Friday, May 30, 2014

David Fuller

David Fuller's first novel, Sweetsmoke, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, as well as being shortlisted for a John Creasy "New Blood" Dagger Award in Great Britain. It was a Discover Great New Writers pick for Barnes & Noble, and an Original Voices pick for Borders.

Fuller's new novel is Sundance.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I was lucky enough to hear Stephen Carter speak back in 2008 in Nashville, and one of the things he said was that the dirty little secret of novelists is that they don’t read novels.

There is an element of truth to that. I rarely get to read novels unless I am between projects. I dislike having other writers’ voices in my head while I’m writing, and most of the time I’m doing research for my next project. Generally that means non-fiction.

I am always reading a dozen or more books at the same time. I am researching a new project, and I have recently finished two books that I enjoyed. They are fine pieces of work.

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz is one of those books that, once I saw my first novel in print, people thought would interest me. At that point, I was pretty much done with Civil War books. But time has passed, and it called out to me from my shelf.

I was particularly taken with Chapter 5, set in Kentucky, entitled Dying For Dixie. A white young man named Michael Westerman was driving his red pickup, flying a large rebel flag from a post in the bed of his truck. This was on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. It annoyed some nearby African American young men. It is possible that Westerman flipped them off and used a word that tends to incite outrage. Westerman’s wife, who was in the truck with her husband, claims they said and did nothing. Other black passengers, in the vehicles that chased them, say they did. Nevertheless, Westerman was shot during a high speed chase and subsequently died.

Westerman saw the rebel flag as decorative, thinking the colors looked good with his red pickup truck. He had no sense of the historical significance of the flag. The blacks who chased him were equally uninformed about the rebel flag. They perceived that whites used it just to annoy them. Horwitz makes clear in his narrative that this was a senseless act on everyone’s part. As he peels back the layers of the story, we find that no one was as they were being portrayed in the media.

Horwitz eloquently explains that something curious had happened to Todd County, where the incident took place, an act of what psychologists might term ‘recovered memory.’ Locals had reclaimed a past of their own creation, in which Todd County was staunch rebel territory. In reality, Todd County hadn’t been rebel country at all. During the Civil War, most of the county supported the Union. Yet, today, almost all whites proclaimed their county rebel territory, believing it had always been so.

The victim’s biography then underwent a rewrite, says Horwitz. Westerman was given a Confederate profile, and his use of the rebel flag was now a symbol of ancestral pride, a family history in which he had never had any interest when he was alive. Part of this was the family’s attempt to give larger meaning to a senseless death. Meanwhile, poor whites used the death to blame blacks for wanting to take away their pride and white rights. The blacks wondered how it had come to this, when before the shooting, blacks and whites had lived together genially. The KKK and Aryan Nation moved in, using Westerman’s death to recruit new members. Horwitz interviews all of them, and it is to his credit as a writer and as a man that he finds the humanity in everyone with whom he speaks. Yet these misunderstandings and grievances grow and seethe.

It is a complex and sad and human and painful story, and Tony Horwitz does a fine job reporting it. But as much as I learned, as much as I admired the book, it also made me sad for my country.

The other book I recently finished is The Presidents Club, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. In some ways, it is the antidote for the sadness I felt while reading Confederates in the Attic. The Presidents Club goes into detail of how former presidents of the United States regularly support the president in power. It begins with Hoover saving Truman’s presidency. Gibbs and Duffy write: “Truman’s needs and Hoover’s gifts were perfectly matched. Across a devastated Europe, a hundred million people were at risk of starvation.” In May of 1945, when Truman had been in office less than two months, a week after the German surrender, the world faced the most stupendous feeding problem in history. A “hideous famine facing 100 million European civilians.” “One in three Belgian children was tubercular; one in four children in Belgrade died before their first birthday.” Hoover had made his reputation as the man who saved millions from starvation as Woodrow Wilson’s food czar during the First World War. Hoover did it again, saving millions by knowing how to get food to the starving. The relationship between the two men was complicated, but Hoover often came to Truman’s aid, even when Truman found it politically expedient to campaign against Hoover’s presidency, knowing all the while that he was unfairly maligning Hoover.

The book gives perspective to the problems we face as a country by detailing recent history, and showing how presidents attempted to handle their crises, often with the help of the only other human beings on the planet who could possibly understand their crushing burden. Learning that former presidents, no matter their perspective or political party, were and continue to be willing to reach out and help the current president, gave me a small inner glow. Details of how important Eisenhower was to LBJ, the friendship and bond that developed between Carter and Ford after they were both out of power, the importance of Nixon to Clinton, all these astonishing stories made me feel better about my country, and positively hopeful. The support Obama currently receives from former presidents is encouraging, and I suspect, no matter your political beliefs, that you may find yourself hopeful as well. I recommend it as a salve, in the face of the bitter divisiveness that confronts us all.
Visit David Fuller's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Sweetsmoke.

The Page 69 Test: Sundance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sheila Kohler

Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She later lived in Paris for fifteen years, where she married, completed her undergraduate degree in Literature at the Sorbonne, and a graduate degree in Psychology at the Institut Catholique. She moved to the U.S. in 1981 and earned an MFA in Writing at Columbia. She currently teaches at Princeton University. Kohler's work has been featured in the New York Times, O Magazine and included in the Best American Short Stories. She has twice won an O’Henry Prize, as well as an Open Fiction Award, a Willa Cather Prize, and a Smart Family Foundation Prize. Her novel Cracks was nominated for an Impac Award, and has been made into a feature film to be distributed by IFC.

Kohler's new novel is Dreaming for Freud.

A few days ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Kohler's reply:
I have been rereading Freud's case histories for my novel which comes out this May and also for the classes I'm teaching this semester. The more I reread these five case histories: Dora, Little Hans, The Ratman; the Wolfman and the President Schreber the more skillful they seem to me. Freud, of course, was well-read and quotes often from Shakespeare, for example. Still his taste was conservative in literature as it was in art, and perhaps the influence of a mystery writer like Conan Doyle is prevalent here. He creates suspense and mystery from the start of each of these cases. What is wrong, we wonder with "Little Hans" for example, a lively five year old child who is suddenly terrified of horses.

The characters in these case histories are fascinating: the minor as well as the major ones. An example of a minor character is the seductive sister in the Wolfman case, who seduces him when he's a little boy. She is brilliant, writes poetry, and ultimately commits suicide by poison after a visit to Lermontov's grave.

I recommend all five of the case histories as excellent reading though one might conclude that our narrator, the Great Detective Dr. Freud, is a somewhat unreliable one.
Visit Sheila Kohler's website.

Writers Read: Sheila Kohler (December 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Chronicle of Secret Riven and The Mapmaker’s War, the first two books of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent (UK), Border Crossing, and Shambhala Sun, as well as on, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Weeklings.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Domingue's reply:
In October 2006, I started to research my second novel, which I expected to become a sprawling, epic story. Well, it did—and not in the way I anticipated. That one novel transformed into a trilogy which is deeply rooted in themes and motifs from fairy tales, folklore, and myth.

Even now, as I’m revising the third book (the second book released this month), I’m drawn to other stories that come from the same creative well.

Wolf Skin by Mary McMyne: I got a sneak peek at this forthcoming chapbook from Dancing Girl Press. Most of the poems are fairy tale retellings, visceral and sometimes disturbing. They are told from the psychic spaces of women who don’t get to speak for themselves in the traditional stories.

Accalia and the Swamp Monster by Kelli Scott Kelley: Kelli is a painter and mixed media artist whose work tends toward the surreal and archetypal. This year, she published a fairy tale about a girl who must brave the wider world to find and return her father’s stolen arms. I read this one slowly, lingering on the haunting illustrations.

A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond: Every few years, I reread a book I loved as a child. This one is an honest novel about grief—a woman dies in a car accident and leaves behind a husband and three children—depicting how each person copes, or doesn’t, with the loss. Bond mirrors this with a desolate setting, a small town in Wales, wonderfully depicted. But what grabbed me then and now is what happens to Peter, the middle child. He finds a harp’s tuning key, and every time he holds it, he has visions of 6th century Wales and the bard Taliesin.
Learn more about the book and author at Ronlyn Domingue's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's War.

My Book, The Movie: The Mapmaker's War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lisa O'Donnell

Lisa O'Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. Her debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize.

O'Donnell's new novel is Closed Doors.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. O'Donnell's reply:
I just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I haven’t seen the movie yet and was advised by a friend to read the book first. It’s told in the first person and Death is the narrator. He takes an interest in a little girl called Liesel Meminger, or The Book Thief because she steals book even though she can’t read in the beginning. Anyway an opportunist, Death saves her journal and tells us the story of her childhood. It’s beautifully executed.

I’m also reading The Rental Heart and other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan. It’s wonderful. I read a story from it every day. I love to draw it out. It feels wrong to devour it in one sitting. She’s from Scotland and she just sold her new book The Gracekeepers to Hogarth and it will be out in May 2015. You’ll be hearing a lot about this writer in the US in the not too distant future.

I’m also re-reading Atonement by Ian McEwan to remind me what good writing is. The structure of the book is impeccable. I do a little teaching and students are always asking me about structure.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa O'Donnell's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Death of Bees.

Writers Read: Lisa O'Donnell (December 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 23, 2014

Paul Durham

Paul Durham was raised in Massachusetts and attended college and law school in Boston. He now lives in Exeter, New Hampshire, with his wife, two daughters and an enormous, bushy creature the local animal shelter identified as a cat. He writes in an abandoned chicken coop at the edge of a swamp and keeps a tiny porcelain frog in his pocket for good luck.

His new book is The Luck Uglies.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Durham's reply:
I tend to read within the genre that I write, so that means I've been devouring a lot of middle grade fiction lately. On my desk at the moment is The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy, the third book in his League of Princes trilogy. I read the first two books in the series with my daughter and they inspired her to write her first fan letter. Chris writes humor as well as anyone and I was recently lucky to go on tour with him. He's also a great performer and the school visits were a ton of fun.

Next up, I'm very much looking forward to The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. His debut, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, was wildly original and inventive, and I'm looking forward to the darker, creepier tale that The Night Gardener promises to be.
Visit Paul Durham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman's journey to publication took thirteen years, after which she hit the road for seven months with her family on what Shelf Awareness called "the world's longest book tour". Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick, reviewed in the New York Times and San Francisco Journal of Books, won the Mary Higgins Clark award, and is nominated for a Barry. Milchman is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day and chair of International Thriller Writers' Debut Authors Program. Her second novel, Ruin Falls, just came out and she and her family are back on the road.

Recently I asked Milchman about what she was reading. Her reply:
They say the shortest story ever written is by Ernest Hemingway, and it goes like this: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

I am reading The Other Life by Ellen Meister, which references the Hemingway short-short-short. The heroine of this novel, Quinn, is pregnant with a baby who may or may not have a life-threatening deformity. It’s not the kind of book I write, or usually read, and when I started to consider why, it led me to this necklace bead of thoughts.

The Other Life is women’s fiction, which can be distinguished from suspense in many ways, including the fact that there is not the same sense of closure and justice restored. Meister’s premise is masterful: what if you could go through a portal and come out on the road not traveled? What if all the things that made your life hard or painful or disappointing were escapable?

But as I read, I have no sense that by doing so the heroine will be any happier or that events in her life will go more the way that they “should”. Perhaps there is no such thing as should—there’s just happenstance, or circumstance.

I admire this book, but it frightens me more than any suspense novel ever could. Because, you see, there is no right and necessary end I’m traveling toward. It’s like a roller coaster that could end on a peak or right in the middle of a slope…or never end at all.

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.
Visit Jenny Milchman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Cover of Snow.

The Page 69 Test: Cover of Snow.

Writers Read: Jenny Milchman (January 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 19, 2014

Reed Farrel Coleman

Reed Farrel Coleman’s love of storytelling originated on the streets of Brooklyn and was nurtured by his teachers, friends, and family.

Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the “noir poet laureate” in the Huffington Post, Coleman is the author of The Hollow Girl, the latest novel in the acclaimed Moe Prager series.

Coleman is a three-time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories—Best Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Short Story—and a three-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year. He has also won the Audie, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. Coleman's reply:
I have been long smitten by the work of the UK author Philip Kerr. His Bernie Gunther novels, along with Larry Block’s Scudder series, served as the inspiration for my soon to be retired protagonist, Moe Prager. But I am currently about one third done with Kerr’s new stand-alone Prayer. The story of a FBI agent’s odyssey in the world of big religion, big churches, and murder. Loving it. Also reading an atmospheric WWII novel by James Benn, The Rest is Silence. On deck is Megan Abbott’s The Fever. But the book that’s had the greatest impact on me this year was Dennis Tafoya’s The Poor Boy’s Game. A real masterwork that proves why crime fiction stands up to any kind of other writing you can throw at it.
Visit Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

My Book, the Movie: The Moe Prager Mystery Series.

The Page 69 Test: Innocent Monster.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mike Mullin

Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mullin juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out.

Mullin holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Sunrise is his third novel. Ashfall, the first novel of the trilogy, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. Mullin's reply:
Yesterday I read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. It’s a novel in verse—a format that will often dissuade me from picking up a book. Too often the format has nothing to do with the content, and thus feels like a gimmick that slows me down as a reader without accomplishing anything that couldn’t have been done with prose. But in The Crossover, Alexander uses his poems—particularly the ones relating to basketball—with a dazzling, slashing virtuosity. I could almost hear the music as I read: a crunk beat that could as easily back a Lil Jon song as a young adult novel.

Josh Bell and his twin brother are seventh grade basketball phenoms, leading their team on a seemingly inexorable march toward a championship. But their season and their previously unshakeable bond are threatened by the usual young adult problems: girl troubles, school troubles, and parent troubles. While the problems are typical—the way Alexander handles them is not: every time I thought he was heading for a stereotypical resolution, he performs a crossover of his own, intensifying the conflict that drives his novel. Fair warning—the ending, while brilliant—may well leave you crumpled at half-court in a puddle of tears.

I have only two minor quibbles. Early on, I occasionally found the viewpoint difficult to figure out—it wasn’t always clear which brother was playing and which was riding the bench. That may have more to do with my deficiencies as a reader of novels-in-verse than with Alexander’s book. My other quibble? I worry that the format will limit the book’s audience, and this is an outstanding book that deserves to be read widely.
Learn more about the book and author at Mike Mullin's website.

Writers Read: Mike Mullin (October 2011).

My Book, The Movie: Ashfall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 16, 2014

Corey Ann Haydu

Corey Ann Haydu, author of OCD Love Story, grew up in the Boston area but now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she drinks mochas and uses a lot of Post-it notes, habits she picked up while earning her MFA at the New School.

Her new novel is Life by Committee.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Haydu's reply:
I just finished an incredible memoir, Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst. I haven’t been this moved and this connected to a book in a long time. It reminded me of one of my very favorite books of all time, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. It’s about addiction, family dynamics, New York City, the life of a writer, huge literary figures and letting go. It’s at times hysterically funny and at other times heartbreakingly authentic and honest.

As a YA and MG writer I read a lot of YA and MG novels, but I’ve been needing a break from that recently. It was great to read something that gave me what I hope my books give some teens. A sense of real connection and the relief that someone has been through some of the things you yourself have been through. The magic of articulating the kind of pain that is challenging to articulate. This book was a huge gift in that way.
Learn more about the book and author at Corey Ann Haydu's website.

The Page 69 Test: OCD Love Story.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Anna Godbersen

Anna Godbersen, author of The Blonde, is the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe and Bright Young Things. She grew up in Berkeley, California, graduated from Barnard College, and lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Godbersen's reply:
One of the screwy things about book promotion is that by the time your novel comes out, the intensity of the writing -- which once seemed like the only worthwhile use of your days, and so vivid that the characters came with you to dreamland -- has sort of waned, and it feels difficult to explain the ideas that had you by the throat a year or more ago. Ashenden was among the spy fiction that I collected when I was writing the first draft of The Blonde (I was keeping myself on a pretty strict John le Carré, Graham Greene, and Ian Fleming diet in those days), but didn't get around to. I love The Razor's Edge, and Ashenden, the protagonist of these linked stories, is a literary man who, like Maugham himself, begins working for British Intelligence. This seemed like a good thing to read now, to sort of get myself into the right headspace for explaining why I felt compelled to write a spy novel starring Marilyn Monroe.

I always like to have some fiction and nonfiction going at the same time, and right now White Girls fills the latter category. I'm reading it slowly because I don't want it to end -- I read a little bit every night right before I go to bed. Hilton Als' writing feels like the perfect late night interlocutor, the genius friend you call after a dud date from the bathtub to talk about everything and nothing, dissect the culture, gab about what fascinates you, and not feel so alone.

I have always been a sucker for manly man writers -- the riff on 'now' late in For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of my favorite passages in all literature, and I have yet to find a Jim Harrison sentence I don't like -- and at some point I realized it was really important to always have a female novelist on my nightstand. That makes it sound like work, but it's the opposite; to be in the hands of a forceful woman storyteller is a relief and a homecoming. Right now that's Elena Ferrante's The Days of Abandonment. She writes female consciousness, about women's lives, as fearlessly as anybody.

