Friday, September 4, 2015

Peter Lefcourt

Peter Lefcourt is a refugee from the trenches of Hollywood, where he has distinguished himself as a writer and producer of film and television.

His new novel is Purgatory Gardens.

Recently I asked Lefcourt about what he was reading. His reply:
At the moment, I am reading a book of stories by Alice Munro, entitled Runaway. Full disclosure: I am reading it because it was the choice of my reading group. I dove in reluctantly, but found myself gradually being seduced by the sheer originality of the author’s mind. Munro uses time in a most unconventional and effective manner, bouncing back and forth between present, past and future. Her characters are unpredictable, their apparently conventional lives fraught with all sorts of inner drama. There is a reason this woman won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Visit Peter Lefcourt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Purgatory Gardens.

The Page 69 Test: Purgatory Gardens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 3, 2015

James R. Benn

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II series, historical mysteries set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War. The series began with Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942.

In The White Ghost, the tenth installment of the series, Billy meets a young John F. Kennedy.

Recently I asked Benn about what he was reading. His reply:
The Fate of Others, by Nancy Lefenfeld.

The Fate of Others tells the little-known story of Jewish resistance groups smuggling Jewish children out of occupied France into Switzerland during World War Two. Operating in the Haute-Savoie region, which until 1943 was occupied by Italian troops who often during a blind eye to their activities, the Zionist Youth Movement and other underground groups smuggled hundreds of Jewish children into neutral Switzerland. A little-known story of incredible courage.

Real Tigers, by Mick Herron.

I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy of this entry in Mick Herron’s series, featuring disgraced MI5 agents exiled to Slough House and sentenced to career-ending mounds of meaningless paperwork. When one of them is kidnapped, the team reluctantly goes into action. Literate and funny, this one stands the Brit spy novel convention on its head.

And for pure fun reading, you can’t beat the tag sale treasures I came up with last week; six copies of the GI Combat comic books featuring The Haunted Tank and other staples of a misspent childhood!
Visit James R. Benn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The First Wave.

The Page 69 Test: Evil for Evil.

The Page 69 Test: Rag and Bone.

My Book, The Movie: Death's Door.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sharon Huss Roat

Sharon Huss Roat grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and now lives in Delaware with her husband (who makes fonts), her son (who makes music), and her daughter (who makes believe!). She worked in public relations for twenty years before deciding what she really wanted to be when she grew up. Between the Notes is her debut novel. When she's not writing (or reading) books for young adults, you might find her planting vegetables in her backyard garden or sewing costumes for a school musical.

Recently I asked Roat about what she was reading. Her reply:
Almost all of my reading material over the past year has come in the form of Advance Reader Copies from other 2015 debut YA authors who are fellow members of the Fearless Fifteeners. The two in my hands right now are by authors I will be appearing with at book events this fall, so I’ve been very anxious to read their books. I also was intrigued by these two titles because they are very different from my own, and I find it better to be reading something that is not too similar to what I am currently writing.

First is The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, which I just finished reading this morning. And whoa, it was good. The story is told from four different points of view, three of which are in the present and one in the past. Sounds complicated and hard to follow, but it wasn’t. Kudos to Maggie for pulling that off, and weaving a fascinating magical element through it all—the work of the hekamists, who can cast spells. The chain of events caused by the spells and the four different perspectives are intertwined so seamlessly. I loved it. If I ever try writing from multiple perspectives, I’ll be looking back at this novel for a great example of how to make it work.

Next up is Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett. I haven’t read a scary book in a very long time, and I am both dying to read this one and terrified at the same time! This line from the book jacket is so deliciously frightening: “…something sinister and ancient waits among the rustling cornstalks of this village lost to time.” Ahhhh! There’s "unrequited love and murder, alchemy and immortality.” I haven’t read anything like this in… ever. I can’t wait to dig into it.
Visit Sharon Huss Roat's website.

The Page 69 Test: Between the Notes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Julia Keller

Julia Keller was born and raised in West Virginia, and now lives in Chicago and Ohio. In her career as a journalist, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series she wrote for the Chicago Tribune about a small town in Illinois rocked by a deadly tornado.

Her new novel, Last Ragged Breath, is the fourth book in the Bell Elkins Series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Keller's reply:
No fiery manifesto, no passionate proclamation, no defiant diatribe—but somehow, this became My Summer of Re-reading. I began revisiting books that I’d first loved long ago. New novels have been in the mix, too, of course—who can resist a fresh face?—but for the most part, I’ve strolled down literature’s memory lane. I re-read My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather, and found nuances I’d missed the first time around in the brief but pungent story of a woman’s self-betrayal, and then I moved on to Night And Day by Virginia Woolf.

Like everyone, I love To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, the novels for which Woolf is mostly known, but for some reason I picked up this, her second novel, once again. I know I’ve read it before—I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Virginia Woolf and read each of her novels multiple times—but for the life of me, I barely remember this one. Yet as I read my battered copy, I keep coming across phrases I had underlined and passages I had circled, complete with copious exclamation points in the margins. The novel seems vibrant and new, as if it could’ve been written just weeks ago. It’s a love story—two couples chat and spar and flit about each other—but it’s so much more than that as well: It is about youth and what happens to it, and it is about how much of our fate lies in our own hands. “Like most people, I suppose,” a character muses, “I’ve lived almost entirely among delusions, and now I’m at the awkward stage of finding it out. I want another delusion to go on with.” This is an astonishingly wise and psychologically acute novel, and it’s also a great deal of fun; Woolf’s playful sense of humor is often forgotten by those who get distracted by her long, mournful face and by her reputation for penning only dense interior monologues. Truth is, Woolf would’ve been the one slipping whoopee cushions beneath the unsuspecting backsides of the Bloomsbury group.

What else? Well, I’m just finishing up Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize, and it is every bit as grave and graceful and heartbreaking as you’ve heard. I adored H Is for Hawk, the memoir by Helen MacDonald about how training a wild creature helped her deal with the wildness of her grief over her father’s death. And I just embarked on Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic. I’d sort of given up on Russo after the first few chapters of his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Empire Falls, which I found coy and unconvincing and vaguely misogynist, and then I chanced upon Bridge of Sighs, and was utterly, insanely captivated. It’s one of those novels that you think about even when you’re not reading it—and that you can’t wait to get back to.

Oh, and I just bought Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, and am racing through it. Robinson keeps the “science” in “science fiction,” but his chief gift is in creating narratives and characters that are plausible and compelling. During the same bookstore run, I snatched up The Lewis Man by Peter Man, sequel to Blackhouse. It is said that when you open the score of Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman,” you can feel the sea spray in your face; the same thing happens when you set forth upon this series set in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.
Visit Julia Keller's website.

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2012).

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2013).

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thomas Cobb

Thomas Cobb is the author of Crazy Heart, which was adapted into a 2009 Academy Award-winning film starring Jeff Bridges, and Shavetail, among other books.

Cobb's new novel is Darkness the Color of Snow.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Starting with the present and working back a couple of weeks, these are the books I’ve been reading.

Bodies Electric by Colin Harrison. This is an older book of Harrison’s, his second novel if I’m not mistaken. I’m only fifty or so pages in, but Harrison has already set the major conflict as Jack Whitman, who works for The Corporation tries to do a good deed for a woman he met on the subway. The Corporation would seem not in favor of doing good deeds. Colin Harrison is, perhaps, the best thriller writer we have. I always find things to admire in his books.

Go Down Together by Jeff Guinn. Jeff Guinn is the author of The Last Gunfight and Manson, and a personal favorite of mine. Go Down Together, the story of Bonnie and Clyde, is also an earlier work I’ve gone to because Guinn isn’t writing his new books fast enough to suit me. He’s a meticulous researcher and a very fine writer. Guinn sifts through legend to find the truth about Bonnie and Clyde, and comes up with a story that’s even better than the myths we know.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Kate Atkinson is my newest favorite writer. I first read her novel Life after Life and was dazzled that she was able to pull off literary effects so beautifully. Reading Atkinson is like watching a great magician. It’s a trick of course, but done so wonderfully, it’s better than reality. A God in Ruins is something of a sequel to Life after Life, and probably better read after Life after Life, but not necessarily so. Her accounts of bombers in World War II are breathtaking.
Visit Thomas Cobb's website.

The Page 69 Test: Shavetail.

My Book, The Movie: Crazy Heart.

The Page 69 Test: Darkness the Color of Snow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Shannon Grogan

Shannon Grogan is a 2nd grade teacher who writes at night, and at Starbucks or the library while her kids are at ballet and baseball, in a tiny logging town east of Seattle, WA. She holds degrees in education and graphic design/illustration. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she likes baking (gluten-free), shopping at Target, losing to her kids at Skip Bo or Apples to Apples, camping, or wishing she was on a beach. But usually she’s reading, or watching scary movies like Jaws, or reality TV like Cake Boss or Long Island Medium.

Grogan's new YA thriller is From Where I Watch You.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since I teach 2nd grade, I read for school, usually about 45 minutes a day to my class, and for fun at home, of course!

For my 2nd graders, I usually pick illustrated middle grade books with lots of humor for my classroom read-alouds, like Cecil and Anton: Cats at Sea, and Flora & Ulysses.

I also read picture books and usually pick ones I can use as mentor texts for our own writing. Our favorite this year, because we focused on opinion letter writing, was The Day the Crayons Quit. For both MG and PBs, humor and pictures definitely capture and keep my student’s attention. Good example: when Peach Crayon in The Day the Crayons Quit hides in the crayon box because he’s naked! Nothing gets attention and a laugh in a room of 7-8 year-olds like the word naked!

All books I choose to read in class have to have that the ‘we-can-read-it-over-and-over’!

For fun I’m all about YA!

I stick primarily to darker, pacier contemporary YA, but I love ‘quieter’ character-driven books too. I have too many favorites and favorite authors this year to name them all, but one of my favorite books, that I just finished was The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman.

I usually do not like multiple POV books, and Maggie’s had 4 POVs! But she did such a fantastic job of writing this so seamlessly that I was sucked into the story quickly and couldn’t put it down!

Right now I’m reading The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. It’s based on Grimm’s The Handless Maiden. Loving it so far!

Bottom line, whatever I read, I have to be captured by the characters to keep reading. The characters, no matter what book, will keep me reading!
Visit Shannon Grogan's website.

My Book, The Movie: From Where I Watch You.

The Page 69 Test: From Where I Watch You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 28, 2015

Matthew McGevna

Matthew McGevna was born and raised in Mastic Beach, Long Island. Born of Irish descent, he attended fiction and poetry workshops in Galway, Ireland, through the University of Arkansas Writing Program. He received his MFA in creative writing from Long Island University’s Southampton College in 2002. An award-winning poet, McGevna has also published numerous short stories in various publications, including Long Island Noir, Epiphany, and Confrontation. He currently lives in Center Moriches, New York, with his wife and two sons, Jackson and Dempsey. Little Beasts is his first novel.

Recently I asked McGevna about what he was reading. His reply:
Most recently I read Anthony Marra’s stunning debut A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. I first discovered Marra back when I subscribed to Narrative Magazine. They published his Pushcart Prize-winning short story “Chechnya.” I was profoundly moved by that short story. I have an older sister who moved out before we got a chance to really bond as siblings, and the delicate and fragile way Marra captures the dynamic between two sisters separated by circumstance was only enriched by the amazing education I received about Chechnya.

He continued that education of post-Soviet Russia with A Constellation. The dynamic between sisters, neighbors, father and son: it’s all there. Set against an unnerving backdrop of violence and uncertainty. The plot is somewhat streamlined, and that makes way for the characters to really fill out the panoramic view of the Chechen conflict, the struggle for survival, the way militancy and depravation can make little Judases out of all of us. And the closing image of the book will knock you over. I won’t divulge; you should run out and secure a copy of it. Some rainy days are coming.

Right now I’m reading This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Díaz, much for the same reason I read Marra’s work. I like works of literature that tackle serious human issues but are set in a time and place that is foreign to me. I like to learn from a book, not only how to live, but how people I’ve never met might live. I knew nothing about the Dominican Republic until I read Díaz. I’m that white person who was too white for his MFA experience. But isn’t that cultural discomfort, that chasm of misunderstanding among people the very thing fiction can be purposed to remedy? I’m thankful for having read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I’m grateful to Díaz for writing it. (Even if I still don’t know how to pronounce “Wao”) To me, it seems almost the purpose of fiction and the responsibility of art: to cause that tension of the mind and heart when we encounter a world that is not our own. It forces us to see familiar subjects with new eyes.

As a writer, I read fiction also to become inspired. A turn of phrase, a devastating image, a poignant section of dialogue—these can often send me running back to my keyboard. As we all know, writing is a solitary endeavor and sometimes I get damned near the point where I throw my hands up and wonder why I bother. Then I read these mentioned works, or the lyrical prose of Stewart O’Nan or the organic and rich storytelling of Louise Erdrich and I clap the book closed and say, ‘Yes, this is why we create works of art.’ Art is the celebration and I’m fortunate to be a part of that celebration.
Visit Matthew McGevna's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland's novels include The Fool's Tale; Revenge of the Rose; Crossed; I, Iago; and Godiva. She is married to actor Billy Meleady and owns Leuco, a dog of splendid qualities.

Galland's new novel is Stepdog.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m usually a serial monogamist in my reading – I lose myself completely in something, finish it, and then move on to the next. At the moment, though, there’s a pile on my bedside table, and I despair of getting through them all before the end of summer. It’s a pretty eclectic stack.

I’ll start with Malcolm Gaskill’s Between Two Worlds: How the English Became American. This is research for my next novel (which I’m writing in collaboration with Neal Stephenson). I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, which means I’d been to Plimoth Plantation several times and done all the historical walks around Boston, but there’s 150 years between “Behold! the settlers” and “Behold! the revolutionaries” and that gap generally isn’t covered in the pop-cultural sense of American history – one might almost get the impression the Pilgrims got off the Mayflower and a few years later were throwing tea into Boston harbor. This book fills that gap, and does a masterful job of showing the shifting mentality among the white settlers – toward the native population, toward Mother England, toward themselves as a new society.

Another current research book for that same writing project (which leaps between historical eras) is, weirdly enough, one of my own novels: Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. From the research I did while writing this novel (which is about a crusade so appallingly ill-conceived and corrupt that it feels like a Monty Python sketch), I know the material very well, but I needed a quick refresher of certain facts, and the most efficient way to review those facts was, somewhat ironically, to reread a segment of my own fictional application of those facts. So I’m in the middle of that, which is both delightful and unsettling. I’m relieved to report that, reviewing it 8 years later, I'm enjoying it. On the other hand, I don’t think a writer ever stops wanting to rewrite, so it’s a tad excruciating to read material I cannot change.

I just finished Cat Warren’s What The Dog Knows, about the practice of training dogs (her dog in particular) to be “cadaver dogs” - in a larger sense, the book is about the bond between humans and dogs and how dogs use their sense of smell to understand the world. It’s a perfect read for dog-lovers; she and I were on a dog-writer-themed panel together, and I read it so I’d know where she was coming from, but immediately got into the narrative for its own sake. If you’re a dog-lover who is into true crime stories, it might feel like she wrote the book specifically for you.

I’m now in the middle of LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s debut novel Jam On The Vine. LaShonda and I were just on a panel together about developing characters’ voices, so (as with Cat’s book) I initially bought the book out of respect for a fellow panelist (the other panelist was Geraldine Brooks, whose works I already own and love). I find myself sipping it like warm honey-water. Her use of language is so sumptuous and the story is heartachingly timely and timeless – about race and racism in America, set in and around the Red Summer of 1919 when race riots nearly tore America apart even worse than what’s happening right now.

There is also Jennifer Steil’s The Ambassador’s Wife, a novel I’ve been anticipating reading for about a year, since the ARCs came out. (I know Jennifer from A Room Of Her Own, a wonderful organization for women writers that has a biennial writers retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico). It’s a gripping story set in a fictional Middle Eastern country, hinging upon a kidnapping… but there’s more going on than that.

I also just read an unpublished novel manuscript by an unpublished young writer, a piece I absolutely adore but which I cannot contractually discuss. So maybe it’s a tease for me to even mention it, except that it is indicative of the kind of reading I often do: as a sideline, I love working as a developmental editor. I don’t advertise it or do it often (I only take clients when I have time, and who are recommended to me by people I trust), but I enjoy it so much and feel it’s so important to the future of good storytelling, that if I had the time and means to offer my services for free, I would just do it all the time.

And finally, I just bought Hilary Mantel’s universally lauded Wolf Hall, but I haven’t started it yet. That one, from what everyone has said about it, requires reading-monogamy, so it will be my one true love when I have finished all the others. Given it’s historical fiction set in an era and nation I am perennially fascinated with, I don’t even have words to express how excited I am that it’s waiting for me.
Visit Nicole Galland's website.

The Page 69 Test: Stepdog.

My Book, The Movie: Stepdog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Douglas Corleone

Douglas Corleone is the author of contemporary crime novels and international thrillers. His debut novel One Man's Paradise was a finalist for the 2010 Shamus Award for Best First Novel and won the 2009 Minotaur Books / Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.

Corleone’s highly acclaimed international thriller Good As Gone introduced former U.S. Marshal Simon Fisk, and was followed by Payoff, which Booklist called “a lean, mean, pedal-to-the-metal thriller.” Corleone's new novel, Gone Cold, is the third Simon Fisk novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
A food jag is when a child will only eat one item, meal after meal. I sometimes go through periods like that with authors. When I first discovered Lee Child, I’d read nothing but Reacher novels for months at a time. If I fall behind on prolific authors such as Stephen King, I do the same. My current author jag is Harlan Coben. I originally picked him up because I was feeling nostalgic for my home state of New Jersey. But once Coben sinks his hooks into you, it’s incredibly difficult to break way.

Over the past few weeks I’ve read a number of his standalones, including The Innocent, Hold Tight, The Woods, Six Years, and Caught. I’m presently reading No Second Chance, which may be my favorite of the bunch. For me, Coben’s tales of suburban nightmares are refreshing, particularly now after having spent much of the past few years writing international thrillers like Payoff, Gone Cold, and Robert Ludlum’s The Janson Equation. That Coben can set pulse-pounding suspense in the towns in which I grew up says a lot for his talent. His characters are vivid, his dialogue crisp, his descriptions spare yet cinematic – Harlan Coben’s standalone thrillers are the whole package, and for writers like myself, they teach as much as they entertain.
Learn more about the book and author at Douglas Corleone's website.

The Page 69 Test: Good as Gone.

My Book, The Movie: Payoff.

The Page 69 Test: Gone Cold.

My Book, The Movie: Gone Cold.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stephanie Clifford

Stephanie Clifford is a Loeb-award winning reporter at the New York Times, where she has covered business, media and New York City. She is currently a Metro reporter covering federal and state courts in Brooklyn. She joined the Times in 2008 from Inc. magazine, where she was a senior writer. Clifford grew up in Seattle and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son and two cats.

Everybody Rise is Clifford's first book.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Cristina Henríquez' The Book of Unknown Americans. Henríquez's details give such a vivid sense of her characters' lives - the rundown Delaware apartment building that the characters live in, one of the father's jobs at a mushroom-packaging factory where he has to work in the dark. It's about moving to America, and it's also about family and sacrifice and what you do for your kids.

Next up is V.V. Ganeshananthan's Love Marriage, which I somehow missed when it came out. Good things come to those who wait, though - I've heard wonderful things about the book. Sugi and I were on the college paper together, and she is such a smart storyteller - I can't wait to see what she does in fiction form.

I've been a reporter at the New York Times for about eight years, and a little over a year ago, I began covering Brooklyn courts, which is everything from Mafia cases to gang trials to people being cleared of decades-old convictions after spending most of their lives in prison. I've gotten very interested in criminal justice issues, writ large, as a result of seeing what goes on here every day. I'm in the middle of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, which makes a compelling argument about the effects of mass incarceration.

One of the things I started doing as I began writing Everybody Rise was memorizing poetry to help with phrasing and rhythm. I began with the likes of Eliot (I had Prufrock in its entirety memorized at one point), Keats, Christina Rossetti - and I'm now moving into the contemporary realm, reading poets like Carol Ann Duffy.
Visit Stephanie Clifford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue