Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jenny Gardiner

Jenny Gardiner is the author of the novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Her writing has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post, and NPR’s Day to Day, and she has a column of humorous slice-of-life essays that runs in the Charlottesville, VA Daily Progress. Gardiner lives in central Virginia with her husband, three kids, two dogs, one cat, and one gregarious parrot.

Her new book, now available for pre-order, is Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me.

About two weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply.
I tend to be juggling several books at one time. The way my lifestyle is (driving kids to and fro, etc) I like to have something always at the ready, so I'll keep a book in my car, in the summer in my beach bag (for that rare chance to be at the pool), always one or two in my purse (lines at the grocery store are less painful if you can distract yourself with a book!). And of course I've got a book I read as I'm falling to sleep at night and I keep a book on my bathroom sink to read when blowdrying my hair/brushing my teeth. Don't laugh--I have so few moments in my day to just enjoy a book, I want to have one at the ready, just in case!

Now, this has all been made simpler and more complicated now that I have a Kindle. Which I LOVE, by the way. I apologize for those who take issue with Amazon--I empathize completely and do not like some of the business decisions they've made of late. But...being able to have a bazillion books in one teeny condensed square like that is fabulous. I can travel and have whatever I want at my fingertips, minus the bad back from lugging so many books along. I can feel somewhat less guilty for being responsible for the demise of vast stands of trees (somewhat). I can be lying in bed at midnight, hating the book I had started to read and not having another one handy, and in one minute I can purchase and download a new one! That's pretty damned cool.

Just the other day I heard of a book I needed to research something for a novel I'm working on. I was SO excited to pull over and order it for my Kindle. Only to be disappointed that it wasn't available as a Kindle book--boo!

I do hope that ultimately e-books will be available for purchase from all stores: indies, competing stores, etc, rather than having to make the purchase simply through one vendor. I think down the road this will be the case. We're in such early days with the whole e-book industry that a lot of vetting will occur until we get to that point...

That said, I have a LOT of tangible books in my TBR pile as well, so for the time being, rather than always having to find my Kindle and have it where I want it (a mild inconvenience), I'm still in the keep-books-everywhere mode. So currently on my Kindle I am reading a book by one of my new favorite authors and a new author friend, Ad Hudler, titled Househusband. It's a novel about a man who transfers to a new city when his wife gets a high-powered job, and in the midst of the transition decides to become a stay-at-home father to their young daughter. The perceptions and insights that Hudler brings to this novel so successfully bridge the gap between men and women, it really helps to portray the stay-at-home parent condition in such a clear light. He does so with snappy prose, amazing metaphors and similes and some awesome recipes to boot. It's laugh-out-loud but also has many poignant, insightful moments (so much so that I told him I think he's an Oracle!).

The other book I finally picked up is another new author friend of mine--we've loosely known each other from Backspace, a wonderful online writers' group, for a few years, and met in person in January at Kathy Patrick's fabulous Pulpwood Queen's Girlfriends Weekend--Jamie Ford. His novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a touching, sweet story of unrequited love, of star-crossed friends torn apart by the cruel circumstances of time and history. It's an engaging read and feels so innocent and hopeful, it will keep you turning the pages.

In my to-be-read next pile are a number of Pat Conroy novels. I had the wonderful good fortune of meeting and talking at length with him at the Pulpwood Queens weekend as well, and found him to be such a charming, funny, engaging and thoughtful person. I don't tend to be one to seek signed books, but his I did for a number of friends and relatives. I have his latest, South of Broad, awaiting me, as well as his cookbook, of which I stole a few glances and can see the lovely raconteur in there, so can't wait to dig into. And I want to go back and read the books that put him on the map: The Great Santini, Prince of Tides and Beach Music.

A fun fact about Pat Conroy: at this conference, he insisted on purchasing and having signed every book by every author in attendance (about 40). Now that's a classy guy.
Watch a video of Gardiner discussing Winging It, and learn more about the book and author at Jenny Gardiner's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Sleeping With Ward Cleaver.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 25, 2010

JT Ellison

JT Ellison is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson series, including All The Pretty Girls, 14, Judas Kiss, and The Cold Room.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Don’t laugh, but I’m in the frantic last week prior to a book release, waiting on copyedits for my October book, and trying to write my 2011 book, which means I’m not in a good way when it comes to reading. The closer I get to these big dates, the less fiction I can manage. I’m not sure why that is – guilt, probably, that I’m being swept away when there is so much work to do.

But without reading, I go a little mad, so I have to find a compromise. And that is non-fiction. I’ve never been much of a read non-fiction for pleasure kind of girl until the past year or so. I read a lot of non-fiction for research, of course, but it wasn’t until a friend recommended The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty Moore that it hit me – non-fiction can be fun, too!

With that in mind, I’m currently reading Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. Kaku is one of those frighteningly brilliant scientists, you know the kind, the ones who figure out the whys behind the universe. He developed string theory, the basic “theory of everything.” It’s rather cool stuff, and Kaku has a knack for explaining the most mind-boggling theorems in plain English.

In Physics of the Impossible, Kaku takes examples from science fiction phenomena, things like intergalactic space travel and invisible shields and time machines, and shows just how close we are to being able to do those things. The book is broken into three levels of impossibilities – ones that are close to happening, far away from happening and will never happen. I’ll leave it to you to read this fascinating book and see which is which.
Learn more about the author and her novels at J.T. Ellison's website.

My Book, The Movie: the Taylor Jackson series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Craig McDonald

Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites. His nonfiction books include Art in the Blood, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life.

His debut novel
Head Games, was selected as a 2008 Edgar nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author. It is followed by Toros & Torsos and the newly released Print the Legend.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I tend to have several books going at any given time. This past year, I agreed to serve on a reading committee for one of crime fiction’s major genre awards and my reading material was largely mandated for me — there were nearly 300 novels to consider.

With that task behind me, I’ve turned back to some old preoccupations/favorite books.

At the moment, I’m re-reading Michael S. Reynolds’ excellent and definitive multi-volume biography of Ernest Hemingway. I just concluded An American Homecoming, which covers the period roughly between the completion of The Sun Also Rises and the wrapping up of the composition of A Farewell To Arms.

I’ve now turned to the equally excellent follow-up volume, Hemingway: The 1930s, which moves in to the Key West period of Hemingway’s life, taking him on into the Spanish Civil War.

Following on the Hemingway theme, I’m also reading The Lousy Racket: Hemingway, Scribners and the Business of Literature by Robert W. Trogdon. Trogdon’s book aims to closely examine “Hemingway’s professional collaboration with Scribners… the editing, promotion and sales of his books as he published with the firm from 1926 to 1952.” With my own novel coming out soon, and as I’m attempting to bring it to readers’ attention in a particularly crazy and uncertain publishing period, Trogdon’s book, and Hemingway’s own strategies for book promotion in a then-shifting media world, hold a keen interest for me.

On a non-Hemingway note, the novel of the moment for me is a re-read of James Sallis’ Eye of the Cricket, my favorite novel in my favorite crime series — the Lew Griffin cycle. I’ve read the book many times; I expect to read it many times again over the years to come.

Whenever I’m looking for inspiration for my own writing, or simply for a story to get lost in, I turn to Sallis, and more often than not, to Cricket. This one finds Lew Griffin — variously author, professor and sometimes private investigator — on a kind of quest that evokes faint memories of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a novel about missing people, confused identities and the search for self. This novel, is for me, a masterpiece… probably my favorite of Sallis’ novels, to date.
Read more about Print the Legend, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website, blog, and Crimespace page.

The Page 69 Test: Toros & Torsos.

The Page 69 Test: Head Games.

Read "The Story Behind the Story: Print the Legend, by Craig McDonald," at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jerald Winakur

Jerald Winakur is the author of Memory Lessons: A Doctor's Story.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Well, I'm reading two books at the moment:

--My wife, Lee Robinson, and I teach part-time at our local medical school, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. I am a geriatrician, she a retired attorney and a poet, and we try to nurture these young doctors-to-be in a "Literature and Medicine" elective each year. I am re-reading, The Doctor Stories by Dr. William Carlos Williams, general practitioner, pediatrician, famous Imagist poet and one incredibly insightful human being. His stories of his encounters with patients during the tough years of the 30s in the tenements of Rutherford, New Jersey are gems of observation, nuance and raw emotion. He shows--like no doctor before or since--the complexities of the doctor-patient bond, how difficult it can be, but how rewarding. Of course, every practicing doctor and every doctor-in-training should read this book. And re-read it. But so should any reader interested in seeing the practice of medicine as it once was--and ought to be again. Some of these stories are tough and disturbing, some even more so. But the honesty shines through--here you see "nothing but the thing itself."

--It has been a hard winter in the Great Plains states and in the Hill Country of Texas where I live, many birds that usually winter much farther north are here at my feeders. One is the Harris's Sparrow--our largest North American sparrow with a handsome black cap and bib and a pink bill. I hadn't seen him in years until last week. The Internet is so marvelous--I Google-searched the bird and learned that his breeding ground is in the far northwest territories of Canada. I also came across this book: Return to Warden's Grove: Science, Desire, and the Lives of Sparrows by Christopher Norment who spent three summers on the breeding grounds of this bird as he worked on his PhD thesis in the early nineties. He is now a professor of environmental science and biology at SUNY Brockport and this book is a joy--an adventure story, incredibly lyrical writing about the far North, a commentary on how we live our lives and what most of us must give up in order to live conventionally. It is a dream song, a love poem, a meditation on life--and I feel it ranks among the best nature writing I have ever read--from Thoreau to Muir to Matthiesson. You will be entranced.
Read the introduction to Memory Lessons, and learn more about the author and his work at Jerald Winakur's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kristina Springer

Kristina Springer has a Bachelor of Arts in English Education from Illinois State University and a Master of Arts in Writing from DePaul University.

The Espressologist, her first novel, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in the fall of 2009.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I really like chick lit type of books-- both young adult and adult so I tend to grab material in that area- light, fun, romance. Right now I'm re-reading Kristin Walker's A Match Made in High School. I read it in ARC format a year or so ago and it was laugh-out loud funny so now that's it's been recently released I was excited to read it again. It's a super cute story about a teenager named Fiona who is forced to partake in a marriage project with a guy who is so totally and completely opposite from her. It's hysterical and everyone needs a good laugh!

I'm also listening to the third Queen of Babble audiobook by Meg Cabot--Queen of Babble Gets Hitched. I like to listen to books in the gym and Meg's are perfect! It's like chatting with a girlfriend. And her main character in this series, Lizzie Nichols, is addictive. I picked up the first Queen of Babble book on a fluke and I had to get the rest right away.
Learn more about Kristina Springer and her books at her website and blog, and become a Facebook fan of The Espressologist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trysh Travis

Trysh Travis is Assistant Professor & Undergraduate Coordinator at the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research at the University of Florida. Her new book is The Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey.

About a week ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Having spent the last 8 years reading and writing about 12-Step recovery, I decided to wind down from my research by doing a little reading about addiction. I started off with David and Nic Sheff’s father-son memoirs about crystal meth: Beautiful Boy and Tweak.

The younger Sheff became addicted to meth in college after being a run of the mill adolescent partier. His father’s book ponders whether his frankness about his own youthful drug use and his lackadaisical attitude towards his son’s drinking and pot smoking in high school created the conditions for Nic’s devastating dependence on harder drugs later on. The books raise some interesting questions about “permissive” parenting in post-‘60s America: both come down hard on Sheff pere for having gotten divorced and subjected fils to a joint custody arrangement that had him spending summers and holidays with his working mother. Both seem to agree that the father tried too hard to be his son’s friend, denying him a “normal” childhood even as he created (with his second wife) an idyllic nuclear family focused on two precocious younger children.

The books share a setting—San Francisco and Marin County, where the Sheffs have homes—and expend a lot of energy detailing their bohemian pastoral lifestyle, with its excursions to the national seashore to surf and hike, its concerts and protest marches, and its delicious organic dinners eaten off of hand-made plates. This rich depiction of their perfect Pottery Barn existence is probably intended to throw into relief the question that both authors wrestle with: “how could anyone who had so much give it all away for the squalid life of a drug addict?” But for me it sadly had the opposite effect, exaggerating the narcissism so often at the heart of the addiction memoir genre.

I admit that the other book I’ve been reading influenced my impression of the Sheff volumes. Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg’s Righteous Dopefiend is an ethnographic study (in text and photos) of homeless heroin injectors living at the edge of San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood between 1994-2006. It reveals the economic and political realignments that have made possible the incredible abundance enjoyed by the Sheffs and others in their class—and makes plain the degree to which those realignments have also created the conditions for the disaffection and degradation that characterize the lives of the hardcore homeless.

The book has two intertwined aims. First, it works to humanize the individuals that most Americans would prefer to keep nameless and undifferentiated at the margins of our cities. The members of Dopefiend’s homeless encampments emerge as individuals with complex histories, unique voices, and distinctive moral and aesthetic standards. All of these influence their attitudes towards drug procurement and use, as well as towards family, straight life, and race and gender relations.

Second, the text demonstrates that thirty years of warring on drugs and getting tough on crime have done nothing to reduce the demand for street drugs. However, when taken in combination with economic shifts away from an industrial and towards a knowledge economy, these policies have done an outstanding job of making the lives of impoverished drug users absolutely miserable. Bourgois and Schonberg chronicle the various efforts made by city, state, and national governments to harass and humiliate their subjects.

Theoretically, these policies are meant to stem the flow of taxpayer dollars to individuals deemed morally unworthy. But they have the convenient side effect of pushing indigent drug users further and further to the margins of society. At the margins, the authors argue, the moral suasions and behavior modification strategies that eventually get the Nic Sheffs of the world clean and sober have no effect. The righteous dopefiends of the world—and the larger society around them—would benefit more from a harm-reduction approach to addiction.

Since the 19th century, memoirs about addiction have worked to convey to readers the anguish and helplessness felt by the addict as she or he spirals downward from happy respectability to utter degradation and demoralization. The addiction memoir is a cautionary tale—a middlebrow genre for a middle-class audience. If you want to feel the psychic pain that the genre specializes in bringing to life, you’ll enjoy the Sheff volumes. If you want a picture of the political economy of addiction that is somewhat less sympathetic to middle-class discomfort, Bourgois and Schonberg paint a brilliant one.
Read an excerpt from The Language of the Heart, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

John McFetridge

John McFetridge lives in Toronto and works as a staff writer for the TV cop show The Bridge, airing on CBS this fall.

He is the author of the crime novels Dirty Sweet, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and the newly released Let It Ride [Canadian title: Swap].

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
To get ready for James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover, I read the first two books in the Underworld trilogy, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. I love Ellroy’s writing, the staccato prose style fits the characters and the situations perfectly, draws me into the action completely. I also really like the way he mixes the real characters with the fictional and how he expects the reader to know the background of what’s going on (I had to look an awful lot of it up). I’m just about to start Blood’s a Rover now.

I also read Alan Glynn’s Winterland recently and really liked it. Quite different from the Ellroy, Winterland is present day and set in Dublin and the prose is quite different but there are similar themes of corruption, greed and opportunism and how far people will go to manipulate events so that they can benefit. Neither writer makes it as simple as, “people will kill for what they want,” and both go quite a bit below the surface of events and character.

Another bit of writing that has stuck with me recently were the fifty or so flash fiction pieces I read as part of the “Wal-Mart I Love You,” challenge. I found that all the stories were good and they really captured a moment in time. The thematic linking of the Wal-Mart (or any big box store, not every story was at a Wal-Mart) was handled so well. I think this may be the beginning of a new kind of literature (if I may be so bold, ha ha), kind of like those musician jam-sessions like the Rockestra, a kind of literary-jam. I hope we see more.
View the trailer for Let It Ride, and learn more about the author and his work at John McFetridge's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dirty Sweet.

The Page 69 Test: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rachel Simmons

Rachel Simmons is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence.

About a week ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished the novel Blame by Michelle Huneven, which was the best novel I've read in ages. It's the story of a woman who is involved in a terrible crime and how she dealt with the overwhelming guilt throughout her life. It ends up being an exploration of what it means to blame yourself -- something many, many women do, even when they have not been involved in criminal activity!

I also just finished Rosalind Wiseman's new young adult novel, her first foray into fiction, called Girls, Boys and other Hazardous Materials. Wiseman is the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, the book that was the basis for the movie Mean Girls, and while you'd expect her to take on the issue of mean girls in fiction, she surprised me by focusing on boys and hazing. It's an impressive debut.

Right now, I'm reading Red: Teenage Girls Write About What Fires Up Their Lives Today, edited by Amy Goldwasser. I can't put this book down! 58 teenage girl contributors explore their lives with humor, sorrow, and that intensity that only adolescent girls can experience. It's amazing.

Finally, I'm reading the short story collection, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy. I'm not usually a big fan of short stories, mostly because I find myself bummed that the story is ending just as I'm getting invested in the characters. Meloy's stories are precise and occasionally heartbreaking -- and worth the let-down of having to say goodbye many pages too soon.
Beyond her books, Simmons is an educator and coach who works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. Learn more about her books and work at Rachel Simmons' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 12, 2010

Randi Hutter Epstein

Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, is a medical journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, and several national magazines. Her new book is Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I hadn’t realized that everything I was reading was so depressing—well written but on the downer side—so I had to pick up a Bill Bryson. Any of them would do and I keep them scattered around the house, but when I really need a laugh, I grab Notes from a Small Island, one of his earlier books (before he walked the Adirondack trail). It’s about life in England circa 1973.

I’ve read it about a dozen times, so now I don’t do front to back, I just open to any page and start reading. Last night, I was in bed giggling, tears running down my face—and being super annoying to my husband who is in the middle of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail. (He says it’s a great read, but it’s not a book that gets you belly laughing.)

Bryson knows how to take the every-day annoying things, the stuff that gets most of us frustrated and turn it into something quite amusing. He also finds humor in things I never even thought to notice.

I lived in England for about five years and while I knew they had peculiar names for their villages and pubs, it never dawned on me to consider their prison names. Bryson did. Or as he put it, “There is almost no area of British life that isn’t touched with a kind of genius for names. Just look at the names of prisons. You could sit me down with a limitless supply of blank paper and a pen and command me to come up with a more cherishably ludicrous name for a prison and in a lifetime I couldn’t improve on Wormwood Scrubs or Strangeways.”

Maybe he’s not as funny to most people as he is to me, but then again, I did say this book was my rebound date. I needed something to make me smile.

So here’s the sad stuff:

I am in the middle of Memory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story, by Jerald Winakur. It is a gorgeously written memoir about a geriatrician caring for his father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. I really shouldn’t say it’s sad because I find it so soothing and his prose is just delightful. He tells us in the introduction that this book is not an advice book—there is no 12-step program to make a caregiver’s life any easier. But he wrote the book for two reasons. “I am searching my past—as a son and as a doctor—in an attempt to come to terms with my father’s and my mother’s aging process and impending demise, knowing full well that I am next in line. And while I say that this is not an instruction manual for aging, I am also writing it in the hope that these stories will, in the end, resonate with you and your loved ones.”

It resonates for me loud and clear. I am coping (sometimes not coping) with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease and having Memory Lessons in my bed or in my backpack is as if I have a comforting doctor—a Dr. Winakur—holding my hand through the process. His reminisces of medical school are not the typical doctor memoir (look what I did!), but rather the coming of age of a young man.

I picked up Memory Lessons after finishing Douglas A. Blackmon’s must-read Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. The book is chock full of gruesome details of the abuse of African-Americans after they were “freed.” It really should be an essential part of high school curricula. Blackmon tells the stories through the eyes of several families as young men were duped into slave labor, tortured, sometimes to death. Unlike in the days of legalized slavery when owners had a vested interest to keep their slaves somewhat healthy so they could work, the factory owners knew they had a constant supply of replacements.

I always have to read fiction, some really good story, to lose myself in and break up all the true stuff I’m learning about. Right now, I’m in the middle of Doris Lessing’s The Real Thing, a collection of short stories based in London. (I hadn’t realized until this writing that I’m reading a lot about death (Winakur and Blackmon) and England (Bryson and Lessing) and I’m not sure what that means. If anything. Lessing does what every seventh grade English teacher tells students: Show me. Don’t tell me. We feel we know what makes her characters tick just by the way they talk to each other, or not talk, or by the decisions they make.
Read an excerpt from Get Me Out and listen to the NPR story about the book.

Learn more about Get Me Out at the publisher's website, and visit Randi Hutter Epstein's Psychology Today blog, Birth, Babies, and Beyond.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chris Knopf

Chris Knopf is author of the Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery series, including The Last Refuge, Two Time, Head Wounds, and Hard Stop, which won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Mystery. A copywriter by trade, Knopf is a principal of Mintz & Hoke Communications Group. He lives with his wife, Mary, and dog, Samuel Beckett, in Avon, Connecticut, and Southampton, New York, where he sets sail on the sacred Little Peconic Bay.

His new novel is Short Squeeze.

About ten days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I was caught completely off guard by the financial crisis. I don’t care if Nobel Laureates, Chairmen of the Federal Reserve and Harvard economists were also fooled, it still made me feel like a putz. Though I do have several excuses, none very good.

Around 2006 and 2007, I was astonished by the sharp increase in real estate prices, along with the inflation in the size and appointments of new homes. I wondered how people could possibly afford such excess. Since I’d been out of the mortgage market for almost ten years, I had no idea how easy it had become to borrow massive amounts of money without having to verify your income or net worth. I want to think if I’d known that, and also that millions of these loans had been handed out, I might have been more concerned. I just didn’t know.

I did know that mortgages were being securitized into instruments and subsequently gobbled up by investors around the world. Me and everyone else thought this was a good thing, since it spread the risk. What we didn’t realize was it also spread the exposure to catastrophic levels should those exorbitant housing prices fall. Duh.

I wasn’t just fooled out of ignorance. I also hit a philosophical speed bump. Me and Allen Greenspan. We’d always held the doctrinaire belief that people will always make rational decisions based on their financial self-interest. Not true. They will often make financial decisions based on irrational impulses, denial of the obvious, and entirely misplaced optimism.

I’m generally an optimistic person myself, but I’m also fiscally conservative. So I didn’t play in that over-heated real estate market, but I did invest in the stock market at its peak. I based this behavior on the belief that all the money sloshing around out there would have to find a place to go, and I mistakenly believed it would continue to fuel a solid market. Instead, the Giant Pool of Money (see NPR’s This American Life) was actually the underlying cause of widespread asset deflation. Oops.

Another way my optimism got me was in my disregard for commentators predicting imminent catastrophe. I dislike the attitudes of dystopians, who throughout history have nearly always been proven wrong. I still think they’re mostly full of it, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

So lately I’ve been researching commentators who aren’t doomsayers, but who also got this one right. I came up with a Yale economist, Robert J. Shiller, who with another big shot academic, George Akerlof, wrote Animal Spirits, which refers to the term John Maynard Keynes used to describe the psychological underpinnings of booms and busts. It’s a good book – somewhat technical, but clearly written and informative.

I’m not getting fooled again. No sir.
Visit Chris Knopf's website.

Coffee with a canine: Chris Knopf & Sam.

My Book, The Movie: Two Time.

The Page 99 Test: Hard Stop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kay Thomas

Kay Thomas writes “bulletproof” romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Having grown up in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, she considers herself a recovering Southern belle. Today she lives in Dallas with her husband, their two children and a shockingly spoiled Boston Terrier named Jack.

About a week ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Hunt Her Down by Roxanne St. Claire. It’s a terrific romantic suspense thriller set in Florida and part of her series about private security specialists. These sexy stories are fun adventures with their exotic locales, crimes and people.

I recently reread Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. I’ve found it to be a wonderful resource for plotting that I often return to when I’m starting a new book or when I hit a snag in a current work in progress. I was fortunate enough to hear Blake speak a couple of years ago at the Romance Writer’s of America conference. His work completely changed the way I look at planning a story and has saved me hours of time in solving plot problems. It was a huge loss last year when he passed away.

I’m about to start Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone. It’s been on my Kindle since the week it came out last fall but I haven’t had a stretch of time where I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted. I tend to read her books very quickly. I adore the characters she created in her Outlander series and I can’t wait to see what happens to Jamie and Claire Fraser.
Kay Thomas' latest release, Bulletproof Bodyguard, is scheduled to hit store shelves April 13, 2010. Her debut novel, Better Than Bulletproof (January 2009) is a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Nominee for Best First Series Romance. Her second book, Bulletproof Texas was released in April 2009. For excerpts, book trailers and more, visit her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney lives in Chicago and is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press. Her new book is For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs.

Recently, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Everybody is probably a little bit tempted to go superlative when they assemble this kind of recent-reading list, and that probably makes the people reading the list a little bit skeptical, but I can’t help it: the illustrated novel Cruddy by Lynda Barry is the best book I read in late 2009, and may be the best book I read the entire last decade. It is crushingly sad and violent, yet also funny and super-smart. And the heroine, Roberta Rohbeson, is sensitive, articulate, deadly, sharp and very, very ugly—like broken-nose, chipped-tooth, missing-digit not good-looking. Roberta is an unforgettable character overall, but the ugly thing sticks with me. So many female protagonists—both long ago and contemporary—are set up by their creators as “ugly” at first, but it becomes clear they are really to be read either as a) ugly ducklings who will morph into swans by novel’s end, or b) young women who were never truly ugly in the first place, but rather were just misunderstood, and part of their character arc is having people around them realize, “What a fool I’ve been for not recognizing her beauty this whole time.” I dislike and distrust a fake-ugly heroine. I admire Barry’s writing—her toughness and her compassion—but I also admire her for being one of the few people to portray a heroine who is not in any way physically attractive, as well as her refusal to sugarcoat or romanticize childhood/young adulthood.

As for what I’m reading right now: Shutter Island because I like a good, fast, smart-trashy read. It’s gripping and spooky, and after I finish it, I’ll be all set to see the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio movie coming out later this year. It’s giving me bad dreams and making me paranoid; highly recommend.

The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone because I mentioned that I was wanting to read a classic and provocative work of second wave feminism, so my husband, Martin Seay, pulled his copy of this book off the shelf and handed it to me. It is hard to summarize what I love about it since what I love is basically everything, but especially impressive is the way almost every sentence operates like an aphorism or a mini-essay. There is so much going on—so much to think about and react to—in everything she says. For example: “In a culture of alienated people, the belief that everyone has at least one good period in life free of care and drudgery dies hard. And obviously you can't expect it in your own age. So it must be you've already had it. This accounts for the fog of sentimentality surrounding any discussion of childhood or children.” For another “With the full achievement of the conceivable in the actual, the surrogate of culture will no longer be necessary.” And of course the oft-quoted classic: “Pregnancy is barbaric.”

Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie because I just got it from the library and Love Warps the Mind a Little by John Dufresne because that’s what my book club is reading.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Kathleen Rooney's Live Nude Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kevin Shamel

Kevin Shamel lives in the Pacific Northwest in an old haunted house with his whole wild family. He writes as weird as he can and does it often. Rotten Little Animals is his first published book, and he’s pretty happy about that.

About a week ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
What am I reading? You can bet it’s weird. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and tell you, it’s extra weird. I’m reading Bradley Sands’, It Came From Below the Belt. It’s freaky times ten.

From what I’ve gathered so far, and I have to tell you that I’m not far into it, it’s about a guy named Grover who’s been thrown into the future and he’s met his detached, sentient penis. He’s fairly lost, and quite shaken by the experience.

He’s actually just started high school at the point I’m reading. He has a couple of Grover clones, and is defeating ridiculousness as best he can. Chapter eight begins a miniature choose-your-own-adventure story that I nimbly navigated. Others may not be so lucky.

It Came From Below the Belt is a gorgeous display of Bizarro Fiction with a heavy leaning toward the ridiculous and surreal. I’m loving it. I can’t wait to get to where Grover’s going.

Which brings me to the reason that you can bet whatever I’m reading is weird.

Since June of 2009, I’ve only read Bizarro books. And I’ve read quite a few of them. I’m only reading bizarro for one year. (Just to see what it does to me.)

Bizarro is the genre of the weird. It’s the literary equivalent of the cult section of a video store. It’s where you’ll find the books to tickle that part of you that wants something different. Eraserhead Press is leading the bizarro genre into the light of mainstream with amazing, beautiful, well-written books that explore the weird side of many different genres. From (weird) westerns to science fiction and everything in between, bizarro aims to entertain.

One of the goals of Eraserhead is to provide books that can be read in the time it takes to watch a movie. Many of the authors of their books are influenced by film, and it’s appropriate that their philosophy of writing quick, easily accessible books is in line with that medium in that manner. If you’ve given up on reading, if you think you don’t have time, if you think there’s nothing new out there, bizarro has the type of books to convince you otherwise.

Eraserhead just put my first book out in October. Rotten Little Animals is about an independent film crew who happen to be animals. They kidnap a child and make a movie about it. Then all hell breaks loose. It’s got zombie cats, car chases, drugs, puppet shows, a weird guru in a thong… It’s Nature at its most natural. RLA has been read on a flight to Maui, a long commute, and in the gynecologist’s waiting room.

Another book that you could read in any of those situation is Carnageland, by David W. Barbee. Reading Carnageland is pretty much exactly like watching a movie. Or playing a video game. It is fast, furious, funny, and freaky. The four Fs of fabulousness.

The story follows an LGM (yep, a little green man) whose sole purpose is to commit global genocide in the name of his corporation world.

We go along with the little killer on his first mission to a planet that is literally made of money. It is the ultimate planet for corporate takeover.

Mr. Barbee pulls no punches. His short green murderer, equipped with a gun called the doomshooter (which can shoot anything the trigger-puller can imagine) tears through every fairytale character, ‘80s cartoon hero, and D&D trope you once held sacred. The first thing 898 (that’s our LGM) does upon arriving on the planet is slaughter a happy faun. He doesn’t stop until he’s gone through every living thing on the world of magical creatures—dragons and wizards are no match for a doomshooter.

Reading this really is like being along for the somehow hilarious adventure of destroying all life on a ripe, ripe world of cliché, cache, and crazy.

In the time it takes to watch a movie, you can watch this one in your little green mind.

I happily suggest doing so.

The master of Bizarro, Carlton Mellick III has something like twenty books published, all of them completely weird and entertaining. He started the genre, and he rules it. I recently finished reading The Cannibals of Candyland. But I would suggest any books by CMIII if you’re looking for bizarro.

Bizarro looks at things in a very strange way. Take for example, a cherished childhood fantasy: Wouldn’t you love to go to Candyland? To eat gumdrop boulders and swim in rivers of soda and eat the grass cuz it’s candy, too? Wouldn’t it be great to meet people made of candy? NOPE.

The people of Candyland are cannibals. And they eat children.

Carlton Mellick III says that the Candyland in his book is not the Candyland from the board game. He says there are no characters from the game in the book, no Gumdrop Pass or the likes. He does say, however that the game was definitely the inspiration for the book.

The story is about a man named Franklin who witnessed a candy person kill his brother and sister when he was a child. He spends his life searching for the candy people after that, trying to prove they exist. And one day he finds the candy woman that killed his siblings. He follows her to Candyland.

Franklin learns about the eating habits of the candy people. He falls in love. He runs up against Licorice, a cruel, smart candy man. He eats marshmallow animals and chocolate dirt.

Franklin’s adventures in Candyland are certainly not any that you may have fantasized when you were a kid. But they’re definitely an amazing, thrilling, hilarious, fun, scary ride for those of us a little more grown-up.

If you’ve got time for a movie—though this might be on the side of a longer film—you’ve got time to visit Carlton Mellick III’s very adult version of Candyland. I’ve been there and I’ll go again.

If you’re looking for something to read that will take you to places you wish you’d imagined, I suggest Bizarro Fiction. I’m over half-a-year into my all-bizarro journey. It’s been a trip.

Thanks so much for reading. I know I am.
Check out Kevin Shamel's Shameless Creations for more of his writing and artsy sorts of things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Carla Buckley

Carla Buckley is the debut author of The Things That Keep Us Here (Delacorte Press, February 2010.) Orion in the UK and Wunderlich in Germany pre-empted rights to The Things That Keep Us Here and Buckley's next book, which Delacorte will publish in 2011. Buckley is the Chair of the International Thriller Writers Debut Program and currently lives in Ohio with her husband and children.

Last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Because I’m a non-scientist writing about science, I usually read a lot of non-fiction while I’m in the process of researching my next book. I’ve just turned in my latest manuscript, so now I’m catching up on my fiction reading. Although I read a pretty broad selection, I do focus on thrillers. Currently, I am reading four novels that are about to be released.

Rescuing Olivia by Julie Compton. I was happy to snag an early read of Compton's second novel having read (and loved) her debut, Tell No Lies. Rescuing Olivia is about one man's determination to rescue the woman he loves who has gone missing. It’s Compton’s extraordinary ability to make her characters seem so real that we feel as though we’ve known them all our lives that drives this novel forward. And her gift of establishing setting (from lush Florida coast to chilly Connecticut town to the vast and magical African plains) makes us feel as though we’re right there, running alongside Anders as he searches for Olivia.

The Wolves Of Fairmount Park by Dennis Tafoya. I loved Tafoya’s debut, Dope Thief, with its unreliable narrator, and dived right into his second, The Wolves of Fairmont Park. Tafoya writes gritty and dark, and his language is beautifully spare. The story opens with two teenagers getting shot on a street corner in Philadelphia, and right from the beginning, you know this story is going somewhere. Tafoya punches right through to the heart of the action, and even as his characters make wrong and imperfect choices, you can’t help but buckle your seatbelt and go along for the ride.

The Whole World by Emily Winslow. This is Winslow’s debut novel, set in Oxford, England, about the mysterious disappearance of Nick, a graduate student, as told from the perspectives of five narrators whose stories are strung like gleaming beads on a chain. Winslow writes exquisitely and with great honesty, each character picking up the narrative and adding his or her own complex history so the result is a rich, multi-layered tale. The imagery is compelling: you can see the cascade of paper snowflakes, the shine of lights in the wet English rain. I was well past the halfway mark before I realized that The Whole World is about much, much more than what happened to one young man in the middle of an ordinary day.

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. Voice! There’s a lot of buzz building about Stevens’ debut novel, and I can see why. Her voice sings from every page, and her story, about a realtor abducted and held captive for a year, as told in private sessions with her therapist after her rescue, is utterly gripping. There isn’t a false step or wrong note; each scene seamlessly folds into the next, as we move from past to present to past again, and you can’t help but root for her fiercely tough and damaged heroine. This is the kind of story that makes you sit up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, to think, was that a noise?
Visit Carla Buckley's website and read more about The Things That Keep Us Here.

--Marshal Zeringue