And when Gabriel García Márquez died, I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera, which I've been meaning to revisit for years. Much of it I remember in detail, but it means something different to me now that I'm older. I've been reading this one slowly, too -- those sentences and images are worth sitting with for a stretch.

© 2014 Anna Godbersen, author of The Blonde
Visit Anna Godbersen's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Anna Godbersen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jen Calonita

Jen Calonita would never have fought her parents on going to sleepaway camp. She did, however, try to get out of a school camping trip for fear of spiders crawling into her sleeping bag. When she isn't writing, the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life and the Belles series can be found at the beach or floating in the pool.

Calonita latest novel is Summer State of Mind.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Complete Nothing by Kieran Scott

I feel guilty even saying this, but Complete Nothing is the second book in the True Romance series and the first book isn't out for a few more weeks! One of the benefits of having fellow author friends is that I can beg, and beg, and beg until they give me advance copies of their books! I'm not opposed to begging when the books are this good. I loved the first book in the series, Only Everything, when Kieran sent it to me to read this winter. The story follows the goddess Eres, who is banished to Earth by Zeus when he finds out she's been hiding out with her boyfriend Orion who was basically killed hundreds of years ago. If Eres wants to save Orion from Zeus's wrath, she must make three love matches on Earth without the use of her powers and she must do it before a sand timer runs out. Eres--now calling herself True--enrolls in high school and gets to work, but making love connections isn't as easy as she thought it would be when she can't read people's minds!

This is the perfect series for summer. It's romantic, intense (Gods are out to stop True from succeeding) and funny. True thinks cellphones are "soul-sucking devices." Her mom, Aphrodite, who is banished as well, gets a job at Perfumania! I love Kieran's attention to detail. I always feel like I'm right there in the scene with her characters. And I love how Kieran makes every story have a contemporary realistic fiction slant. Those are the types of books I love to read and I know you won't be disappointed if you pick up this one.
Visit Jen Calonita's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jen Calonita and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Writers Read: Jen Calonita (March 2011).

Writers Read: Jen Calonita (May 2012).

The Page 69 Test: Summer State of Mind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kim Culbertson

Sourcebooks Fire published Kim Culbertson’s award winning first YA novel Songs for a Teenage Nomad (2010, originally Hip Pocket Press, 2007) and her second YA novel Instructions for a Broken Heart (2011) which was named a Booklist 2011 Top Ten Romance Title for Youth and won the 2012 Northern California Book Award for YA Fiction.

Culbertson latest novel is Catch a Falling Star.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass

I first fell in love with Julia Glass when I read Three Junes. Her characters have such depth and she writes with clear-eyed compassion about the complexity of family and love. When I finished Three Junes, she left me longing to spend more time with those characters and then (yay!!) she offers up And the Dark Sacred Night in which several of the characters from Three Junes emerge again alongside a rich mix of new ones. What a gift.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

I’ve always enjoyed a Maeve Binchy novel; she’s like curling up with a familiar friend near a warm fire while the rain falls outside. Because this book was her final one, completed days before she died, it held a special brand of love in it – an author’s farewell.

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler

This is a gorgeous, big-hearted novel from an author I can’t wait to read more of – a ballad not only to friendship and small towns, but also to love in all its gritty forms.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This is currently our family read and, as we just finished all the Harry Potter books, it had some tough shoes to fill. Greek gods in a modern retelling and the antics of Percy and his crew are proving quite capable of capturing our hearts.

Two young adult novels I adored in hardback are recently out in paperback: Golden by Jessi Kirby and Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy. Both novels should be on teens’ reading lists this summer for their interesting, flawed main characters and the complex journeys we get to take with them.
Visit Kim Culbertson's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kim Culbertson and Maya.

The Page 69 Test: Catch a Falling Star.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kate Racculia

Kate Racculia grew up in Syracuse, New York, where she played bassoon in her high school band. She received her MFA from Emerson and is the author of This Must Be the Place and the new novel, Bellweather Rhapsody.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Racculia's reply:
The last book I fell in love with was My Misspent Youth: Essays by Meghan Daum. I don’t typically seek out essay collections, which may be part of the reason why this book—like David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again—totally blew me away. It felt so fresh yet so familiar, hysterical and smart and quietly heartbreaking. Her essay about being a lapsed oboist, “Music is My Bag,” sang to me, as a fellow former double-reed player myself (albeit a lapsed bassoonist). Whether she was explaining the no-man’s land that exists between a relationship online and in person, the literal and figurative cost of being a young professional writer, or her soul-deep aversion to wall-to-wall carpeting, I felt as though Meghan Daum had plugged her brain straight into mine and said, Hey, here is a new way to think. And also, hey, I think that way too.

Before My Misspent Youth, I’d been carrying on with Pamela Erens’ The Virgins, which I picked up after months of hearing its praises sung. I’m always skeptical of coming to a book with expectations—it isn’t fair to anyone—but in this case, even my expectations weren’t high enough. The Virgins gutted me. It’s a prep school story, a teenage love story, a story about privilege and who tells stories—who has the right, and who takes the right. And it’s a master class in point of view while simultaneously being an intensely beautiful, pleasurable read.
Visit Kate Racculia's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Johnny Shaw

Johnny Shaw was born and raised on the Calexico/Mexicali border, the setting for his Jimmy Veeder Fiasco novels, Dove Season and Plaster City. He is also the author of the Anthony Award-winning adventure novel, Big Maria.

His shorter work has appeared in Thuglit, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, and numerous anthologies. He is the creator and editor of the fiction magazine, Blood & Tacos, which recently added a phone app, a Podcast, and a book imprint to its empire.

Shaw received his MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA and over the course of his writing career has seen his screenplays optioned, sold, and produced. For the last dozen years, he has taught writing, both online and in person. He has taught at Santa Barbara City College, UC Santa Barbara, LitReactor, and numerous writing conferences.

Shaw lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, artist Roxanne Patruznick.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Shaw's reply:
With a few exceptions, I’ve been focused on crime fiction for the last few months. It’s always been my pleasure reading, so I tend to default to that quadrant of the to-be-read stacks when I’m looking for a book. I’ve read a lot of great books recently and would encourage people to seek these out.

The Little Boy Inside and Other Stories by Glenn Gray - One of the best short story collections I’ve read in a long time. Strange, compelling, and incredibly unique, Gray’s idiosyncratic stories of bodybuilders, scut monkeys, and strange happenings stuck with me for a long time after I put the book down.

The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson - Eventually my characters Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves are going to have to have an old-fashioned Marvel Team-Up with Boo and Junior, Robinson’s dynamic duo. While the urban setting and our point of view and writing styles are completely different, Robinson shares my affinity for mayhem and dark humor. Hard-boiled, funny, but grounded and human. It’s hard to believe that this is his first novel.

Rake by Scott Phillips - Everyone should be reading Scott Phillips. If you aren’t, get on it. He’s the only author that I can name that can balance true noir with laugh-out-loud humor. I mean dark, dark stuff that still finds the funny. It’s hard to explain how difficult that is to pull off. My books are hard-boiled and funny, but they aren’t noir. My characters live in a just world, the good guys usually win. Not in Phillips’ books. What he does is amazing. Take Rake, for example. The elevator pitch is Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, if you took Lou Ford and made him a soap opera actor in Paris (I’m not very good at elevator pitches). I haven’t read his new one Hop Alley yet, but it’s at the top of my list.

Federales by Christopher Irvin - This novella from first-time author Irvin is fast and lean, no fat to slow it down. Sharp prose, strong characterization, and painful empathy. A parable told within the arena of Mexico’s disastrous drug war. It captures the futility and tragedy of a country at war with itself. Sad and poignant and definitely worth picking up.

A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride - This one doesn’t come out until June, so write down the title or just pre-order it now. With his first novel Frank Sinatra in a Blender, McBride hit the ground running with a manic, action-packed fiasco of his own. And while his new novel is anything but subdued, it’s a much more ambitious, yet controlled novel. Capturing the people of Gasconade County in Missouri honestly, warts and all, this has some of the most memorable characters you’ll ever run across. I’ll read everything McBridee writes.
Visit Johnny Shaw's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Daniel Friedman

Daniel Friedman is a graduate of the University of Maryland and NYU School of Law. His first novel, Don't Ever Get Old was nominated for the Edgar, Thriller, Anthony and Macavity awards, and was optioned for film by the producers of the "Sherlock Holmes" movies.

Friedman's new book is Don't Ever Look Back.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
This isn't particularly interesting or unusual, but I've been reading Donna Tartt lately. I read The Goldfinch , and when I finished it, I went and got The Secret History, which I hadn't read before. And I am probably going to read The Little Friend next, although I've heard that one isn't as good.

There's been some backlash to The Goldfinch since it won the Pulitzer this week, but it's a really excellent book, and Tartt deserves a Pulitzer at least as much as Jeffrey Eugenides.

She gets a lot of criticism for how long her books are, but she's not spending those pages writing ornate, decorative sentences. She's an expert at evoking a mood or an emotional response in the reader. In The Secret History, she gets the reader on board with the plan to murder Bunny, by tormenting everyone over hundreds of pages with his petty vindictiveness and extortion, and then she makes the reader regret it just as much as Richard does by the end of the book, by forcing you along on the trip to the funeral.

It would be easy to turn a character like Julian, the imperious classics professor, into a sort of ridiculous, effete clown. Tartt, instead, does the difficult and deliberate work of building him up into a towering romantic figure before she shreds his mystique in the back half of the book.

The Goldfinch is much more complex and ambitious than The Secret History; there's clearly a lot she's trying to accomplish. Her characters are very well-drawn, and her settings are very vivid. She creates a real sense of place around the nearly empty desert subdivision in Vegas, and around Hobie's cluttered Greenwich Village antiques shop. And you really feel Theo's distress as his life is disrupted, first by his mother's death, and then by his father reappearing to take him to Vegas.

I'm contributing a short story to an Akashic Noir anthology, so I've been reading a lot of short fiction lately as well; This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz and Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, as well as some of the other Noir anthologies.
Visit Daniel Friedman's blog.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Ever Look Back.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tania Unsworth

Tania Unsworth is a British writer living in Boston. She is the author of two books for adults published in the UK.

The One Safe Place is her first book for children.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Unsworth's reply:
What I’m reading usually depends on what else is happening in my life. At the moment I’m feeling stressed (a book that’s turning out harder to write than I thought) and at these times I turn to what I call “comfort reading”; certain books that I have read and reread throughout my life and which provide me with mysterious reassurance. Examples include TH White’s The Once and Future King, the novels of PG Wodehouse, anything written by Barbara Pym and all twenty astounding volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series.

Right now I’m traveling again with the Captain and his complicated companion through volume 18, The Yellow Admiral. Taken individually, the books are rambling, apparently plot-less works, crammed with largely incomprehensible (at least to me) sailing terms, long descriptions of complicated battles at sea (the books are set during the Napoleonic Wars) and a bewildering host of characters, geographical settings, historical details and facts about flora and fauna. But taken together, the books make up one complete novel, as long and as full of marvels as a trip to the far side of the world itself. Written in beautifully spare and elegant prose, the adventures of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin (surely as iconic a pair as any in literature) are described with such humor, depth and sheer intelligence that I find something fresh and astonishing each time I return to them.
Visit Tania Unsworth's website.

The Page 69 Test: The One Safe Place.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 2, 2014

Evie Wyld

Evie Wyld grew up in Australia and London, where she currently resides. She has won the John Llewellyn-Rhys prize and a Betty Trask Award, and she has been short-listed for the Orange Award for New Writers, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Costa Novel Award.

Her latest novel, All the Birds, Singing, is now available in the US.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Wyld's reply:
I’ve been reading 1950s cookery books a little bit over the last couple of months - mainly they’re Good Housekeeping editions - I’ve become sort of fascinated by things in aspic. They’ve always interested me, but I didn’t know about the sheer variety of horrible things you could make.

I also just finished The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which was one of the most exciting, beautiful books I’ve read in recent history. It gives every character the space that they need, it doesn’t skate over a single thing. It’s a tough read - the subject is the Thai-Burma Death Railway and the POWs who built it, but it reminded me what art is possible in writing.

I’m dipping in and out of Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith. It’s non-fiction, written by a 90 year old man, and the voice is tremendous. He’s lived through some fascinating times and there’s something great about hearing his voice, which acknowledges his place in the world - something that the voices of elderly people rarely find. It’s brilliant.
Follow Evie Wyld on Twitter and visit her website.

Learn about Wyld's five notable books about farmers.

The Page 69 Test: After the Fire, a Still Small Voice.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Evie Wyld & Juno and Hebe.

--Marshal Zeringue