Friday, January 31, 2020

Marcia Chatelain

Marcia Chatelain is a Provost's Distinguished Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University. The author of South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration (2015) she teaches about women's and girls' history, as well as black capitalism. Her latest book is Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.

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

MARTIN: How is the current political environment affecting the black franchise owners at McDonald's? Because as we know, there is a lot of interest in the health effects - the negative health effects of eating fast food. And there's been a lot of reporting on this, even in the black community and black-oriented media outlets.

You know, on the other hand, there is still a lot of interest in black capitalism. I mean, you see some other, you know, prominent figures like let's say Jay-Z and Beyonce, you know, the interest in them is equally their business practices as well as their artistic output, right? So how is this current focus affecting black franchise owners, do you know?

CHATELAIN: I think it's really complicated because they're living in an age where there's more competition just in terms of food to eat. I think the category of fast casual has complicated this because often that food is marketed as healthier even if it's not. So that the space is larger. Some of them are contending with the consequences of gentrification in the neighborhoods that they first started in. And so in addition to those issues, we are in another cycle in which black franchise owners are having a lot of problems with McDonald's and feeling that they're being advocated for. So that cycle of tension continues.

But I think that part of the critique of the quality of the food has led the black franchise community to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Chad Dundas

Chad Dundas’ debut novel Champion of the World was a 2016 Boston Globe Best Book of the Year as well as a finalist for the David J. Langum Sr. Prize for Historical Fiction and Reading the West Book Awards. His short fiction has appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Sycamore Review, Sou’Wester and Thuglit.

Since 2001, he’s worked as a sportswriter for outlets such as ESPN, NBC Sports, The Sporting News, Bleacher Report, and the Associated Press, among others.

Dundas' new novel is The Blaze.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

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

A: I think writing about a character suffering from some form of memory loss had been on my mind for a long while.

It’s obviously not a completely unique notion; we’ve seen books and movies featuring characters with amnesia before, but I was drawn to the potential of building a mystery around a protagonist who has lost much of their biographical memory. I wanted to use it to experiment with the idea of truth and the nature of memory in a novel.

Plus, I thought it would naturally help build tension in the book to feature a person who could experience the mystery, setting, and other characters the same way the reader experiences them.

The specific character of Matthew Rose came out of that interest.

In my day job as a sportswriter covering mixed martial arts fighting, I’ve unfortunately ended up writing about brain injuries more than I would like.

Then to read news reports about soldiers coming home from combat situations with what is being described as the “signature wound of modern warfare” in the traumatic brain injury was heart-wrenching and fascinating to me.

I think...[read on]
Visit Chad Dundas's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Blaze.

The Page 69 Test: The Blaze.

Writers Read: Chad Dundas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Chana Porter

Chana Porter is a playwright, teacher, MacDowell Colony fellow, and co-founder of The Octavia Project, a STEM and fiction-writing program for girls and gender non-conforming youth from underserved communities. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The Seep is Porter's debut novel.

From her interview with Amy Brady at the Chicago Review of Books:

Amy Brady: Let’s start at the beginning. Where did the idea of an alien race called the Seep—and its radical effects on humanity—come from?

Chana Porter: I was excited by the idea of encountering a race that is incredibly alien to the way we think of personhood—no mouths to speak to us, no separate bodies to name and develop a distinct relationship with. The Seep does not experience emotions like we do, and likewise, doesn’t experience time linearly. I wanted to conceive an invasion story that doesn’t include our limited ideas about forced labor, breeding, war — all of those well-tread tropes. What if they wanted something very different?

Right now I’m feeling mired in the muck of our problems, as I’m sure you do too. The Seep is a thought experiment—what if everyone on the planet woke up to recognize the insanity we’ve wrought on each other, on our beautiful planet? In that way, The Seep is a metaphor for consciousness. I do believe we are interconnected, poetically and literally. I believe if we drop bombs on Iran, we will blow up our own foot, sooner or later. The violence we inflict on other people (even in a misplaced attempt for peace) finds its way back to us. There are no truly compartmentalized actions. You cannot be a good parent and sign an order to keep another person’s child in a cage. It is impossible. The Seep is in part...[read on]
Visit Chana Porter's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Seep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Karma Brown

Karma Brown's new novel is Recipe for a Perfect Wife.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Recipe for a Perfect Wife, and for your characters Alice and Nellie?

A: I own quite a few vintage cookbooks—the more food splattered and well-loved the better—and had this idea of how an old house, a dark secret (or two), and a shared cookbook would link together the lives of two women—one modern and one from the past.

Having a young daughter, gender roles are often on my mind, and I also wanted to explore the expectations we continue to place on women, wives and mothers even in these more progressive times.

Nellie was the first character to come to mind, and she arrived in my brain fully formed and ready to tell her story. Alice was murkier in the beginning—particularly because gender roles are not as clear cut as they once were—but she was the character who...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 27, 2020

Charles Yu

Charles Yu's new nove is Interior Chinatown.

From the transcript of his NPR interview with Scott Simon:

SIMON: We see so many stories these days. We know so many life stories these days about Chinese American scientists, doctors, lawyers, university presidents, grad students, novelists. What do these stories often miss about Chinese history in America?

YU: I think what I was trying to get at with telling the story this way was capturing something about the feeling of what it's like to be not the center of the action, to - even as you touched on, you know, Chinese Americans and Taiwanese Americans and other Asian American groups have excelled in various fields. And yet, at least from my perspective, there can be still a feeling of it doesn't seem to add up.

This story, to me, came at a time in my life when I - yes, I've been working in TV for a couple of years. But I'm also reaching an age where my own parents are, you know, aging. And they've been in America for decades, more - you know, more than 50 years. And my own kids are reaching an age, too, where they are asking questions.

They can watch the news. And they can ask, are we real Americans? You know, is there a qualifier in front of that? And so positioned between them is this sort of middle-aged writer. I wanted to write a book about what it's like from...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Tanen Jones

Tanen Jones's new novel is The Better Liar.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with your characters?

A: I had this thought: No one ever has perfect access to the interior conflicts of a family except the people in that family, but they never see the conflict clearly, being too close to it.

The only person who could ever truly understand a family, inside out, would be a person who somehow was allowed all the access of a family member while secretly being a stranger.

From that thought grew my characters. What kind of person would do such a thing? What kind of family would need "solving" in this way?

As I wrote them, I discovered my characters were cut along classic noir archetypes, but I had changed them to suit my own sensibilities: the detective was a young queer actress; the troubled marriage was an equitable one; the crooked cop was a butch woman; the dead girl speaks.

At the end, as in all the best noirs, each character is presented with a wrenching dilemma.

All novelists use old tools, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan

Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan are authors of Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus.

From the transcript of their NPR interview with Ailsa Chang:

CHANG: So you both come up with terms in this book that help give language and context for what students experience. For example, there's this phrase you guys keep using - it's called sexual projects; people pursue sexual projects. Tell us what you mean by that.

HIRSCH: Sexual projects directs people's attention to what sex is for, which initially, you might think is the kind of question that only a social scientist, right?

CHANG: (Laughter).

HIRSCH: That it's obvious what sex is for. But actually, it's not obvious. Young people, like all people, have sex for a lot of different reasons, and lifting up the diversity of those reasons helps us see how they get into situations in which they're vulnerable to being assaulted or to assaulting other people.

CHANG: Well, give us an array of some of the reasons you've heard, some of the sexual projects you've heard in your research.

KHAN: So the most obvious one is pleasure. But there are many other things that people are doing when they're having sex. For example, a lot of young people are in relationships, and so in that context, sex is for perpetuating a relationship. We heard from one young man who told us a story of just how important it was for him, as a young gay man, to be in a relationship and how not being part of a hookup culture was something that he really valued.

CHANG: Yeah.

KHAN: And he told us this story about how his boyfriend came home one evening and, in his words, basically raped me. And for him, though, he thought of this as just something that was worth tolerating because his sexual project was a sexual project of being in a relationship.

CHANG: Wow. The center of this book, the center of really any conversation about sexual assault, focuses on the idea of consent. Consent can get lost in the mix, you say, because people with, you know, different so-called sexual projects can misunderstand each other. And you write that assault can happen when there's, quote, "a failure of empathy and imagination." What did you mean by that?

KHAN: So much of what we think about when we think about assault is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 24, 2020

Jennifer Longo

Jennifer Longo's new young adult novel is What I Carry.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that your daughter, who had spent time in the foster care system before you met her, encouraged you to write this book. Can you say more about that, and about how you created your character Muiriel?

A: My daughter is a big reader, and like every reader, she sometimes likes stories she can recognize herself in. My husband and I were her fourth and last foster placement, and she was only a little over a year old when we brought her home.

She has no memories of her first placements, and her experience with the foster families she’s grown up with (our cousins and family friends) were different than how foster families are portrayed in many of the fiction books she read that involved foster care.

She understands, like anyone involved in the foster care system, that every child’s experience in foster care is unique.

What she was looking for was not a false, idealized narrative of how great and happy foster care is, but by the same token, not every birth family or foster placement is dark and violent.

She said she just wanted a story involving a kid living in foster care that was maybe “a little less…molest-y? Less yell-y and with like, not as much arson?”

Obviously, those events and themes are (sadly) are true, and thankfully there are many excellent middle grade and YA books involving foster care that explore those brutal realities.

The thing is, there is room in the canon for as many explorations of the facets of human experience as there are readers, and What I Carry is just one more.

My daughter likes internal conflict, and quiet, contemporary stories involving daily life and descriptions of food and weather. (Same) She likes a hopeful ending.

The character of Muir grew from...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Longo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Six Feet Over It.

My Book, The Movie: Six Feet Over It.

The Page 69 Test: Up to This Pointe.

Writers Read: Jennifer Longo (February 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Emma Copley Eisenberg

Emma Copley Eisenberg's debut book is The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia.

From her interview with Sarah Perry at The Rumpus:

The Rumpus: I picked up your book partly because we have mutual friends, and so it felt somehow safer than other true crime accounts. I had a chance to experience that voyeuristic excitement, while knowing that I could trust you to have preempted my objections. I also knew that it would be incredibly well-written, and for me, that would make it more “okay” than other true crime stories. But I kept asking myself: is this problematic, elitist? Is making something more “literary” necessarily a case of making it better or more ethical? Are high-quality true crime accounts like Serial and Making a Murderer allowing people to sidestep that “guilty pleasure” feeling that might come from an SVU marathon and avoid interrogating their interest in seeing (mostly women) get brutalized?

Emma Copley Eisenberg: There’s a difference between making something “literary”—nice sentences, a fancy font—and making something rigorous, morally serious, preempting reader questions about facts and ethics and narrative choices. My book is literary because I really care about writing and the way it feels in the mouth, but I think I care most about the book being rigorous. I have RIGOR written on a piece of paper that hung above my writing space for awhile. I have read and re-read and parsed and gone over the book with the fact checker and the lawyer and I stand behind everything that’s in it. It took me so long to write and I got to change my mind so many times, and the book reflects that twisty, turning process in which the book got smarter and more rigorous over time.

I know that rigor still doesn’t let me off the hook for taking up the brutalizing of women as the central subject. But I will say with all truthfulness that what grabbed hold of me wasn’t exactly the murders of two women—that was a fact, an element of what grabbed hold of me, but what really consumed me and ate me alive was 1) Liz, “the third Rainbow girl,” 2) the nine men and the ways their lives were impacted, especially Pee Wee Walton and Johnnie Washington Lewis, the two men who testified that a man they didn’t know very well at all had shot two women outsiders they had never seen before for a reason they could not ever name or articulate beyond some vague idea of sexual entitlement, and 3) what all this had to do with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Maureen Johnson

Maureen Johnson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, The Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow (with John Green and Lauren Myracle), and The Bane Chronicles (with Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan).

Johnson's new novel, The Hand on the Wall, is the third title in the Truly Devious Series.

From Johnson's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

>Q: The novel includes a villainous politician--how do you see Senator King fitting in with today's politics?

A: It feels impossible to write a book that takes place in anything resembling the actual world right now and not acknowledge the political atmosphere. Politics aren’t something over there. Politics are about environment, and identity.

And mysteries are ultimately about justice—catching the evildoer. So not having something of this in the book would ring false to me. Edward King will be easily recognizable. I can’t discuss much of his ultimate role in the story because that is a massive spoiler, but suffice it to say...[read on]
Visit Maureen Johnson's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Hand on the Wall.

The Page 69 Test: The Hand on the Wall.

Writers Read: Maureen Johnson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Gabby Noone

Gabby Noone's new novel is Layoverland.

From her Q&A with Bethany Strout for Bookselling This Week:

Bethany Strout: Layoverland takes place primarily in the afterlife — in this case, a very blah airport. There have been so many religious, philosophical, and pop cultural depictions of the afterlife — how did you settle on yours?

Gabby Noone: I thought a lot about how getting in contact with the everyday corporations that run the world — like internet and cable providers, insurance companies, airlines — sometimes feels as mysterious and frustrating as getting an answer from a higher power. Rarely do you ever get a direct answer or solutions to your problem! So with that in mind, I realized an airport is the perfect metaphor for purgatory. You’re trapped there, everything that happens there is basically out of your control, most of the people that work there are just as helpless as you when it comes to having answers for why things are delayed or what have you, and if you stay longer than you expected, you start to feel like you’re losing your mind.

Also, as someone who rarely traveled in their childhood, complaining about airports seemed like such a sophisticated adult problem. So the idea of writing about teens (unaccompanied minors!) that are stuck there just felt like it had a lot of potential.

BS: The world-building in this book is crucial. And, as I was reading, I found myself weirdly excited to see what new mediocre part of Bea's environment would be revealed. Can you elaborate on what it was like to create an entire fantasy world — but instead of it being the coolest fantasy world ever, it was the most medium possible fantasy world?

GN: I got really into the idea that maybe purgatory...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 20, 2020

Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig are the authors of A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America.

From the transcript of their interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly:

CAROL LEONNIG: In July 2017, a group of very, very senior cabinet members and advisers decided, we need to give a tutorial, in effect, to Donald Trump. They'd been having a lot of arguments with him, disagreements about where troops and bases were, trade policy, etc. And he was resisting them time and time again. They basically wanted to have a class and explain to him how things work, how we protect the nation.

KELLY: And the place they chose to do this was in the Tank.

LEONNIG: In the Tank.

KELLY: In the conference room of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

LEONNIG: That's right. And this is a sacred space in the military. It's where decisions of war and peace are made and have been since the 1800s. This tutorial did not go well. Donald Trump was bellowing and howling and, at one point, so angry and in such a tirade that he was trying to catch his breath to continue howling at this group about how they were losers. They didn't know how to win anymore. And actually, the last thing that he said was something almost everyone in that room promised they would not talk about publicly, it was such an insult, and that was, I would never go to war with you people.

In the room, Secretary of State Tillerson, who's one of the architects of this meeting, is so upset, and he's watching the military leaders, including the secretary of defense, just bow his head and say nothing. And he finally stands up and tells the president, you're wrong, Mr. President. That's not how it is.

KELLY: What is your read on that - that Tillerson, as then secretary of state, was not in the military chain of command, so maybe felt in a better position to speak up to his commander in chief?

RUCKER: Perhaps. But he wasn't alone in being disturbed. There was a woman in the room who had tears in her eyes. There were other members of the military brass who kind of raised their hands to cover their eyes so that their emotions would not be seen by the president or by the others in the room. And this became a real inflection point for the presidency because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Howard Bryant

Howard Bryant's new book is Full Dissidence: Notes from an Uneven Playing Field.

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

SIMON: You talk about African American athletes, and I'm not going to compare anyone else to O.J. Simpson, but there's...

BRYANT: (Laughter) Good.

SIMON: You know, but he famously said, I'm not black; I'm O.J. And at one time or another, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and a lot of Americans thought their success and their popular adulation indicated America was over this race problem.

BRYANT: That's right. And that's the deal. If you do these things, you'll be accepted. Or if you have enough money, you'll be accepted. And I try to examine in that essay the price of that. What are we really asking for? Well, we're asking for your blackness. What we see in the corporate world all the time, whether you're an athlete or not, do you want diversity of color and diversity of thought, or simply diversity of color? And it's an interesting thing when you look at today's athletes, what they are navigating.

I remember being in the clubhouse and locker rooms throughout the 30 years of doing this. You ask a black player a question that had anything to do with race, and they would look at you as if you were trying to set them up and get them released and get them traded. They knew the risk that came. It made me wonder once again, if you don't have advocacy in this industry where you have the control and you have the power and you have the the public influence, what's it like if you're an African American working at Lawrence Livermore, and you're the only black person...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain's new novel is Big Lies in a Small Town.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Big Lies in a Small Town, and for your characters Morgan and Anna?

A: I stumbled across an article about the WPA-era murals somewhere and it reminded me of the murals in my New Jersey hometown post office.

I began digging into the creation of those murals and I loved learning that they were part of the government program to put people—even artists—back to work after the Great Depression.

Many of the murals are lost to time, but others are being restored, so I thought it would be fun to write about the mural during its creation and again during its restoration . . . when its secrets would be revealed.

I had Anna firmly in my mind from the beginning as the 1940 artist. Then I had to create Morgan—and her unique personality and set of problems—to bring...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 17, 2020

Jeanine Cummins

Jeanine Cummins's new novel is American Dirt.

From her Q&A with Bookselling This Week:

Bookselling This Week: Where did the idea for this book come from?

Jeanine Cummins: The first moment I felt like I should write about this happened many, many years ago, when my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and I were vacationing in California. We had taken the week to drive the Pacific Coast Highway and our last stop was San Diego, and one day I drove down to the border by myself. My husband was an undocumented immigrant and I didn’t want him anywhere near the border, but I wanted to go and just see it. And I accidentally drove into Mexico, which you could still do then. It was pre-9/11 and the border was not militarized the way it is now.

I’d been to Mexico before, but I’d never been to the border. I was so shocked by what I saw there. There were so many young men with only one leg. There were young kids trying to sell gum or hats or piñatas or whatever touristy stuff they had to sell. I had no money because as soon as I got there, I got pulled over by the policía and they took it all. The fine print on my rental agreement said I couldn’t have the car I was driving in Mexico, and the officer said he would impound the car and I would have to wait in jail for a few days to talk to the judge. I was 21 or 22, and I was terrified. I said I couldn’t go to prison, and he said, well, maybe there’s another way. You can pay a fine. And I said, how much is the fine? And he said, how much you got?

I gave him all my money, and then I waited five hours in line to get through U.S. Customs and Border Protection to get back into the United States. After crossing accidentally in seven seconds. So, I was sitting at the border for many, many hours, just observing all these young kids, and I must have seen five for six young men with only one leg. And I didn’t understand what I was looking at. When I got home to New York, I started researching. I came across “La Bestia,” and I came to understand that these were men from Central America and southern Mexico who had, in all likelihood, ridden the train to the border and had fallen off at some point and been maimed. I came to understand how common this was, that it’s happening every single day. In the effort to just reach the U.S. border, never mind cross it, people are being killed and maimed daily. It’s commonplace. And I was like, why don’t I know about this? Why don’t people in the U.S. know this story?

I never stopped thinking about that, and for many years, I felt an enormous reluctance to write about it. I felt, very clearly, that it just wasn’t my story to tell. And even when I started thinking about writing about the border, I resisted...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jeanine Cummins's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Crooked Branch.

My Book, The Movie: The Crooked Branch.

Writers Read: Jeanine Cummins (March 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Megan Angelo

Megan Angelo's new novel is Followers.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "I wanted to write something that would look at the future through a different lens than sci-fi or dystopia uses." How would you describe the lens you chose?

A: I know there are some dystopian ideas and some sci-fi features in this novel, but I was really trying to think and write in the style of a historical novel, where everything is character-driven and, despite whatever robots and drones and crazy geopolitical things come up, all the stakes really hang on the connections between the people in the book.

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

A: I originally called the book Cursive, when I started working on it.

I took a...[read on]
Visit Megan Angelo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Anna Wiener

Anna Wiener writes about tech culture for The New Yorker; she also wrote a book, Uncanny Valley, about her time working for Silicon Valley startups.

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

SIMON: So how does someone with your literary bent wind up in Silicon Valley anyway?

WIENER: I was working in book publishing and, at 25, was sort of just trying to find my place in the world and trying to find a career path that felt like it had momentum. I wanted to be in an industry that felt exciting and felt like there was a future. And tech ticked all of those boxes.

SIMON: You said that big data just became mesmerizing.

WIENER: Oh, yeah. I found that looking at these datasets for different products really showed me what people were doing on the Internet in these digital spaces. And it told a story about how people were engaging with otherwise intangible products. So I think data is also often used to confirm one's assumptions or confound one's assumptions. And so for me, I just found that actually quite compelling on a storytelling level.

SIMON: Is it also a little - forgive me - voyeuristic? I mean, a lot of people aren't aware of the fact that we're being monitored.

WIENER: Oh, absolutely. And I think that that is one of the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Katheryn Russell-Brown

Katheryn Russell-Brown's new children's picture book biography is A Voice Named Aretha, about Aretha Franklin.

From Russell-Brown's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you research [Aretha Franklin's] life, and did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: My day job is as a law professor. I also have a Ph.D. in criminal justice/criminology. I love doing research and digging for information.

I was not aware of how well-known and active her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, was in the civil rights movement. Aretha did quite a bit to promote civil rights. In addition to doing benefits to help civil rights groups raise funds, she refused to sing before segregated audiences.

I was surprised to learn that Aretha’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 13, 2020

Lee Drutman

Lee Drutman is the author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America.

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

You write, “The problem is not just Republicans (or Democrats). The problem is the toxic politics of the two-party system.” Is that correct? I realize saying one party is to blame by definition seems partisan and leads to increased partisanship, but what if it’s basically true?

I definitely struggled with this point and I’m sympathetic to arguments that suggest that the Republican Party is more of a problem than the Democratic Party, because the Republican Party has certainly pushed the limits of constitutional hardball much more aggressively, made it harder for a lot of people to vote. and has pushed gerrymandering much more aggressively. Perhaps Republicans would see it differently. But, for me, the bigger issue here is where that thinking pushes us. So say you’re a partisan Democrat and you say, “Well, if the Democrats could just win enough elections and get total control, everything would be O.K.” Well, one, is that really going to happen anytime in the near future? I think we overstate demography as destiny and underrate the ways in which our political institutions overrepresent the rural party. So I don’t think that’s a feasible plan going forward, even if it’s a reasonable premise.

The second thing, which worries me even more, is that if the plan is for the Democrats to just try to wipe out the Republicans, that means that whatever moderates are still in the Republican Party would have left it. And then the Republican Party just becomes even more the concentration of rural, left-behind, gun-owning, “America is for whites and Christians”—and these are the folks who are girding up for a civil war if they feel that they’re not going to have a voice. These are the folks who thought that if Hillary Clinton became President, she was going to prevent their ability to be practicing Christians in this country. I think we know from history that when a losing side feels like it’s going to be a permanent minority, and it has no legitimate path back to power, it turns aggressive and violent. And I don’t like that future either, so...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Rita Lorraine Hubbard's new children's picture book is The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you learn about Mary Walker's story, and at what point did you decide to write a picture book biography about her?

A: I learned about Mary’s story way back in elementary school, when my class visited a small foundation that had been devoted to her life. I got to see a replica of the cabin she lived in, the cot she slept on, and the bible she carried with her.

But I didn’t think of writing her story way back then because I was too young to realize the significance of a centenarian learning to read.

It was only when I began research for my first book, African Americans of Chattanooga, that I stumbled across her name again and decided to take a closer look. I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Andrea Bernstein

Andrea Bernstein is the author of American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power.

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

GROSS: So I'm going to ask you, like, an impossible question to answer briefly, but...

BERNSTEIN: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...I'm going to give it a shot. I think you might be up to the task (laughter). One of my favorite episodes of your podcast, "Trump, Inc.," is called Why Ukraine. And it basically asks the question, why is, like, Giuliani and his business associates and other people - you know, Paul Manafort - why are they all connected in some way to Ukraine?

And I think the larger question is, why were there so many corrupt business deals emanating from Ukraine? And you have a great podcast that goes into depth about some of this. But just tell us a little bit about, why Ukraine? And, of course, Ukraine is at the very center of the impeachment and the possible Senate trial.

BERNSTEIN: So the name of my book is "American Oligarchs." When I picked the title for it, I did not know what was going to be happening with Ukraine. But one of the things that has become clear and that I've learned in the course of reporting this book is how the political system works in Ukraine. And the way the political system works in Ukraine is the very rich simply hire the political consultants they want to install the politicians they want to make it possible for them to keep making money. And that's what we saw during Paul Manafort's trial, that exact fact pattern.

And it is an eerie premonition of our political future where the rich just contribute directly and get what they want. And what is happening in Ukraine is that it is a battleground. It is between Russia and Europe. It is a place where there is a battle of the oligarchs, where there is very little in the way of the rule of law. So it's a great place for U.S. businessmen and entrepreneurs and people like Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen and others to try to go and make money - and they do.

But it is also this sort of tragic place because it clearly wants to separate itself from the old Soviet ways. It clearly wants to be a democracy. And one of the things that we are seeing in this whole impeachment trial is that exact struggle, is bipartisan U.S. policy trying to make Ukraine more democratic. And what we are seeing is that, rather than that happening, what Donald Trump has done with the assistance of Rudy Giuliani is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 10, 2020

Alan Gallay

Alan Gallay's new biography is Walter Ralegh: Architect of Empire.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that Ralegh “epitomized the Renaissance man of action.” What are some of the ways in which he did so?

A: More than in any other period of European history, intellectuals in the Renaissance sought to connect all areas of existence—art, history, poetry, science, religion, and politics were interwoven.

Colonialism and empire, for instance, were characterized and promoted in poetry, depicted in painting, assessed in the laboratory, and contemplated in both spiritual and religious terms. Colonialism was also a physical act that involved intense preparation, movement across oceans, and the building of new societies.

The Renaissance intellectual, if capable, attempted to physically act on ideas. When Shakespeare had Hamlet say, “To be or not to be,” he drew on observing a generation of Elizabethans who answered, “To be!”

For Ralegh, that meant employing his physical skills as a soldier, courtier, naval captain, politician, bureaucrat, statesman, and scientist, while thinking about and reflecting on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Attica Locke

Attica Locke's latest mystery is Heaven, My Home.

From the transcript of her September 2019 interview at NPR:

NOEL KING, HOST: The writer Attica Locke has a new novel out. "Heaven, My Home" is about race, migration and forgiveness in Texas. Now, the story picks up with Darren Mathews, who's the same protagonist from Locke's previous novel, "Bluebird, Bluebird." Locke talked to our co-host Rachel about where Darren is in his life when we meet him in this book.

ATTICA LOCKE: He is a black Texas ranger who actually planned to be a lawyer. That was his plan in life. And then the way I put it in the first book, that when Jasper, Texas, happened - the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. - he said, that was my 9/11, that was my call to action, that I could wait and do things through the channels of law and courtrooms and so on, or I can put boots on the ground and become a law enforcement agent in order to do the work of protecting black life.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: And where do we meet him in "Heaven, My Home"?

LOCKE: We are in 2016, after the election of Donald Trump. He went through a lot of crazy things in "Bluebird, Bluebird" that have put his career kind of on the line. He's always trying to navigate to what degree black folks can afford to follow the letter of the law and to what degree that justice for black folks has to be kind of improvised in such a way. So he's gotten himself in a little bit of a pickle, (laughter), in terms of trying to deal with a case against a family friend, an elderly black gentleman, who tried to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

M. L. Huie

M. L. Huie's new novel is Spitfire.

From his Q&A with Dianne Freeman at The Thrill Begins:

What inspired the story of SPITFIRE?

Two things. I read Elizabeth Wein’s brilliant YA novel CODE NAME: VERITY and then started looking into the women of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). I found the stories so vivid and alive. These women were really amateurs who were given training during World War Two and dropped behind enemy lines to do extremely dangerous jobs. At the same time in my own life I went through a period of unemployment and it made me wonder how a woman who loved this secret work might feel once the war was over, and was told she just wasn’t needed anymore.

Livy has a difficult time adapting to civilian life, she’s angry, she’s hurt, and she seems to need that thrill of living on the edge. What did you pull from to create this complex character?

I don’t get the rush from danger that Livy does, that’s for sure. However, I certainly have felt discarded in the past, and thought, “I could do some great things if given the chance.” I think we’ve all felt that at one time or another. Plus, I believe that damaged characters are so interesting to write. I have been a fan of the James Bond novels my whole life. In many ways this book addresses the good and bad sides of those books. Bond is damaged too, but Fleming didn’t spend a lot of time delving into...[read on]
Visit M.L. Huie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Jung Chang

Jung Chang's latest book is Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China.

From her Q&A with Anita Sethi at the Guardian:

How did it shape you growing up in a country with cultural censorship?

I had always wanted to be a writer as a child but couldn’t spell out this dream to myself because during the Cultural Revolution all writers were condemned. To be a writer was the most dangerous profession. I wrote my first poem aged 16 and destroyed it. When I was working spreading manure in the paddy fields aged 16 and 17, I was always writing in my head. In my home town there was a black market selling books that had been banned. My 13-year-old brother was very entrepreneurial. He made money dealing Mao badges and used it to buy books, which he hid in a hole he dug in the garden.

So you’ve always felt the power of words…

Huge, huge power. My father loved writing and encouraged us to write diaries. But I had to destroy my diary during the revolution.

What are your early memories of living under Mao?

I was in nursery school aged about four and my mother came to see me but had to return to detention before midnight [during the Cultural Revolution, Chang’s parents were denounced, imprisoned and tortured]. I remember she held my hand through the barrier and then pulled her hand away and was gone because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 6, 2020

Ted Gioia

Ted Gioia's newest book is Music: A Subversive History.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "This work has been in the making since the early 1990s, and it all started when I asked a simple question that led to some very complicated outcomes: How does music change people's lives?" What was the journey between that idea and this eventual book?

A: We are taught nowadays to view music as mere entertainment—a kind of diversion for our leisure hours.

Ivy League professor Steven Pinker has even described music as “auditory cheesecake.” He believes that the only purpose of a song is to stimulate the brain, and listening to music is no different from drinking a martini or using recreational drugs.

When I started the research for this book, more than 25 years ago, I had a very different view about music. I believed music is a source of transformation and enchantment in human life. It’s a change agent that possesses great power—over our bodies, over our communities, over our society as a whole.

I wanted to write the history of music from this perspective. I wanted to show how music has transformed the world around us.

This required a different kind of research. The stories I wanted to tell don’t usually show up in music history books. Instead I had to dig into...[read on]
See Ted Gioia's list of ten of the best novels on music.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Betty Culley

Betty Culley lives in central Maine, where the rivers run through the small towns. She tends a young crabapple orchard and waits all year for the spring blooms! She’s an RN who worked as an obstetrics nurse and as a pediatric home hospice nurse.

Culley's debut novel is Three Things I Know Are True.

From the aurhor's interview with Kenny at the Daily Bulldog:

Kenny: Aristotle defined Tragedy as "a form of drama exciting the emotions of pity and fear. Its action should be single and complete, presenting a reversal of fortune, involving persons renowned and of superior attainments... who are not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty... and it should be written in poetry embellished with every kind of artistic expression... wherewith to effect the purgation of such of such emotions... " How would Aristotle feel about Three Things I Know Are True?

Betty: I think Aristotle would definitely see the human tragedy in THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE and how it affected a family, a friendship and a community. Hopefully he’d also recognize the human ability for compassion and forgiveness that’s also....[read on]
Visit Betty Culley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Three Things I Know Are True.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Mo Moulton

Mo Moulton is currently a senior lecturer in the history department of the University of Birmingham. They earned their PhD in history from Brown University in 2010 and taught in the History & Literature program at Harvard University for six years. Their previous book, Ireland and the Irish in Interwar England, was named a 2014 “Book of the Year” by History Today and was the runner-up for the Royal History Society’s 2015 Whitfield Prize for first book in British or Irish history.

Their new book is The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women.

From Moulton's Q&A with History Journal:

History: To start off, how did you decide on the title of your book, Mutual Admiration Society?

Moulton: The book is the story of a group of friends who formed a writing group at Oxford in 1912. They called themselves the “Mutual Admiration Society,” to pre-empt anyone else calling them that first! I chose it as my title because I think it captureis how funny, irreverent, but also ultimately fearless these women were.

History: What inspired you to research and write about these women?

Moulton: I read Dorothy L. Sayers’ brilliant novel about women and academic life, Gaudy Night (1935). I instantly wanted to know more about that female scholarly community, and was surprised to find that most biographers focus on her relationships with men rather than her friendships with women. So I started digging and was thrilled to discover a set of stories that would let me delve into questions about culture, gender, sexuality, and...[read on]
Learn more about The Mutual Admiration Society at the Basic Books website.

The Page 99 Test: The Mutual Admiration Society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 3, 2020

Douglas R. Egerton

Douglas R. Egerton is a professor of history at Le Moyne College. The award-winning author's books include Thunder at the Gates and The Wars of Reconstruction.

Egerton's new book is Heirs of an Honored Name: The Decline of the Adams Family and the Rise of Modern America.

From his Q&A with  Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the descendants of John Quincy Adams in your new book?

A: Although I never planned it this way, each of my books seems to lead to the next.

My Wars of Reconstruction opened with the formation of the first black regiments in the Civil War, since so many black veterans went into politics after completing their service.

Then, since there was no modern study of those three pioneering black Massachusetts regiments, I wrote Thunder At the Gates, which chronicled the lives and service of 14 of those soldiers. Ten of them were black enlisted men, and four were white officers, one of whom was Charles Francis Adams Jr.

While reading Adams's wartime correspondence with his father and brothers, I realized there was much more to tell about this important, complicated family.

John and John Quincy, of course, are remembered today because they both became presidents, but the third and fourth generations of the Adams family, I believe, were equally important, yet...[read on]
Learn more about Heirs of an Honored Name at the Basic Books website.

The Page 99 Test: Heirs of an Honored Name.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mary Beth Keane

Mary Beth Keane's 2019 novel is Ask Again, Yes.

From her interview with Leslie Lindsay:

Leslie Lindsay: Mary Beth, it is such a pleasure and delight. Thank you for taking the time. I love this book. It has a haunting, melancholic feel and it’s so perceptive. What was your ‘jumping off’ point for ASK AGAIN, YES?

Mary Beth Keane: Thank YOU for reading and for having me! I agree that it’s melancholic, but redemptive, too, I hope. I don’t mind a sad book. I love them, in fact. But in my own reading these last few years I find myself craving an undercurrent of hope, and that’s what I tried to keep my eye on while I was writing.

I always begin with a single character, usually in motion. There’s a scene in this book where two main characters, Kate and Peter, find a grasshopper together as kids. I knew they’d still be in each others’ lives as adults but it took me a long time to figure out how, exactly. One of the things I thought a lot while writing this book was whether knowing someone as a child means knowing their truest selves. We learn to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Beth Keane's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fever.

Writers Read: Mary Beth Keane (March 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier's newest novel is A Single Thread.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to set your new novel in early 1930s Winchester, England, and how did you come up with the idea for your character Violet?

A: It started with the idea of setting a novel in a cathedral. Then I had to choose one, and headed to Winchester Cathedral as it has so many delicious stories attached to it – including Jane Austen being buried there.

As I looked around I came across a set of cushions and kneelers/hassocks that had been embroidered by a group of women in the 1930s, and knew right away I wanted to write about them. So that is how the early 1930s came about.

I thought I would write a gentle satire about the petty politics of a volunteer group, and all the “types” you get – the bossy one, the one drunk with power, the person who always arrives late, the one who gets bullied, the one who never says anything. So I created my heroine Violet Speedwell and dropped her into the group to see what would happen.

Very quickly, though...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue