Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Howard Andrew Jones

Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He is the author of four Pathfinder novels, an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity, and the new novel from St. Martin’s, the second in a new fantasy series, Upon the Flight of the Queen, the followup to For the Killing of Kings, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Recently I asked Jones about what he was reading. His reply:
While my screen media intake has pretty much dwindled to documentaries and Bob’s Burgers, the kinds of material I consume via the written word changed and grew in the last decade. Lately I’ve spent less and less time reading in the genres where I usually write.

A recent discovery for me has been the work of Marvin Albert, who was writing from the 1950s until his death in the 1990s. Almost from the start his books were regularly adapted for the cinema, and he’s apparently revered in France, where he spent the last few decades of his life. I’ve seen some critics dismiss him because he’s never as good as the very best, and yet I find that he always delivers, whether it be with hardboiled westerns or detective yarns. As a matter of fact, I use his work as a kind of “safe base” to which I can return. I explore other mystery and western writers unknown to me with some regularity, and when I find that work wanting and desire a palate cleanser, I head back to my storehouse of Marvin Albert books. Just last week I finished off his three detective novels written under his Anthony Rome alias, featuring Miami private eye and boat owner Tony Rome. They are, in order, Miami Mayhem, The Lady in Cement, and My Kind of Game. The first two were made into Sinatra films I’ve never seen. I found all three to be taut, well-paced, surprising, and atmospheric. Albert always delivers enjoyable work. Maybe he doesn’t compare to Raymond Chandler’s best work, but neither did Chandler a lot of the time, and while Albert might not quite hit the supreme highs of the very best, after reading dozens of his book I’ve yet to see him hit any lows, or middles. There’s something to be said for a writer who is dependably good, and I think Albert may be overdue for a re-evaluation here in the states.

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction, but haven’t kept close watch on the genre for the last few decades. Having heard great things about the award-winning work of Martha Wells, who has been kind enough to write beautiful things about my novels, I thought it high time to check into her Murderbot work. It happens that her acclaim was rightly deserved. Immediately upon finishing the first, All Systems Red, I began the second, and sheer willpower and a writing deadline held me back from immediately ordering the next two. They’re now on my Christmas list. Suffice to say that the self-labeled Murderbot is an engaging character who finds itself (Murderbot is a genderless biological entity with lots of mechanical parts) thrust into the middle of mysteries chock full of action and interesting characters, as well as a search for meaning and self-identity. It’s rousing, high quality fiction, and one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the holidays this year is so I can see what happens next with Murderbot.

Before starting Murderbot I had just polished off a Gold Medal western. To those in the know, Gold Medal in the ‘50s and into the ‘60s remains a safe landing place to go for hardboiled mysteries and noir. As it happens, it’s also one of the best places to turn for well-paced, hardboiled westerns. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get much of a line on what westerns are good and what westerns aren’t, and there were a whole lot of westerns being printed in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Gold Medal, though, seems to have had a smart and talented editorial team. I’ve found most of the westerns I’ve tried by them are at least decent, and some from their stable have sent me scrambling for other work from the same authors, previously unknown to me. I should preface by saying that I’m not a big fan of slow, rambling pieces – I want the plot to get into motion, and my characters to be acting rather than to sit around being acted upon. Apparently Gold Medal editors had similar preferences.

A case in point is Sabadilla, by Richard Jessup, published in 1960. Jessup also wrote under the Richard Telfair alias and later had success with many juvenile novels. This book is the third by him I’ve read, and the best so far. The titular Sabadilla is a former Mexican revolutionary exiled from his country who wanders into a small town feud. The town wants to lynch a murderous rich man’s son without a trial, and the scheming rich man will stop at nothing to free his son. It sounds like a familiar setup, but Jessup dropped in so many surprises I honestly had no idea where this one would go or how it would shake out. Sabadilla himself is incredibly competent both with his gun and his razor-tipped riding quirt, with which he slays a number of villains. He’s cool and sad and honorable and honestly such a cool character I’m hoping Jessup wrote more novels about him, but I’m pretty sure most of the rest of his are standalone. I see that he has three westerns about a character named Wyoming Jones, and I’ll probably be trying those soon.

I read to be entertained, naturally, but as a writer myself I’m always reading at two levels, the other being watching how the author achieves different effects, seeing how character and pacing are handled, etcetera. All three of these authors were incredibly entertaining and educational. Wells is one of the best modern genre writers I’ve read, and like these older writers she draws the readers relentlessly forward, doling out little bits of world building and character information rather than dumping it in your lap in a boring mass that you have to digest. Story is paramount, and part of what makes the characters compelling is the gradual reveal of who they really are, a process I greatly prefer to the often prevalent modern one of providing the reader with an entire back history of a character before the story can truly get started.
Visit Howard Andrew Jones's website.

View the animated book trailer for Upon the Flight of the Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Olivia Hawker

Through unexpected characters and vivid prose, Olivia Hawker explores the varied landscape of the human spirit. Hawker’s interest in genealogy often informs her writing. Her first two novels from Lake Union Publishing, The Ragged Edge of Night and One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow (2019), are based on true stories found within the author’s family tree.

She lives in the San Juan Islands of Washington State with her husband Paul and several naughty cats.

Recently I asked Hawker about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been on a huge Joan Didion kick lately. That started this summer while I was working on a new book for Lake Union Publishing. It’s set in the late sixties and early seventies, and it deals with two women in their late twenties who are feeling thoroughly dissatisfied with their lives. I wanted to understand what women of that age were thinking and feeling during that time, which was a strange gray area between the exuberance and optimism of the hippie movement and the cynicism that gripped America once Nixon’s misdeeds were exposed. The peace-and-love thing was just starting to die down and no one was sure yet what kind of culture would grow up out of all the shocking societal changes that happened in the early and mid-sixties. I figured the best way to find the right tone for my book was to read what women in their late twenties and early thirties were writing about during that time, which naturally led me to Joan Didion.

I started with Play It as It Lays, her 1970 novel about a woman struggling to navigate Hollywood culture and a rather grim marriage. It was dark and honest and weird—three things I absolutely love in fiction—and that led me into many of Didion’s other works. I’m still going through them all now. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her 1968 collection of essays she wrote for various papers and magazines, was another stand-out favorite. I can see why Didion became such a fixture of the letters community early in her career. Her directness and engaging narrative style really pull you in and make you confront the realities of the subjects she chooses.

I’ve also been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf lately. I go on Woolf binges every ten years or so. I think she does the stream-of-consciousness thing superbly—which isn’t surprising, I suppose, since she really pioneered it—and I see a lot of Woolf’s influence in my own writing. I don’t do the stream-of-consciousness thing very often, but it comes up now and then in my work. Currently I’m reading Mrs. Dalloway and it’s always a delight to revisit.
Visit Olivia Hawker's website.

My Book, The Movie: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

The Page 69 Test: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2019

Chad Zunker

Chad Zunker studied journalism at the University of Texas, where he was also on the football team. He’s worked for some of the most powerful law firms in the country and invented baby products that are now sold all over the world. He has wanted to write full time since he took his first practice hit as a skinny freshman walk-on from a 6’5, 240 pound senior All-American safety — which crushed both him and his feeble NFL dreams.

Zunker is the author of the David Adams legal thriller, An Equal Justice, as well as The Tracker, Shadow Shepherd, and Hunt the Lion in his Sam Callahan series. He lives in Austin with his wife, Katie, and their three daughters.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Zunker's reply:
I’m currently knee deep in Lying Next To Me, a fantastic new domestic thriller by Gregg Olsen about a husband whose life gets shattered when his wife is abducted right in front of him. Of course, not everything is what it seems. As a husband with my own young kids, the book is absolutely gripping for me. Gregg and I share the same wonderful editor, Liz Pearsons at Thomas & Mercer, who recommended the book. After I finish writing David Adams #3, I plan to tackle my first domestic thriller. I can’t wait to get started!
Visit Chad Zunker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Hank Early

Hank Early lives in central Alabama with his wife and two kids. He writes crime, watches too much basketball, and rarely sleeps. His new book, Echoes of the Fall, is his third Earl Marcus novel.

In a previous life, he published horror as John Mantooth.

Recently I asked Early about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve got two books going at the moment, which is a new thing for me. In the past, I’ve been very much a one book at a time kind of guy, but over the last few years, I’ve discovered audiobooks on my long dayjob commute, and that means I have a book by my bed and one in my car.

In bed, I’ve been reading the hardback of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. It’s an interesting book, that feels a little bit like reading a lurid true crime pulp from yesteryear. Odd comparison, right? Well, maybe not. The occult rituals in the novel have the same powerful pull on my imagination. They’re gross and scary and you feel a little… wrong reading about them, but at the same time you absolutely can’t look away. Beyond that, Bardugo is just a lovely writer who mixes strong world-building skills with an introspective prose that has me absolutely hooked.

In my car, I’ve started listening to The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. Lerner is a prose stylist and brilliant at describing mundane moments that somehow take on a supernatural, almost cosmic edge. The novel has already taught me a lot about trusting your reader enough to take chances and be daring. There are moments when I feel lost, but then I find myself again, and the story is somehow better for those brief periods of disassociation. It’s a powerful novel too, one that manages to address today’s fraught political and social environment even though the story is set in the 1990’s.. I imagine I’ll be seeking out the rest of Lerner’s books in short order.

And… as I type this, I just received the hardback of Ted Chiang’s short story collection, Exhalation, and couldn’t stop myself from opening it up and reading a snippet. It was as good as advertised, which means I’m probably about to become a three books at a time kind of guy. And now, I’m wondering what took me so long?
Visit Hank Early's website.

The Page 69 Test: Echoes of the Fall.

My Book, The Movie: Echoes of the Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Margaret Mizushima

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. The latest title in the series is Tracking Game. Active within the writing community, Mizushima serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected the 2019-2020 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Recently I asked Mizushima about what she was reading. Here’s her reply:
I’m fortunate to have been asked to read an Advance Reader Copy of The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, a collection that will be released by Five Star Publishing on November 20, 2019. This fine anthology includes stories written by two of my favorite historical fiction authors: New York Times bestselling author, Sandra Dallas, and two-time Colorado Book Awards finalist, Pat Stoltey.

The opening story that shares its name with the anthology title is written by Sandra Dallas and features a sheriff and his wife who arrive at an outlying farm to investigate the farmer’s death by pitchfork. The storyteller captivated me as the tale outlined the events leading up to this man’s murder—fine writing at its best.

Pat Stoltey’s contribution, "Good Work for a Girl," captures the hardships a family endures as they head west to seek a new life. Gradually, members of the family succumb to illness and accident until only one is left, young Cecilia who tries to find adequate work. Met with the prejudices of the day, she’s turned down wherever she goes, but this spunky girl rises to the challenge until she finds good work for a girl. I loved watching Cecilia grow and succeed despite the odds being stacked against her.

Every story in this collection shines. In addition to Dallas and Stoltey, other authors who’ve contributed are Deborah Morgan, Charlotte Hinger, Larry D. Sweazy, Sharon Frame Gay, Matthew P. Mayo, Randi Samuelson-Brown, C. K. Crigger, W. Michael Farmer, Candace Simar, Patricia Grady Cox, Marcia Gaye, John D. Nesbitt, Paul Colt, and Preston Lewis. They all deserve a mention because each individual story is a winner.

I loved this anthology, and I highly recommend it.
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Elizabeth LaBan

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, Not Perfect, and Pretty Little World, which she co-authored with Melissa DePino. She also wrote the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

LaBan's new novel is Beside Herself.

Recently I asked the author about what sh was reading. LaBan's reply:
I am a firm believer that whatever is going on in your life can greatly affect your connection to a book. I think that’s why I love reading about marriage and family life so much, and literally couldn’t put down the book Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner when I read it recently. For that reason, I decided to read Less by Andrew Sean Greer right now during the weeks my novel Beside Herself is brand new in the world because I want to read about the plight of another author. The book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is about Arthur Less who is described on the back of the book as a failed novelist. He is struggling with his love life, and, in an effort to escape, embarks on a journey around the world. As the book opens, Arthur Less is heading to another, more successful author’s book event where he and the other author will be “in conversation” together. There is a moment at the beginning of the book when Less wonders what he and the author will talk about that rang so true to me I would like to write it on a piece of paper and frame it. And yet, what is there to ask him? Less thought to himself as he arrived at the venue where the event would take place. What does one ever ask an author except, “How?” And the answer, as Less well knows, is obvious: “Beats me!”

I am enjoying the book very much. And to take that a step further, I feel lucky that two bestselling authors are helping launch my book by agreeing to be “in conversation” with me. Last week Camille Pagan did an event with me, and next week I am doing an event with Jennifer Weiner. In preparation for those events I reread Camille’s most recent book I’m Fine and Neither Are You, which I loved so much I think I enjoyed it as much the second time as I did the first. And I also just read Jen’s spooky Halloween story "Everyone’s A Critic," which I also loved so much. It went by way too quickly, and my one and only complaint was that it was too short and I wish she had written the same story in novel form so I could stay in that world longer. At least that will give us something to talk about!
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Liska Jacobs

Liska Jacobs holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications.

Jacobs's new novel is The Worst Kind of Want.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to read multiple books at once. These are the ones that I have on my nightstand currently, although my TBR pile is probably four times this size!

The Oblivion Seekers, Isabelle Eberhardt: I recently just finished reading this, but I’m including it because now I’m obsessed with Eberhardt. She was a female adventurer who traveled Africa dressed as an Arab man in the early 20th century, smoking opium, writing—doing pretty much whatever she liked and going wherever she pleased.

Hotel Du Lac, Anita Brookner: I picked this up because I’ve started working on my third novel, which will take place in a hotel. So far I’ve enjoyed the main character, Edith, a romance writer banished to an old but elegant hotel along the shores of Lake Geneva in the off season. It won the Booker prize in 1984, so the expectations are high.

The Man Who Saw Everything, Deborah Levy: I am a Levy fanatic. There are very few authors whose books I preorder, and Levy is one of them. It’s a beautiful novel about time and life and the imaginary borders we have surrounding identity and place.
Visit Liska Jacobs's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Worst Kind of Want.

The Page 69 Test: The Worst Kind of Want.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Tessa Arlen

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Arlen's reply:
Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson

It has been an intense couple of years: moving to our new house in Santa Fe and writing the debut to a new mystery series have been tremendous fun, but sometimes a bit draining! So, last week when the weather cooled and we lit the first fire of the season, I hunted through my bookshelves for a comforting re-read and chose Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson. A book that rewards those exhausted from the stern realities of our world, and in search of a good chuckle by the fireside.

E.F. Benson ranks among my favorite fiction re-reads along with Nancy Mitford and P.G. Wodehouse. Benson’s Lucia novels, written between 1920 and 1939, had an enormous impact on the subsequent Golden Age of British writing, influencing the comic work of Mitford, Waugh and Coward who were all doting fans.

For those not yet acquainted with the incomparable Lucia, the novels are delicious send-ups of the snobbish cultural lives of upper-middle-class people in interwar Britain. Amid endless musical evenings and ridiculous mannered luncheons, we watch social rivals Miss Mapp and Lucia vie with each other to become Queen of Tilling-on-Sea.

When Lucia invites Georgie to play “un petit morceau” of Beethoven (opening movement of the Moonlight Sonata only) after a dinner party, in her Elizabethan drawing room that looks out on her beloved Shakespeare garden, or as they chatter away together in broken restaurant-Italian, completely unaware that an Italian countess has been invited to luncheon, their dreadful pretentions are hilarious and we simply hug ourselves with delight at their come-uppance, and pray, at the same time, that somehow they won’t lose face.

Someone once asked me if E.F. Benson wasn’t a bit silly. Yes, his books are utterly daft, but so spot on! Wherever we go, whoever we meet, there are always a frantically scheming Miss Mapp; a ruthlessly lofty Lucia; an excruciatingly artistic Quaint Irene; a desperately earnest Daisy Quantock, and an affable and worshipful Georgie among us, that’s what makes the novels so rewarding.

And please, let’s never underestimate how difficult it is to write wickedly farcical plots, deftly portrayed characters, and witty dialogue the way Benson does it, or be fooled that the travails and dilemmas of the inhabitants of Tilling-on-Sea aren’t relevant—even today.

If the hard reality of life is getting you down a bit, just pick up a copy of one of Benson’s Lucia books (there are five of them) and within twenty minutes you will be giggling away as you recognize your greatest friends and dearest enemies within its pages.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

See Tessa Arlen’s top five historical novels.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

--Marshal Zeringue