermine the possibility of that kind of political argument proceeding in a rational way. I think to understand the mentality of the nationalists, or the populists, there has to be some appreciation of the fact that there is hostility toward the very institutions that might potentially resolve disputes in some sort of consensual way.

I think what they want to do is to damage the very instrument through which we settle disputes at all. I mean, obviously, in online spaces, that is troll culture. It’s a way of seeing what are otherwise civil, perhaps quite heated, but ultimately quite neutrally comprehensible disputes and making it impossible for those arguments to even take place in any kind of reasonable way by saying that black is white, which is a bit like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 1, 2019

Vanessa McGrady

Vanessa McGrady's new book is Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about your experience with an open adoption and at what point did you decide it would become a book?

A: Well, to begin with, personal essays are my favorite things to write, and when major stuff happens to me, I try to make sense of it through story.

I wrote about Bridgett and Bill, my daughter’s birth parents, living with us for The New York Times’ parenting blog as it was happening. And after that, it kept feeling like it was a bigger story, and I thought it would be maybe a short e-book, so I just kept writing.

I had so much help shaping it and forming it into a longer, book-length piece with the help of my agent, Cheryl Pientka. And there were times when I wondered if there was enough there for a full volume, but I guess that depends on where you stop and start the story.

My editor, Carmen Johnson, also helped on the other end of it all to bring it up to where it needed to be. One of my favorite parts of the book happened when Carmen asked me to write more about my own parents, and it felt very appropriate to do that on my 50th birthday. It’s in the beginning of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue