Sunday, January 21, 2018

James Anderson

James Anderson was born in Seattle and raised in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. He is a graduate of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and received his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Boston. For many years he worked in book publishing. Other jobs have included logging, commercial fishing and, briefly, truck driver. He currently divides his time between Ashland, Oregon, and the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The Never-Open Desert Diner is his first novel.

Anderson's new novel is Lullaby Road.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Anderson's reply:
My taste in reading is extremely varied, everything from biographies, philosophy, neuroscience, physics, history, as well as fiction, nonfiction and a fair amount of poetry. Right now I am reading the newest from someone I feel is one of our most gifted novelists—Steve Yarbrough—The Unmade World. Yarbrough’s stories are complex, as are his characters, and his ability to elevate a seemingly conversational style into a quite extraordinary intricate use of language. Every page of a Yarbrough novel is exquisite in some way. He is not a carpenter but a diamond cutter.

Rounding out that list is the new collection of stories by Steven Huff—Blissful & Other Stories; Human Ink, The First Five Books, poetry by Michael Poage; Star Journal, Selected Poems by Christopher Buckley, who has long been a favorite poet. And Sherman Alexie’s memoir, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me—which is absolutely extraordinary in every way.
Visit James Anderson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lullaby Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Brian Freeman

Brian Freeman is the author of more than a dozen bestselling psychological thrillers, including the Jonathan Stride and Frost Easton series. His novel Spilled Blood won the award for Best Hardcover Novel in the International Thriller Writers Awards, and his thriller The Night Bird was one of the top 20 Kindle bestsellers of 2017. His new novel is The Voice Inside.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Freeman's reply:
Because I write thrillers for a living, most people assume that’s what I read, too.

In fact, I realized early on that I had to make the tough decision to give up reading my own genre. When you write suspense all day long, the idea of curling up with someone else’s suspense novel at the end of the day feels a lot like work! It becomes “market research” rather than “entertainment.”

Plus, there’s a level of intimacy in writing a novel that isn’t the same when you start reading a novel. We have some great writers in the thriller genre, but I’m so accustomed to a three-dimensional connection to my own stories and characters that reading other thrillers feels rather two-dimensional now.

So, I had to go another way. These days, I mostly read nonfiction, particularly history, biographies, and memoirs – books that are nothing like my own work. But that’s what makes it fun for me. In fact, I’m launching a regular podcast on the Authors on the Air network called True Story, in which I interview nonfiction writers who tell real stories with all the drama, emotion, and suspense you’d find in a thriller.

What have I been reading in the nonfiction world recently? It’s a mix, from the upcoming book Bringing Columbia Home about the 2003 space shuttle disaster to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci and Doris Goodwin’s biography of Lyndon Johnson. I’m a big fan of historians like Candice Millard, David McCullough, and Nathaniel Philbrick, too. Next up: The Girl on the Velvet Swing by Simon Baatz. It’s a story I know (oddly enough) from the musical version of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, which included a song about the “crime of the century” (long before OJ) that is profiled in Baatz’s book.
Visit Brian Freeman's official website, and follow the author's new radio show.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Jody Gehrman

Jody Gehrman is a native of Northern California, where she can be found writing, teaching, reading, or obsessing over her three cats most days. She is also the author of eleven novels and numerous award-winning plays.

Her Young Adult novel Babe in Boyland was optioned by the Disney Channel and won the International Reading Association's Teen Choice Award.

Gehrman's plays have been produced in Ashland, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and L.A. She and her partner David Wolf won the New Generation Playwrights Award for their one-act, Jake Savage, Jungle P.I.

She is a professor of English and Communications at Mendocino College.

Gehrman's new novel is Watch Me.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Early this morning I finished A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis. When I say “early this morning” I mean 3 a.m. This was one of those books I devoured in one sitting, something I don’t get to do very often these days. I’ve been plagued by a cold and indulged myself with a lazy day of reading.

As it turns out, this is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold, wintry day. It won an Edgar Award for Best YA Mystery, and with good reason. It takes place in the 1800s in a couple of different insane asylums, one in Boston and another in rural Ohio. Madness, incest, rape—it’s full of dark subjects—but somehow it’s not the slightest bit depressing and it’s compulsively readable. The characters are vivid, the setting richly detailed, and the plot had me totally hooked.

Side note: The reason I finished it at 3 a.m. is because earlier in the evening, at a much more respectable hour, just as I reached the exciting final chapters, my husband got all chatty. There are few things I like better than a late night talk with my man, so I knew I was fully immersed in McGinnis’s world when I finally threw the book across the room with a growl of frustration. I decided to grow up and put the book away, but snuck off in the wee hours to finish it by the fire with a cup of tea. I won’t say more about the plot for fear of spoilers; suffice it to say, McGinnis can spin a yarn with the best of them.

I’m a total audiophile, so I’m always listening to at least one audio book, often more. Right now my husband and I are listening to Paula Hawkins’ Into the Water, which is complex and challenging, but coalescing nicely. We took it with us on a road trip and had to quiz each other frequently about the dizzying number of characters, but as we cruise toward the last couple of hours the many plotlines and POVs are starting to braid together into a satisfying whole.

I’m also listening to Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game, narrated by the inimitable Imogen Church (love her husky British voice. If you can’t tell, I’m not only an audiophile, but also a hopeless anglophile). I’m only about halfway through, but so far it delivers a winning combination. Ware is so great at blending atmospheric suspense with rich, in-depth explorations of women’s friendships; that was the recipe that got me hooked on her debut, In a Dark, Dark Wood. I’m thrilled to see her revisiting those elements but in a totally fresh way.
Visit Jody Gehrman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age.

Benjamin's new novel is The Girls in the Picture.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm currently finishing up season 2 of The Crown on Netflix, indulging my passion for all things British. So I'm also reading some biographies of the royal family: Princess Margaret, a Biography, by Theo Aronson, and The Queen Mother by William Shawcross, which is quite extensive! If you want to know every detail of every meal she ate, this is the biography for you. There is some excellent info in the book but it is rather a slog. And keeping with this theme, I also, every year come Christmas, find myself turning to cozy British novels, usually set between the wars or immediately after WWII. And these year, I discovered a new author, Elizabeth Fair. Her books are reminiscent of Angela Thirkell, although sweeter - set in small English towns, immediately after the war. I very much enjoyed reading her books The Mingham Air, A Winter Away, and Bramtom Wick over the holidays.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

My Book, The Movie: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Picture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby grew up in south London and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2007 with a double first in English Literature. After working on the Observer’s New Review section for a few years she moved to New York and has lived in Brooklyn since 2010. She writes about culture, especially books, film, music and gender, for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the TLS and others. She has interviewed hundreds of actors, writers, pop stars and other cultural figures including Toni Morrison, Meryl Streep, Naomi Campbell, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Hoby's debut novel is Neon in Daylight.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've been reading Marilynne Robinson's forthcoming book of essays, which goes by the appropriately plain and colossal question of: What Are We Doing Here? In this moment of extreme absurdity - tragic absurdity! - by which I mean, an America run by a terrible and unstable infant, I'm craving steady, grown-up voices. We're so lucky to have a mind like hers. She is truly a grown-up. She writes about politics, history, faith and goodness with awe-inducing intelligence. Not just intelligence - wisdom.
Visit Hermione Hoby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three young children.

Over the years, he has been many things: ski instructor, journalist, personal trainer, and bra folder (he lasted one day: fired for giggling at the ridiculousness of the job. If it's any excuse, he was just nineteen years old.)

His first real career was as a newspaper reporter in Colchester, Essex. There, he covered the police and crime beat for almost two years. He also wrote stories on foreign assignments, including accounts from Northern Ireland while with the British Army, and from Romania where he covered the first-anniversary celebrations of that country's revolution.

Pryor moved to America in 1994, mostly for the weather. He attended journalism school at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, and then law school at Duke University, graduating with honors and a lot of debt.

He is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County DA's office.

Pryor's latest book is Dominic: A Hollow Man Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The Christmas period is one of the few times I can really spend time with a book or two, and I've just started one I can't wait to get home to. It was given to me by a friend who enjoys my Paris-based novels, and it's called The Paris Enigma, by Pablo De Santis. The premise is delightful: in the City of Light, just as it is about to be illuminated by the 1889 World’s Fair, a series of murders baffles an international band of detectives. I'm not very far in, but the voice (the protagonist is an assistant to one of the detectives) is so original and appealing that I'm hooked, and can't wait for the bodies to start popping up.

Prior to that I read a thriller, Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner. It's the second novel featuring her heroin Caitlin Hendrix and, in my humble opinion, even better than the first (UNSUB). Meg handles the revelation of the killer and the subsequent chase with eloquence and excitement, I'm guessing this book is headed for big things, I've been recommending it left and right!
Visit Mark Pryor's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dominic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Martha Freeman

After graduating from Stanford University, Martha Freeman worked as a newspaper reporter, copy editor, substitute teacher, college lecturer, advertising copywriter and magazine writer before finding her true calling as a writer of children's books. She has since written more than 20 books for children.

Her new novel is Zap.

Recently I asked Freeman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I belong to what I call a badass book group. If we’re not reading The Magic Mountain or Rachel Cusk, we’re reading high-brow essays on botany (The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey), or a history of paleoanthropology (The Case of the Rickety Cossack by Ian Tattersall).

I once heard the novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick say she was not entertained by entertainment. Most of the time, that’s my badass book group.

Mere mortals, though, need a break now and then, which is why I’ve generally got more than one book on my nightstand. I just finished Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (beautiful writing and fun facts about 18th century New York, maybe a bit too clever). In the fall I read Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (engaging, well-observed and well-written; can’t figure out how the editor let her get away without an ending) and listened to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (so charming I forgave it everything).

As for what this writer is reading now, two things:

Grant by Ron Chernow. I was gratified to see this on Barack Obama’s reading list for 2017, too. Did you know Ulysses S. Grant was a saint? He was, at least as depicted by Chernow, and in these troubled times, let me tell you it is a pleasure to read about a public servant who was a saint. Also, you talk about your fun facts: Three of Grant’s groomsmen eventually surrendered to him at Appomattox.

Aimless Love, New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins. I have a bad habit of writing a poem most mornings while I drink my coffee. So (New Year’s resolution alert) I should read more poetry, right? Billy writes about lawn chairs overlooking lakes and cobblestones and love and wine and trout. The man eats a lot of trout. Many of his poems are funny, many are ironic, and almost all depict a seriously enviable life, which may be one secret to his success. Move over, Billy. I’ll share that lawn chair, thank you very much. And I’ll have a bite of trout, while you’re about it.

In fact, it’s my badass book group that assigned Billy Collins. We decided to lighten up for a month over the holidays. I’m not sure what Cynthia Ozick would say. I fear she might not approve.
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Kylie Brant

Kylie Brant is a native Midwesterner and resides in Iowa. She has the distinction of selling the first book she ever wrote. That began a career that has spanned forty novels. She’s garnered numerous nominations and awards, including twice winning the overall Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mystery and suspense, and a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Brant is a three-time RITA nominee and has been nominated for five RT awards. Her recent novel, Pretty Girls Dancing, was a #1 Amazon bestseller.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Brant's reply:
There's nothing I love talking about more than books! And I've been reading some stellar ones recently.

Right now I'm in the middle of Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, The Midnight Line. For those unfamiliar with Child, all his books feature the same character, an ex-military cop who is best described as a nomad. Putting down roots is not in his DNA, so he travels about the country, invariably getting caught up in dangerous situations encountered while he attempts to help someone. The Midnight Line is not Child's most action-packed novel, but it's vintage Reacher. The man sees a woman's West Point ring in a pawn shop and is immediately intrigued. As a former West Point graduate himself, he knows that the woman wouldn't have parted with the ring voluntarily. So he buys it to set about finding its owner, and lands himself in the middle of a drug operation in the Midwest. Characterization is the foundation of all good books, and this novel is filled with quirky story people. Most intriguing is always Jack Reacher himself. A character has to be bigger than life to carry multiple books, and Reacher is well-drawn: physically imposing with a unique skill set that gets him out of the trouble he always walks into.

I just finished Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben. While not my favorite Coben book, it's still a very good mystery about police investigator Napoleon "Nap" Dumas. One night when he was eighteen, Nap's twin brother and his girlfriend were found dead on railroad tracks and Nap's girlfriend Maura disappeared. Nap has been searching for Maura and the real details of his brother's death ever since. When Maura's fingerprints show up in the vehicle used by a cop-killer, Nap comes face-to-face with his past, and discovers the answers he's been seeking far more disturbing than he'd expected.

What I liked best about this book was the style of writing. Told in first person point of view, the reader is in Nap's head throughout, and in his internal monologues he's often talking to his dead twin brother, Leo. It works, charmingly so, lending rare insight into Nap's character and revealing the heartache of a man still emotionally reeling from the loss of his best friend.

One of my favorite discoveries of 2017 was Randall Silvis, a superb writer of literary mysteries. His book, Two Days Gone will stay with me for a long time. It begins with a horrific crime--the quadruple murder of a college professor's wife and children. The professor has disappeared and he's the main suspect in the murders. Detective Ryan DeMarco was friends with the professor, and has a difficult time reconciling the gruesome crimes with the man he admired.

What lifts this story well above an ordinary mystery is Silvis's voice. His lyrical prose serves as stark contrast to the thread of despair that runs throughout the story, and provides an unexpected depth to the plot. This book cemented Silvis's future works as must-reads for me.
Read more about Kylie Brant's work at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 12, 2018

Randall Silvis

Randall Silvis is the internationally acclaimed author of over a dozen novels, one story collection, and one book of narrative nonfiction. Also a prize-winning playwright, a produced screenwriter, and a prolific essayist, he has been published and produced in virtually every field and genre of creative writing.

Silvis's new psychological suspense novel is Only the Rain.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Although I write mostly fiction these days, I read very little of it, mainly because I can find so little that excites me. That might be because I have been reading for over sixty years, though I think it is also because something has been lost, for writers and their readers, in the modern process of writing. When I first began, the process involved composing an initial draft in longhand, then banging out the first revision on a typewriter, then making handwritten notes on that version, then repeating the last two steps over and over until the manuscript was ready to send out.

The auditory, tactile, visual and olfactory pleasures of writing are absent from today’s process, or at least much diminished. Most of the thousand or so young writers I’ve taught never touch paper or ink. They are enamored of several software programs that promise to guide and correct one’s prose. Consequently their work rarely rises above the mundane. Most of what I hear now when I read a lauded new novel is just tap tap tap.

The problem of why the current giants of contemporary fiction are so much shorter than our pre-technology enhanced giants is far more complex than I can discuss here. Suffice it to say that for every book of fiction I now read all the way through, I begin and cast aside at least twenty.

Strangely, good creative nonfiction is often more melodious, the prose more fluid, than that of contemporary fiction. That’s why the books you will find on my bedside stand and coffee table are usually books of nonfiction. I can open Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes to any page and be soothed by the Irish lilt and melancholy air. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast invariably returns me to my own youth, when writing was new and the most important thing in the world. Jim Harrison’s nakedly honest essays never fail to transport me straight into their subject—whether he’s writing about food, or wine, or the wilderness.

I have read Brian Doyle’s masterful essay “Joyas Voladoras” probably two dozen times so far, and will read it again each time I wish to conjure up some of its music and magic for an essay of my own.

When Lawrence Durrell writes of Scotland and its “poetry, and the poverty and naked joyous insouciance of mountain life,” I am in those mountains with him, or in Athens, Corfu, Avignon, wherever he chooses to go.

And what contemporary fiction can compare to the meticulously detailed and contemplative prose of Joan Didion? When she describes Las Vegas as “bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification,” or when she grapples with the art and importance of writing, or with death or morality or even the Hoover Dam, the prose is as exhilarating as any fiction I have read since William Gay’s Provinces of Night.

So what is wrong with contemporary fiction? Much of it mimics Hemingway’s so-called minimalist style but leaves out the understatement and subtext, the most important part of his fiction, and therefore lacks any stylistic or thematic depth. Some of it is so rooted in a particular time or place or sociological perspective that it is void of any enduring power or resonance.

I am sure that good contemporary fiction exists, but I have tired of wading through the bog of mediocrity in hopes of stumbling upon that rare, transcendent story. And why bother, when all of Hemingway and Faulkner share my bookshelves with a hundred or so other masters of the written word? Reading too many bad books is like drinking only bad wine: sooner or later you will acquire a taste for it.
Visit Randall Silvis's website.

My Book, The Movie: Only the Rain.

The Page 69 Test: Only the Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Jillian Medoff

Jillian Medoff is the acclaimed author of I Couldn’t Love You More, Hunger Point (both national bestsellers) and Good Girls Gone Bad.

Her new novel is This Could Hurt.

Recently I asked Medoff about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m a voracious reader. Highbrow literary fiction, airport thrillers, bleak dystopian science fiction, six-hundred page Victorian novels—I don’t discriminate. If a book is lousy—and I’m usually able to tell by the second page—I’ll deconstruct it, and try to find out why it didn’t work. Conversely, if a book is wonderful, I don’t study it at all; I simply read for pure pleasure, and lose myself as the story grabs hold.

Recently, one novel had this latter effect: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy. It’s coming in May from HarperCollins, and while I know it’s unfair to discuss a book that won’t be available for a few months, The Perfect Mother keeps haunting me and I must, must, must tell the world about it. It’s a domestic thriller and a gripping page-turner, but even more, it’s an authentic look at how women, particularly mothers, can be our own worst enemies. American culture puts so much pressure on women to be perfect, to conform, and to sacrifice ourselves for our families that we occasionally lose sight of what’s genuinely important. Molloy seems to truly understand this, and never condescends to her characters. On the contrary, she infuses her novel with humor and warmth; as a result, The Perfect Mother is an unusually compassionate take on complex female relationships and the cult of motherhood. Molloy’s characters are familiar but unique, and so real it’s as if they’re breathing on the page. Her talent helps her elevate a simple story—a group of new mothers confront their worst nightmare when one of their babies goes missing—into a spot-on illustration of what it means to be a mother in today’s climate, and how far we’ll go to protect our children—and ourselves. Riveting, twisty, and beautifully written, The Perfect Mother is gonna be the big summer book of 2018. Trust me!

PS: Kerry Washington has already optioned the film rights, so I’m not the only reader who loves this book.
Visit Jillian Medoff's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Could Hurt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Barry Wolverton

Barry Wolverton has been writing for children for over 20 years, helping create books, documentary television, and online content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, the Library of Congress, Scholastic, and Time-Life Books, among others.

His debut novel, Neversink, was named the Children’s Book of Choice by Literacy Mid-South for their Read Across America program in 2014.

Wolverton's latest novel in The Chronicles of the Black Tulip is The Sea of the Dead.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I am always reading, as I imagine most writers are. I would love to talk about one group of books I am reading right now, but it would give away what I hope is my next project! But I have also started reading Even Brook Trout Get the Blues, by legendary fly fisherman John Gierach. At my day job I work with a number of men and women who fish, which is a hobby I have never attempted. But I have started to realize I may be missing out on something as a writer. The quiet and the solitude of fishing, especially fly fishing (rivers are my favorite waters), is starting to appeal to me mightily. And it seems like a hobby I can take up even though I just turned 50.
Visit Barry Wolverton's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Vanishing Island.

My Book, The Movie: The Sea of the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Laura Creedle

Laura Creedle writes about her experiences as an ADHD writer at her website and blog. She lives in Austin, Texas.

Creedle's new novel is The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
My reading list is all over the place, mostly due to my ADHD. I get generally get halfway through a book before losing it at the gym, or somewhere in my house. Then I start another book with the assumption that I will eventually find the first book. I usually have three or four books in process.

Sometimes a book just grabs me and I will read straight through with out putting it down long enough to lose it. I just finished Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan this way. There was never any point when I wanted to put it down.

Right now I’m half way through Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I loved her first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I’m reading this slowly, because I’m savoring the mystery. It’s a strange and beautiful book. I have the feeling that once this book is gone there won’t be anything like it to take it’s place.

On the YA side I’m reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which is delightful. I’m excited for Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsey Ely which comes out on Jan. 2. I read a lot of contemporary YA this year, and I’m looking forward to a western palette cleanser.

I hope to read IQ84 by Haruki Murakami soon. I love his writing, but I must confess that I have never actually made it all the way through one of his books. When you lose a Murakami book, it stays lost. Maybe people steal them. Who knows?
Visit Laura Creedle's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.

My Book, The Movie: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 8, 2018

Michael Moreci

Michael Moreci is the creator of numerous original comics series and has written and collaborated on multiple established properties. His most recent original works, Roche Limit (Image Comics) and Burning Fields (BOOM! Studios), were both recognized by many publications as being among the best comics of 2015. Roche Limit was called the “sci-fi comic you need to read” by Nerdist and io9, and Paste Magazine named it one of the “50 best sci-fi comics” of all time.

Moreci's newly released debut novel is Black Star Renegades. Drawing inspiration from the space operatics of Star Wars and the swagger of Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Star Renegades is a galaxy-hopping adventure that blasts its way from seedy spacer bars to sacred temples guarded by strange creatures--all with a cast of misfit characters charged with saving the world..

Recently I asked Moreci about what he was reading. His reply:
An Echo of Things to Come by James Inslington.

Everything they say about this series is true--it's doorstopper epic fantasy that calls to mind both Jordan and Sanderson. It's big in scope, but intimate in character and action. This is the second book--of three--in the series, and I couldn't recommend it more. It's funny, smart, and thoroughly compelling. I'm whipping through all 700+ pages, and I'm already feeling sad to part with it, knowing the third installment won't be out for months!
Visit Michael Moreci's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ada Palmer

Ada Palmer is a professor in the history department of the University of Chicago, specializing in Renaissance history and the history of ideas. Her first nonfiction book, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. She is also a composer of folk and Renaissance-tinged a capella vocal music on historical themes, most of which she performs with the group Sassafrass. She writes about history for a popular audience at exurbe.com and about SF and fantasy-related matters at Tor.com.

Palmer's latest book is The Will to Battle, the third book in the Terra Ignota series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m reading John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), one of the very earliest works defending freedom speech and the importance of a free press. The tail end of 2017 is a powerful moment to revisit our first articulation of the value of free expression. Milton addressed the book to Parliament because in the 1640s lots of people in England supported tightening control of the press, largely in response to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1641) which was so hated and feared that by itself it sparked a widespread call for more censorship. Publishers hoping to make money from controlling intellectual property were also—contrary to what you might expect—in favor of more censorship since it meant more control. We tend to assume that that notions of copyright have existed since time immemorial, and that censorship tools like the Inquisition existed throughout the Middle Ages, but in fact both developed into their mature forms only in response to the spread of the printing press after 1450, and of the Reformation after 1517. So Milton’s book was written in a moment when huge new information technologies had just come in (much like today), and when religious divisions, violence, and xenophobia were major fears in people’s lives (also much like today). Milton’s England did not have a free press as we might think of it, and one could be arrested and prosecuted for printing any sort of political criticism or controversial religious ideas, but it had a freer press than Catholic regions, where all books were effectively pre-banned and had to be read and approved by a censor (usually a bishop, a royal officer, or a Dominican or Jesuit) before they could be printed. It’s heart-wrenching seeing Milton argue so beautifully for the importance to thought and to art of having a free press, even though the free press he celebrates is so much less free than our own, and it’s powerful revisiting the work now at the end of 2017, when issues of free speech and censorship are so in our own world, and on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which was such a major cause of people supporting censorship.

As for lighter reading, I’m absolutely loving Fumi Yoshinaga’s Tiptree-wining manga Ōoku: the Inner Chambers. It’s a secret history of Tokugawa Japan, imagining that the reason Japan closed itself off from the outside for 200 years was that a plague which only affected men reduced the male population to 1/5 the female, and Japan was trying to conceal this from the world for fear outside nations would see it as weakness and invade. Yoshinaga brilliantly examines all the cultural, political and social changes that would come with women so outnumbering men, and develops her powerful and three-dimensional characters over multiple generations, so sometimes we see a character’s cherished dream finally come true fifty years after her death thanks to the aftereffects of her hard work, and love is never ever happily after, it’s always still there to be affected by the next historical moment. I’ve never read a volume of Ōoku without tearing up, sometimes at tragedy, sometimes at beauty.
Visit Ada Palmer's website.

The Page 69 Test: Too Like the Lightning.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Bryon MacWilliams

Bryon MacWilliams is an American writer who was a Moscow-based foreign correspondent for more than a decade. His latest book is With Light Steam: A Personal Journey through the Russian Baths.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Poet Derek Walcott said so much of his work depended on inspiration that he envied prose writers who returned, day after day, to the same project. But so much of my day-in-day-out prose can feel like Work that I find myself searching out especially imaginative, even playful, reads.

Over the past month I've started, continued, revisited or finished:

In Sandy Gingras's first collection of poems, Not Even Close to What She Planned On, men fall out of the sky (“He hit at her feet like an issue resolved”), God rallies everyone for a Christmas card photo, a giant egg appears in a driveway, a brother brings a stripper to Thanksgiving, and a mother tranquilizer-darts an escaped lion at a local pond. Another (the same?) mother wants her head cryogenically frozen, to which the speaker says: “I go, 'What if they can't grow you a body, / and you're stuck being an alive head forever.' / ' She says, 'Then you'll have to carry me around.' / I knew it. I knew it.” Sometimes factual and emotional truth seem to bob at the same water line in this collection, but who knows? Like all good poets, Gingras knows how to lie.

In The Last Pub on Earth, one of Peter Murphy's two recent poetry collections, Garry Morgan falls off bar stools (and gets up) in Wales in the times of “Thatcher closed mines.” Sometimes he's tossed out – like the time he tries to climb into a painting in a museum: “Apple trees. Soft grass. / A stream he could sink his feet into – ”. Morgan, formerly the author's real-life pseudonym, roams Wales longing for resurrection. But everyone, including Morgan, knows his chances aren't good. Trudging up a valley he tells a(n inquiring) dog, “I am always breathing in two places. / My heart is a symphony of stones.”

The essays and riffs in Barbara Hurd's latest collection, Listening to the Savage, speak nominally to the Savage River near her Allegheny Mountains home. But, really, the collection speaks to acts of listening anywhere – to life examined, and the examined life. The River Notes and Half-Heard Melodies in the subtitle oscillate between discord and dissonance (“completely bred out of domesticated canaries,” we learn), reason and resonance, overfitting and underfitting, presence and nonpresence, extroversion and introversion, loves and past loves. From little-known words (crypsis, dehiscence, ear-soul) and little-known makers (poets, composers, philosophers) to little-known facts (the variations, say, in adaptive silence and acoustical camouflage among the 90,000 species of insects that use sound “to court and to warn”), Hurd knows that “God's in the details,” but “so's the devil.”

Readers have been seeking out books that explain Russia ever since the 2016 U.S. general election, but editors haven't been much help – safely turning to think-tankers and long-familiar names. To really get a feel for today's Russia, though, read Peter Pomerantsev's memoir, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible. Pomerantsev, the son of former Soviet dissidents in Great Britain, worked high in the sky in the Moscow television and radio tower, Ostankino, with the brain trust of non-independent airwaves, feel-good stories and fake news (that, yes, even reaches America). That's OK, even good, at first: Who is the West to teach anyone how to behave? But years of navigating the many ways the system “wraps itself around you” – of rewriting history to suit the president, of political opponents designed and paid to make the president seem sane, of businesses and so-called nongovernmental organizations loyal to the president – take their toll on Pomerantsev. When positive stories can no longer be found, and “factual entertainment” yields to sitcoms (and canned laughter) that reflect a life “so spotless and shiny it could almost be teasing the viewer,” he leaves Russia for what might be forever. Ordinary Russians leave, too, even a well-known performance artist: “What role could there be for a performance artist, where to watch a piece of grotesque performance art you just have to switch on the TV?”

Even before I finished (Lee Klein's translation of) Horacio Castellanos Moya's novel, Revulsion, I was buying copies for friends. I haven't laughed out loud, as often, reading a book since, maybe, never. One friend calls it a “romp.” I've never read anything like it, and I've read the novel that inspired it: Thomas Bernhard's The Loser. Moya's Revulsion, subtitled Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador, begins in a San Salvador cafe in which the expatriate narrator, Vega, tells his childhood friend, Moya: “I have to tell you what I think about all this nastiness, there's no one else I can relate my impressions to, the horrible thoughts I've had here.” And they are horrible, the thoughts. The slim novel is populated by rare words – vomitous, calamitous, pernicious, detestable, monstrous – that are applied to nearly everything, and everyone: monuments, universities, cities, war, foods, drinks, words, artists, communists, the military, relatives, and especially a sister-in-law. The book is funny in the vein of the Russian saying, “Every joke is only part joke,” the rest is truth. If there weren't so much truth in Revulsion the book's real-life Moya wouldn't have gotten real-life death threats. Whereas Bernhard seemed to love Austria, though, Vega doesn't seem to love anything. A lot of the heart in Revulsion is supplied by the reader, who can't help but look at his or her own country through a Vega-like lens – can't help but see much of the same, not least of which the “party of thieves disguised as politicians.”
Learn more about Bryon MacWilliams at the With Light Steam website.

The Page 99 Test: With Light Steam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Susan Furlong

Susan Furlong is the author of the Georgia Peach Mystery series. She also contributes to the New York Times bestselling Novel Idea Mysteries under the pen name Lucy Arlington. She has worked as a freelance writer, academic writer, ghost writer, translator, high-school language arts teacher, and martial arts instructor. Raised in North Dakota, Furlong graduated from Montana State University with a double major in French and Spanish. She and her family live in central Illinois.

Her new suspense novel is Splintered Silence, the first in the Bone Gap Travellers series.

Recently I asked Furlong about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just picked up a new-to-me author, Jennifer McMahon. I’d heard good things about her work and decided to give her a try. I’m glad I did. The One I Left Behind is a classic psychological thriller about a small town plagued by several gruesome serial killings. The author keeps the pace strong while seamlessly weaving in back story. Her imagery is excellent, and the premise is fascinating. Every time I read a book, I gain something new to improve my own writing; I’m learning a lot from this author.

I’m also reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, a collection of her short stories. Recommended by a friend, I was surprised that I hadn’t read this author sooner. Her stories are the perfect combination of satire and humor, and contain a unique mix of both Christian and violently grotesque themes. Most of her stories present morally flawed protagonist. I think this gives her writing realistic depth. And Flannery doesn’t pull any punches, which I like. She’s my new favorite writer.

Also, I’m reading the current issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I started as a short story writer and can never get enough of short fiction, so I pick this up from the newsstand every month. I’m impressed with a story in this issue by John Gastineau, titled "A Coon Dog and Love." Gastineau’s writing is gritty, realistic and bold. His dialog skill is amazing. I’m going to be looking for more from this author.

I just submitted the second installment in the Bone Gap Traveller series to my editor. This one, titled Fractured Truth, introduces a new character, a FBI psychologist who specializes in criminal profiling. For research purposes, I picked up John E. Douglas’s Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. Douglas, a renowned FBI investigator, gives true accounts of some of the cases he’s investigated and an inside glimpse into the minds of some seriously sadistic killers. The facts of these true cases are often more bizarre and violent than anything fictional I’ve read. This book truly explores the darkest recesses of the criminal mind. It’s a fascinating book, but don’t read it late at night.
Visit Susan Furlong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Splintered Silence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Catherine Reef

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef's latest young adult biography is Victoria: Portrait of a Queen.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now Sylvia Plath is the subject of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Letters, photographs, original artwork, objects as diverse as Plath’s typewriter and handmade paper dolls—the artifacts reveal a Plath whom readers of her poetry might not know. I was especially intrigued because I had just read a book that showed me another lesser-known side of the confessional poet, Plath the writer of short prose. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, first published in 1977, is a collection of short stories, essays, and diary entries.

Writing fiction did not come as naturally to Plath as composing poetry did. Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, called her ambition to write salable stories a burden to her. It seemed to me as I read this collection that plotting was not one of her strengths, or perhaps one of her interests. She was better at exploring characters and situations on the page. To make a story from what she had written, she often hurried it to an unsatisfying conclusion. Stories she wrote in the late 1950s and early 1960s aimed at women and girls, for example, conform to the formula for those published in women’s magazines of the period and conclude by affirming traditional values. “Initiation” ends with teenage Millicent rejecting admission into an elite sorority because her best friend has been excluded. In “Day of Success,” a housewife who briefly doubts that her husband finds her attractive learns to embrace her ordinariness. Other stories end in trite ironic twists that can only be called amateurish.

Using language to strong effect was what truly interested Plath. Who else would think to personify panic like this: “His love is the twenty-storey leap, the rope at the throat, the knife at the heart”? The reflected sun was “red as a dwarf tomato,” Plath wrote; blood was a “thick, sweet honey.” I savored her stories for their poetry.

Biographies are often in my to-be-read stack. Recently I finished Peter Guralnick’s 2015 book, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll. The title claim is debatable, but Guralnick did a superb job of creating a well-rounded portrait of Phillips, the founder of Sun Records in Memphis, which is what a good biographer should do. Phillips emerges as a charming visionary with a remarkable ability to make possible the life he imagined for himself. He built Sun Records in the belief that the American South was rich in undiscovered musical talent, that he need only open his studio door and wait for tomorrow’s stars to walk in. And it is astonishing how many great names did amble in: Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich, among others. Phillips knew enough simply to let each one play, to listen as he revealed his strengths, “to recognize that individual’s unique quality and then find the key to unlock it,” as he said. As a fan of early rock and roll, I loved all this history.

Guralnick’s biography is atypical because he was acquainted with his subject; in fact, he knew Phillips well. He acknowledges this friendship in his “Author’s Note,” stating that his book was “written out of admiration and love.” Are these sentiments unusual? I would argue that many biographers grow fond of their subjects, even those who aim for that cold, elusive quality we call objectivity. Guralnick’s affection for Phillips seems not to have kept him from presenting his subject’s less flattering side—Phillips’s alcohol abuse and extramarital relationships are given due attention. And for the twenty-five years that he knew Phillips, Guralnick becomes a character in the story he is telling. His biography takes on aspects of a memoir but remains focused on its subject.

One joy of reading is returning to books loved long ago and reading them again with fresh eyes. I’ve done this with novels that spoke to me in early adulthood, and recently I did it with a set of stories I treasured in childhood, the “Oz” books by L. Frank Baum. Baum wrote fourteen novels set in his “fairy country.” I reread the first five, which Barnes & Noble’s Fall River Press released in a single, seven-hundred-plus page volume in 2014. These stories are nothing if not formulaic: if Dorothy does not end up in Oz by means of a tornado, then she is brought there by an earthquake or a storm at sea. She completes several journeys accompanied by fantastical friends. Most famously, in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, she walks the road paved with yellow brick accompanied by the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Woodman, aka Nick Chopper. On other travels her companions include a talking hen and the rainbow’s daughter. I quickly learned that characters introduced in one book are likely to show up in others, and I looked forward to meeting them again. These books celebrate lasting friendship.

I did encounter stereotypes. An army of girls, for example, carries knitting needles as weapons and cares most about jewelry and new gowns. And there are occurrences that seem bizarre and possibly inappropriate today. I’m thinking of the boy Tip in The Marvelous Land of Oz, who learns that he is really the princess Ozma, that he began life as a girl but was bewitched in infancy. When the truth comes to light he is transformed again despite his protest that “I want to stay a boy,” and “I don’t want to be a girl!” This episode feels very wrong in our time of growing sensitivity to transgender issues.

Still, Baum’s novels for the most part are delightfully imaginative literary comfort food. I find myself missing his magical land weeks after I put on my own enchanted slippers and came home.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

My Book, The Movie: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue