Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson is the author of several bestselling books, of which the first, Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival, won both the NCR Award and the Boardman Tasker Award. His later books include This Game of Ghosts, Storms of Silence, Dark Shadows Falling, The Beckoning Silence and two novels.

From his Q & A with Tim Lewis at the Guardian:

You went back to climbing after your accident, and only stopped in 2009. What’s taken its place?

Nothing. Nothing ever will. I actually surprised myself, I sat up on this peak in Nepal in 2009 and I could see however many 8,000-metre peaks: Everest, Lhotse. It was a gorgeous day. I knew I had a three-and-a-half-day descent and it was going to be murderous on my knee. So I thought: “It doesn’t get much better than this. This is the time to stop.” And I just went to Kathmandu and sold all my gear, and I never climbed again. But it was like grief in a way, and it’s because it’s something you spent your entire life doing. It’s what you live for and then suddenly...[read on]
Touching the Void is among Emma Barrett and Paul Martin's ten favorite books about and by people in extremes and Andy Cave's top ten books on Alpinism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 30, 2019

Felicity Hayes-McCoy

Felicity Hayes-McCoy's new novel is The Mistletoe Matchmaker, the third title in her Finfarran series. From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: The Mistletoe Matchmaker is the third of your Finfarran novels. How did you come up with the idea for this book in the series?

A: Each of the Finfarran novels works as a stand-alone, as well as progressing the series. Because of their rural setting on a fictional peninsula on the west coast of Ireland, they always involve an element of seasonality.

With The Mistletoe Matchmaker I wanted to write a winter book, and to delve deeper into the story of Pat Fitzgerald and her husband Ger, who’d appeared in the background of the previous novels.

Q: How do you think your characters have changed over the course of the series?

A: I don’t think they’ve changed, but they’ve certainly developed. One of the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Scott Von Doviak

Scott Von Doviak is the author of three books on film and pop culture: Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema, If You Like The Terminator, and Stephen King Films FAQ.

His debut novel is Charlesgate Confidential.

From the author's Q&A with Clea Simon:

How does a book start for you?

I start with the setting. The setting gives me the characters and the characters give me the story. In the case of Charlesgate Confidential, I had long wanted to write about the former Charlesgate Hotel in Boston, in which I had lived during the ‘80s when Emerson College turned the building into a dormitory. I have current works in progress set in Austin, where I live now, and Los Angeles, where I spent five years. I need to feel a connection to the setting in order to be comfortable and inspired enough to write about it. While I was at the crime writers’ convention Bouchercon recently, I met someone who was writing a series set in a place they had never been, which is something I can’t imagine doing.

Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?

One of the characters surprised me by getting killed much sooner than I expected—and since...[read on]
Visit Scott Von Doviak's website.

The Page 69 Test: Charlesgate Confidential.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Helene Dunbar

Helene Dunbar's new young adult novel is We Are Lost and Found.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for We Are Lost and Found, and for your character Michael?

A: In a way, this book was always in the back of my mind and I was just waiting until I was a strong enough writer to tackle it.

I was talking to someone recently who mentioned how impossible it is to explain how invasive and prevalent the AIDS crisis was in the ‘80s. I wanted to capture that time on the cusp of the crisis before much was known about AIDS and before it became such a defining element in so many people’s lives.

In 1983, those in Michael’s age group weren’t demographically at risk, but we didn’t know that. My friends and I didn’t know that. And, in a way, fear of the unknown is a special type of fear because anything - down to the worst things you can imagine - are possible.

I’d been waiting for a book that captured this in the same way that it felt to me at the time (1983 was my senior year of high school), but I never really found one.

As for Michael, I see him as a sort of “everyman.” He’s trying to hold his friends together, his family together, and ultimately hold himself together. And he needs to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 27, 2019

Esther Duflo & Abhijit Banerjee

Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, along with economist Michael Kremer. Banerjee & Duflo's new book is Good Economics for Hard Times.

From the transcript of their interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: And one of the methods that you really pioneered is this idea of going in and observing what people do? Tinkering with some of the things you gives one - you do one thing for one group and one thing for another group? What does it reveal with in terms of this idea that we are all bound by economic incentives?

DUFLO: Yes. So one, for example, one series of experiments, not just one, but maybe a dozen experiments that revealed very much that the poor don't get discouraged from working when they receive free money is a series of cash - that they've happened now all over the world or in Latin America, even in the U.S. for a while.

So the people get some money as long as their kids go to school and they get the basic immunization and other preventive care services for their children. So one can then look at what happened to the people who get the money and the people who don't. And they are strictly equivalent because they were chosen randomly.

And across all of these experiments you never see a difference in the probabilities that people are working or in how many hours they work? If anything, whenever you see a small difference, it's actually the people who receive money work a little more.

ZAKARIA: You also work in some of the poorest parts of the world. You work in a part of India that is pretty poor. What is the - is there a simple answer to the question of what does one do about that kind of extreme poverty? For a government that doesn't have the resources of the United States?

BANERJEE: Well, I think in our book we make the case that it's probably - that is exactly where you may want to go for something like universal basic income maybe kind of an ultra basic income. Not really very much, but the government's attempt to help the poor has always been a little bit colored by this idea that if you give them free money, they'll be a bunch of lazy people who will - it's just take it.

So you basically have a scheme where what happens if you have to go to work to get the money. It's not clear that that's how you help the poorest people. We worked with some women who were - who had been abandoned by their husbands, and had small children. How do they go to work? Where do the children go?

They were not using these schemes. And as a result, they were instead begging, basically. And the loss of dignity from that seems extraordinarily costly. Nobody will have to be at that - nobody needs to be begging. I think that's not - that - that I think most countries can achieve. And we should try...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Donald L. Miller

Donald L. Miller is the New York Times bestselling author of ten books, the John Henry MacCracken Emeritus Professor of History at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and one of the most respected authorities on World War II, the Civil War, and Modern US History. His latest book is Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy.

From Miller's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about Vicksburg in your new book?

A: In the public imagination, it’s vastly overshadowed by Gettysburg in the war. I became convinced the war was won in the West, and that starts with control of the Mississippi River, which was very important. And Grant emerges as the general who will win the war.

In the East, the battles were episodic—a huge three-day shootout and then months [of relative quiet]. Grant’s idea was fighting incessantly. He did that at Vicksburg, and then took the fight to the East. He became the general in charge after Vicksburg. Mississippi, Louisiana, parts of Tennessee were out of the war. He freed over 100,000 slaves. That’s the least-known aspect of the story.

In a sense Grant becomes to the slaves of the area the Great Liberator, not Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation was on the books, but could only be enforced by the armies of the North. The slaves in Maryland and Delaware were not freed. You had to be fighting for the Confederacy for slaves in that state to be freed.

There was a siege, there were great characters, there were women living in caves. It’s an interesting way to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Bruce Forbes

Bruce Forbes's books include Christmas: A Candid History, co-editor of Rapture, Revelation, and the End Times, and co-editor of Religion and Popular Culture in America. From his 2016 Q&A with Patt Morrison for the Los Angeles Times:

In the Western world, in the Christian Western world, how was Christmas marked for a thousand, 1,500 years?

It was mainly an adult activity and it would be a midnight Mass — which, by the way, is how we get the term “Christmas.” It really means “Christ’s Mass.” And partying, maybe in the neighborhood tavern or in the home. That is Christmas for a long, long time.

The family-centered Christmas is really something that’s fairly recent. We talk about the Victorian Christmas — we’re talking about the 1800s, when that kind of Christmas we know now arose.

There were people who were Christians and believers who thought it was terrible to celebrate Christmas.

The poor Puritans have a bad reputation in terms of being killjoys and not allowing anyone to be happy. I think that’s not fair. Puritanism starts in England, when the Church of England breaks off from the Catholic Church. It still maintained many Catholic features and Puritans were Calvinists who felt, now that we’ve done these changes, we should get rid of a lot of those other things that are Catholic additions that are not really Christian.

And in the Puritan revolution in England, they sometimes even had town criers going around on Christmas Eve saying, “No Christmas”! No Christmas!” That carried over into the United States with almost all of the English-speaking denominations from England who were not Church of England.

You probably by now roll your eyes when you hear the phrase “the war on Christmas.”

Yes, I do. First of all, it’s because I think a lot of it is built on this assumption that everyone always celebrated Christmas and somebody recently — whoever it is you don’t like — they’re to blame because they wrecked it. And I just don’t think that’s the case.

The idea that even the alternate phrases like “happy holidays “or “season’s greetings” — those are not new phrases. Those we can trace back a long, long way. The problem with the “war on Christmas,” in addition is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tom Piazza

Tom Piazza's novels include A Free State.

From his Q&A with Clea Simon:

Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?

My most recent novel, A FREE STATE, actually did start with a plan, which I had to dismantle completely before the thing came alive. But it really came alive, to the extent that everybody in the book surprised me. I had to let them surprise me, or the book would have been dead on arrival. That book was a very spooky experience to write, but I guess they all are. Maybe without revealing too much I can say that the narrator of the final chapter probably surprised me the most, just by appearing.

When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?

A FREE STATE is set in Philadelphia, mostly, in 1855, and it deals with the moment when the argument over slavery was coming to a boil at the same time that blackface minstrelsy was the dominant form of popular entertainment. The central character is an escaped slave who is also a very brilliant musician. I had started...[read on]
Visit Tom Piazza's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 23, 2019

Robin Oliveira

Robin Oliveira is the New York Times bestselling author of Winter Sisters, My Name Is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You. She holds a BA in Russian and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow. She received an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is also a registered nurse, specializing in critical care.

From Oliveira's Q&A with Leslie Lindsay:

Leslie Lindsay: WINTER SISTERS picks up about fourteen years after the Civil War. In your previous book, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, we’re introduced to a brilliant, headstrong midwife who eventually becomes a Civil War surgeon. Dr. Mary Sutter (now married to Dr. William Stipp), is back in this tale, but this isn’t exactly a series, is it? Is there a literary term for this type of character cross-over? And what is it about Mary that you—and readers—love so much?

Robin Oliveira: I know,it isn’t quite a series, is it? Shall we invent a term? Connected novels, like connected short stories? Though I have received many requests from readers over the years to ‘bring Mary back,’ I could never find a story that seemed as necessary or compelling to tell as the one I had already told about her. I felt as if I’d solved all her problems, and that nothing else would ever be as exciting or interesting as becoming a surgeon in the midst of war. What I think compels readers—and me—to love Mary Sutter is that she is a bright, clear-headed, courageous woman who speaks her mind, ignores societal conventions, slices directly into the heart of things, runs into trouble rather than away from it (the definition of a hero), and persists no matter the roadblock. I particularly love her verbal comebacks. She thinks of and says the apt rebuke or bon mot we all wish we were able to say in similarly fraught moments. There are many situations in my life where I think, Well, Mary wouldn’t have let that person speak to her like that. Why did you? Of course, it took me three or more drafts to write the words she wields as deftly as a sword. But what I think I adore most about Mary is that she is at heart an entirely moral human being. She rejects the frivolous—fashion, status, appearance—for the pursuit of...[read on]
Visit Robin Oliveira's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Name Is Mary Sutter.

The Page 69 Test: Winter Sisters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Matthew Avery Sutton

Matthew Avery Sutton's latest book is Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus your new book on missionaries who spied for the U.S. during World War II?

A: I am a historian of American religion and politics. I stumbled across the story of some missionaries who had worked for the CIA during the Cold War. I was curious about the origins of this history, and what I discovered was that the U.S. government began recruiting missionaries as spies during World War II.

So from there I embarked on a long research process, which essentially entailed finding needles in haystacks. But once I started finding a few elusive missionary-spies, I got really excited about what I was learning, about the role they played during the war, and about what they tell us about the role of religion in American foreign policy, American culture, and American intelligence.

Q: You look at the careers of four men. Why did you choose these four, and what is the relationship between John Birch, one of the four, and the John Birch Society?

A: I had a few goals in mind as I selected the main characters.

First, I wanted to tell the story of...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: American Apocalypse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Patrick Coleman

Patrick Coleman makes things from words, sounds, and occasional pictures. His debut collection of poems, Fire Season, was written after the birth of his first child by speaking aloud into a digital audio recorder on the long commute between the art museum where he worked and his home in a rural neighborhood that burned in the Witch Creek Fire of 2007. It won the 2015 Berkshire Prize and was released by Tupelo Press on December 1, 2018. His short-form prose has appeared in Hobart, ZYZZYVA, Zócalo Public Square, the Writer's Chronicle, the Black Warrior Review, Juked, and the Utne Reader, among others. The Art of Music, an exhibition catalogue on the relationship between visual arts and music that he edited and contributed to, was co-published by Yale University Press and the San Diego Museum of Art. Coleman earned an MFA from Indiana University and a BA from the University of California Irvine. He lives in Ramona, California, with his wife and two daughters, and is the Assistant Director of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego.

Coleman's first novel is The Churchgoer.

From his Q&A with Micah Ling at Hobart:

What do you like about writing a poem? What do you like about writing a novel? How are the two similar?

Writing poems, for me, is personal. I always come back to Frost's thing about poetry being a "momentary stay against confusion." Reading a poem or writing one can help me see clearer for a few minutes, maybe a day or two: my own life, the world around me. It's more about staying open, playful, led by the heart instead of fearful, anxious, consumptive, and closed-off impulses.

Novel writing (at least this first time) is similar, but there's just a longer slog to it, and more attention to narrative structure. (My prose poems tend to have a lot of narrative, but still.) It's a bit more oriented around understanding others and social dynamics and social, political, or in this case also religious systems, and seeing them through a kind of quietly deconstructed noir lens.

But even there, I had to constantly find ways to make sitting down to write for that day serve some purpose in my life, for that day. That's part of why The Churchgoer evolved the way it did. The first draft I thought I could just write a fun detective novel, pretty quickly. I take absurd things seriously, and especially in the long revision process it became about exploring the overlaps between Evangelical culture and American culture and ideas of faith and faithlessness—things that were staying some of my own confusion, in a daily way. So maybe that's...[read on]
Visit Patrick Coleman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Churchgoer.

The Page 69 Test: The Churchgoer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 20, 2019

Georgie Blalock

Georgie Blalock's new novel is The Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel.

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

Q: Why did you decide to focus on Princess Margaret in your new novel?

A: I focused on Princess Margaret because she is such a fascinating character. She had it all but, as a member of the Royal Family, she didn’t truly have the freedom to enjoy it.

Also, postwar England is an interesting time of transition when a little of the old world of Downton Abbey still existed before swinging ‘60s London wiped it away for good. The change from one world to another, the loss of old traditions and a way of life, and the uncertainty and possibilities that those changes created offered a great deal of complex conflict to explore.

Q: What did you see as the right balance between the historic Princess Margaret and your own fictional version?

A: Princess Margaret gave me so much material to work with but she is still my fictional character.

I did my best through research to understand her and her world but I didn’t allow the strict historical record to become a constraint. I wanted the freedom to give her life my own interpretation, to adjust…[read on]
Visit Georgie Blalock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Robin Wolfe Scheffler

Robin Wolfe Scheffler is the Leo Marx Career Development Chair in the History and Culture of Science and Technology at the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

His latest book is A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine.

From his Q&A with Carrie Adams at the University of Chicago Press blog:

In A Contagious Cause, you trace the history of the human cancer virus in twentieth-century America, documenting its origins and impact on the modern biological sciences. What drew you to this specific topic?

In the last fifty years our knowledge of the molecular basis of life has exploded. As one famous molecular biologist remarked, what was true of E. Coli bacteria was also true of elephants. When I started studying the history of modern biology I wanted to find a way of following this dramatic set of developments. As others have followed salt or cod, I was excited at the idea of telling this story by following cancer viruses, which formed the basis of many important advances in fundamental molecular biology.

However, as I followed these viruses, I found more and more questions rather than answers. When did the idea that “germs” existed in human cancer emerge, and who believed it? How was it possible for the American government to launch campaign larger than the Human Genome Project in pursuit of a vaccine for a human cancer virus whose existence was not proven? Why were so many leading molecular biologists dismissive of the idea of curing cancer despite receiving so much support from the National Cancer Institute?

Ultimately, I found following cancer viruses to be...[read on]
Learn more about A Contagious Cause at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Contagious Cause.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Leslie Morgan

Leslie Morgan is the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love and The Naked Truth and former columnist for The Washington Post.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: [The Naked Truth] is not the first memoir you’ve written—but this one was different?

A: This was different. It was so personal. I said I will write about anything but sex—but I was writing about sex. I had to decide how much sex. But it was graphic and explicit—that was the beauty of it. And the world has changed. Women are more open about sexuality and body parts. It wouldn’t be honest to have a soft fade.

A friend said, I love the book, but no man will date you and you’ll never be invited to a dinner party in Washington, D.C. That was so old-school!

I went to a guy friend, who said, No, this will be a great screening device for you—you’re really confident, you love sex, you’re really open. And that’s what has happened! The quality of men I date now is very different. If you write a memoir, it’s inevitable that it will...[read on]
Visit Leslie Morgan's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Baby Chase.

Writers Read: Leslie Morgan Steiner (November 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Matthew Goodman

Matthew Goodman's newest book is The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team.

From his Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think that writers are haunted into writing their books, that they are looking for answers to something and hope to find it in a novel. What was haunting you beside, obviously, the amazing story here?

That’s a wonderful question. In his short story “The Leather Man,” E. L. Doctorow wrote of “individuals in whom history intensifies like electroshock.” It’s just sort of a tossed-off phrase, but for some reason it hit me very powerfully, because in reading it I suddenly realized that in a certain way that’s my whole writing project. I was trained as a fiction writer, with all of that emphasis on characterization and narrative structure and authorial voice and all the rest, but ever since I was a kid I’ve loved history, and now in writing narrative history I’ve been able to combine those two disciplines. I think what I’m trying to do in my writing is to find and then think as deeply as I can about individuals who get caught up in historical events and then have to negotiate their way through them. That’s the thing that I seem to return to again and again in my work.

So, for instance, in my previous book, Eighty Days, about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s race around the world in 1889, I found that for me the prime motivator, the thing that really kept me going in the writing, was less the events of the trip – although I loved writing about all those fascinating places like Hong Kong and Yemen and the Suez Canal – than the idea of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Matthew Goodman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Eighty Days.

The Page 99 Test: Eighty Days.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 16, 2019

Molly Greeley

Molly Greeley's new book is The Clergyman's Wife: A Pride & Prejudice Novel.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a novel featuring Pride and Prejudice's Charlotte Lucas?

A: I've always been fascinated by Charlotte.

More than 20 years ago, when I first read Pride and Prejudice, I was as repulsed as Elizabeth Bennet was by Charlotte's decision to marry Mr. Collins.

But re-reading the book several times over the course of many years, I started to wonder whether Charlotte was as sanguine as she seemed; we do, after all, get her story mostly filtered through Lizzy's (demonstrably unreliable) point of view.

And the more I wondered, the more Charlotte's story stuck in my head as one that was worth telling; it says so much about women's perceived worth, as well as how incredibly...[read on]
Visit Molly Greeley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Michael Eric Dyson

Michael Eric Dyson's new book is Jay-Z: Made in America.

From the transcript of his NPR interview with Steve Inskeep:

INSKEEP: Let me turn back to Jay-Z's lyrics and something that you say about him as a writer or I suppose I should say as a speaker because, as you point out, he doesn't write it down. You say he is Robert Frost with a Brooklyn accent.

DYSON: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Now, I thought about that statement, and at first, I thought those two figures are so different and their writing is so different that Michael Eric Dyson must just be telling me he's a really good poet. But then I thought about it some more. Is there something essentially American about both of those figures that connects them?

DYSON: Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though. He will not see me stopping here to watch the woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near. Between the woods and a frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.

God forgive me for my brash delivery, but I remember vividly what these streets did to me. Imagine me allowing you to nitpick at me, portray me like a pickany (ph).

And all the teachers couldn't reach me, and my mama couldn't beat me hard enough to match the pain of my pop not seeing me. So with that disdain in my membrane, got on my pimp game, blank the world, my defense came.

Now, the first two stanzas, Robert Frost. And Jay-Z's, you know, lyrics are from his "Black Album." And if my memory serves me correctly, I'm saying that from memory, so you all forgive me if I didn't get it all right. I see tremendous parallels - pace, rhythm, cadence, simplistic imagery that contains deeper thoughts underneath the water, underneath the skin, subcutaneous even, things that are mixed up and jabbing and stabbing that arrest us because the writers say it with such calm and such dignity. That's the parallel...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Adam Minter

Adam Minter is a columnist at Bloomberg Opinion where he writes about China, technology, and the environment. He is the author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, a critically-acclaimed bestselling insider’s account of the hidden world of globalized recycling, and the recently released Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale.

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

TERRY GROSS: Adam Minter, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I interviewed you after your previous book, "Junkyard Planet," was published. And in preparing for the interview today, I read that your mother died two weeks after publication of that book. So I don't know; I think I probably spoke to you before that. Anyways, I'm sorry. You talk about this in the book, in the way that it's relevant to the book, in that you were living in a small apartment in Shanghai at the time, and after your mother died, like, you couldn't take her stuff to your home. There was no room. It was too far away. And that was one of the things that got you thinking a lot about reuse.

ADAM MINTER: Yeah, it was - I remember it quite clearly. She was at the reading that we had in St. Paul, and a few days later, she passed away. And you know, what happened is what happens to a lot of American families. There's sort of two periods of grieving, in a way. There was the grieving of my mother passing, but then you're sort of left with the material legacy of her life - you know, her property, the things that were in her small apartment, the things that we found out were stored in relatives' basements. And it became the responsibility of my sister and I to figure out what to do with those things. And neither of us really were in a position to take anything. She lived in a small apartment in New York. As you said, I was in Shanghai.

And so it took over a year of us coming in and out of town, occasionally, you know, giving things away, maybe taking a piece or, you know, something - a picture - out of the boxes. And finally, we got to the end of it, and we were left staring at her china. And neither of us wanted to let it go because we knew she loved that china. And it was sort of a, you take it; no, you take it; no, you take it. And finally, we said, let's take it to the Goodwill. And when we were, you know, waiting to drop that off in the drive-through drop-off at the Goodwill in Hopkins, Minn., it occurred to me that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 13, 2019

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the acclaimed author of over sixteen picture books and novels.

In 2013 she won the Silver Birch Fiction Award for Making Bombs for Hitler and the Red Cedar Award for Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War.

Her new novel is Don't Tell the Nazis.

From Skrypuch's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

A: Don’t Tell the Nazis was inspired by the true story of Kateryna Sikorska and her daughter Krystia, who hid three Jewish friends under their kitchen floor during the Holocaust.

Krystia's daughter, journalist and filmmaker Iryna Korpan, approached me in 2012 at a public event. She handed me a copy of her excellent documentary called She Paid the Ultimate Price, then explained that it was about her own mother’s and grandmother’s heroic actions in World War II Ukraine.

She asked if I would consider writing a book about it. After reviewing the documentary and doing some preliminary research, I agreed.

Q: How did you research the book?

A: I interviewed Krystia at length and she answered my questions as they came up. Krystia herself was only...[read on]
Visit Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's website.

My Book, The Movie: Making Bombs for Hitler.

The Page 69 Test: Making Bombs for Hitler.

My Book, The Movie: Stolen Girl.

The Page 69 Test: Stolen Girl.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Tell the Nazis.

Writers Read: Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Mark Hineline

Mark Hineline is the author of Ground Truth: A Guide to Tracking Climate Change at Home.

From his Q&A at the University of Chicago Press blog:

The media and scientists highlight increasing temperature when they talk about climate change, but you discount temperature and instead highlight phenology. What is phenology, and why do you think it is more important than temperature?

Temperature, global temperature, is very important. But as people going about our daily business, we’re not equipped to make distinctions at the scale of a degree or two, or even five degrees. Humidity makes a difference in how we experience temperatures. So does a light breeze or a wind. To say nothing of how we are attired or when we last had a meal! For this reason, what scientists are telling us about temperature and warming is something that we cannot do a good job of confirming through our experience. The result is that we have to place a lot of faith in what scientists tell us. In many cases, we are willing to grant science and scientists that measure of faith. But for complex (and entirely nefarious!) reasons, this isn’t so with respect to climate change.

Phenology provides people who aren’t scientists with a tool to check up on the scientists. It doesn’t provide instant gratification—it takes time to get the confirmation if you happen to be stubbornly skeptical—but it does the job.

Phenology is the study of seasonal events in nature. We would be better off if the Belgian scientist who named it had called it “seasonography,” the description of seasons, instead. But he didn’t.

For many plants and animals, seasonal changes in temperature (along with day length) trigger changes in growth, reproduction, and (for animals) migration. A tree may bud according to temperature, and the buds may burst at a particular temperature. In that way, the tree (or any number of plants and animals) provides information about the temperature at a given time in a given place.

It’s not that temperature is unimportant. Of course, it is! It is rather the case that a phenological observation provides a more local and in some ways a more precise indication of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Gillian Gill

Gillian Gill's newest book is Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Virginia Woolf?

A: Reading Virginia Woolf was a huge influence on me as I moved from being an academic specializing in 20th-century French fiction into women studies and then into a new life as a writer.

Woolf spoke to the dilemmas in my personal life. With clarity and elegance, she argued that women had been and still were in the late 1920s systemically kept on the fringes of professional life and creative achievement. She showed her “chops” as a social and literary critic but was never pedantic or stuffy. Thus, she gave me a model for writing and the encouragement to try and be a writer myself.

I had the canonic “room of my own.” The money my dead husband left me meant I did not have to scrounge for a living. She showed me that I too was free to try and write—if I could find the energy and motivation.

And then, as my books began to get written and published and I changed from a literary critic of women’s texts, to a student of achieving women’s lives, to a teller of family stories, Virginia Woolf was kind of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch

Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch are the authors of Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump.

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

GROSS: So let's get back to your work with Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who was a Russia expert. And - so he compiled a series of memos that came to be known as the Steele dossier. Tell us some of the things in those memos that you think have been most important in revealing information that was validated about Russia or Russia's connections to Donald Trump.

SIMPSON: Well, I think the single most important thing that comes out of the dossier - which is really in the first memo - was that the Kremlin was planning and running an operation to elect Donald Trump the president of United States. And that it was a big operation that involved a lot of different aspects and was very deliberately designed to elect Trump and not just to sow discord in U.S. political system - although that was a secondary purpose. That was really right on target. It was an incredibly prescient observation that the U.S. government did not reach until months later. And so much of the summer of 2016 we spent trying to stand that up and raise concerns, raise alarms with other people. It's been a lot of attacks against Chris' work for being unsubstantiated, but it doesn't really get said enough that, in this one central point, he was dead right.

FRITSCH: To use a metaphor, Terry, that our - a colleague of ours likes to use, he predicted an attack on Pearl Harbor. The Pearl Harbor attack happened. In retro - and then in hindsight, a lot of people said, well, you got the number of Zeros wrong, you got the direction they were coming in from wrong, therefore the document is somehow impugned. Now, the document was never meant to be read as a dossier; it was a series of contemporaneous intelligence reports - right? - which collectively tell that important story.

SIMPSON: There are other important aspects of these memos that have stood up quite well. They identify about a half-dozen people associated with the Trump campaign or the president in one way or another who later turned out to, in fact, be the key figures in the surreptitious relationship between Donald Trump and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 9, 2019

Niall Williams

Niall Williams's new novel is This Is Happiness.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for This Is Happiness, and for your character Noel Crowe?

A: I never know where an idea comes from. I generally only start with a sentence, and see where that leads.

But, having moved with my wife Christine to the west of Ireland in the mid-1980s—an account of which became the first of our four non-fiction books, O Come Ye Back, published in New York by Soho Press—I was struck by the fact that people could remember The Day the Electricity Came.

And this seemed to me a threshold time in Irish life, when, halfway into the 20th century, the west of Ireland was still living in the 19th.

Q: The novel features your protagonist as an older man looking back at himself at 17. Why did you decide to structure the book that way?

A: I didn’t want to write a “historical” or period novel as such, by just setting it in the ‘50s.

I think many of us also have a time in our youth, maybe a very brief time like a summer or a few weeks when we...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's latest book is The Fifth Risk.

From his interview with Tim Adams for the Guardian:

Part of your story examines the consequences of the ideological cull of climate scientists from government. You have lived in close proximity to wildfires in California, there have been unprecedented hurricanes. Do you think there will come a point when people demand leaders who understand the importance of scientific knowledge?

You would think so. It hasn’t happened yet. For people to suddenly start to value what good government does, I think there will have to be something that threatens a lot of people at once. The problem with a wildfire in California, or a hurricane in Florida, is that for most people it is happening to someone else. I think a pandemic might do it, something that could affect millions of people indiscriminately and from which you could not insulate yourself even if you were rich. I think that might do it.

That is quite an apocalyptic thought. You have always seemed by nature an optimist, are you feeling more nihilistic about what you call the drift of things?

I’m a little more wary than I have been. What we are seeing is an attack on the idea of progress and the idea of science. In the Trump administration there seems to be a total lack of respect for expertise. It sounds like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Samuel Fleischacker

Samuel Fleischacker is LAS Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His new book is Being Me Being You: Adam Smith and Empathy.

From Fleischacker's Q&A at the University of Chicago Press blog:

Your book uses the philosophy of Adam Smith to explore the nature and value of empathy. To start us off, can you give us a quick introduction to Smithian empathy?

Smithian empathy is the kind of shared feeling that arises when I imagine myself into your situation. David Hume had understood empathy (what he and Smith called “sympathy”—the word “empathy” wasn’t invented until after their time) as my feeling whatever you feel. Smith understands it as my feeling what I think I would feel if I were you, in your situation. Hume’s empathy is a kind of contagious feeling—I “catch” your feelings, whether of sadness or of joy, whether I want to do that or not. Smith’s empathy requires more action on our part and depends on imagination. I try to show that Smith’s kind of empathy is deeper and more important to morality.

What drew you to Adam Smith, and to the topic of empathy in particular?

Smith is extremely famous, but I think Smith is vastly different from the popular image of Smith—the supposed champion of selfishness, who defended a ruthless capitalism—and indeed is someone who can help us work against the selfishness that is rampant in our modern world. I also think he is a thoughtful, nuanced theorist of empathy who avoids...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Divine Teaching and the Way of the World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 6, 2019

Teru Clavel

Teru Clavel is the author of World Class: One Mother's Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children.

From the transcript of her interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: You also talk about the respect the teachers had in these societies. Now, that's something the government, I suppose, can't really do. Teachers could be paid more, which I think is one of the tragedies in America. We think we pay teachers well. We don't. We pay them badly.


ZAKARIA: What could one do about that? Because there really is this difference, I think.

CLAVEL: So the reverence for teachers is really something that really smacks you kind of in the face when you're in Shanghai and in Japan. And on average, again, in Japan, for example, there are 200,000 applicants for 38,000 spots to become teachers. And it's as difficult to pass the bar, if not, more difficult in Japan to become a teacher. So the credentialing, the licensing is really, really difficult.

And what you also see is the teachers will do anything to help this next generation of students. So I tell many stories in the book where it will be 7:00 P.M. at night, and whenever the house phone rang, we knew it was a teacher who was teaching from -- who was actually, I would just say, calling from the teacher collaboration room that all the teachers went to, because so much of their time isn't spent necessarily in the classroom but it's working together collaborating through professional development and lesson planning.

And in the United States, teachers spend 27 hours a week on average in the classroom, whereas the average for OECD nations is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 5, 2019

J. Kasper Kramer

J. Kasper Kramer's new middle grade novel for kids is The Story That Cannot Be Told.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Story That Cannot Be Told, and for your character Ileana?

A: For about five years, I lived in Japan, where I taught at an international school in Tsukuba, Ibaraki. Some of my coworkers and best friends were Romanian women.

One night, a friend came over to tell me some fairytales as research for another book I was writing, but then she started telling me stories about growing up under Ceausescu and Communist reign. Sitting there listening, taking notes as fast as I could, I realized I had a very different book to write.

Ileana was inspired by my friends, who were about the same age in Romania in the 1980s. She also has pieces of me and, of course, just a lot of her own personality, which...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

JP Gritton

JP Gritton’s awards include a Cynthia Woods Mitchell fellowship, a DisQuiet fellowship and the Donald Barthelme prize in fiction. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, Tin House and elsewhere. His translations of the fiction of Brazilian writer Cidinha da Silva are forthcoming in InTranslation.

Gritton's new novel, his first, is Wyoming.

From his interview with Mesha Maren for the Chicago Review of Books:

Mesha Maren: Wyoming explores friendship between men in some depth, in particular the relationship between your narrator Shelley and his best friend Mike. Did you set out to write about male relationships, or did this kind of come about as you composed?

JP Gritton: I don’t know that I set out to write a book about male relationships, but in a way it’s exactly what Wyoming is about. One thing that has always fascinated me, both in what I read and in what I write, is the way in which “friendship” can be a sort of shorthand for something murkier and weirder. I think The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood is a classic of this weird sub-genre.

Friendships fascinate me because they can be charged in so many ways — erotically, for instance, or there may be a hidden animus — that we don’t really talk about or own. I think this holds even for “strong” or “close” friendships. The fact is, there’s a certain kind of person who...[read on]
Visit JP Gritton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wyoming.

The Page 69 Test: Wyoming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Julie Valerie

Julie Valerie's new novel is Holly Banks Full of Angst.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your novel, and for your character Holly?

A: Much of my inspiration comes from being a mom and experiencing all of the wild and wonderful zaniness that Mom Life brings. Holly is close to my heart because she tries so hard to succeed amid women she perceives to be more accomplished at motherhood than she is.

But what Holly Banks fails to realize is this: we're all trying our hardest in this high-stakes game called motherhood. Most of us, like Holly, are "less-than-perfect moms searching for mostly happy in a pretty good life."

Q: The novel is set in the Village of Primm. What inspired you to create Primm?

A: The Village of Primm juxtaposes the conventional with the absurd. Through humor with touches of satire, I've mapped a village to play "home" to the aspirations we carry within us.

I was inspired to create the Village of Primm, and, to a lesser extent, neighboring Southern Lakes, to explore...[read on]
Visit Julie Valerie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 2, 2019

Andrew Roberts

Andrew Roberts is the bestselling author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny; The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War; Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945; Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Gamble; and Napoleon: A Life, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and a finalist for the Plutarch Award. His new book is Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History.

From Roberts's interview with Andrew Anthony for the Guardian:

There is a tendency to see truly great leaders as men and women of destiny. Is there any value in that belief?

No, I think it’s a form of psychological disorder to think you are specially destined. Napoleon did. Hitler also did. He believed his survival from the assassination plotters on 20 July 1944 was providence. But to believe you’re specially chosen – apart from Jesus – it’s pretty much a prima facie case of psychological disorder. Having said that, we’re very lucky that Winston Churchill did have that extremely egotistical disorder, because it kept him fighting, even when all seemed lost.

What does leadership in war teach us about leadership in peace?

I think this is where the great leadership-studies industry, especially in America, pretty much breaks down. Because they are very different things. We see that again in Churchill’s career: he wasn’t a very good peacetime leader, frankly, but a great wartime one. Which is why when people say that Boris Johnson thinks he’s Winston Churchill, I think...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Robert Klitzman

Robert L. Klitzman's new book is Designing Babies: How Technology is Changing the Way We Create Children.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on reproductive technology in your new book?

A: I wrote a previous book, Am I My Genes?, seven years ago. I interviewed people about why they were getting genetic testing—people who were at risk of different diseases, including Huntington’s disease. If you have the gene, you will die of it. There’s a 50 percent chance that each of your children will have it.

People said, Should I have kids? Should I abort the fetus? If I screen my genes, what will that mean about my own life—I would have been screened out as an embryo.

And also, a friend asked me to be a sperm donor, that I wouldn’t have to be involved in raising the kid. I thought, That’s interesting. There are friends undergoing IVF, gay couples having kids. Ten percent of all people in the world are infertile, and people are using IVF, and there are a lot of questions.

The U.S. is one of three countries where you can buy or sell human eggs. It’s the only country where you can rent a womb. It’s become a multi-billion-dollar industry, and with the technology, you can...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue