Sunday, July 15, 2018

Scott Reintgen

Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. He strongly believes that every student who steps into his classroom has the right to see themselves, vibrant and victorious and on the page. It’s his hope to encourage a future full of diverse writers. As he’s fond of reminding his students, “You have a story to tell and you’re the only one who can tell it.”

Reintgen's new novel is Nyxia Unleashed.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I've actually just returned from the beach and thankfully I got a lot of reading done. The first book I tackled was The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. It's a breathtaking and brutal world that centers around the concept of fifth seasons-- or regular apocalyptic events that threaten to wipe out humanity. Jemisin's world building is transcendent. I'm also reading Circe by Madeline Miller. I'm not sure I've ever encountered such beautiful prose. Miller reimagines the infamous Circe and tells the entire story from her godlike and lonely perspective. I'm also guilty of having a book open in every room of the house, which means I've started Genesis by Brendan Reichs, Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, and The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards.

As an author, I fully believe that our best work is collaborative. So I do read for fun, but I'm also always looking for new tricks and tools to add to my own arsenal. In The Last Sun, Edwards uses a "home base" set up that I adopted for the first half of my sequel, Nyxia Unleashed. And the entire Broken Earth series is a playground for Jemisin to toy with narrative voice. Reading her stories was like permission for me to go try my own playful voice out, so I did. We always learn to write more honestly by reading the work of other authors, it's that simple. I know that Nyxia and Nyxia Unleashed would be nowhere near as strong in their storytelling without all of these open books around my house.
Visit Scott Reintgen's website.

The Page 69 Test: Nyxia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 13, 2018

Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger writes comedies of manners mixed with paranormal romance (and the sexy San Andreas Shifter series as G L Carriger). Her books include the Parasol Protectorate, Custard Protocol, and Supernatural Society series for adults, and the Finishing School series for young adults. She is published in many languages and has over a dozen New York Times bestsellers. She was once an archaeologist and is fond of shoes, octopuses, and tea.

Carriger's new novel is Competence.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished two books, pretty different from each other, and here they are.

Truth in the Dark by Amy Lane

This is a charming twisted retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and a real tear-jerker. It's as if Lane took Robin McKinley's Beauty and combined it with The Song of Achilles. There's an element of the Hunchback of Notre Dame thrown in there for good measure. If you're a fan of alternate fairy stories, true love at all costs, and the ultimate melodrama of self-sacrifice then this book is for you. Definitely destined to became a favorite of mine.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

This particular novella was a mix of Sherlock Holmes (only way better written than Doyle and with female main characters), McCaffery's The Ship Who... series, and Feist & Wurts's Daughter of the Empire series. Bodard is a master of artfully invested world building. She turns this story into a lyrical journey into space, as if the words themselves are overlaid with the serenity of a tea ceremony. Reading it felt restful and ritualized.
Visit Gail Carriger's website.

The Page 69 Test: Prudence.

My Book, The Movie: Prudence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2018

James Brydon

James Brydon grew up in North Shropshire, England, and studied English at Oxford. For over a decade, he has worked as a cryptic crossword setter. Under the name Picaroon, he sets two puzzles a month in the Guardian, and he compiles for the Spectator, the Times (London), and the fiendish Listener puzzle, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as the films of Akira Kurosawa and the six-fold symmetry of snowflakes. He is fluent in French and Serbian, is currently polishing his German, and can hold a conversation in passable Chinese. He lives in St. Albans, England, with his wife and daughter.

Brydon's debut novel is The Moment Before Drowning.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry is without doubt the most striking, original and haunting book I’ve read recently. These interlinked yet fragmentary stories from the Soviet-Polish war present, as one of the narrators puts it, “a chronicle of […] humdrum evil doings” from a conflict steeped in violence: beheadings, slit throats, the numberless and nameless dead strewing the battlefields.

The book’s shifting narrators correspond to different sides of Babel’s character. There is the bespectacled, intellectual journalist horrified by the slaughter, but also a Bolshevik taking pleasure in the protracted killing of his master, who he tramples to death for over an hour. Babel unsettlingly interrogates the moral values we ascribe to acts of violence. When the journalist is incapable of shooting a soldier whose “stomach had been torn out”, he provokes the contempt and fury of another soldier: “You four-eyed lot have as much pity for us as a cat has for a mouse.”

Instead of the sempiternal clich├ęs of hope and the human spirit, Babel produces an enigmatic, vivid, poetic description of what he has witnessed. Lurking in the background is a sly, almost undetectable humour, because “only the wise man rends the veil of existence with laughter.” Red Cavalry is equal to the task of representing the disturbing brutality of the 20th century, of which Babel, executed by the Soviet police, was himself a victim. Ultimately, he resembles the painter Pan Apolek, who depicted figures of Scripture with the faces of the maimed and sinful peasants he lived among: I can only marvel at his “art, his dark invention.”
Learn more about The Moment Before Drowning at the Akashic Books website.

The Page 69 Test: The Moment Before Drowning.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

J. D. Horn

J. D. Horn was raised in rural Tennessee, and has since carried a bit of its red clay in him while traveling the world, from Hollywood, to Paris, to Tokyo. He studied comparative literature as an undergrad, focusing on French and Russian in particular. He also holds an MBA in international business and worked as a financial analyst before becoming a novelist. He has race bibs from two full marathons and about thirty half marathons. Though knocked out by an injury, he’s working on making a comeback.

Horn’s books have now been translated into Russian, Romanian, Polish, German, Spanish, Italian, and French, with a Turkish version of The Line in the works. He is a long-time animal rights advocate, animal lover, and non-proselytizing vegetarian. He, his spouse, Rich, and their rescue Chihuahua, Kirby Seamus, split their time between Central Oregon, San Francisco, and Palm Springs.

Horn's new novel is The Book of the Unwinding.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

The unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor lies at the center of this epic recounting of the early days of Hollywood. I have a couple of ideas for stories involving the early and golden ages of Hollywood knocking around in my head, so for me this complex well-researched, and perfectly paced book lies between leisure reading and research. If you’re interested in true crime, this one is a winner.

The Boy They Tried to Hide by Shane Dunphy

I came across this book through Glynn Washington’s “Spooked” podcast. (Washington produces a few different podcasts, all of them brilliant.) The Boy They Tried to Hide is an intriguing (and purportedly true) story of a former social worker who is pulled into the mystery of what happened to a boy named Thomas, and whether Thomas ever really existed or was a figment of another young boy’s imagination. The Thomas portion of the tale is a disappointingly short percentage of the entire book. Dunphy weaves this strand together with two others, an account of his efforts to learn what happened to a young man with learning disabilities who died in prison under suspicious circumstances, and encounters with a predatory abuser of women who has an ax to grind with Dunphy. Despite the three different elements, the narrative—right down to inclusion of transcripts of therapy sessions—ends up being about Dunphy himself. Could have been, maybe should have been, three different books. Still, it’s written well enough that I’m still reading.

Raven Black: Book One of the Shetland Island Quartet by Ann Cleeves

This book combines a mystery with a fairytale-like opening, well-drawn characters, a secluded edge-of-the-world setting, and a plot twist I did not see coming (and that’s pretty darned rare). I will definitely continue with this series. I’m considering making a genre leap from horror to mystery for my next project and have begun reading well-reviewed mysteries in the hope of learning how it’s done.

The Demons of King Solomon, Aaron J. French editor

A somewhat self-serving selection as I have a story in this anthology, but I’ve been reading it as I was curious what the other contributors had written. The collection, based on the seventy-two demons mentioned in the grimoire known as the “Lesser Key of Solomon,” also includes stories by Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, Richard Chizmar, and others.
Visit J.D. Horn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: J.D. Horn & Kirby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2018

Loka Ashwood

Loka Ashwood is an environmental and rural sociologist at Auburn University. She works with communities to research issues that pertain to agriculture, cancer clusters, land loss, and pollution. Her new book is For-Profit Democracy: Why the Government Is Losing the Trust of Rural America.

Recently I asked Ashwood about what she was reading. Her reply:
While I grew up in the Midwest, I have spent the bulk of the last ten years of my life doing research or living in the South. Accordingly, I thought it high time early this year to invest myself more heavily in its lauded literature. I started with Jean Toomer’s Cane, as good of a place as I could begin, although little did I know it at the time. I then moved on to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, but stumbled with the abrupt switches between vantages, and the steely eyed view of death and mourning. I’m now just beginning Absalom, Absalom!, which I have taken too more readily. By chance, I picked up Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God at an airport bookstore, and devoured the text over the course of my flight to and fro. Like Dorthy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, the book’s protagonist riveted me.

From more of a writer and less of a reader vantage, I am attempting to better understand why certain memoirs have stuck with me. I am revisiting Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man. I had long forgotten that Bragg grew up in Calhoun County, Alabama, which neighbors Cleburne County, where I find myself doing much work currently.

I have so much more reading to look forward to. Suggestions are most welcome and appreciated!
Visit Loka Ashwood's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Gale Massey

Gale Massey lives in St. Petersburg, FL. Her stories have appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Walking the Edge, Sabal, Seven Hills Press, and other journals. She has been the recipient of scholarships and fellowships at The Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Writers in Paradise, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Massey's debut novel is The Girl From Blind River.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I was recently blown away by Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. The tone and lyricism in her storytelling, the strength with which she takes on the truth of our country’s history of racism is urgent and spellbinding. Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton is another recent favorite. Both the writers are speaking to the impact of poverty on families – a theme close to my heart.
Visit Gale Massey's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl From Blind River.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 6, 2018

Stephen Toutonghi

A native of Seattle, Steve Toutonghi studied fiction and poetry while completing a BA in Anthropology at Stanford. After various professional forays, he began a career in technology that led him from Silicon Valley back to Seattle. His novels are Join and the newly released Side Life.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Toutonghi's reply:
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax

In literature, androids are often used to illuminate vectors of social oppression and unjust habits of judgment. Plum Rains reflects on those themes, but its near future story-line also uses the distinction between life and pseudo-life to explore identity and memory and the ways that time can fortify a refuge until it serves as a cell. Full of interesting ideas and closely researched settings, the book connects to larger social dynamics while delivering a lovely, immersive story with closely detailed characters.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

A culmination of Rosling's life work, Factfulness is a nuanced and amplified version of his TED talks that argue that for most people in the world, life is improving. And as per usual, Rosling comes with data. Factfulness also builds a conceptual framework to help rebut arguments that things have improved enough. Given the complexity of the topic, the book's wonderfully clear prose and straightforward organization is itself a singular accomplishment, and a testament to the author's engagement. Factfulness is a very welcome counterpoint to the turgid vortex of recent news.

Aftermath: Explorations of Grief and Loss

By coming at grief from multiple angles, this anthology of personal essays, poems, graphics, and stories with images, is able to edge close to the center of an experience that seems at times like a substance too dense to escape. I'm taking this book piece by piece, and am not completely done yet, but so far it's very good.

Sip by Brian Allen Carr

Brian Allen Carr's writing has energy to spare. Other fiction I've read by him has been bold, profane, smart, like a literary Van De Graaff generator, or maybe a Tesla coil--something electric. His strong prose rhythms grant him license to go pretty much anywhere he decides to, and he goes to interesting and unexpected places. I'm looking forward to Sip, which is next on my list.
Visit Steve Toutonghi's website.

Learn about Steve Toutonghi's six top books that expand our mental horizons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Julie McElwain

Julie McElwain is a national award-winning journalist. Born and raised in North Dakota, she graduated from North Dakota State University, and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for a fashion trade newspaper. Currently, she is an editor for CBS Soaps In Depth, covering the No. 1 daytime drama, The Young & The Restless.

McElwain's new novel is Caught in Time.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have a tendency to read more than one book at a time, usually balancing it between fiction and non-fiction. In the non-fiction category, I’m reading Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, Women And The Gallows, and The Little Book Of Forensics. I purchased the former two books because my own novels take place during Regency England, and I find research into that era to be a never-ending process. Behind Closed Doors’ author Amanda Vickery is a gifted writer who has managed to turn what could have been a dry history book into an entertaining read filled with wit, wisdom and wonderful imagery of the Georgian era. Meanwhile, Women And The Gallows by Naomi Clifford is horrifying and heart-wrenching real-life accounts of 131 women who were executed in England between 1797-1837. This was a time when stealing could result in the death penalty, and often women seemed to be singled out for the harshest of punishment while men were deported to Australia or given a reprieve. It’s a sad but fascinating read, and I would highly recommend it. I just bought The Little Book Of Forensics by David Owen, and started to read it. It’s a pretty straightforward account of 50 crimes that were solved by science. I have an extensive crime library, and this will fit in nicely.

In the fiction category, I just finished Lisa Gardner’s gritty suspense thriller, Find Her. If you haven’t read Ms. Gardner’s work, I strongly urge everyone to read her — and go to bed with the nightlight on. She’s that good. Personally, I’ve become a big fan of the technique where authors mix first person with third person, and Gardner is a master. Find Her brings back Boston detective D.D. Warren (she’s the star of her own series) and has the detective trying to figure out whether former abductee Flora Dane is a victim or a vigilante in the death of a young man. Gardner has the unique ability of making me sympathetic to characters who are so flawed that they do inexplicable, dangerous things. This book is not for the faint of heart, since it delves into how the life of one woman — Flora — is changed forever when she goes on spring break and is kidnapped by a sexual sadist. Gardner effortlessly swings between the past and the present, first person and third, as she tells Flora’s story.
Visit Julie McElwain's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caught in Time.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Blair Davis

Blair Davis is an associate professor of media and cinema studies at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of several books, including Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page.

His new book is Comic Book Movies.

Recently I asked Davis about what he was reading. His reply:
What Editors Do: The Art, Craft and Business of Book Editing

Reading What Editors Do felt like the publishing-equivalent of when I first encountered Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential so many years ago. It’s a tell-all about the publishing industry as much as a practical guide to working with an editor or being/becoming one. It’s an anthology with a range of chapters tracking each stage of the publishing process, from acquisitions to copy-editing and promotion, all written by professionals in the industry.

Having worked with a few different editors myself over the last decade, I quickly recognized the different personality types, common laments, potential pitfalls, etc. But I was pleased to learn more about the financial, creative and social factors that drive different types of presses – academic ones like those I’ve worked with, as well as those serving other markets. Anyone who’s ever been an author or sought to be one would do well to read this book.

Present, by Leslie Stein

Leslie Stein is a tremendous talent in the comics world, so when I saw her new book Present on the ‘new releases’ shelf at my local library I snapped it up with glee. Call the stories in this book autobiographical, call them diary-based, call them slice-of-life… they are regularly focused on random encounters and minor moments, along with equal doses of delightful and trying experiences (for her, not the reader).

While Stein’s drawing style has remained relatively similar over her young career, a small evolution can be seen when comparing her most recent work to that from only a few years ago. Her approach to drawing the human figure is distinctly minimalist, much closer to the sparse lines of Ivan Brunetti’s work than to most other cartoonists. But where she would draw the outline of a face in past years, Stein now typically leaves a blank space atop her character’s shoulders, favoring only a hairstyle and two small dots for eyes. This approach works like a visual signature because it is so unique, but what I love about it the most is how it pushes Scott McCloud’s ideas about the role of the icon as it applies to human faces to new extremes. McCloud tells us that we only need a circle with two dots and a line inside of it to recognize the image as a human face with eyes and a mouth. Stein foregoes the circle and the line altogether, choosing only the two dots for eyes with other elements (hair, clothing) used as surrounding contexts for our ability to see the sum of these parts as human.

It’s a style that might take some readers a few pages to fully appreciate, but its formal innovations will surely grow on you if they don’t immediately spark joy…. especially once Stein’s watercolors begin to flourish on the page. I will say that, though, I do find that Present is a book best read in small doses at a time. Its many chapters are brief and episodic, and best savored over time rather than guzzled quickly all in one go (…given the amount of wine consumed by the characters in this book, I think it’s a fitting metaphor!).

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Monthly from Marvel Comicss)

I've championed Marvel's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur for a few years now, being an early fan of the series. Nine-year old Lunella Lafayette is a super-genius with a pet dinosaur. She's officially the smartest person in the entire Marvel universe. She mind-swaps with said-dinosaur when the moon is full (it causes problems, as you'd expect!). She's by-far the best thing going on at Marvel right now... and she's my daughter's favorite super-hero, which is hard not to be contagious about. I pick new issues up for her now on a monthly basis at my local comic shop, and we both look forward to reading it. It’s a perfect blend of Jack-Kirby-tribute plus superior role model for young girls… crosses off both my old-school fanboy and concerned-parent checklists in one swift stroke, huzzah! But in all seriousness, this really is superior storytelling… it’s not just a fluffy kids-book, even though my local library keeps it in the children’s section. It’s super smart and deftly-constructed, issue after issue. I point my students towards it as often as I can and they keep coming back with good things to say about it. Amazing. Joyous. Moon-tastic. Disney recently announced they will produce an animated series. I want a feature-film, too.
Learn more about Comic Book Movies at the Rutgers University Press website, and visit Blair Davis's Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 2, 2018

Mary Carter Bishop

A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, Mary Carter Bishop was on the Philadelphia Inquirer team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of nuclear leaks at Three Mile Island. Her Roanoke Times & World-News series on poisonings and fraud by exterminators and other pesticide users won a George Polk Award and was a Pulitzer finalist.

Bishop's new book is Don't You Ever: My Mother and Her Secret Son.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Not long ago, I caught a Barbara Ehrenreich interview on C-Span and was curious about her latest, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. She’s just a few years older than me, so I wanted to compare my observations about aging with hers. I knew her principally from Nickel and Dimed and wasn’t aware that she has a PhD in cellular immunology. I’d expected more sisterly/elderly/psychological reflections about growing old. Instead, this is a scholarly work of science, a takedown of every sunny-sounding medical and pseudo-medical scheme that holds out the hope of prolonging our lives. It’s made me question the tests and screenings that have steadily grown in number over my seventy-two years. Ehrenreich and I share an enjoyment of gym workouts and other exercise, something that perplexes other women of my age. You go, Barbara!
Learn more about Don't You Ever.

My Book, The Movie: Don't You Ever.

--Marshal Zeringue