Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Lisa Rogak

Lisa Rogak's new book is Rachel Maddow: A Biography.

From Rogak's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said that "it's really important for me to dig through the early stuff" when it comes to researching the lives of well-known people. Did you find anything surprising when you researched Rachel Maddow's life?

A: I didn't find anything surprising; then again, I'm never surprised by what I find. Some of which, of course, never makes it into the final book. But the early stuff helps me to connect the dots later on, and to also occasionally say *that's* why she's like this or did this later on.

Q: You write of Maddow, "She considers herself to be an outsider, first and foremost and that has shaped her philosophy and career like nothing else." Can you say more about that?

A: She came out as lesbian with great defiance when she was in college, and she never wanted to fit into any group; she's always taken great pride at being on the outside looking in, perhaps providing a great way to provide commentary on public figures who don't necessarily welcome it.

This outsider philosophy has naturally extended throughout her career as she's been able to succeed on TV (and elsewhere) without having to mold herself to the photogenic norms of such a visual medium; instead...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 30, 2020

Cameron Esposito

Cameron Esposito is a Los Angeles-based comic, actor, and writer. Her new memoir is Save Yourself.

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

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me how you grew up. Let's start there.

ESPOSITO: I was the gooniest (ph) kid around. You know, I had crossed eyes, so I wore an eye patch. I wore glasses on top of the eye patch (laughter). I had braces, a bowl cut.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then you describe how you sort of transformed yourself. And you had an eating disorder. You became proudly abstinent. The girlfriend of the captain of the football team - quintessential teenage experience.

ESPOSITO: Well, that's part of what - you know, I know that I say that the book is for queer kids, but I think it's also for anybody that felt that they couldn't quite measure up to cultural standards. You know, I was dating the captain of the football team. I was pretty well-liked. And that was not my experience of myself. You know, I really thought I was disgusting and wrong and that something was really off with me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then you talk about this journey to sort of discovering yourself. And the chapter where this happens with your sexuality is titled "Getting Gay" (laughter), which I really liked. Talk about a little bit about that, about what that journey looked like.

ESPOSITO: I was at a conservative Catholic college and interested in specifically the social justice side of what I saw in my faith, you know, in the faith that I was raised in and doing work to try to connect with those who are underserved. And it was in doing this work that I met this woman, another student at my college. And, you know, we eventually kissed, which was this, like, massive, life-transforming kiss because I had dated men. And it had felt confusing to me why people were in relationships. I mean, I liked the guys I dated. They were my friends. But I also felt a real emotional distance from them. And I felt, like, a real physical distance from them. And then having this experience of kissing a woman for the first time was really a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Ellen Meeropol

Ellen Meeropol's new novel is Her Sister's Tattoo.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What do you think the novel says about political activism and engagement?

A: I think that what novels do best is to ask difficult and complicated questions of readers, not necessarily answering them fully. The central question of Her Sister’s Tattoo, posed by various characters in different ways, is “Was it worth it?”

The question refers to the political act Rosa and Esther take, an act that results in harm to a police officer, changes the trajectory of their lives, and challenges their sisterhood.

I believe this is a critical question for our times: how much risk can we take to make the changes we believe are necessary in our world and how do we...[read on]
Visit Ellen Meeropol's website.

See Meeropol's list of five political novels to change the world.

The Page 69 Test: Kinship of Clover.

Writers Read: Ellen Meeropol (April 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy's latest novel is The Man Who Saw Everything.

From her Q&A with Martha Greengrass at the Waterstones blog:

The title of the book, The Man Who Saw Everything, seems to play both on Saul’s naïve belief in his own sagacity and the relationship between sight and insight. To what extent did you want to explore the space between what we see and what we understand in this novel?

My novel is more about the space between what we see and misunderstand, rather than understand. It feels really bad to be misunderstood, so that’s rich territory to explore in a fiction. Surveillance is a major theme in The Man Who Saw Everything and I give my attention to this theme on a number of levels –the ways in which we watch each other and the ways in which the state (in this case, communist East Germany in 1988) watches us.

For a start, I explore a 30-year relationship/argument between Saul and Jennifer. How do they see each other over three decades? They love each other and betray each other, but they do come to an understanding about the value of their long attachment.

Is it possible or desirable to see everything? After all, love has to be blind, because if we saw everything in each other (good and bad) we would probably run a mile.

The opening chapter leaves the striking image of Saul aping the Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road cover photograph. It’s a visual marker that echoes throughout the rest of the novel. It made me think about the nature of photography, of the captured scene, and what it says and what it doesn’t (or cannot) say about a real, living moment in time. How did that image come to take root so deeply in The Man Who Saw Everything?

Yes, I wanted to create a very definite sense of place in Britain because The Man Who Saw Everything slips between time zones and other places - including Germany and America. The novel often returns to the Abbey Road crossing. I spent quite a lot of time on the Abbey Road watching tourists take photos of each other walking across that iconic Zebra. Everyone seems to enjoys the action of crossing that road, often adding new, absurd poses that are different but reference the original album cover. It’s as if they have been given a structured space (the zebra crossing) to fool around. It occurred to me that the road is a mildly dangerous place – everyone has to strike a pose before a car runs them over, so they haven’t got that long to take the photo. When Jennifer takes that photograph of Saul crossing the Abbey Road, I had...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 27, 2020

Angela Dominguez

Angela Dominguez's new middle grade novel is Stella Díaz Never Gives Up, a sequel to Stella Díaz Has Something To Say.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: The book focuses on environmental themes. Did you need to do any research to write it, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: Let me first start off by saying that in no way do I claim to be an expert. My goal is to pique curiosity in kids about science. I also remember that when I was a kid, I loved learning unusual trivia. I know there are many kids who can relate to that.

With all of the Stella books, I like to incorporate fun facts about the oceans and marine animals. I usually start with research before I jump into plot development. In the first book especially, the marine animals often were metaphors for how Stella was feeling.

When I began the second book, I approached it the same way. While I was researching, what stuck out to me the most was seeing all the environmental concerns about the oceans.

Like Stella, when I read the National Geographic article “Planet or Plastic,” I was upset. It’s a difficult article to read and the visuals are intense. However...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel's new novel is The Glass Hotel.

From the transcript of her NPR interview with Scott Simon:

SIMON: What do you think made you a writer?

MANDEL: I was a serious dancer. That was all I'd wanted to do from the time I was about 6 years old. And then I got to be about 21 and just realized I didn't actually enjoy it anymore. Sometimes, the thing that you wanted to do your whole life can start to feel like a little bit more of a chore than a pleasure. And it was this strange realization that this is actually not something that I particularly enjoy doing. So then that begs the obvious question, well, what comes next? I'd always written ever since I was a kid but never took it seriously. And it was just a hobby - little short stories and poems - never showed that to anybody. And then when I decided that I didn't want to be a dancer, I just decided to take the writing more seriously because it was something that I truly loved. So it was around that time when I was about 22 that I started working on...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Emily St. John Mandel's website.

The Page 69 Test: Last Night in Montreal.

Writers Read: Emily St. John Mandel (May 2010).

The Page 69 Test: The Singer's Gun.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Katrin Schumann

Katrin Schumann is the author of the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestseller The Forgotten Hours. Born in Freiburg, Germany, she lives in Boston and Key West.

Schumann's new novel is This Terrible Beauty.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for This Terrible Beauty, and for your character Bettina?

A: In November 1989, I flew with my father to the German island of Rügen, up north on the Baltic Sea. A Berliner, my father had spent summers there as a little boy, not unlike Bostonians who head to the Vineyard to escape the city.

But for three decades, the island had been on lockdown: after World War II, half of Germany fell under Russian control, trapping millions of Germans behind a physical and metaphorical wall. Luckily, my father escaped to the West and eventually made his way to freedom in America.

Just a few weeks before our trip to Rügen, the actual wall that split Germany in two—patrolled by sharpshooters and dogs, lined with bombs—had finally come down. Truth be told, until that visit to the island, my family’s history felt distant and confusing to me.

That all changed after my father and I crept into my great aunt’s abandoned cottage on a medieval square in Saßnitz, where I came face-to-face with the epic, yet also crushingly mundane, struggles that defined 20th century German history, and dramatically changed the course of millions of lives.

The derelict fisherman’s cottage was filled with debris and broken bottles, unloved and unlived in. In a corner of the cramped living room was a large iron firepit, and behind it a huge coal stain had blossomed over the floral wallpaper.

For decades, East Germans relied heavily on...[read on]
Visit Katrin Schumann's website.

Writers Read: Katrin Schumann.

The Page 69 Test: This Terrible Beauty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths’ 12th novel featuring Dr Ruth Galloway and set in North Norfolk is The Lantern Men.

From her Q&A at Crime Fiction Lover:

Tell us about The Lantern Men.

It’s a new chapter for Ruth – new job, new home, new partner. But it’s not long before DCI Nelson appears asking for her help. A convicted murderer says that he will tell Nelson where his other victims are buried, but only if Ruth does the excavation…

It is 11 years since you introduced Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson in The Crossing Places. Did you ever envisage them staying around for so long?

Not at all! I didn’t even know if there would be a sequel to The Crossing Places. It feels a real privilege to get to write so much about these characters.

Series like Rebus (namechecked in The Lantern Men!) and Bosch now each have over 20 books. The Lantern Men is book 12 – so how long do you see Ruth and Nelson continuing?

All I’ll say is that...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Crossing Places.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 23, 2020

Frank A. von Hippel

Frank A. von Hippel is the author of The Chemical Age: How Chemists Fought Famine and Disease, Killed Millions, and Changed Our Relationship with the Earth.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Chemical Age, and how did you select the topics to include in the book?

A: The history of the environmental movement has always fascinated me, especially the outsized role of pesticides in the bitter fights that took place between industry and government agencies on the one side and people fighting for a clean environment on the other.

The political context of this history especially interested me, coming as it did on the heels of the Second World War and the broadcast of synthetic chemicals such as DDT on such a massive scale.

Never before had humanity manipulated the chemistry of the global environment to such an extent, and with absolutely no concept of what the impacts might be to nature or human health. The hubris of this chemical age had to hold some lessons for humanity.

I decided to focus the book on the people involved – from the scientists who made the discoveries to the people such as Rachel Carson who warned of the risks – because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Anne Case & Angus Deaton

Anne Case and Angus Deaton's new book is Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.

From their interview with Abraham Gutman at The Philadelphia Inquirer:

What drives deaths of despair? Is it simply just economic downturns?

Case: Current economic conditions can’t explain this. It might not just be the loss of a paycheck or that you can’t get as good a job as the one you lost, but that without a good job, you can’t get married or have a stable home life, your community is falling apart, your sense of connection with other people is gone.

The return on having gone to college has skyrocketed, while simultaneously the wages of people who did not go to college started to decline.

[Looking at the opioid crisis] we think that the scourge of oxycodone just being handed out in jelly jars — it would have been a serious problem, but the fact that they were falling into a community that was looking for a way to numb itself made the drug epidemic much, much worse.

You write that despair is tied to the kind of job someone has, and the sense of belonging the comes with it, not just the earnings.

Deaton: I grew up in Scotland, we were not very well off. For ordinary people, people who are not very well-educated, getting a job with a large company was just a wonderful thing. Even if it was really menial, like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Honor Moore

Honor Moore’s newest book is Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury. Her previous memoir, The Bishop’s Daughter, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year.

From Moore's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: As you worked on the book, do you feel your view of your mother's life changed at all?

A: I had always thought of her as a very tragic figure because of her early death at 50, but it turned out that she was not tragic. She was kind of a triumphant, amazing woman of her generation. That was a slow dawning surprise.

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

A: I was always going to call the final chapter something like revolution. Then one day I scrawled the word "our" next to the typed word "revolution." I was away with writer friends and one of them walked into the room and said, "Have you given any further thought to the title?” I looked down and saw the words "our revolution." I said the words and tears came and my friend said, that's it.

By then I knew that the story of the book was the revolution in the life of both my mother and myself, while taking place in what were revolutionary times in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 20, 2020

William Gibson

William Gibson is credited with having coined the term “cyberspace” and having envisioned both the Internet and virtual reality before either existed. He is the author of Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burning Chrome, Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History, Distrust That Particular Flavor, The Peripheral, and Agency.

From Gibson's Q&A with Mark Skinner for the Waterstones blog:

The novel’s title gestures towards the way it digs into how much control and individual agency any of us have, either in our own lives or in the world at large. To what extent is the novel’s preoccupation with large, shadowy global networks – not just the traditional world powers – playing games with live and futures influenced by the way the world is manipulated today?

It’s entirely influenced, indeed, is *about* that.

I found the concept of the ‘stubs’ – or alternative past realities – in the book particularly fascinating as a way to explore a sort of time-travel with multiple different possible endings. It made me think about the sense of unreality that seems to go hand-in-hand with living in a post-truth world. To what extent do you think that sense that we’re all living in a reality that doesn’t feel quite real has been heightened in the last decade?

I myself had never experienced any suspicion of that sort until Trump’s election, though the outcome of the Brexit referendum prefigured it, for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 19, 2020

J. Albert Mann

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

Mann's new young adult historical novel is The Degenerates.

From Mann's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to set your new YA historical novel in the Fernald School in Massachusetts, and how did you create your four main characters?

A: There were many institutions created across the United States to segregate people with disabilities from the general population during the Eugenics Movement.

I chose The Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feebleminded Youth (later renamed The Fernald School) because it’s in my own backyard. (I live in Boston, and the school was founded in South Boston.) I love researching in the place where the history happened. It’s definitely not a must, it’s just a lot...[read on]
Visit J. Albert Mann's website.

The Page 69 Test: What Every Girl Should Know.

Writers Read: J. Albert Mann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of the highly-acclaimed Richard Nottingham series and is also a well-known music journalist. Born and raised in Leeds, he lived in the USA for thirty years and now makes his home in England.

Nickson's eighth Tom Harper mystery, The Molten City, is coming soon to the US.

From Nickson's Q&A with Kate Vane for Crime Fiction Lover:

Tom Harper feels like a very grounded character, and has a strong marriage. It’s quite a refreshing change from the dysfunctional detective. Was that a conscious decision?

When I started writing crime fiction with my Richard Nottingham series set in the 1730s, I made definite decisions. He would be married and have children. The loner detective who drinks too much is a very tired cliché. Most people are married, they have lives outside of work, worries with their partners and kids. That’s how the world is for most people. And by having scenes with the family, it rounds out a character; we see a different side of them. I’ve had one character who was single, Dan Markham in my 1950s books. But those are deliberately noir – and even then he had a regular, and very strong, girlfriend.

At the start of the Tom Harper series, in Gods of Gold, Tom was engaged. His marriage to Annabelle happened at the end of the book. A couple of years later they had a daughter who’s 16 years old in The Molten City and quite headstrong. But Annabelle herself is a strong, working-class woman. I like to have strong women as characters; there are plenty of them in the North, and certainly here in Leeds. And most women I’ve known have been strong. I’d have been hard-pressed to keep Annabelle out really. She insisted on having bigger and bigger roles in the books. She’s the emotional heart of the series. But...[read on]
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

Writers Read: Chris Nickson (January 2019).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sara Holland

Sara Holland is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Everless, Evermore, and most recently Havenfall.

From her Q&A with Mark Skinner at the Waterstones blog:

Are you inspired by things or people in real life?

I don’t typically model characters after real people, except for in superficial traits – I might steal a friend’s favourite idiom for one character, my sister’s fashion aesthetic for another. Mostly though, my characters are a mishmash of certain parts of me and other fictional characters.

However, I am definitely inspired by real-life places. I can’t really envision a fictional room, building or landscape without modelling it on a real place I know well. That’s why I love travelling – it expands my mental library of places and scenery I can use in my stories.

And I think Havenfall is shaped a lot by its setting – the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. In the brainstorming stages of this book, I had landed on the concept of a magical hotel that sat at the intersection between worlds, but I didn’t know where that might be. For a bit, I thought I might set it in the Upper Midwest, where I grew up, or in New York City, where I live now. Both places have plenty of mysterious, magical qualities.

But then I thought about Colorado, which is a place I’ve spent a lot of time in – I grew up driving out there from Minnesota with my family to visit my dad’s parents. I thought about how when you’re driving west across the Midwestern plains, the mountains almost seem to appear out of nowhere – one moment you look ahead and there’s nothing, the next there’s a dark shape in the grey, faint but unmistakeable. I thought about how it felt to be in the back seat, chewing gum to relieve...[read on]
See Sara Holland's list of five books set in a fantastical America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 16, 2020

John Loughery

John Loughery is the author, with Blythe Randolph, of the new biography, Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write of Dorothy Day, "In the end, no category of common experience will neatly and precisely define this woman." Why did the two of you decide to write a biography of Dorothy Day?

A: The book was Blythe Randolph's idea and she enlisted me as coauthor when I completed my previous book. Blythe had long been an admirer of Dorothy for her progressive social work.

I don't think that her Catholicism was of particular concern to Blythe (who is Episcopalian), while the overlap of the progressive politics and the Catholicism was of interest to me as I was raised Catholic (and have, since completing the book, returned to the Church, though that is a long story in itself).

My previous book, Dagger John: Archbishop John Hughes and the Making of Irish America, which came out in 2018 from Cornell University Press, was about another Catholic figure, but a person of a radically different temperament.

He was very institution-minded, tough as nails, not a pacifist at all. He fought the nativist bigots in the 1830s and 1840s who were burning Catholic churches; he built Saint Patrick's Cathedral; he supported the Union cause during the Civil War and helped Lincoln personally in many ways.

But I was intrigued to write about a 20th-century Catholic figure who spoke to me in a very different way.

There simply is no other modern-day American, no one I can think of, who is at all like Dorothy Day in combining...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 15, 2020

N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin's new novel is The City We Became.

From her Q&A with Cate Matthews at TIME magazine:

Systemic oppression is a recurring theme in your work. Is it difficult to revisit those storylines and that pain over and over again?

It’s not difficult—this is my life. This is the world that I know. When I contemplate existential evil, I don’t see some abstract devil, I see people torpedoing themselves just to maintain a status quo and systemic advantages that actually in the long run aren’t helpful for everybody. White people don’t really benefit that much from racism. And the majority of men aren’t benefiting wildly from patriarchy. These are systems that encourage people to act outside their own best interests. We’re perfectly capable as a species of looking at other people who are different from ourselves and understanding that those are other human beings and that they have the same interests and fears and wishes as the rest of us. But these systems discourage that kind of identification.

You once said that artists and creators, especially those who work in speculative fiction, are the engineers of possibility. What possibilities do you hope to engineer with your work?

I would want people to come away from my fiction with a greater understanding of how these existential threats are developing and being artificially encouraged. The consistent theme throughout my work is that these are all societies that could be great, and they aren’t because people gotta be a–holes. That’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Maisy Card

Maisy Card's new novel is These Ghosts Are Family.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "Writing this novel has helped me make peace with all the aspects of my family history that are unknown or unresolved." Can you say more about that?

A: There's so much of our history that's been obscured and erased by slavery and colonialism. It was refreshing to find a way to through that, to write this alternative family and reveal a hidden history, even if it's a fictional one.

Q: The novel stretches over several centuries. Did you need to do any research to write it, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Yes, I did a ton of research. I thought I knew a lot about slavery but reading first-hand accounts were eye opening. Some of the stuff I learned about the apprenticeship system, which some former slaves argued was even more brutal than slavery, was really fascinating, but...[read on]
Visit Maisy Card's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 13, 2020

Michael Zapata

Michael Zapata is a founding editor of the award-winning MAKE Literary Magazine. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for Fiction; the City of Chicago DCASE Individual Artist Program award; and a Pushcart Nomination. As an educator, he taught literature and writing in high schools servicing drop out students. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and has lived in New Orleans, Italy, and Ecuador. He currently lives in Chicago with his family.

Zapata's new novel is The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.

From his interview with Julie Carrick Dalton at Writer Unboxed:

Julie Carrick Dalton: Mike, welcome to The Writer Unboxed. As you know, I’m a huge fan of your book, in part because you take such big risks with structure. You incorporate many complex elements, yet, somehow weave them together beautifully into an un-put-downable story. What inspired you to take on such an ambitious structure in a first novel?

Michael Zapata: The structure definitely emerged sentence by sentence. That said, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Latin American literary tradition. The structures found in Latin American literature can be so extraordinary, and I think they allow for some of these divergent elements of stories within stories. There’s a long tradition of that. I put a challenge to myself to combine that with the North American structure that is more plot-heavy, concerned with getting from point A to point B. Overall, I wanted to combine a Latin American structure with a North American structure and see what would happen.

JCD: It occurs to me that a reader could tease The Lost Book of Adana Moreau apart, restructure it, and present it as a book of fables. The story of the Dominicana and the pirate, the story of the pony and the mine, the story of the Lost City, and so many others embedded within your larger narrative. I’m in awe of how you pulled this off. Did you take inspiration from other authors who employ stories within stories?

MZ: I’m a huge fan of monologues, of someone getting on stage and telling their own story. Roberto Bolaño and Borges were strong influences. On the American side, I was ecstatic to read...[read on]
Visit Michael Zapata's website.

Writers Read: Michael Zapata.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Brian Platzer

Brian Platzer is the critically acclaimed author of the novels Bed-Stuy Is Burning and The Body Politic (both Atria/Simon & Schuster) as well as the forthcoming parenting book Taking the Stress Out of Homework (Avery/Penguin Random House).

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Body Politic, and for your four main characters?

A: When I write I tend to take exaggerated or distorted versions of myself and people I know well or have met a few times and put them in situations where they are confronted by difficult choices.

This novel was especially inspired by the following: my own chronic neurological disorder, a friend who had recently been cheated on, another friend’s battle with alcoholism, an underground cocktail bar I frequented in college, and the election of America’s worst person as its president.

Q: Author Kristen Roupenian compared the novel to Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children--what do you think of that comparison?

A: I love it! The Emperor’s Children succeeds at so much of what I’ve attempted. It takes a specific moment of history and focuses on how a group of friends and lovers react to it. It is...[read on]
Visit Brian Platzer's website.

Writers Read: Brian Platzer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman's new novel is Harley in the Sky.

From her Q&A at The Nerd Daily:

Hi Akemi, can you tell us a bit about yourself and about Harley in the Sky?

I’m originally from Las Vegas, but I’ve been living in Scotland for nearly a decade. Most of the inspiration for my writing comes from the magic I find in my day-to-day life. Whether it’s a great story, a really cool looking tree, or an entire circus performance, I love feeling like I’ve been plucked out of the real world and thrown into a fantastical one.

The idea for HARLEY IN THE SKY came from wanting to combine my love of magic with the honesty of real life. It’s a story about a teen who dreams of being a trapeze artist, and when her parents insist that she goes to university instead, Harley decides to run away and join a rival circus. It’s about family, growing up, and finding a balance between chasing your dreams and nurturing the relationships that mean the most to you.

Harley has led quite an interesting life, growing up in the circus. What is the earliest memory that she can remember?

I like to think one of Harley’s earliest memories would be of the costumes, and how big the stage felt. As a kid, those were always the things that stayed in my head—the textures, and vibrancy, and how huge the world seemed. And growing up in a circus, Harley would’ve been watching the magic happen in real-time, both backstage and during rehearsals. So I’m sure she...[read on]
Visit Akemi Dawn Bowman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Susan Elia MacNeal

Susan Elia MacNeal's new novel is The King’s Justice.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: This is your ninth novel about Maggie Hope--how did you come up for the idea for The King's Justice?

A: You know, Maggie Hope’s been through so much both physically and emotionally, especially in the last two books, The Paris Spy and The Prisoner in the Castle. I really wanted to show the cumulative effect of all of that trauma, as well as just living through the war.

I sometimes describe Maggie as “Nancy Drew meets James Bond” but I really do want to show how her character’s been evolving. She’s a very different woman...[read on]
Visit Susan Elia MacNeal's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Prisoner in the Castle.

Writers Read: Susan Elia MacNeal (August 2018).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 9, 2020

Janice Kaplan

Janice Kaplan is the author of The Genius of Women: From Overlooked to Changing the World.

From her Q&A with Rebekah Denn for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: How do you define genius?

How we define a genius changes over time and in how a story gets told. I interviewed one professor at Cambridge who described genius as where extraordinary ability meets celebrity – celebrity in the sense of being recognized and having your work noticed. Over the centuries, women have had the extraordinary talent over and over again, but their work has not been noticed or recognized. I tell the story of the amazing Lise Meitner, who discovered nuclear fission in the 1930s. It was a huge breakthrough and it won the Nobel Prize. I said “it” won the Nobel Prize, because Lise Meitner did not win the Nobel Prize; her lab partner, Otto Hahn, did.

Q: Is the situation improving?

I tell the story of two women who were key in the CRISPR study [a groundbreaking gene-editing technique]. They have won some big awards, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Jeffrey Colvin

Jeffrey Colvin's new novel is Africaville.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Africaville, and for the family you write about?

A: The stories that became Africaville began in the late 1990s as a series of short stories set in rural Alabama. The stories were set in communities along the route from Selma to Montgomery taken by protesters during the 1965 march for voters’ rights.

Many people are familiar with the leaders of the marches such as Martin Luther King, but I was interested in the lives of the residents in the rural communities along the route. How had the communities been formed? Had any of the residents marched? If so why? If they did not march, why not?

I have a personal connection to such communities since my grandmother raised a raised a family in rural Alabama community. During the early 1980s I came home on a leave from the Marine Corps to find that my grandmother had moved away from her former community and that the last houses in the community had been torn down.

The short stories I wrote were inspired by stories my grandmother and her former neighbors told about their community.

These stories became part of a larger narrative in 2001 after I read an article in The New York Times about a community called Africville that once existed on the northern edge of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Africville was formed in the late 1700s and existed until the late 1960s when over the objection of residents, the city of Halifax forced residents out of their homes and razed the houses, churches and other structures in the community.

I was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Ismée Williams

Ismée Williams's new YA novel is This Train Is Being Held.

From her Q&A with The Nerd Daily:

In the author’s note, you shared a quick story about the inspiration behind This Train is Being Held. But can you tell us about which aspect of the book that you started with when you first wrote it?

I’ve been taking the subway for over twenty years, so I’ve had a lot of rides where I saw cool interactions between strangers. A balding man passing a packet of tissues to a young woman who got on with a mascara-streaked face and begins crying into her hands. A mom removing an apple, a juice box, and a box of animal crackers from her toddler’s stroller to give to a homeless vet. Three teens with nose rings and black leather jackets holding open the door for a grandma with a walker struggling on the stairs who’s shouting out to please hold the train because she’s late to her doctor’s appointment. When you see connections like this happen, it’s quite heart-warming. It makes you feel good about people in general and living in New York specifically. For THIS TRAIN IS BEING HELD, I started with that idea, the connection between strangers. I wanted to put two very different young people together in the same subway car–a couple you wouldn’t expect to cross paths–and watch them fall for each other. I’m a sucker for romance, especially ill-fated romance, so then I had to create background stories and scenarios that tortured Alex and Isa and forced them apart: demanding schedules, demanding parents, mega misunderstandings, families detonating due to the stress of job loss and mental illness. That is never easy to do to your characters, because as an author, you often end up loving them. At least I do! But it’s necessary to...[read on]
Visit Ismée Williams's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Ismée Amiel Williams & Rowan.

My Book, The Movie: Water in May.

My Book, The Movie: This Train Is Being Held.

Writers Read: Ismée Williams.

The Page 69 Test: This Train Is Being Held.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 6, 2020

Anita Abriel

Anita Abriel's new historical novel The Light After the War, based on her mother's life. Abriel has written many novels under the name Anita Hughes.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How much did you know about your mother's life story as you grew up, and at what point did you decide to write this novel based on her history?

A: My mother told me a lot of stories when I was a child but I didn't always pay attention. It was when I was 12 that she told me something (which is in the book, but I won't give it away) that stuck with me. I've wanted to write it ever since.

I decided to write the novel a few years ago. It felt like the right time in my life to approach it and do it justice.

Q: How much research did you need to do to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: I did a lot of historical research. One thing I learned was how many Hungarian Jews - half a million - were killed in the Holocaust, even though Hungary came so late into the war.

Also, the fact that Jews ended up spread all over the world - South America, Australia, Canada - was surprising. Many didn't want to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Neil J. Young

Neil J. Young is the author of We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics.

From his Q&A at the OUP Blog:

You begin your book in the 1950s. Why?

Most accounts of the Religious Right begin in the 1970s because they tend to treat the movement as a response to the social transformations of the 1960s and to a series of Supreme Court decisions about school prayer and abortion. This view, however, paints religious conservatives as reactors rather than actors, as people who are responding to political and social changes rather than as shapers of many of those changes. It also depicts the Religious Right as only a political story. By starting in the 1950s, however, I show the theological and intellectual origins of the Religious Right. In other words, I argue that the Religious Right was an outgrowth of the interfaith conversations Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons were having at midcentury over questions about the unity of Christians, the authority of the Bible, the means of salvation, and who could claim the mantle of true Christianity. It was these religious conversations that were a response to the ecumenical movement of mainline Protestantism, I argue, that helped give rise to the Religious Right. I show that long before Roe v. Wade and the Equal Rights Amendment, religious conservatives had already been drawn together in conversation and alliance building. So, the Religious Right wasn’t a new political development for these religious conservatives but rather...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Margarita Montimore

Margarita Montimore's new novel is Oona Out of Order.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: The novel has been compared to The Time Traveler's Wife and Life After Life. What do you think of those comparisons?

A: I haven’t read Life After Life, but it’s been on my TBR for ages and I’ve heard it’s excellent.

As for The Time Traveler’s Wife, that’s one of my favorite books, so I’m flattered by any comparisons to it.

That book is also a big reason I resisted writing Oona at first, because Audrey Niffenegger’s novel is perfection: the prose is gorgeous, and the love story it tells feels both epic and intimate. But then I realized Oona’s story would be different, beginning with her love life being far messier.

Also, I wanted use time travel to explore other relationships she’d have—romantic, familial, and platonic—as well as larger themes like...[read on]
Visit Margarita Montimore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Cho Nam-Joo

Cho Nam-Joo is the author of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982: A Novel.

From her Guardian Q&A with Holly Williams:

What was the #MeToo movement like in South Korea?

In May 2016, a woman was murdered at Gangnam station, and in October that year there were a lot of sexual harassment scandals in various areas of society, including literary circles and the arts. People started to speak about the horrors and threats women have felt – which had not been discussed earlier. Then a female prosecutor, Seo Ji-hyeon, participated in the #MeToo movement, revealing what she had experienced [during an interview on Korean television, Seo discussed her experience of being sexually harassed at work, a revelation that prompted other women to come forward].

Do you see things changing – or do young women face the same problems today?

There is still sexual abuse and discrimination. Recently in the news, there was an applicant who couldn’t get a job because the public officials gave her a lower score just because she was female. But there has been some change. Women have been protesting and petitioning; they have begun to gather in solidarity. Recently, it was ruled that abortion being a crime was unconstitutional. Although change is slow, I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 2, 2020

Robert Harms

Robert Harms is Henry J. Heinz Professor of History and African Studies at Yale University. His new book is Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa.

From Harm's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've spent many years working on the history of this area. What inspired you to write this particular book?

A: There are two reasons – one personal and one professional.

The personal reason was that this book allowed me to integrate and consolidate research I have conducted over the years in equatorial Africa.

In 1969-71, I worked as a teacher in a secondary school in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a.k.a. Congo-Kinshasa). The school was located among the Lega people in Manyema province, and I was fascinated to learn about the secret Bwami Society and the works of abstract art produced by the Lega.

While there, I collected over 1,000 Lega proverbs outlining the philosophy of the Bwami Society, and I was even able to attend a Bwami initiation ceremony. From reading history, I knew that Manyema was also the heart of Tippu Tip’s ivory and slaving empire in the late 19th century.

During my subsequent graduate studies in African History at the University of Wisconsin, I wrote my Masters’ thesis on the ABIR rubber company in the Congo, using a collection of original documents that the university had recently obtained.

Later, I did Ph.D. dissertation research along the upper Congo River, looking into the Bobangi ivory trade in the 19th century. I spent two and a half years traveling up and down the river in a dugout canoe powered by a 6 hp motor and collecting oral histories in the riverside villages.

Land of Tears allowed me to integrate the history of Manyema with the histories of the ivory trade along the upper Congo River and the depredations of the rubber companies in order to tell the larger story of the exploration and exploitation of the Congo River basin.

The professional reason was my dissatisfaction with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 1, 2020

W. J. Rorabaugh

W. J. Rorabaugh is Dio Richardson Professor of History at the University of Washington. He is the author of six books, including The Alcoholic Republic, American Hippies and Prohibition: A Concise History.

From his Q&A at the OUP Blog:

Q: What was Prohibition, and when did it take place?

A: During the 1920s the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution banned the production and sale of alcohol in the United States.

Q: How long did Prohibition last?

A: Prohibition lasted only thirteen years. The Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition in December 1933.

Q: If the United States had long been a hard-drinking country, how did the dry minority achieve Prohibition?

A: The dry forces had superior political organizations. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had been campaigning for a dry country since 1874, and in 1895 it was joined by the Anti-Saloon League (ASL). The nation’s first single-issue political action group, the ASL spent lavishly to elect dry legislators and members of Congress. Whenever they had a majority in a state legislature, they moved to dry out that state. In 1913 they started lobbying for a dry amendment to the US Constitution.

Q: How did the Republicans and Democrats respond to the ASL’s demands?

A: Both parties were terrified of the ASL, which moved aggressively to defeat any candidate that did not agree to its demands. The ASL spent lavishly on campaigns, provided its candidates with speech writers and advertising, and organized an army of dry volunteers through evangelical churches.

Q: How did wet candidates confront these tactics?

A: Many wet candidates took money from the German-American Alliance, an official group founded in 1900 by the German government to foster better German-American relations and promote...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue