Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of four novels including The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, The Lost Art of Mixing, and The Scent Keeper.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Bauermeister's reply:
I am an eclectic reader, mixing together research for new books, audio books that keep me company while traveling, and books I read for pleasure. Here’s a sampling of what’s crossed my path recently:

The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time by Maria Konnikova

How do you con someone? You find the core belief they never want to give up: I’m handsome. The world is a generous place. People are honest. In many ways a con artist is simply a more careful reader than most of us, able to see things we keep hidden and take advantage of weaknesses we don’t want to admit. Maria Konnikova’s book is a thorough, entertaining look into the perplexities and complexities of human behavior.

Spoonbenders: A Novel by Daryl Gregory

A novel of psychics and con artists (sense a trend?), all set in a plot line that is as intricate as the workings of a fantastical clock. There are Russian spies and space-and-time travel and family dynamics. All the pieces fit together, but I defy you to figure out how before the ending. I listened to the audio version, and the reader was a perfect match for the material.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

A big, gorgeous novel about one family and the loss that changes all of them. Tara Conklin’s writing is poignant and insightful. I crawled inside the lives of these characters and didn’t come out until long after the book was finished.

I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell

In Maggie O’Farrell’s hands, a topic that might have become morbid or sensational turns into a series of thoughtful, beautiful essays. Each brush with death creates its own insights and philosophical musings. O’Farrell is a novelist as well, and her memoir-in-essays takes full advantage of her literary skills to create a profound reading experience.
Visit Erica Bauermeister's website.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Essential Ingredients.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Art of Mixing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

S. C. Megale

S. C. Megale is an author and filmmaker. She's been profiled in USA Today, The Washington Post, and New York Newsday, and has appeared on NBC’s Today Show and the CBS Evening News for her philanthropic and literary work. As a humanitarian, she's spoken on the USS Intrepid, at the NASDAQ opening bell, and to universities and doctors nationwide. She enjoys making connections all over the world.

Megale was raised in the long grass of the Civil War, hunting for relics and catching fireflies along the banks of Bull Run. A shark tooth, flutes, and a flask are some of the items that hang from her wheelchair, and she had a fear of elevators until realizing this was extremely inconvenient. She lives with her family which includes her parents, sister and brother, service dog, and definitely-not-service dog.

Megale's new book, This is Not a Love Scene, is her first published novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Grasp your phone or desktop firmly over what I am about to tell you. I'm a student at the University of Virginia and have not read a work of fiction for pleasure since reading Clifford the Big Red Dog in the library and crying because I love this and I'm tired and the coffee store closed and I have to read hundreds of pages of Suetonius and Oceanography. I'm a History major. A lot of primary sources. What I'm immensely proud of, though, is my collection of books at home. When Borders Bookstore closed, I purchased a shelf off their store floor. That shelf, now a relic, is my pride and joy, holding over a hundred of the coolest, rarest, most valued books. Among the library of that shelf are: signed Hunger Games, Harry Potter, John Green, John Grisham, David Baldacci, Divergent, Percy Jackson, and Ranger's Apprentice books, raw conference proceedings, gravestone records, and marriage records of Virginia, astronomical surveys of Stonehenge, a doctoral thesis on werewolves, and much more.
Visit S.C. Megale's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Is Not a Love Scene.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 20, 2019

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Girls in the Picture, about the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood's earliest female legends—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford, 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 Mistress of the Ritz.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Henry, Himself by Stewart O’Nan. This is the third book in a trilogy about a Pittsburgh family; the other two books are Wish You Were Here and emily, Alone. I love these books; they’re quiet, but layered, and each family member is exquisitely drawn; you get the perspective of all of them, from the youngest grandchild to the matriarch and patriarch – even the family dog! But it’s O’Nan’s compassionate portrayal of aging that makes these books so dear to me; he pulls no punches about the ravages of time on the body and the mind, but he also finds comfort in memories, as we all do. His heroine, Emily Maxwell, is one of the best female characters in all of fiction; she’s dignified, funny, exasperating, loving, and endlessly practical about the time left to her. These three books are very similar to Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, other favorites of mine; treat yourself to all three books in O’Nan’s trilogy.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Meghan Holloway

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.​​

She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Holloway's new novel is Once More Unto the Breach.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just turned in my 2020 release to my publisher, and I am giving myself a bit of a break before I dive into my next work in progress. Of course, much of this break will be spent reading research books for my next project, but I am also putting aside time to reread some of my favorites and catch up on books that have been lingering in my ‘To Be Read’ pile.

The books I am rereading include Atonement, All the Light We Cannot See, and All Quiet on the Western Front.

Ian McEwan’s intellectual and literary style always takes my breath away. The postmodern era brought metafiction to prominence, and I am intrigued by works that both tell a story and explore the art of storytelling. But even more than the style, I love the theme of redemption in Atonement. It is the core theme of Once More Unto the Breach as well. We all carry regrets with us, we all live under the shadow of our mistakes, and I am always engrossed by stories that are unflinching in their exploration of those mistakes.

What I love about Anthony Doerr’s hauntingly brilliant masterpiece is that every sliver of backstory you learn adds a deeper level of understanding to the unfolding narrative. I aimed for that same layering in Once More Unto the Breach, with each perspective and every flashback giving the reader deeper insight into the characters and their relationship to one another. In All the Light We Cannot See, the storytelling is as captivating as the plot, and I find Doerr’s lyricism utterly inspiring.

With a protagonist who is a Great War veteran, I knew I had to portray shell shock authentically, and Erich Maria Remarque’s book is one I always come back to for insight into the emotional wounds of war. All Quiet on the Western Front is a bleakly and gut-wrenchingly beautiful saga that is a detailed depiction of a generation utterly ravaged by a war that was on a scale never before seen. The wounding and the detachment of the Lost Generation is so viscerally shown in this book. To my mind, it is the best war story in existence. And like all true war stories, it is a vehement anti-war tome.

I am also catching up on some phenomenal nonfiction and fiction. Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis is a brilliant, harrowing piece of nonfiction that reads like a spy thriller. A.J. Baime’s The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World is an engrossing read about the man thrust into a position of leadership at one of the most tumultuous, pivotal points in history. Jane Healey’s The Beantown Girls is a vivid story of sisterhood, love, and sacrifice that centers around a little-known group of inspiring women in WWII. The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox is a beautiful gothic mystery and romance with a wonderful cast of characters and an engaging plot.

While a large portion of my reading revolves around the World Wars, I love a riveting read, nonfiction or fiction, regardless of time period. If you have any recommendations for great reads, send them my way. What has kept you relentlessly turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning lately?
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Istagram.

My Book, The Movie: Once More Unto the Breach.

The Page 69 Test: Once More Unto the Breach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Leah Hager Cohen

Leah Hager Cohen was born in Manhattan and raised at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens and later in Nyack, New York. She attended Hampshire College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The author of five novels and five works of nonfiction, she is the Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at the College of the Holy Cross.

Cohen's new novel is Strangers and Cousins.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished A Simple Story, the 1923 novel by the Nobel Laureate S. Y. Agnon. Should I be embarrassed to say that I’d never even heard of Agnon until recently?

Any simplicity here is deceptive; the title should be taken with a wink. Although the story, set in the fictional Polish town of Szybusz at the turn of the 20th century, unfolds as if a familiar tale (think star-crossed lovers) in a familiar setting (think Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Fools of Chelm or Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman), it’s anything but.

The experience of reading this book was wonderfully disorienting, as my expectations were repeatedly challenged and ultimately confounded. I might have finished in a huff if not for the excellent afterward by Hillel Halkin, who also translated the novel from the original Hebrew. As it is, I’m left with a complex aftertaste that makes me want to re-read the novel – but even better, leaves me contemplating notions of individuality and community, and how they fit together, and how life should be lived, what we, any of us, are here for.
Visit Leah Hager Cohen's website.

The Page 69 Test: Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Lara Elena Donnelly

Lara Elena Donnelly is the author of the vintage-glam spy thriller trilogy The Amberlough Dossier (Tor), as well as short fiction and poetry appearing in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Uncanny.

A graduate of the Clarion and Alpha writers’ workshops, Donnelly has also served as on-site staff at the latter, mentoring amazing teens who will someday take over the world of SFF. She is currently a guest lecturer in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College and a teacher at the Catapult Classes in New York City.

Recently I asked Donnelly about what she was reading. Her reply:
Back in 2012, one of my Clarion instructors mentioned The Talented Mr. Ripley in workshop. The name was vaguely familiar, but only as a received pop culture artifact. But she talked about it in such glowing terms I thought, I guess I’d better read this.

And I tried. But I bounced off it like a superball.

Years passed. My tastes changed. My own writing, and my understanding of other authors’ craft, improved. And, after a bout with another thriller many blurbs and reviews hailed as “Ripleyesque,” which I found equal parts un-put-downable and deeply frustrating on a couple of craft levels, I thought, maybe I should try Ripley again.

I tore through it this time. Whenever I set it aside to do something else, I was back on the sofa within half an hour. Patricia Highsmith makes every moment of that book feel like a potential turning point in Tom Ripley’s hectic, high-stakes scam. None of the characters is a hero or a villain; the book is a masterclass in winning reader empathy through characterization and context.

Recently, after looking at some pages for a proposed new project, my editor said they reminded her of Highsmith, and asked if I could lean even harder on that tone, those characters, that voice. I had pitched the project as Perfume: The Story of a Murderer meets Brian Fuller’s Hannibal, in the style of Donna Tartt. But as soon as she said “Highsmith,” I knew she was right.

So I’ve lately finished Strangers on a Train, her debut, and Ripley Under Ground. Next is Ripley’s Game. She has such a particular way of presenting her characters’ situations through a lens that invites the reader to adopt a peculiar code privileging personal aesthetic over public morality. Of presenting elevated aesthetics as the highest achievement, an end worth any number of unsavory means.

Supporting this on every page is her lush imagery—setting, art, culture, food, people. She paints pictures of the luxe life, yes, but her skill is apparent even in small, intimate moments. In Strangers on a Train, she describes Anne at work over her illustrations: “When she dabbled her paintbrush fast in a glass of water, the sound was like laughter.” Oof! The gorgeous specificity! If you’ve ever painted in watercolor, you know that sound, and you know she’s dead-on.

The more I read of her work, the less I’m sure I’ll be able to carry off amorality with quite so much elegance. But wow, she really makes me want to try.
Visit Lara Elena Donnelly's website.

My Book, The Movie: Amberlough.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is an American science fiction author. He has won multiple awards including the International UPC Science Fiction award for Ships in the Night, a Nebula for Seeker, a Campbell Award for Omega, and the Robert Heinlein Lifetime Achievement Award. He has over 20 novels available in print, ebook and audio. He resides in Georgia with his lovely wife, Maureen.

McDevitt's new book is Octavia Gone, the latest Alex Benedict novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America caught my attention during one of the author’s appearances on “Morning Joe.” Meacham seems to have a clear perspective on what’s been happening in the United States. And he has won a Pulitzer Prize. In The Soul of America he discusses various dark times, some far worse than this current era, and argues that ultimately it’s up to the citizenry to stand up for what is right. If we can do that, we will get through into the daylight. It may take time, but it is essential that we refuse to despair.

The Churchill Factor, by Boris Johnson, moves into similar territory, using the former British prime minister to demonstrate that one man can move the world. When Churchill assumed office, in 1940, the Germans were winning everywhere. The French were surrendering, the Nazis were moving into Poland. Hitler was offering the British a deal. Back off, he was saying, and everything will be okay. Everyone in the upper levels of the British government wanted to accept his terms. Other than Churchill. He insisted they keep fighting, and he managed eventually to persuade FDR to bring the US into the war. Had he not accomplished all that, 1945 would have been a far darker year.

A Devil’s Chaplain, by Richard Dawkins. This is a collection of essays on assorted subjects by the famed evolutionary biologist. He argues that positions should be based on evidence. He goes in multiple directions. What does evolution actually mean? If every mother were to hold hands with her mother, and we took it back generations, allowing one yard for each mother, in less than 300 miles, we’ll be holding hands with chimpanzees.

I’m also reading H. L. Mencken’s Prejudices, the first volume in the Library of America collection. A brilliant journalist , Mencken took on conformity in American culture and any other target that annoyed him.

Finally I’ve dived into Harlan Ellison’s story collection, Strange Wine. I doubt there are any readers of this blog who aren’t familiar with Harlan’s dazzling fiction.
Visit Jack McDevitt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Octavia Gone.

The Page 69 Test: Octavia Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 10, 2019

Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is a born-and-bred North Carolina girl who loves all four seasons—especially fall in Chapel Hill, where she attended college, and summer in Beaufort, where she and her family spend every free moment. The author of The Secret of Southern Charm, Slightly South of Simple, Dear Carolina, and Lies and Other Acts of Love, Harvey is also the founder of the popular interior design blog Design Chic.

Her new novel is The Southern Side of Paradise.

Recently I asked Harvey about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am currently reading I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagán. It is an insightful and very timely book about a woman whose best friend dies suddenly—of an accidental opioid overdose. In the aftermath of her friend Jenny’s death, Penelope begins to question everything: her career, her marriage, and her relationships with her brother and father. Instead of burying her head in the sand, she decides to face her troubles head on. She and her husband Sanjay make a pact to be brutally honest with each other and ask for the changes they need to make their marriage better. But, as is so often the case, honesty comes with unexpected consequences. It’s a fast-paced read with beautifully drawn characters and a fresh plot. I can’t put it down!

I’m also reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. I must be the only person in the world who hasn’t read her books yet, but they are such a great reminder, especially as I head out on a six-week book tour, that our path and our definition of success is for us to decide. It’s easy to get caught up in worries about what everyone else is going to think about your work, but, as Brown reminds us, what ultimately matters is what we think. My science brain loves that this is a book based on Brown’s years of research. It’s a fascinating read!
Visit Kristy Woodson Harvey's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Southern Side of Paradise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Timothy Jay Smith

Timothy Jay Smith has traveled the world collecting stories and characters for his novels and screenplays which have received high praise. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction for his first book, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Smith was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, "Stolen Memories." His screenplays have won numerous international competitions. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

Smith's latest novel is The Fourth Courier.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The Fourth Courier, my novel set in Poland, was only released a few weeks ago, but I’m already well into my research for a new novel. Set in Istanbul, it’s the story of a gay Syrian refugee who gets recruited by the CIA to go deep undercover to carry out a dangerous mission. I know Istanbul less well than other locations in my novels, so I’m working my way through a small library of books set there.

In fiction, I like to read the kind of books that I write, and the two novels I just finished were relatively fast-paced stories, but not all action, which had depth and could even be accused of verging on literary. They were Joseph Kanon’s Istanbul Passage and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. Also like my own work, both stories were set against the backdrop of a bigger picture issue, so they were enlightening at the same time.

With scenes of Jews hunkered down on rickety ships destined for Israel, Kanon describes the chaos that ensued for many people immediately after the end of WWII. They’re also a metaphor for the chaos in the diplomatic and espionage circles in which his story plays out.

In his thin and brilliant novel, Hamid tells a different refugee story, of a young couple fleeing war in an unnamed country that has all the trappings of Syria. His novel is exceptionally clever for a device he uses, and all I will say is: the doors. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

So now I have embarked on somewhat drier reading territory. I have Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul, to work my way through. He obsesses on details, though I will admit, his Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, which he created as a companion to his novel of the same name, is so obsessed with minutiae of an obsessive love affair that if there were such a thing as installation literature, like there’s installation art, he would define the genre.

Far more adventurous is the non-fiction Midnight at the Pera Palace by Charles King, the title referring to the bar favored by spies and diplomats between the two world wars. It’s great for capturing an era, which isn’t the era I’m writing about, but the circumstances haven’t altogether changed. Istanbul is still a center of intrigue.

I’ve saved the best for last. Certainly the most lighthearted. When someone learned that my new novel involved a gay character in Istanbul, he suggested I read something by Mehmet Murat Somer. (Who? I hadn’t heard of him either.) It turns out, he’s the author of the Turkish Delight detective novels featuring a drag queen Audrey-Hepburn-lookalike who’s also an amateur sleuth. I’m halfway through The Serenity Murders. Who knew that anyplace in Turkey could be so campy?
Visit Timothy Jay Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 6, 2019

Kristin Fields

Kristin Fields grew up in Queens, which she likes to think of as a small town next to a big city. Fields studied writing at Hofstra University, where she was awarded the Eugene Schneider Award for Short Fiction. After college, she found herself working on a historic farm, as a high school English teacher, designing museum education programs, and is currently leading an initiative to bring gardens to New York City public schools. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Fields's new novel is A Lily in the Light.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m deep into writing my next book, which is set in Queens/the 1960s during the height of drug culture. My main character, thirteen year old Gia, really loves nature and wildlife, and is particularly interested in the ecosystems surrounding Jamaica Bay where she lives, so I’ve been reading a lot about heroin, marshes, and historical reference books on Queens at the time.

I often find that the fiction I’m reading reflects what I’m trying to capture in my writing. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane has crept onto my nightstand, as has The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia. Mystic River follows three childhood friends after one is abducted and returned into adulthood, where one of their daughters is murdered. The Murmur of Bees is the story of a baby found abandoned under a bridge, covered in bees, set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and influenza of 1918.

They seem inherently different; Dennis Lehane has this heartbreaking way of capturing setting in its realist form while Sofia Segovia plays with magic. Merging that mirror-like capture of place, while also finding the unique, almost magical elements of it is certainly the goal for my current work in progress.
Visit Kristin Fields's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Lily in the Light.

--Marshal Zeringue