Friday, May 31, 2019

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's newest novel is The Great Believers.

From her Q&A with Rachel León at the Chicago Review of Books:

Rachel León: As someone who lost someone to AIDS, I wondered if you too had a personal experience with losing someone to AIDS in the 80s or 90s?

Rebecca Makkai: I have a few friends who are HIV positive and my parents had some colleagues who died of AIDS, but it wasn’t anyone I knew personally; I just knew it was happening. I was born in 1978 so as a kid, it seemed like the biggest most important thing that had ever happened. I also think as kids we didn’t dismiss it as happening to those people over there. It felt much more immediate and I don’t think we had the prejudice going into our view of things that adults might have had. So there was that, but also by the time we got to high school in the nineties, all of our Sex Ed was about HIV. I think when I talk to people very close to my own age, even when they didn’t lose someone close to them, it makes a lot of sense that this would be something I’d be drawn to. Whereas for people quite a bit older or quite a bit younger they’re left wondering why I’d write about this, which is so odd to me. Why are we not all writing about this? This is a huge thing that’s happened in our lifetime.

Rachel León: I was born in 1979, so that makes sense.

Rebecca Makkai: Yeah, so you get it. The reaction I’m getting from people, especially with people much older who weren’t effected directly by the crisis, if I tell them what I’m publishing, they’re like, ‘Oh I remember that time,’ as if I’ve just reminded them about something they haven’t thought about in decades, which is probably the case. That’s shocking to me. And with people younger than me, they’re actually...[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.

My Book, The Movie: The Great Believers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Rodrigo Rey Rosa was born in Guatemala in 1958. He immigrated to New York in 1980, and in 1982 he moved to Morocco. American expatriate writer Paul Bowles, with whom Rey Rosa had been corresponding, translated his first three books into English. Rey Rosa has based many of his writings and stories on legends and myths indigenous to Latin America and North Africa. Of his many works, seven have been translated into English: The Beggar’s Knife, Dust on Her Tongue, The Pelcari Project, The Good Cripple, The African Shore, Severina, and now Chaos, A Fable.

From Rey Rosa's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Chaos, A Fable?

A: A vague idea dawned on me—the idea of writing about a group of young people trying to alter the course of present-day events by any means possible—during a conversation I had with a Muslim acquaintance of mine when I was visiting Morocco in 2015. He kept telling me how crazy the world had become.

In any case, I think that an idea for a novel is only a point of departure, an impulse. I did not know, when I started writing, where this impulse would take me. For me one of the pleasures of writing a long piece, as opposed to a short story, where the "idea" becomes apparent almost immediately, is discovering where a particular impulse, or temptation, may lead --something you cannot know until...[read on]
Learn more about Chaos, A Fable.

Writers Read: Rodrigo Rey Rosa.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Jared Cohen

Jared Cohen is the founder and CEO of Jigsaw at Alphabet Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he ran Google Ideas at Google Inc. and served as chief advisor to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. From 2006 to 2010 he served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and as a close advisor to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.

Cohen's newest book is Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America. From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: You -- you talk about, you know, in some ways the most famous succession certainly of the 19th Century, Lincoln's assassination and Andrew Johnson becomes president, generally regarded as the worst president in American history.

So the puzzle that you try to answer is how could the person who many people regard as the best president in American history have picked a vice president who ended up being the worst president in American history?

COHEN: Well, that's precisely right, Fareed. So, you know, when you look how we basically win presidential succession throughout the course of our history, it's easy to want to say we got lucky and we navigated it and we ended up more or less OK. But that neglects the reality that we were supposed to get Abraham Lincoln's vision for Reconstruction and instead the bullet of John Wilkes Booth's gun gave us Andrew Johnson, a man who was born a racist, died a racist, the last president to own slaves, ends up resurrecting almost all elements of the old Confederacy, which gives us the black codes, which is the precursor to Jim Crow, which gives us segregation.

So when I set out to write this book, what I wanted to do was vindicate the choice of Andrew Johnson in 1864. And back then the president didn't choose the running mate, but Lincoln, knowing that he had a slim shot at winning the election in 1864, had this whole masterful intrigue to get a war Democrat from a border state on the ticket.

And in 1864 Andrew Johnson was the only Southern senator who had stayed loyal to the Union. He was actually revered in the North. And because he wanted to put the Union back together, his rhetoric at the time was more forward-leaning on civil rights and punishment for traitors than even -- than even Abraham Lincoln.

But when he becomes president, which by the way is after an embarrassing drunken display where he takes the oath of office as vice president and ends up slobbering all over the Bible, when he becomes president shortly after the Civil War ends and then tactically he goes back to his old ways and the real Andrew Johnson makes...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard is a writer of fiction, personal essays, memoir, and dance criticism. Her debut novel is The Risk of Us.

From Howard's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that The Risk of Us originated with your own family's story, but that you decided to write the story as fiction "to make a space for readers to be in this tension and ambiguity of trying to become a family, but I didn't want it to be about me." What did you see as the right blend between your own experiences and your fictional creations as you wrote the novel?

A: Ah, that’s a tough question. The honest answer is that I didn’t decide on a right proportion for the blend. I’ve spent a lot of years wrestling with the question of “What is the difference between memoir and fiction?” because I’ve long loved to read and write fiction, but my first book was a memoir.

I’ve come to believe that, for me, the differences are primarily two: First, the impetus for memoir (at least for me) has to do with self-excavation and self-discovery, maybe even a cathartic writing myself to the end of one life story and the beginning of another.

Second, memoir can do some relying on the power of telling the reader “This really happened.” The inner reality of its pages connects to outer, real-life reality. Whereas to me, in fiction—even if I know the story aligns in some ways with the writer’s life facts—the story has its own internal reality. Either its internal reality is fully and self-sufficiently convincing, or the work is not quite whole.

For that reason, as I wrote The Risk of Us, I treated my own family’s experience in the foster care world as a starting point for the internal reality of the book. Very quickly as I thought about the dynamics I wanted to set up between the characters and the story shape, some things...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 27, 2019

Michael Gerhardt

Michael J. Gerhardt is Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His books include Impeachment: What Everyone Needs to Know®.

From Gerhardt's Q&A with Isaac Chotiner for The New Yorker:

What do you think the post-Mueller debate around Trump and impeachment is capturing or failing to capture about the proper way to think about the subject?

I think that much of the public debate doesn’t understand impeachment properly. There are arguments made, positions taken, but they’re not really well tailored for the impeachment process.

One of the essential things about impeachment is that it does not have to be based on an actual criminal violation, and it does not have to track the elements in a federal criminal statute or state criminal statute. It’s perfectly well within the power of Congress, in particular the House, to frame impeachment on the basis of things that are not themselves criminal.

A lot of the discourse has been focussing on whether or not whatever the President did is actual criminal misconduct. Yes, a criminal statute violation, like perjury, for example, could be a basis for impeachment, but you don’t need the technical criminal violation. A President lying to the public—that could be a basis for impeachment. Or a President trying to interfere with an investigation. Those things could be understood as abuse of power, and they don’t have to be criminal.

It still seems like there’s a distinction that could be made. You could say that the way the President has behaved about Russia—everything from calling for Hillary Clinton’s e-mails to be hacked to firing James Comey or telling Don McGahn to fire Mueller—rises to the level of impeachment. Or you could say that Donald Trump, more generally, is acting like an immoral person and is lying to the American people. Forget Russia: he should be impeached because he is not fit to be President. Those seem like two different things to me, even though neither of them is necessarily based around a specific crime.

Well, I think you’re right to raise those two things. I think each of those, separately, could be a credible or permissible basis for impeachment. And it could also be argued that, if there were a technical violation of the criminal statute, such as obstruction, that could also be a basis for impeachment. The classic definition of impeachable offense would be a serious abuse of power or...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Erin Gough

Erin Gough is a Sydney-based writer whose first young adult novel, The Flywheel, won Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Prize. The Flywheel was published in the US as Get it Together, Delilah! and was shortlisted for the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Older Readers and the Centre for Youth Literature’s Gold Inky. It was also named a White Raven International Youth Library title.

Gough's new novel is Amelia Westlake Was Never Here.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that the idea for Amelia Westlake came from your own high school experiences. How did that lead to your writing the novel?

A: That's right. The original idea came from a hoax I did with two of my school friends when we were in our final school year. That hoax was the best thing about high school as far as I’m concerned, and I thought it would be fun to revisit it in fiction.

As I began writing the story - about three years ago now – I realised it was developing into an exploration of power and privilege. As it happened, those concerns were becoming central to the cultural conversation as well, and we’ve since seen them culminate in the “me too” movement.

Q: How did you come up with your characters Will and Harriet, and did you always plan on writing from both points of view?

A: Will and Harriet were both part of my original plan for the novel. I liked the idea of having two people behind the hoax, and the opposites attract trope has always been a favourite of mine - I could see these ideas working well together. I was also excited about...[read on]
Visit Erin Gough's website.

The Page 69 Test: Amelia Westlake Was Never Here.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Roxana Robinson

Roxana Robinson's new novel is Dawson's Fall.

From her interview with Scoundrel Time’s Robert Anthony Siegel:

Robert Anthony Siegel: Dawson’s Fall is based on the dramatic lives of your great-grandparents, Francis and Sarah Dawson, white Southerners who lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction. What made this feel like the right moment for their story? Did it have something to do with the ongoing national conversation on race? Or was the timing more personal?

Roxana Robinson: I usually know exactly when and why I start a book, but in this case, I don’t know when I began to turn my attention to this story. I had deliberately ignored the subject for a number of years. I owned some family papers, and Dawson scholars had sent me others. I knew that a large archive existed at Duke and the subject seemed too big and too burdensome to take on – until suddenly it was not. At first, I wanted just to understand my family, but as I learned more about that time and place I came to understand that I was exploring much more than my family history. I was learning about large American issues – slavery and violence – through these characters. The subject became compelling, and seemed important. These issues were also part of my own path as a writer. I had written before on the subject of moral consequences: the consequences of divorce, of our treatment of the environment, of our behavior within the family, of war, and our treatment of soldiers. So that to write about the moral consequences of slavery was part of this exploration of our national conscience. The book took me five years to write, and with each year the subject seemed...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Roxana Robinson’s website.

The Page 69 Test: Cost.

My Book, The Movie: Cost.

The Page 69 Test: Sparta.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 24, 2019

Kaira Rouda

Kaira Rouda's new novel is The Favorite Daughter.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Favorite Daughter, and for your character Jane?

A: Much like Paul in Best Day Ever, Jane popped into my head one sunny day. And the rest of the book flowed from there. I’m intrigued by what goes on behind closed doors of seemingly perfect lives. And, although her family has been struck by tragedy, Jane still believes it’s almost perfect, and can be again.

Q: You write of narcissists, "Although it may seem terrifying to some that I enjoy getting inside the heads of these types of people in my most recent novels, to me, it's cathartic." Why is that?

A: No idea. I suppose once you know these personalities exist, and you see them in action in the world, causing commotion wherever they go, a good way to try to understand them better is through…[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Kaira Rouda's website.

My Book, The Movie: Here, Home, Hope.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond's latest book is Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis.

From his Q&A with David Wallace-Wells for Intelligencer:

How likely do you think that is? That the whole network of civilization would collapse?

I would estimate the chances are about 49 percent that the world as we know it will collapse by about 2050. I’ll be dead by then but my kids will be, what? Sixty-three years old in 2050. So this is a subject of much practical interest to me. At the rate we’re going now, resources that are essential for complex societies are being managed unsustainably. Fisheries around the world, most fisheries are being managed unsustainably, and they’re getting depleted. Farms around the world, most farms are being managed unsustainably. Soil, topsoil around the world. Fresh water around the world is being managed unsustainably. With all these things, at the rate we’re going now, we can carry on with our present unsustainable use for a few decades, and by around 2050 we won’t be able to continue it any longer. Which means that by 2050 either we’ve figured out a sustainable course, or it’ll be too late.

So let’s talk about that sustainable course. What are the lessons in the new book that might help us adjust our course in that way?

As far as national crises are concerned, the first step is acknowledge — the country has to acknowledge that it’s in a crisis. If the country denies that it’s in a crisis, of course if you deny you’re in a crisis, you’re not going to solve the crisis, number one. In the United States today, lots of Americans...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers's new novel is Waisted.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: In our previous interview, you said of Waisted, "It was hard to write." Why was that?

A: I played with the first line of this book for over a decade: “Everyone hates a fat woman,” but I wrote and published four books before using it in Waisted. The story screamed in my head, but I kept it locked away because writing it meant facing myself. Writ honest, the novel would have to include tales of self-loathing, hiding food, and scale-terror. All of which I face daily.

Feeling ready to hit the personal nadir that delving into issues of women and weight could/would ignite took years. Hiding from the truth was far more inviting. And yet, “Everyone hates a fat woman” wouldn’t let go. So, I began.

Once embroiled in the story, I wanted to never eat again, and I wanted to eat every minute. I never wanted to look at a scale, and I wanted to weigh myself three times a day. Part of me wanted to continue denying the cruelty we face from ourselves and others, but I also felt the urge to open myself to every loathsome thought I’d ever had about myself and every bit of self-hatred I (and I imagined other women) held.

I reckoned with my mother teaching me to hate anything short of perfection. I remembered and confronted the question she’d ask on almost every phone call: “How’s your weight?”— as though “my weight” was something separate from me. Like a roly-poly puppy I dragged behind me. Or a snarling feral bear.

Inhabiting my characters forced ...[read on]
Visit Randy Susan Meyers' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Murderer's Daughters.

The Page 69 Test: The Widow of Wall Street.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik's new book is A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: You describe, as one of the shining lights of liberalism, John McCain's concession speech to Obama. Explain why?

GOPNIK: Yes, because it's terribly important that we remember that liberalism and liberal traditions belong to no one party. One of the crucial and, if you think about it, Fareed, astonishing, miraculous things in the liberal tradition, totally unknown to the rest of human history, is the idea that we can surrender power without vengeance and without feeling embattled.

When John McCain stood up there on the night of 2008 and said, "I honor the new president; I respect the people's voice, and I wish him nothing but well, and I will stand beside him," we take that somewhat for granted. He did it with particular eloquence that night and in a particularly embattled time. But that's a miraculous thing. That doesn't happen in human history. That isn't something that we should ever take for granted. And in that sense, John McCain's concession speech was a great moment in the history of liberalism.

ZAKARIA: And you think that Trump does represent a threat to this?

GOPNIK: How can we deny that he represents a threat to it? Every day he tweets something -- and it's not a question of where you stand on abortion; it's not a question of where you stand on what the Federal Reserve should do about interest rates. It's a question of every day someone, the president, tweeting something to cast doubt on the legitimacy of an election, to cast doubt on the basic legitimacy of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 20, 2019

Tembi Locke

Tembi Locke is an accomplished actor who has appeared in over forty television shows and films, including The Magicians, NCIS: LA, Animal Kingdom and Dumb and Dumber To. She is also a TEDx speaker. Her talk, What Forty Steps Taught Me About Love and Grief, traces her journey as a cancer caregiver. She is the creative voice behind The Kitchen Widow, a web series and grief support community that has received mentions in the New York Times and the Guardian. The author of From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, she lives in Los Angeles with her young daughter but can be found each summer on the island of Sicily.

From Locke's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and what impact did writing it have on you?

A: There were perhaps two main reasons I decided to write From Scratch. One, I wanted to share what I had learned about love and loss. Two, I wanted to create a kind of love letter to my late husband and his homeland for our daughter. I had reached a point in my life where to not tell the story would have been another kind of grief.

Plus, I am a firm believer that there are times when we need to look back and find meaning into order to go forward. It gives us a better understanding of our present and perhaps our future.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: From Scratch has multiple meanings. On the one hand, it directly connects to the theme of food in the book. But it is also about...[read on]
Visit Tembi Locke's website.

The Page 99 Test: From Scratch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke's latest novel is The Better Sister.

From her interview with Paul Burke for NB:

PB: ... The Better Sister explores the darker side of social media. Chloe experiences horrendous abuse simply because she is a successful woman, sadly her experience mirrors that of a lot of people with a public profile. Are we taking this issue seriously enough yet?

AB: That’s a big, fat Nope. There are all kinds of stories online of women reporting threats and harassment online, but there’s no accountability. The anonymity emboldens people to act horrifically. End anonymous accounts—or even limit their visibility—and it would all change immediately.

PB: The Better Sister raises the concern that #MeToo gives a voice to women in the public eye (I know it’s still very difficult coming forward), but the abuse of many women in everyday jobs is still ignored. Is there a danger that we assume the publicity means the problem is being dealt with when we are only scratching the surface?

AB: I do have some concerns that the evolution of #MeToo moved toward lower level wrongs (if you can put these things on a spectrum, which some don’t want to do), also committed by high-profile men. Has the movement really changed anything for cashiers, waitresses, nurses, factory workers? That story remains to be told, and it’s something that Chloe Taylor...[read on]
Visit Alafair Burke's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Connection.

The Page 69 Test: Angel’s Tip.

The Page 69 Test: 212.

The Page 69 Test: All Day and a Night.

The Page 69 Test: The Ex.

The Page 69 Test: The Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Better Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Brandy Scott

Brandy Scott's new novel is Not Bad People.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that you came up with the idea for Not Bad People while viewing a letting-go ceremony. How did that experience turn into this novel?

A: I’m constantly auditioning ideas for novels in my head. Things that happen to me and others, things I read about in the newspaper. The letting-go ceremony I went to – where a group of us tied resolutions to sky lanterns and let them off a balcony – stuck in my head afterwards, along with the possible consequences. I just kept thinking “what if?”. I’m a born worrier and in this case, that was an asset – I basically worried my way into a plot.

Q: How did you come up with your characters Aimee, Melinda, and Lou, and what do you think the book says about old friendships?

A: My characters are all completely fictional, but tend to be sparked by things I’ve experienced or witnessed. I can be a bit anxious – see above! – which is where Aimee’s issues started; I’ve had long chats with my girlfriends about the subtle indignities of being single in your forties, which I’ve given to Melinda. Lou and I are very similar in temperament. But these are just launchpads for character.

I think Not Bad People highlights the casual carelessness we can slip into with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2019

Stephen Budiansky

Stephen Budiansky's new book is Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas.

From his Q&A at SCOTUSBlog:

Question: There are some great Holmes lines that, it turns out, were not actually his words. Can you give us a few examples?

Budiansky: Probably the most famous is his oft-quoted assessment of FDR: “A second-class mind, but a first-class temperament,” which he almost certainly never said. He did say something vaguely like that about Theodore Roosevelt, which may have been where the story got started. But every book about FDR seems to repeat it.

