Monday, June 24, 2019

Peter Houlahan

Peter Houlahan is a freelance writer contributing to a wide range of publications. In his career as an emergency medical technician, he has written a number of articles related to his profession. He holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. A native Southern Californian, Houlahan now lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

His new book is Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History.

Recently I asked Houlahan about what he was reading. His reply:
Mayflower: A Story of Courage Community and War. Nathanial Philbrick. It doesn’t get any better than Nathanial Philbrick when it comes to history writers, and his wheelhouse is anything maritime. His sense of story arc and trenchant prose makes fiction writers envious, but he never sensationalizes or trivializes his subjects. The Nantucket-based writer is happy to take the reader on little field trips into related subjects and somehow never make it feel tangential. History of maritime cannibalism anyone? You never feel that he comes to a subject with an agenda or ideological chip on his shoulder, but he is not afraid to set the record straight when it comes to our most cherished national tales, as he does here in Mayflower. Often for better and sometimes for worse, the Pilgrims were certainly not who you thought they were.

Where the Money Is: True Tales from the Bank Robbery Capital of the World. William J. Rehder and Gordon Dillow. I love little known facts and stories that absolutely astonish me when I learn of them. “Of all the bank robberies in the nation over the past three or four decades, at least 25 percent of them have gone down within commuting distance of the soaring white spire of [Los Angeles] City Hall,” writes former FBI Special Agent William Rehder. Rehder is talking about the epidemic of bank robberies that swept the L.A. metro area during the 1980s and early 1990s when he was the head of the bank robbery squad for the Fed’s L.A. field office. So how bad was it? Really bad. Between 1985 and 1995 there were 17,106 bank licks in the area, including 2,641 in 1992 alone, one every 45 minutes of each banking day. Rehder and Dillow – a veteran crime journalist and war correspondent – tell this frequently absurd, often terrifying, always entertaining story of a crime wave that seems almost unimaginable by today’s standards.
Visit Peter Houlahan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Ashley Dyer

Ashley Dyer is the pseudonym for prize-winning novelist Margaret Murphy working in consultation with policing and forensics expert, Helen Pepper.

Dyer's new novel is The Cutting Room.

Recently I asked Murphy about what she was reading. Her reply:
I bought a copy of November Road by Lou Berney at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Vancouver, after numerous attendees recommended it to me. Berney was awarded the LCC ‘Lefty’ award for Best Mystery for this novel, and it’s a worthy winner (his acceptance speech was a hoot, too!). A road trip novel—even a romance of sorts—and a tense and suspenseful one, set as it is against a backdrop of mafia affiliations and political shenanigans. Berney draws you in to a terrifying world of psychopaths who own yachts and have the means to make people disappear in horrifying ways. But this clever, stylish, atmospheric and immersive novel also explores the influence of the past on our future, the redemptive power of goodness, and the possibility of second chances. November Road is masterful and filmic—a must-read for 2019.

I love researching the background to my novels, and I’m currently reading The Panama Papers, by Süddeutsche Zeitung journalists Obermayer and Obermaier. I feared it might be dry and difficult, but it had me hooked on the first page. Over the period of a year, between 2015-2016, the two journalists received texts, contracts, emails and spreadsheets from an anonymous source, detailing the ways in which prime ministers, dictators, oligarchs, sports officials, major banks, arms smugglers, mafiosi, diamond miners, art dealers—and celebrities—were flouting international law to launder money, or evade tax. The clarity of the writing makes the subject matter totally accessible, and the human stories behind the criminal activities which stretch right around the globe, reads like a fictional thriller, even though it’s very much real-life in all its ugliness.
Visit Ashley Dyer's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Michael Blumlein

Michael Blumlein is the author of several novels and story collections, including the award-winning The Brains of Rats. He has twice been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and twice for the Bram Stoker. His story "Fidelity: A Primer" was short-listed for the Tiptree. He has written for both stage and film, including the award-winning independent film Decodings (included in the Biennial Exhibition of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and winner of the Special Jury Award of the SF International Film Festival). His novel X,Y was made into a feature-length movie. Until his recent retirement Dr. Blumlein taught and practiced medicine at the University of California in San Francisco.

Blumlein's new novella is Longer.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished reading the table of contents of the latest issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. Not too much to excite me in this one, save for an article on stem cells (deliberately positioned, no doubt, as a dissenting view to our government's anti-stem cell, anti-science madness.) Apart from its science, the NEJM has reliably interesting articles on the ethics, politics and public policy concerning health.

Next up is this week's Nature, which has some cool looking research on genomics, biology and neuroscience. These two journals and a handful of others form the bulk of my non-fiction reading. They keep me more or less abreast of what's happening in the world of health and biology. They feed my brain.

Fiction feeds my heart and soul, as well as my brain. I'll read anything and everything, and I do, provided it doesn't put me to sleep.

What keeps me awake? Pretty much what you'd expect: a book that makes me think and feel, preferably deeply; a book that makes me shake my head in wonder; that makes me laugh; that inspires me (usually to stop reading and get to work); that lets me escape, but never for too too long.

Recently, I was blown away by Cassandra at the Wedding, by Dorothy Baker. A brilliant, beautifully written, psychologically astute novel about twins, loss, attempted suicide and...I won't divulge the rest. With a brief but memorable appearance by a rarity in fiction: a sympathetic and very human psychiatrist. This is a book you'll want to tell your friends about.

This one too: Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack. Poetic, expansive, generous in nearly every way. A man's life as father, son, husband, lover, and engineer unspools in a single sentence. McCormack makes it work, and you barely notice. It feels like a bedtime story. The voice is everything.

Clay's Ark, by Octavia Butler: Biological science fiction at its finest. Written 35 years ago and reads as if it were penned yesterday. Unputdownable. Chilling, unflinching, humanistic and then some. It turns out that love and tolerance do help when you're dealing with...well, with anyone.

The Queen's Gambit, by Walter Tevis. An old favorite. My copy is coming apart at the seams. A troubled orphan finds her way, a prodigy comes of age, an addict gets straight. The early scene with the janitor in the basement kills me every time.

The Chill, by Ross Macdonald. Sharp-eyed, humane, and relentless. The characters vibrate off the page. The ending is twisted and perfect.

Pain: A Political History, by Keith Wailoo. Non-fiction and riveting. This is the story of pain and its treatment in the US from the 19th century to today. A master historian and storyteller, Wailoo examines our understanding of pain, our definition of pain, and our perception of pain through the decades. Shows the pendulum of treatment swinging back and forth, often holding whole groups hostage to misapprehension and prejudice. He pins today's opioid crisis squarely where it belongs: on everyone. Big pharma, government, doctors, nurses, patients, pharmacists. How it did get so bad? Greed? Tunnel Vision? Deregulation? Put them together and what does it spell: free market capitalism.
Visit Michael Blumlein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Travis Rieder

Travis Rieder, PhD, wants to help find a solution to America’s opioid crisis—and if that sounds a bit too lofty, he’d settle for making clear, incremental progress in a responsible, evidence-based way. A philosopher by training, bioethicist by profession, and communicator by passion, Rieder writes and speaks on a variety of ethical and policy issues raised by both prescription and illicit opioid use.

This wasn’t always his beat, though. Both in his doctoral training at Georgetown University, and as faculty at Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute of Bioethics, Rieder published widely on a variety of topics in philosophy and ethics. His interest in opioids came about suddenly, after a motorcycle accident, when he took too many pills for too long and suddenly found himself with a profound dependency. In the wake of that experience, he became driven to discover why medicine is so bad at dealing with prescription opioids, and how that problem is related to the broader drug overdose epidemic.

Rieder’s first article on the topic, in the journal Health Affairs, was one of the most-read essays in 2017 and was excerpted by the Washington Post. Since then, Rieder has co-authored a Special Publication of the National Academy of Medicine on physician responsibility for the opioid epidemic, written several essays for the popular media, and spoken widely on the topic to physicians, medical students, and the general public.

Rieder's new book is In Pain: A Bioethicist's Personal Struggle with Opioids.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m just finishing Judith Grisel’s beautifully-written Never Enough, in which she combines her own experience as someone in long-term recovery with her expertise as a neuroscientist. I have a bit of a complicated relationship with this book, as I worry a bit about some of her central ways of framing the discussion around addiction—in particular, with the way that tolerance and physiological dependence is sometimes framed as part of the problem of addiction (I go to great lengths in my own book to show how dependence and addiction can come apart from one another). However, Grisel is a compelling teacher, and I learned a lot from reading her book. Never Enough was a great read.

Related to one of my other major areas of interest, I’m also working my way through David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth. So far, it feels mostly like a longer, more detailed version of his quite famous essay from New York Magazine, but that’s not a bad thing. It was a compelling and important essay, and the book is the same—perhaps even scarier, but we need to be scared. Anyone who doesn’t fully understand the stakes regarding climate change ought to read this book.

I just started Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness, which is a book-length argument for the claim that the white, working-class population in America is promoting, voting for, and helping to enact policies that are killing them (as in the case, for instance, of gun laws and access to health care). It’s a deeply-researched book that feels comfortable for someone like me, who is accustomed to reading academic literature; it may be a bit dense for the more casual reader. But the interviews and stories are fascinating, and Metzl is a wonderfully clear writer.

Lastly: I’ve been keeping Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime on my side table for months, reading a chapter here and there when I need an escape from the darkness I typically engage with. And boy does it work. Noah is a captivating storyteller, but what’s really impressive is the sophistication he exhibits when pulling themes from his stories together. It’s a remarkable achievement, and I feel like I’m being given insights and having secrets revealed to me every time I pick it up—all the while chuckling out loud. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading this book.
Visit Travis Rieder's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 17, 2019

Laura Tucker

Laura Tucker is a writer and former literary agent who has coauthored books on a wide range of topics, including health, fitness, parenting, and self-help. Her credits include Still Room for Hope by Alisa Kaplan, Standing Tall by C. Vivian Stringer, Shalom in the Home by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and Training for Life by Debbie Rocker. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Tucker's debut novel is All the Greys on Greene Street.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Tucker's reply:
I went on a bookseller tour last month, which meant I talked to a lot of children’s booksellers, and the middle-grade that many of them recommended was The Line Tender by Kate Allen. They were right. I devoured it—a beautiful, tough, funny, tender book about love and terrible loss.

Another middle-grade I loved recently is The Parker Inheritance, a tribute to another one of my favorites, The Westing Game. Varian Johnson skillfully sets his story against the backdrop of some very difficult American history. At one point (and I’m paraphrasing), an older character says to two modern-day kids: You can read all you want about segregation, but that doesn’t convey at all the lived, everyday experience of what it was like to be black in the South in the nineteen-fifties. And then we drop back in time—and Johnson uses these amazing historical characters he’s developed to show us. I thought it was masterfully done, not to mention that he’s also written a great mystery and a very moving middle-grade about friendships and family secrets.

Right now, I’m (re)reading The Hot Rock, by Donald Westlake. I think my next middle-grade is going to have a confidence game/caper aspect to it, and you can’t do better than Donald Westlake. I courted my husband with crime fiction—James Crumley, Chester Himes, James Ellroy—but especially Westlake, with the result that we have two entire bookshelves devoted to him: every Parker, every Dortmunder, every standalone, not to mention obscure sex novels he wrote under different names, even a quickie biography he wrote of Elizabeth Taylor.

It’s very relaxing to be in the hands of someone this expert. I love the joy you can feel Westlake taking in the language he uses, his sense of humor (even in the books that aren’t funny), and the way he makes even the most minor character count.

Next up: Heroines, by Kate Zambreno, about the wives and mistresses of modernism, which was recommended to me in a mic drop of a book talk by a bookseller in Chicago. Also Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, a total immersion in a wildly imaginative world, complete with gorgeous language. I can’t wait.
Visit Laura Tucker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Bryan Reardon

Bryan Reardon is the author of Finding Jake and The Real Michael Swann. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Bryan worked for the State of Delaware for more than a decade, starting in the Office of the Governor. He holds a degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with his wife and kids.

His new novel is The Perfect Plan.

Recently I asked Reardon about what he was reading. His reply:
I am a chronic re-reader. Since I started writing professionally (about twelve years ago), I found it harder and harder to read new material. Sometimes I wonder if I am competitive. Or if I'm afraid that other plotlines might influence my own. It might be that I spend hours a day reading, and the joy I used to find in it has become more of a labor.

Over the past year, however, I have been so lucky. My fortune brought me into contact with three amazing authors. Their books have rekindled my desire to read more. And I owe them greatly for that.

First, it was Karen Dionne and her amazing book The Marsh King's Daughter. In her work, I was transported to an entirely new world. Pick this book up, open to the first page, and you won't come up for air until it's over. You will visit a place so close, but so foreign, that you will wonder what other hidden treasures are sprinkled across the United States.

Second, I read Alison Gaylin's If I Die Tonight. As a writer, the first thing that struck me about this book is the author's utterly effortless third-person. I admit, I felt jealous. But the story grabbed me so quickly, and the characters lived so brightly, that I finished it in less than a week. She is a master of suspense.

And finally, Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Her voice is so unique. Her writing, so engaging. And her story so authentic. As I flew through the pages, marveling at her impeccable pacing, I found myself wondering how I could have stopped reading so many years ago.
Read more about The Perfect Plan.

Follow Bryan Reardon on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 13, 2019

D.B. Jackson

D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of more than twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Demon, is the second volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. Time’s Children is volume one; Jackson is working on the third book, Time’s Assassin.

As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy; the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood; a contemporary urban fantasy trilogy, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson; and most recently, Knightfall: The Infinite Deep, a tie-in with the History Channel’s Knightfall series.

Coe has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Last fall, soon after the release of Time’s Children, the first book in my epic fantasy/time travel series, The Islevale Cycle, I wrote a “Writer’s Read” post for this site. At the time, as usual, I was reading a variety of things: novels, short stories, magazines. Like so many writers, I read widely and eclectically. Being a professional writer means as well being a professional reader.

Today, only a week or two removed from the release of Time’s Demon, the second Islevale novel, I could easily write a similar post. I’ve recently read Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest novel, A Brightness Long Ago, so that I could review it for another site. It’s brilliant, as is all of Kay’s work. And, as it happens, I am currently re-reading his Fionavar Tapestry, a favorite of mine from long ago that I return to again and again, like comfort food for the spirit. I have been reading the most recent issue of The New Yorker magazine, savoring articles about politics and science, sports and the arts. I have recently read two books as a Beta reader for friends who are also professional writers, and I have several other novels and short story collections either underway or in the queue. I have no shortage of reading material, and I could easily write paragraphs about it all.

Not too long ago, though, I finished reading yet another book that was unusual for me: Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run. It was an unlikely choice for a couple of reasons. First, while I’ve always liked Springsteen’s music, I’ve never been a huge fan. And second, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, and I certainly don’t read a lot of biographies or memoirs. A friend recommended the book to me, and after reading so much fiction, particularly in my genre, I decided the change would do me good. I was right.

Born to Run is not a perfect book. Not by a long shot. There is a lot of ego here, a lot of self-justification as he recounts the ups and downs of various friendships, and a good deal of minutia about the ins and outs of various tours and recording stints.

But there is also gold in these pages, especially for those of us who make our livings creatively.

One passage that fascinated me related that life-altering, culture-shattering moment when he, and the rest of America, first heard the Beatles. It was 1964, and Bruce was fifteen years old.
I first laid ears on them while driving with my mom up South Street, the radio burning brighter before my eyes as it strained to contain the sound, the harmonies of “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Why did it sound so different? Why was it so good? Why was I this excited?
I remember reading Lord of the Rings and The Earthsea Trilogy, and, yes, Guy Kay’s Fionavar books, and feeling exactly the same thing. I had glimpsed a new world of creation and imagination – this thing called “fantasy and science fiction” – a world I’d never known existed. My life would never be the same. More, I had seen my own future. Because I knew early on, the way so many aspiring musicians did hearing the Beatles, that I wanted to create magical stories too. I wanted to be like my new-found heroes.

At another point, Springsteen says, “I was not modest in the assessment of my abilities. Of course I thought I was a phony – that is the way of the artist – but I also thought I was the realest thing you’d ever seen.”

As a creator I relate on a deep level to these sentiments. On the one hand, so many writers I know, myself included, battle with moments of self-doubt, of imposter syndrome. That really is “the way of the artist.” But as writers, we also harbor an uncommon arrogance. We write stories for a living, and we tell readers, “This story is good. Really good. It’s so good, this story that I have made up, that you should spend your money and your time to read it.” That tension, which Springsteen describes so well, is central to what we do. I actually wrote about this not so long ago, in an essay called “The Arrogant Imposter.”

I read a lot of books over the course of a year, and Bruce’s autobiography won’t be close to the best of 2019’s crop. Still, reading his reflections on his career path, and seeing in them a certain universality of the artistic experience, was both edifying and inspiring. To Springsteen’s credit, I’ve thought about his book a great deal since reading it, not just because it was an entertaining read, but because it made me think in new ways about what it means to be a writer.
Learn more about the book and author at D. B. Jackson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Thieftaker.

The Page 69 Test: Time’s Children.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

David Drake

The Army took David Drake from Duke Law School and sent him on a motorized tour of Viet Nam and Cambodia with the 11th Cav, the Blackhorse. He learned new skills, saw interesting sights, and met exotic people who hadn’t run fast enough to get away.

Drake returned to become Chapel Hill’s Assistant Town Attorney and to try to put his life back together through fiction making sense of his Army experiences.

He describes war from where he saw it: the loader’s hatch of a tank in Cambodia. Drake's military experience, combined with his formal education in history and Latin, has made him one of the foremost writers of realistic action SF and fantasy. His bestselling Hammer’s Slammers series is credited with creating the genre of modern Military SF. He often wishes he had a less interesting background.

Drake's new novel is To Clear Away the Shadows.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Drake's reply:
Rustics in Rebellion/George Alfred Townsend

Townsend was a correspondent from Tidewater Maryland writing for northern papers during the Civil War. He was strongly opposed to Secession but he understood the common people who were doing the fighting--and who were being trampled by being in the path of the armies. He was one of those people himself.

This is an honest account of the civil war by a non-combatant who went where the fighting was so that he could report it. It is full of homely details, like writing a note for an illiterate private to his wife and baby girl before the Battle of Cedar Mountain, who says that he'll write more if he survives.

He didn't survive.

This is war at the bottom level, the reality, with some heroism but no bombast. It is a powerful book for its worm's eye truth.

We Fought at Arnhem/Mike Rossiter

This is something between oral history and a general history of operation Market Garden, the Bridge Too Far (in the words of one of the British Airborne officers who led the disastrous assault).

Rossiter extensively interviewed three survivors. They were common soldiers who had gotten into the Airborne more or less by happenstance. They went where their superiors directed and did the jobs for which they were trained. High command failed them at every stage from planning, to assigning the task of linking up with them to Guards units rather than to an experienced breakthrough battalion like the Sherwood Rangers which would not have stopped on the outskirts of success as the Guards did.

The men on the ground didn't fail.

This is an account of common soldiers doing their jobs under crushing opposition, until the opposition crushes them. This is an account of ordinary people who don't quit.
Visit David Drake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Jennifer Ryan

Jennifer Ryan grew up in Britain and moved to Washington, DC fifteen years ago. Previously a non-fiction book editor, she now writes novels set in Second World War Britain and inspired by her grandmother’s stories of the war.

Her second novel, The Spies of Shilling Lane, tells the tale of a woman who heads into the London Blitz to see her daughter, only to find her missing.

Recently I asked Ryan about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently read The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, and even though I was afraid that it was going to be incredibly harrowing, I found it heartfelt, inspiring, and even upbeat.

The story is based on the life of a Jewish Slovakian man who was transported to Auschwitz early in the Second World War. There he is taken under the wing of the tattooist to be a junior, a job which allows him privileges and extra rations. Then he meets a young woman and falls in love.

I was utterly gripped by this book. The characters leaped off the page and stayed in my heart well after I finished. I learned more about the era and the horrors they endured, but more than that, I was inspired by how human nature withstands and overcomes the horrific realities. It was incredibly moving.
Visit Jennifer Ryan's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Spies of Shilling Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 7, 2019

Roxana Robinson

Roxana Robinson is the author of ten books - six novels, three collections of short stories, and the biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were chosen as New York Times Notable Books, two as New York Times Editors’ Choices.

Robinson's new novel is Dawson's Fall.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished Anna Burns’ wonderful novel, Milkman. Burns does something very interesting with form: she uses no names or identifiers. The protagonist is called “Middle Sister,” and you must work out how many siblings she has. “Milkman” turns out to refer to two people, neither of whom has a name. This tactic requires you to form your own impressions and identifying characteristics. The narrative takes place in Ireland, but she doesn’t say north or south; she mentions “the right religion” and “the wrong religion,” so that the reader must constantly consider what those epithets might mean, and what the reader’s own stereotypes might be. This bracing style puts demands on the reader. More importantly, she writes starkly about the insidious effects of war on the civilian population, most specifically on women. This is a subject not often taken up, and not often treated with such depth and imagination and power. It’s a remarkable book.
Visit Roxana Robinson’s website.

My Book, The Movie: Dawson's Fall.

The Page 69 Test: Dawson's Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue