Tuesday, October 16, 2018

S.K. Perry

S. K. Perry was longlisted for London’s Young Poet Laureate in 2013 and is the author of the poetry collection Curious Hands: 24 Hours in Soho. She lives in London.

Let Me Be Like Water is her first novel.

Recently I asked Perry about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've just started a PhD and - as well as trying to write a new novel - my research will centre on depictions of sex in contemporary, anglophone, fiction. This means I'm currently on the lookout for amazing novels that also have cracking sex scenes... and I'm particularly interested in fictional depictions of queer sex, and sex that is written within a feminist framework; I guess part of my research will be to work out exactly what I mean by that. At the moment I'm halfway through both Sally Rooney's new novel Normal People, and A Safe Girl To Love by Casey Plett, a collection of short stories that explore trans-womanhood. From what I've read so far, Plett's stories oscillate between archetypal coming-of-age tropes, and bold explorations of trauma and alienation; it's so clever how they tread this duality and I'm really loving it. I've been really enjoying reading short stories lately and Miranda July's collection No One Belongs Here More Than You was such a wonderful, weird read with plenty of interesting explorations of sexuality too. I read it during a week away at the sea; it was my kind of holiday read!

I'm also reading In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin. I knew Marie a bit, and it's been strange revisiting her courage and grit through reading the book. I love non-fiction; I try and read as much as I do fiction, but I end up wanting to take it all in and I read it very slowly. I also love poetry and always have a huge stack of poetry books on my bedside table. I am so excited for the release of Belinda Zhawi's poetry pamphlet Small Inheritances next month; she is such a gorgeous lyric writer who will do great things. Right now I'm reading Wayne Holloway-Smith's collection Alarum, which has brought me to tears a few times, in particular in its exploration of eating disorders and depression. Sometimes the use of metaphor is so apt and close that it's breathtakingly beautiful, at the same time as describing something awful and violent really accurately. It's a masterclass in poetic language.
Visit S.K. Perry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2018

Matthew Farrell

Matthew Farrell lives just outside of New York City in the Hudson Valley with his wife and two daughters.

His new thriller is What Have You Done.

Recently I asked Farrell about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers and people. Jen is so nice to meet and talk with, and to read her shady characters with their diabolical plans is just so different than the person she is, which proves her talent. I'm always drawn to the psychological thriller first. I like reading about the dark side of characters in the setting of a police investigation. I feel it makes the pace of the story that much tighter because people are trying to get away with their crimes, and the police are closing in.

I also enjoy Randall Silvis, Mark Edwards, Robert Dugoni, Eric Rickstad, Lisa Scottoline and so many others. These authors are great examples of what I call today's psychological thriller with that police element that I love so much.
Visit Matthew Farrell's website.

My Book, The Movie: What Have You Done.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Mitchell Hogan

When he was eleven, Mitchell Hogan received The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and a love of fantasy novels was born. He spent the next ten years reading, rolling dice, and playing computer games, with some school and university thrown in. Along the way he accumulated numerous bookcases’ worth of fantasy and sci-fi novels and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. For ten years he put off his dream of writing; then he quit his job and wrote A Crucible of Souls. He now writes full-time and is eternally grateful to the readers who took a chance on an unknown self-published author. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife, Angela, and his daughters, Isabelle and Charlotte.

Hogan's new novel is Shadow of the Exile.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hogan's reply:
I'm currently reading Blackwing by Ed McDonald and very much enjoying it. It is grim though, and may not be to everyone's taste.

Major player motivations (the Deep Kings and the 'wizards', both with seemingly god-like powers) are generally unknown (apart from survival), and the protagonist is surprisingly likable for someone who has many unlikable traits. The story is quite dark and gritty, which some readers might be weary of by now, but I haven't read too many 'grimdark' novels so I don’t have grimdark-fatigue (which is a thing, apparently). The protagonist is Ryhalt Galharrow, who is definitely not a hero. He is a bounty hunter attempting to find a noblewoman, and his mission entails entering the 'Misery', a wasteland created by a great sorcery and filled with monsters. The Misery was created as a barrier to help keep the Deep Kings -- immortal sorcerers -- at bay, who are also afraid of the 'Engine' which is a destructive countermeasure to the Deep Kings and their armies of monsters. Events quickly escalate and spiral out of control, and Ryhalt must do his best as human civilization faces utter destruction. The author manages to add small details which provide a lot of backstory details and raise questions -- without spoiling the story, such as when the protagonist and his two companions encounter ghosts for the first time in the Misery.

I don't have a lot of reading time, so these days I'm very picky and abandon books if they're not hitting all the right notes for me. But with Blackwing I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the story.
Visit Mitchell Hogan's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Crucible of Souls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ellen Goodlett

Ellen Goodlett writes science fiction because otherwise she would spend her days plotting to take over the world. She figures that the former would benefit humanity ever so slightly more than the latter (which would be disastrous and involve a lot of cats in government positions). She lives in New York City with two demons masquerading as felines. She is a proud graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a Pittsburgh expat.

Goodlett's new novel is Rule.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I try to read a little bit of everything, not just any one genre. My personal favorites are young adult (of course, since that’s what I write), science fiction, and memoir. But recently I’ve been on a creative nonfiction kick, as well as trying to catch up on all the new and great titles coming out in the young adult world lately.

Since I read so much, I’ll try to stick to just the couple of titles that have really stuck out to me, of the ones I’ve read this year. When it comes to nonfiction, the one that blew my mind is Homo Deus. It’s not just the big, trippy concepts that the author, Yuval Noah Harari, is confronting, either (ideas like the future of humanity, the terrifying knife’s edge we’re balanced on when it comes to AI, and how we got to this point of civilization in the first place). What struck me more is the way Harari writes about mankind—with a bird’s-eye view, as though he’s somehow managed to zoom his focus out to the point where humanity is just a concept on paper, one he can easily trace and parse and dissect to understand it.

I envy his ability to write about complex, difficult topics with both a remote remove and deep empathy at the same time. He doesn’t dismiss or trivialize the struggles people face every day. Nor does he offer trite placations. He just assesses where we stand as a species, and all the good, bad and horrible things we’ve done to reach this point, and the good, bad and horrible things we may do in the future to maintain our notion of superiority as a species. It’s the kind of perspective that I think all writers strive for—the ability to tell a story as the narrator, removed from the characters, and yet to paint those characters in all their three-dimensional, messy truth.

When it comes to fiction, in the adult realm, I just finished The Shadowed Sun, the second book in the Dreamblood series, a duology from N.K. Jemisin. She’s undoubtedly one of the best SFF writers working today (as evidenced by all three of the novels in her Broken Earth trilogy winning the Hugo in each consecutive year, among many other awards), and I love all of her other novels. The Shadowed Sun, though, felt like her most complex yet. This whole series addresses cultures—how they’re built, how they define themselves, and how religious devotion to a god can unite that culture.

Funnily enough, in Homo Deus and its prequel Sapiens, Harari posits that humanity has reached the point where we are today because of our ability to build religious structures—to convince people to sacrifice their work, even their lives, to a greater being. Whether or not that being exists, it’s the sacrifice of individuals to the group that make us strong. Jemisin’s Dreamblood series feels like the fictional examination of that concept—among many others. She also touches on interracial relations, prejudices, how your culture affects your view of the world—and how interacting with or colliding with other cultures can change or broaden your perspective. That’s something I think we could all benefit from reading in more depth nowadays.

And finally, when it comes to the YA world right now—god, there are so many fantastic new books out this year, it’s hard to narrow it down to just the highlights. I want to talk about Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, and Claire LeGrand’s Furyborn, and Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl. But I think I’ve got to go with the one that kept me up all night, literally. I started reading Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give on a redeye flight home to the East Coast from Ireland. It was an 8-hour flight. I figured I’d read a few chapters, then get a few hours of sleep and land back home with minimum jetlag.

Instead, I kept flipping pages all night long, and as the plane landed, I was still devouring the final chapters. I finished it on my train back to where I’m staying from the airport, and even then, it was difficult to put the story down. I started to flip back through to reread, to catch everything I missed. This book touches on so many important things—police violence, code-switching and all the guilt that may accompany it, deep community and family bonds, and what happens when those two are at odds. It also touches on subtler, less “obvious” (at least to some people) forms of racism that abound in modern society. I wish this book were required reading at schools everywhere, because I think it’s exactly what America—and the world, really—needs to be reading right now. It’s a study in cultural heritage, in empathy, in finding your voice and using it, even in the face of impossible odds.
Visit Ellen Goodlett's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rule.

The Page 69 Test: Rule.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

S.A. Bodeen

S.A. Bodeen grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. She graduated from UW-River Falls with a degree in Secondary Ed., then joined the Peace Corps with her husband and went to Tanzania, East Africa. Her first picture book, Elizabeti's Doll (written as Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen) was published in 1998, followed by six other picture books. Her first YA novel written as S.A. Bodeen, the award-winning The Compound, came out from Feiwel and Friends in 2008. Her new novel is The Tomb. She has lived in eight states, two African countries, and an insular possession. Currently, she lives in the Midwest with her husband and two daughters.

Recently I asked Bodeen about what she was reading. Her reply:
One of the most recent novels I read was The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse, which just released a few weeks ago. Claustrophobic and tense, the story kept me guessing for quite a while as to what was going on. The characters wake up and find themselves trapped in a building with no exit, then the time shifts and they wake up again...and repeat. A combination of Groundhog Day and Memento, it was impossible to put down because I found myself as desperate as the characters to find out what was going on.

Another recent read was by the master himself, Stephen King. I’ve been a huge King fan since I was 15 and got my hands on The Stand. I tend to set aside time to read his books, because I know that once I start, I will become immersed in the world and not be able to stop reading. The Outsider was no different. King is so brilliant at handing you a group of strangers who then become allies in the fight against evil, and he makes you fall in love with them, no matter their faults. The camaraderie in this book was second to none, and my heart got broken a couple of times, as always. But that never seems to keep me from reading his next one…
Visit S.A. Bodeen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 8, 2018

Kathleen J. McInnis

Kathleen J. McInnis is a U.S. national security policy geek by trade, who happens to be moonlighting as a novelist. Or maybe it's the other way around?

Her new novel is The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon.

Recently I asked McInnis about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m going to begin this with a caveat: I am a national security analyst by trade, with a PhD in War Studies. So the vast majority of my writing so far has been nonfiction and analytic prose, which is definitely reflected in my reading. Yet in recent years, as the United States and the world have woken up to an era of geostrategic complexity that we’re only at the beginning of wrapping our brains around, I’ve turned to fiction and story to help me understand the world in a different, non-methodologically bound way. That’s one of the big reasons that I wrote The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon: to better understand and explain the often-wacky way we do national security. In other words, I’m trying to channel both the creative and analytic parts of my mind to figure out where we are as a country, and what we might do about it. And have fun while doing so.

To that end, what am I reading now? The proposal to establish a Space Force is pretty hot right now, and I’m trying to understand its historical antecedents. The last major Department of Defense (DoD) reorganization was just over 30 years ago, with the Goldwater-Nichols Act (1986) and the subsequent Nunn-Cohen amendment (1987). I’m once again digging into Victory on the Potomac by Jim Locher to understand why they felt they needed to reform DoD and why did it the way they did to see if it can shed any light on Space Force proposals.

I’m also reading John Lewis Gaddis’ On Grand Strategy. In it, he creates dialogues across history between key writers and philosophers to help illuminate different, enduring aspects of strategy and statecraft. It’s a wonderfully fresh and creative approach to a subject that has – rather strangely, in my view – become pretty dry and dusty over the years. Speaking of creativity, I’m once again thumbing through Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft and World Order. It’s an amazing book that uses great works of art and fiction from Shakespeare to Austen to Dickens as a prism to illuminate different aspects of strategy and statecraft.

The Heart of War is written from the perspective of a young woman entering the world of national security. So it’s been interesting to compare the experiences that Wendy Sherman shares in Not for the Faint of Heart with those of my own, those of the protagonist Dr. Heather Reilly, and those of other women that I know from the national security world. Her memoir juxtaposes her experience negotiating the Iran deal with other formative experiences in her life, urging readers – particularly women – to find their authenticity in what they do. It’s an inspiring read.

Finally, in terms of fiction, as I think through how to best tackle the next chapter of Heather’s story, I’m turning to some other book series that I think worked pretty well to see how they pulled it off. Even though The Heart of War is in a totally different genre, I have a soft spot for sci-fi and fantasy, so John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series scratches the itch for me in a lot of ways: it has likeable characters, it constantly keeps you guessing, and has amazing dialogue that keeps you engaged throughout. He also has a way of building worlds and scenes that make you feel like you’re there; it’s remarkable craftsmanship.
Visit Kathleen J. McInnis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Heart of War.

The Page 69 Test: The Heart of War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 6, 2018

K. J. Reilly

K. J. Reilly graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in psychology, then headed to New York City to work in the marketing research departments of several of the largest advertising agencies in the world. She loves reading, writing, dogs, sailboats, children of all shapes and sizes, and growing her own food.

Reilly's new novel is Words We Don't Say.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
In a chapter of Words We Don’s Say, Eli, one of the main characters, stands up in English class and reads a long list of the countries where you could be arrested or put to death for reading the books they are reading in that class—and the list goes on for pages. It’s important for all of us to be reminded that criminalizing freethinking, banning books—and even burning books—isn't just reserved for other countries or the past, or regimes like the Nazis in Germany. Oppressive thinkers can't be geo or time tagged—they’re everywhere. And history repeats itself. Books have not only been banned and burned throughout time; they've been banned and burned all over the world—even in America in the 21st century.

So since free speech is an important theme in Words We Don't Say, and this week is Banned Books Week – September 23-29th – I’m re-reading as many banned books as I can—from And Tango Makes Three and The World of Pooh to 1984 and The Catcher in the Rye. When I read these books, it’s a very humbling reminder that we should never take our constitutional right to freedom of speech for granted, or forget how many people around the world don't share that right.
Visit K.J. Reilly's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 5, 2018

Don Zolidis

Don Zolidis is a playwright, novelist, and former middle and high school teacher.

His plays have been produced over 10,500 times in 61 countries.

Zoldis's new book is The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig (a Love Story), his first novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished Bree Barton’s Heart of Thorns, which is a beautifully-written, fast-moving YA epic fantasy set in a world where only women have magic. I’m also in the middle of tackling Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, which weighs in at about 1265 pages and is highly successful at taking my mind off the world. I’m also going to dive back in to The Belegariad, which I read when I was about 12, and my Science Fiction book club has chosen for October. Generally, I fluctuate between reading SFF, YA, and Literary Fiction (when I’m in the mood).
Visit Don Zolidis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Elise Valmorbida

Elise Valmorbida grew up Italian in Australia but fell in love with London. She is the author of acclaimed literary novels Matilde Waltzing, The TV President and The Winding Stick. An award-winning indie film producer, she wrote SAXON, The Making of a Guerrilla Film. Other non-fiction includes The Book of Happy Endings.

Valmorbida's new novel is The Madonna of the Mountains.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Confession: there are lots of books I don’t finish. But George Saunders is an author whose work compels me to continue reading, all the way to the last carefully chosen word. With Lincoln in the Bardo, I’m deep in. It’s fascinating to see how this book unfolds—it feels like a gathering of poignant short stories arranged as a theatrical script. A complicated wafting beauty.

I’ve just finished The Fireflies of Autumn by Moreno Giovannoni, which is a collection of fable-like short stories set in a Tuscan village. It’s beautifully written with ironic wit, and recurring currents of migrant melancholy. I met the author at the Byron Writers Festival. We are both insider-outsiders, both Italian Australians, so we have a lot in common. We are both driven to write about a disappearing (disappeared?) world—that of traditional Italian rural culture. It’s no wonder that I relished this book. I can’t wait for his next one.

Meanwhile, I got started with Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, with whom I was happily paired at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Her stories are infused with saffron and cinnamon, sayings from ‘the proverb-maker’, religion and ritual, thwarted love, intergenerational conflict, the repercussions of societal change… Two characters who particularly win my heart are Zarifa, a woman of slave background, and Najiya, a moon-magical Bedouin woman who lives at the edge of the desert. Pause for thought: slavery was not abolished in Oman until 1970.
Visit Elise Valmorbida's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Sean Grigsby

Sean Grigsby is a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, where he writes about lasers, aliens, and guitar battles with the Devil when he’s not fighting dragons. He grew up on Goosebumps books in Memphis, Tennessee, and hosts the Cosmic Dragon podcast.

Grigsby's latest novel is Daughters of Forgotten Light.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Right now, I’m finishing up Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames, which is the sequel to Kings of the Wyld, both from Orbit Books.

I read KotW last year and loved it. It’s all about mercenary bands that are treated like rock stars, because they hunt down dangerous monsters and kill them. Time has passed since the golden age of monster killing, and the greatest band in the land, Saga, is getting put back together by leader Golden Gabe, in order to save his daughter Rose from a horde of monsters closing in on her and her fellow mercs.

In Bloody Rose, the story continues with the titular character and her band, who hire a new bard, Tam. Through Tam’s POV, we see Rose, her rabbit-eared beau, an inkwitch, a shape-shifter, and a satyr take on monsters in the arena circuit before they go for one final contract, a real contract, paying them to kill the legendary Simurg or, Dragoneater. No one believes the monster actually exists, but that’s not the worst part. What if it actually does exist?

Eames and I have similar styles of storytelling. It’s fun, action-packed, and a pure adventure through and through.
Visit Sean Grigsby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 1, 2018

Catharine Riggs

Catharine Riggs is a former banker, educator and nonprofit executive. What She Gave Away, her first work of psychological suspense, features an outsider with a dark past and a bitter grudge who moves to a wealthy beachside community only to find herself enmeshed in the secrets of her boss and his hapless wife.

Recently I asked Riggs about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend not to read my contemporaries while I’m in in the midst of writing and/or editing a novel and I’m doing both at the moment. I steer away as I’m concerned the author’s voice might bleed into my head. I write voice before plot so I must be careful to keep the demarcation clear. For whatever reason, I don’t have that concern with the classics. If they can improve my writing, game on. Right now, I’m rereading Eleven, a collection of Patricia Highsmith’s short stories written between 1945 and 1970 and first published as a collection in 1980. She is a master of the craft. Who else can write a story about death by snails that leaves you trembling on the edge of your seat?

Even the introduction catches my attention, written by another grandmaster, Graham Greene. He doesn’t categorize her writing as ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘domestic thriller’ or author of ‘psychological suspense.’ He calls her a ‘crime writer’ like her male counterparts except she’s hands down better than most. She creates everyday worlds fraught with claustrophobia and tension where even the reader feels doomed. The tension is heightened as there is no reliance on the genre’s typical character arc. In Highsmith’s world, the bad guy may get away with the crime; the good guy may blunder into a ditch. As Graham Greene so aptly said, “Miss Highsmith is the poet of apprehension rather than fear. Fear…is narcotic, it can lull by fatigue into sleep, but apprehension nags at the nerves gently and inescapably.” My favorite story in the collection is “The Terrapin” a cruel family drama where I know where their train is heading and would do anything to make it stop. Next up on my reading list is Highsmith’s classic novel, The Tremor of Forgery. I might spend the rest of the year reading Patricia Highsmith. I have no problem with that.
Visit Catharine Riggs's website.

My Book, The Movie: What She Gave Away.

The Page 69 Test: What She Gave Away.

--Marshal Zeringue