Holmes was such a well-known wit that he suffered from the Mark Twain or Winston Churchill syndrome of having just about any commonplace witty saying of the day attributed to him. But his genuine quips were in a class by themselves. Dean Acheson once asked him what old Justice Harlan had been like. Holmes replied, “Harlan’s mind was like a vise, the jaws of which did not meet. It only held the larger objects.”

Question: You write: “[I]t was the Civil War that was his touchstone.” Given that, you dwell on Holmes’ Civil War experience at some length, and impressively so. In what sense was Holmes’ experience the touchstone of his philosophy and jurisprudence?

Budiansky: He hated war, and hated reading about the Civil War, but he always acknowledged it as the great transformative experience of his life. At the...[read on]
Visit Stephen Budiansky's website.

The Page 69 Test: Budiansky's The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Juliet Grames

Juliet Grames's new novel is The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: What do you think the novel says about family, and also about immigration?

A: Life has taught me that families are both really complicated and also profoundly influential on important decisions we make, even decisions that don’t seem to have anything to do with our families.

There’s a Calabrese proverb that I use in the novel: I guai da pignata si sapa sulu a cucchjiara cchi c’e vuota, which translates as “The problems inside the pitcher are known only to the spoon that stirs it.” In other words, only a family knows its own problems.

I hope the novel encourages empathy and patience for difficult people by reminding readers that “difficult” personalities are often products of family hardships.

As for immigration, I have always found the notion of stepping onto a boat to sail away from your homeland forever, to head toward another country you have never been, where you don’t know the language and have no promise that you’ll be able to thrive or even survive—I’ve always found the thought overwhelming, heartbreaking, and inspiring.

I’ve never done anything remotely as brave as my immigrant ancestors, and...[read on]
Visit Juliet Grames's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Jackie MacMullan

Jackie MacMullan was a beat reporter, covering the Boston Celtics, in the eighties, then a writer for Sports Illustrated and a columnist for the Boston Globe, and finally a columnist and writer for ESPN. (She also appears frequently on a number of ESPN television shows.) She has co-written autobiographies by Larry Bird, Geno Auriemma, and Shaquille O’Neal, and, with Bird and Magic Johnson, she wrote When the Game Was Ours. Last year, she co-edited, with Rafe Bartholomew and Dan Klores, Basketball: A Love Story, an oral history of basketball based on the ESPN documentary series of the same name.

From her interview with Louisa Thomas for The New Yorker:

How do you preserve your objectivity?

It bothers me that people don’t seem to care. We have people at ESPN saying “my team,” or “we won.” I’m like, “What are you doing? No.”

Bill Simmons, who used to be my boss, has made a career out of being a fan—though with him it’s very explicit.

As much as I admire and respect Bill Simmons, every time he does it, I cringe. I’m old school, I guess. Now, I don’t think we should ever stop being a human being when we interview someone. Sometimes people say things they shouldn’t say, and, if they’re young, and inexperienced, I always say, “Are you sure you want to say that?” And I probably shouldn’t do that.

I think you should.

I do. I was doing a story on Chauncey Billups once, when he was a rookie for the Celtics. We did a lunch interview, and he said some things, and I know they didn’t come out the way he wanted. It had to do with race relations in Boston. I didn’t use them. I said, “I like you. I think you should be careful. You don’t want to start out here like that.” I didn’t realize it, but, for the rest of my life, Chauncey Billups is going to have my back. That’s not why I did it. But, to me, that’s different.

But, listen. Josh Beckett is the biggest horse’s ass I’ve ever come across in my life. I couldn’t stand the guy. But he was a great pitcher, and so, when he won big games, I had to write about how good he was. Conversely, I remember Dennis Johnson, at the end of his career, was having some trouble adjusting to the young players taking some of his time, and as much as I adored Dennis Johnson—talk about someone who gave me every chance and then some, went out of his way to give me a platform—I had to write that he was behaving poorly. It’s terrible. It’s the hardest part of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Kelly Harms

Kelly Harms's new novel is The Overdue Life of Amy Byler.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, and for your character Amy?

A: I find that most of my story ideas are cooked up from a little bit of my own personal escapism with just a sprinkling of cultural subversion. As a single mom myself, it wasn't hard to dream up a situation where a woman would want to step out of her daily toil and try the road not traveled.

But the subversion comes in when you understand just how much messaging is out there about what a single mother should be. Our culture reveres and abhors single mothers in equal parts, and places expectations on such women that are absolutely untenable, and the more I dug into that, the more I realized it applied to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at the official Kelly Harms website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2019

Brenda Wineapple

Brenda Wineapple's new book is The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation.

From her interview with Isaac Chotiner for The New Yorker:

You write, “To reduce the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to a mistaken incident in American history, a bad taste in the collective mouth, disagreeable and embarrassing, is to forget the extent to which slavery and thus the very fate of the nation lay behind Johnson’s impeachment.” That is not the version of Johnson’s impeachment that is usually taught. Are you trying to offer a corrective?

I certainly hope it offers a corrective, and more than that I hope it’s convincing. I don’t know how you were taught, but I certainly wasn’t taught much about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. I was taught that it was preposterous. It was engineered by fanatics. Even recently, when I gave a talk, a very literate, intelligent man asked me if the Tenure of Office Act hadn’t been cooked up in order to ensnare Johnson, which I think was a kind of standard view.

But, when I read through the Congressional record, when I went back to newspapers, when I went into old files and letters and archives, it became clear, to my mind, that the cause of it, that what was being debated, was the way in which the country would go forward and not just get rid of slavery, which the Thirteenth Amendment did, but get rid of the lingering effects of the slavery, which were huge.

Why do you think Andrew Johnson was impeached? Was it over the violation of the Tenure of Office Act, or was it a much larger question?

It was both. The reason that the House voted overwhelmingly to impeach, when it finally did, in February of 1868, was that he violated the Tenure of Office Act. Congress felt that, by breaking the law, that particular law, Johnson was thumbing his nose at them and the rule of law. That was the immediate reason.

But it’s also true that there were people in Congress and outside of it, but primarily we’re talking about Congress, who had rejected the direction Johnson was taking the country in and felt that he was squandering the outcome of the war, or what the war...[read on]
Visit Brenda Wineapple's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Angie Kim

Angie Kim's new novel is Miracle Creek.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Miracle Creek?

A: Miracle Creek is centered on a fatal fire and explosion in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) chamber. HBOT is a real medical treatment used in hospitals as a treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning and diving accidents, and it’s increasingly being used as an experimental treatment for a wide variety of conditions, ranging from infertility to cerebral palsy and autism.

One of my kids, who has celiac disease and ulcerative colitis, was an HBOT patient years ago in a privately-run facility with a group chamber. It was an intense experience, being sealed up in a submarine-like chamber with three other families for an hour at a time for 40 consecutive “dives.”

We shared our life stories with each other and were forced to deal with minor emergencies that came up while we were sealed inside (including some temper tantrums, panic attacks, and bathroom emergencies).

When I set out to write a novel years later, I immediately thought of the chamber, a crucible in more ways than one, and I wondered what we would have done if something truly horrific had happened during a dive, when we were sealed inside with no way of getting out.

Once I decided on a fire/explosion as the inciting incident, it seemed natural to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 11, 2019

John Paul Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens served on U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 until his retirement in 2010. He is the third-longest serving Justice in American history. Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1920, Stevens served in the United States Navy during World War II and graduated from Northwestern University School of Law. He was appointed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1970 by President Richard Nixon and to the Supreme Court in 1975 by Gerald Ford. He is the author of Five Chiefs, Six Amendments, and the newly released The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years.

From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg:

TOTENBERG: In his last years on the Supreme Court, Stevens was publicly worried about the court's rightward tilt. But now off the court, he's even more worried. He sees a newly constituted and more aggressive conservative court majority acting in a, quote, "less neutral fashion." For example, he dissented fiercely in 2008 when the court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to own a gun.

STEVENS: Its analysis of the history and the reasons for the amendment was dead wrong.

TOTENBERG: Still, as Stevens discloses in his book, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the fifth and decisive vote in the case, insisted that the decision include language protecting reasonable gun regulations. Kennedy, however, retired last June, to be replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, who, as a lower court judge, viewed as unconstitutional every major gun regulation that came before him.

So what hope, if any, do you have for the court upholding serious gun regulation were it to pass?

STEVENS: I suppose the odds are not very favorable now.

TOTENBERG:...Judicial doctrine does change over time. But do you think that the current court is taking a radical turn to the right?

STEVENS: Yes, I really do. I think some of the decisions really are quite wrong, and they're quite contrary to the public interest.

TOTENBERG: Every member of the court, not just the chief justice, goes around saying, we are not politicians; we're judges. But it gets harder and harder for some people to believe that.

STEVENS: Well, it's harder and harder to believe. But there's still some hope that it won't be totally that way. But it is true that it seems to be more ideological than it's been since...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 10, 2019

Daniel Okrent

Daniel Okrent's new book is The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America.

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

GROSS: It's fascinating to read in your book how Hitler and the Nazis were drawing on the American eugenics movement to, like, strengthen their own movement. They were almost using some of the American eugenics, quote, "findings" as guidelines for themselves. You know, Hitler becomes chancellor in 1933, but he writes "Mein Kampf," or at least he publishes it, in 1925, which is one year after the Immigration Act of 1924 has passed. And you cite a passage from "Mein Kampf" in which Hitler directly refers to America.

OKRENT: He refers to it as - the United States as the one - this is a quote - "one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception of citizenship are noticeable - among them, simply excluding certain races from naturalization." And from there, he goes on to quote in later speeches and writings - Madison Grant becomes a hero of his. And most importantly, the American eugenicists, even the most respectable of them, had for - by the time Hitler takes power in 1932, '33, for nearly three decades, the German eugenicists and the American eugenicists had been working together to develop their presumed science. They were collaborators in a more respectable sense of the word, but then the collaboration becomes deadly and awful once Hitler takes over.

In 1933, addressing a convention of doctors who were engaged in eugenic research, he said, I cannot do without you for a single day, not a single hour. If not for you, if you fail me, then all is lost. And...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Daniel Okrent's website.

The Page 99 Test: Last Call.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Patrick Radden Keefe

Patrick Radden Keefe's new book is Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.

From his Q&A with Entertainment Weekly's David Canfield:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m curious about how this project evolved. What story did you set out to tell here?

PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE: In my day job at The New Yorker, I write this big, sprawling, often investigative narrative pieces. I only do three or four of them a year. This book started as a piece of the magazine. I read an obituary in The New York Times in 2013, of Dolours Price. What initially drew me in was the outsize drama of the life of this woman. Then, in that obituary, it mentioned that she had implicated herself in the disappearance of this woman, Jean McConville, in 1972. That was the seed for this story — the idea you could tell this story of these two women, one of them an IRA soldier, and the other a victim, and through their intertwining stories tell a larger story about the Troubles.

You’re coming at this mystery as a total outsider. Was that a benefit in your reporting?

At the beginning, I thought it would be a disadvantage, just because the history is so complex there and I felt that there was a very steep learning curve for me in terms of grasping some of the politics and almost tribal dynamics of...[read on]
Visit Patrick Radden Keefe's website.

The Page 69 Test: Chatter.

Writers Read: Patrick Radden Keefe (June 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Cathryn J. Prince

Cathryn J. Prince's new book is Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you first learn about Fanny Bullock Workman, and why did you decide to write her biography?

A: For this one, it was different. I usually find out about someone through casual conversations. With this book, I did want to write about a strong woman. So many of my books are focused mostly around men.

This was a more deliberate choice, and I started looking through different histories, to find who hadn’t been written about. I came across her, I can’t remember where. The first thing that drew me to her was that I saw one of her portraits. I thought she looked formidable.

Then, in deciding to write about her, [I found that] she exemplifies debates now over professional women and motherhood. She ran into societies and memberships where people were telling her she’s a woman and she didn’t let it thwart her.

The first thing I learned about her was about her bicycle rides. She rode in woolen outfits on bikes for 14,000-mile trips, for 6,000-mile trips. I thought, this is an interesting lady! And there was the climbing, to the Himalayas. And the...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Cathryn J. Prince's website.

The Page 99 Test: Death in the Baltic.

Coffee with a Canine: Cathryn J. Prince & Hershey and Juno.

The Page 99 Test: American Daredevil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Kate White

Kate White's new novel is Such a Perfect Wife.

From her Q&A with Alafair Burke for Crime by the Book:

Alafair: What were some of the thoughts that went into the story of Such a Perfect Wife?

Kate: The idea came from the fascination I have and the sadness I feel when reading news stories about wives or girlfriends who vanish and later turn out to have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Recently there was that horrible story of Shanann Watts, whose husband Chris killed her and their two little daughters so he could be with his mistress, and the Colorado mom apparently killed by her fiancé, who, it seems, might have disposed of her body with the help of his secret girlfriend. With Such a Perfect Wife, I wanted to write about a missing wife, but I also wanted to pose the question: What if, just maybe, the husband didn’t do it? Bailey finds herself asking that question when she is sent by Crime Beat to cover the story of a young mother named Shannon Blaine, who seems to have vanished into thin air. By the way, I had already chosen the name before I read about...[read on]
Visit Kate White's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Even If It Kills Her.

The Page 69 Test: Eyes on You.

The Page 99 Test: The Gutsy Girl Handbook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 6, 2019

Pamela D. Toler

Pamela D. Toler is the author of Women Warriors: An Unexpected History.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Of the various women you wrote about, were there some whose stories you found especially compelling?

A: I kept coming back to the story of the Contessa Matilda of Tuscany. She was the largest landowner in the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century—an accomplishment in its own right, since few women were able to maintain control of their inheritance.

She was deeply involved in one of the most important political and theological issues of her day. And she was a successful military commander for 40 years. And yet her career is often reduced to a supporting role in a single incident.

I found her story fascinating in its own right and emblematic of the way women have been...[read on]
Visit Pamela D. Toler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin's new novel is Mistress of the Ritz.

From her Q&A with Mandy Nachampassack-Maloney:

I noticed that a lot of your books are concerned with movies and the 1920s. What is it about this subject and time that has captured your imagination?

If I could be a time traveler, I’d definitely go back to the 1920s. I love that era; I love that women were so liberated and eager to enjoy life, life on their own terms. I love the fashions – the long-waist dresses, the bobbed hair. I love the joyful attitude. Everything was just beginning – Broadway musicals, the film industry, so many great literary magazines like The New Yorker. I would just love to have been there when everything, particularly in the arts, seemed so shiny and new, and when women were first experiencing liberation.

I read that you said information on the real Auzellos was scarce. How did you build their relationship? Did you plan to make it as volatile as it was or did the writing process take you that way?

There really was very little about them but what was there all mentioned how troubled their marriage was. And that’s catnip to an author, of course. Basically I knew that Claude had mistresses in the French way – not believing they had anything to do with his marriage – and Blanche, being an American, did not view them in the same light. And this led to the volatility. Add to that the fact that they were two very different people whose romance had begun in an unbelievably passionate, dramatic way, and I thought—how does a marriage live up to such a grand, epic beginning? So that part of the story of their marriage, I imagined. And then I imagined how a marriage based on epic highs and lows would evolve in wartime, when...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

My Book, The Movie: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Picture.

Writers Read: Melanie Benjamin (January 2018).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates's new book is The Moment Of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes The World.

From the transcript of her interview with NPR's Michel Martin:

MARTIN: [Y]ou quote a friend several times in the book who was very skeptical of the ability of, quote, unquote, "American billionaires" to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those facing extreme poverty. I mean, right now, we're in a moment - not just in the United States, but around the world - when a lot of people are questioning - or they're asking, what is fundamentally fair?

And I wanted to ask you. It's true, your family's been extremely generous with your wealth. But some are asking now, what are the terms on which wealth is generated to begin with? Is that something you're prepared to discuss? Is that something you think, as a society, we should be talking about, and if so, how?

GATES: We should absolutely be talking about that as a society. I don't want my children to grow up in a society that has such large inequities. And so part of the reason that we work, for instance, on the U.S. education system is that is the best opportunity to reach a child in our country, to help lift them up and let them go on to thrive and have their best life.

But we have to step back as a society and say, what is it that's causing these inequities? We have to look at our tax policies. You know, Bill and I are on record saying we believe high-income people should pay more than a middle-income family than should pay more than a low-income family. And so it's time to revisit some of the tax policies, some of the regulations in our society.

But make no mistake, living in a capitalistic structure is a fabulous place to live. I meet so many families around the world who want to live in the United States and have the system we have. Warren Buffett, our co-trustee, my husband, Bill, they are so clear that, you know, they could not have started those - the companies they have in Malawi or in Senegal or in Niger. We benefit from the structure we have in the United States, but we don't have it all right. And...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 3, 2019

Nick Groom

Nick Groom is the author of The Vampire: A New History.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this history of vampires?

A: I’ve written a lot about the Gothic, and my approach has been to think about its political context, particularly in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a way of looking at constitutional history, Protestantism, and progress.

Vampires don’t fit in that model. They’re supernatural beings. They got me thinking in a different way about politics and theology. It’s not just a history of bloodsucking demons, but that the vampire was a thought experiment used in Enlightenment thinking.

Q: Vampires are very common in today's popular culture. Why do you think that is, and what do you see looking ahead?

A: A lot of people who write books on vampires are keen to write the obituary of the vampire, that the vampire has now lost its allure. But it hasn’t. There might be even...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Heather Morris

Heather Morris is the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and its follow-up, Cilka’s Journey.

From her Entertainment Weekly Q&A with David Canfield:

[Cilka’s Journey] is another harrowing, inspiring story. Is there a reason you keep returning to this world, however painful it is?

“They are us. We are one” — Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand prime minister. It’s that simple, folks. There are so many stories to tell and deserving of their place on our bookshelves, in our hearts. I will listen, I will learn, and it’s my good fortune to bring these stories out to readers.

How are you resting with the success of Tattooist? Why do you think it resonated on such a large scale?

At times uncomfortably, unable to comprehend the success of my debut novel. Always humbled particularly when I meet people who wish to know more about Lale, and the many who write to me sharing their stories of pain and the hope and love they have received by reading about Lale and Gita. Delighted that so many people ask, “What happened to Cilka? I need to know.”

I don’t over-analyze why The Tattooist of Auschwitz has resonated with so many people, in so many countries, other than the need to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Chaya Bhuvaneswar

Chaya Bhuvaneswar is the author of White Dancing Elephants: Stories.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How was the book's title (also the title of the first story in the collection) chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: It's a Buddhist image, a South Asian image, but also resonates (I hoped) with the dream the narrator of the title story has, juxtaposing Disney elephants with far different imagery.

Q: Do you see certain themes running through the collection?

A: Loss, grief; what the Kirkus reviewer called "the aftermath" - definitely a state of being that all the characters face in...[read on]
Visit Chaya Bhuvaneswar's website.

--Marshal Zeringue