Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jane Tesh

Jane Tesh lives and writes in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. A media specialist/librarian for grades K-6 for 30 years, she retired to write and exercise her creative side. A rehearsal pianist and sometime orchestra conductor for community theater, she also plays the violin, and is a certified kick-boxing instructor.

Tesh's latest novel is Mixed Signals.

A few weeks ago I asked the author what she was reading.  Her reply:
The Graveyard Game is one of a series of Company novels by the late Kage Baker.

The all-seeing, all-knowing Company, headed by the mysterious Dr. Zeus, has created cyborgs to go back in time to save treasures for future clients who’ll pay big bucks for a lost Van Gogh or a missing Hemingway manuscript. This concept allows Baker to set her stories in any time and on any historical subject. This story involves Facilitator Joseph’s search for his father, one of the first cyborgs, who is now a threat to the Company, and his search for his daughter, the Botanist Mendoza, whom Joseph “recruited” to the Company when she was a child, and who has been punished for killing mortals and sent way back in time.

But the true heart of the story involves Literature Preserver Lewis, a hopeless romantic, who loves Mendoza. However, Mendoza loves Edward, a man who keeps reappearing in her life throughout time. Lewis wants Mendoza and Edward to have a happy ending, but someone or something is trying to wipe out the cyborgs, a mysterious silence that will occur in the year 2355.

I gravitate toward authors who can mix drama and humor, which is something I strive for in my books, and Baker is one of the best. Known for her wildly inventive unpredictable plots and sardonic sense of humor, she creates characters the reader really cares about.

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I couldn’t pass up The Great Typo Hunt. Talk about wish fulfillment! As an English major and librarian, I’ve often dreamed of traveling the country, marker in hand, taking out all those wild unnecessary apostrophes. Here in a local sandwich shop, the sign offered, believe it or not, “grit’s”and “frie’s,” and the one sign that needed an apostrophe—you guessed it—didn’t have one: “Todays Special.”

Jeff Deck and his friend, Benjamin Herson, create TEAL, the Typo Eradication Advancement League, and he chronicles their adventures across the US, where they are often met with skepticism and downright hostility as they try to correct signs, menus, and posters.

Along the way, I’ve learned some useful history of punctuation and grammar, and Jeff raises some interesting questions. Who decides what is correct? Why is it important? And with texting and Twitter on the rise, what’s the future of orthography? (The art or study of correct spelling. I had to look it up, too.)

Also: If you love language, word play, and literature, Jasper Fforde is the most creative writer around. I had the opportunity to hear him speak, and he is just as entertaining as his books. In The Eyre Affair, investigator Thursday Next finds she is able to enter the Book World where every character from literature is real. Jane Erye has been kidnapped from her novel, and with the help of Miss Haversham from Great Expectations, Thursday solves the crime. I can’t wait to read the latest in the Thursday Next saga, The Woman Who Died a Lot.
Visit Jane Tesh's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Signals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 28, 2012

Julia Keller

Julia Keller was born and raised in West Virginia, and now lives in Chicago and Ohio. In her career as a journalist, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series she wrote for the Chicago Tribune about a small town in Illinois rocked by a deadly tornado. A Killing in the Hills is her first mystery.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author what she was reading.  Keller's reply:
I’ve heard many writers say that they don’t like to read during the time period when they’re toiling away on their own books because they fear the dreaded incursion of style-creep: Their work may inadvertently pick up stray bits of inflection and random echoes of emphasis. (Willa Cather solved this by only reading the bible prior to a day of writing—not from an excess of piety, but because those solemn cadences are like scales on a piano.)

I seem to be impervious to style-creep. In fact, it’s the opposite for me: I think I write in ornery opposition to what I read. And frankly, if I had to give up one or the other—writing or reading—it would have to be the former. The latter is too crucial.

I read in frantic bunches and motley multitudes. Always have. And right now, the wobbly stack of books on the little table adjacent to my reading chair—a tower that always threatens collapse as a consequence of its ceiling-scraping plentitude—includes the following:

The Book in the Renaissance (2010) by Andrew Pettegree, is a marvelous survey of the first century and a half after Gutenberg did his thing. It’s written with style and wit, filled with fascinating tidbits—ever wonder how and why italic was invented?—as it reminds us that the book business has always been crazy-volatile and subject to the whims of rich people, the tastes of the marketplace and the vicissitudes of fate.

Bad Debts and Black Tide (2005) by Peter Temple. I discovered the tough, lyrical work of Temple on a rainy day in downtown Chicago; I was early for an appointment and ducked into a bookstore to pass the time. There I stumbled upon and snapped up The Broken Shore (2008), one of the Australian crime writer’s best books, filled as it is with violence and beauty, with a haunting laconic eloquence. Since then, I’ve been tracking down everything by Temple I can get my hands on. Bad Debts and Black Tide are the first two thrillers in his Jack Irish series. His prose is scrubbed clean of any la-de-dah nonsense. It’s as bracing as a quick toss of neat whiskey down a tenderly unsuspecting throat.
Visit Julia Keller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sharon Fiffer

Sharon Fiffer is the author of eight Jane Wheel mysteries published by St. Martin’s Minotaur. Her most recent novel, Lucky Stuff, has just been released.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading.  Fiffer's reply:
I am a fast and greedy reader. Often, I don’t let myself start a book I think I’ll like until I know I can afford an all-nighter. In other words, I like to finish what I start—quickly. And since I took this summer off from writing because of teaching and editing commitments, I read and am currently reading a lot. Fast and greedily!

After devouring Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, I decided that maybe I do like historical fiction after all. It was an absolute thrill to realize I could see that period through the eyes of Cromwell instead of Thomas More. After all, I’ve seen the movie, A Man For All Seasons, at least 8 times and I thought I knew what was what with Cromwell, but Mantel has offered such a different perspective. Pragmatic and modern and I couldn’t put either book down.

I taught middle-schoolers this summer in a 3-week special program for gifted students and loved introducing them (and myself) to Wonder by R. J. Palacio. This is a great first novel that makes teaching point of view to 12-year olds (or adults for that matter) a walk in the park.

Loved Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. A well-deserved hit that makes watching veterans being honored at a pop culture event a deeper and much more complicated experience. A thoughtful book that remains with me.

When Ray Bradbury died and I saw writers posting everywhere about how much he had influenced them, once again I felt readerly guilt that here was another writer I had somehow missed, I went to the library and took out the audio of Dandelion Wine and have been listening every time I get into the car. What a wonderful book to make a reader pay attention to every living, buzzing humming living, breathing moment of summer!

I often help out at an estate sale company in the Chicago area as research for writing my Jane Wheel mysteries. At least I say that’s why I do it. I usually come home with an armload of books from the sales. This past weekend, I carried home Getting Over Getting Older by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, published in 1996; The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, published in 1946; We Took To The Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich, published in 1942; and The Road To Miltown, stories by S. J. Perelman published in the mid 50’s. I’ve already started the Pogrebin since I’m not getting any younger—but re-reading The Egg and I, which may have been the first “adult” book I read when I was a child (and no, I’m not quite that old—it was already starting to seem vintage then) might make some of this aging conundrum easier to take. I still remember it made me laugh out loud—we’ll see how it holds up.

Since I write mysteries and often feel woefully behind in reading in my field, I decided this summer to read a whole series by an author that everyone else had already read—but I had somehow missed. So I am currently in the middle of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. In fact, I stayed up long into last night finishing Among The Mad, the sixth in the series. I love the character, the time and the place in Winspear’s novels. And I am really enjoying reading them one by one in order. As a series writer myself, watching the arc as the character changes, grows older is especially interesting. There’s that pesky “getting older” theme again. Perhaps the Pogrebin book is going to become a different kind of research entirely!
Visit Sharon Fiffer's website.

The Page 69 Test: Scary Stuff.

Writers Read: Sharon Fiffer (January 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Debra Ginsberg

Debra Ginsberg is the author of the memoirs, Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, Raising Blaze: A Mother and Son's Long, Strange Journey Into Autism, and About My Sisters, and the novels Blind Submission, The Grift, and The Neighbors Are Watching. Her new novel, What the Heart Remembers, is now available from NAL/Penguin.

Earlier this month I asked the author what she was reading.  Ginsberg's reply:
As a reviewer and freelance editor, I am reading all the time, but unfortunately seldom for pleasure (although I do enjoy much of what I read for work; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn being the most recent example). As a result, the to-be-read stack on the nightstand has become the to-be-read stack on the floor and actually now functions as its own nightstand. Sigh. So many books - so little time (some of the galleys in that stack are now coming out in paperback!).

But last week I picked up a copy of Tana French's Broken Harbor, of which I'd heard and read many wonderful things, and forced myself to carve out time for it. Tana French writes the kind of novel I love -- dark psychological thrillers that build slowly and focus on character as much as plot. Broken Harbor did not disappoint. A delightfully creepy story, it centers on the murder of a family in a bleak housing development in Ireland hit hard by the recession. The cop assigned to the case has his own issues rooted in the same place - Broken Harbor - and a rookie partner he's not sure of. The case seems like a slam dunk, but of course it isn't. The family had its own dark secrets and the list of suspects takes several unusual turns. This is a thoughtful, beautifully written novel that takes its time getting where it wants to go and it kept me guessing. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Now, to the stack...
Visit Debra Ginsberg's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blind Submission.

The Page 69 Test: The Grift.

The Page 69 Test: The Neighbors Are Watching.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 24, 2012

Christopher I. Beckwith

Christopher I. Beckwith is Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. He is the author of The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages; Koguryo, Language of Japan’s Continental Relatives; Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present; and several other books.

His new book is Warriors of the Cloisters: The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World.

Recently I asked Beckwith what he was reading.  His reply:
My reading mostly falls into two categories: non-fiction connected with my research, which I often check or use rather than actually “read,” though my first two are exceptions to that rule, and fiction that is usually related in some way to my own fiction writing.

In non-fiction, I read two books by Frans de Waal: Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are (2005), and Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes (revised ed., 1998). The author shows how chimps and bonobos, and sometimes other primates, deal with each other in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ways that reveal how amazingly close to humans they are. They are among the most insightful books I have ever read about ‘people’ in general.

A week or so ago I got a large new tome from the library, The World of Achaemenid Persia: History, Art and Society in Iran and the Ancient Near East (2010), and have been reading through it. The most pleasant discovery so far is Richard Frye’s short article, “Cyrus the Mede and Darius the Achaemenid?” It has not a single footnote and is only three pages long, but it is very thoughtful and impressive. Another short article on the same topic, “Cyrus and the Medes” by Matt Waters, brings up some challenging problems, especially his defense of the recent consensus view of Zoroaster’s date (“the turn of the millennium [1000 bce] or even earlier”), which I think is too early, and which has recently been challenged, as he notes.

I also just received a copy of Sue Hamilton’s Early Buddhism: A New Approach (2000), which I have barely started to read. Its attraction for me in the bits I read on Amazon was in the author’s detailed analysis of some of the basic tenets of Buddhism, including the earliest actually attested ones, the Trilakṣana or ‘Three Characteristics’, an important topic in my book in progress. In what I have read so far, she accepts some of the usual doubtful beliefs held by most Indologists regarding the religious milieu of India before Buddha, so I see that I will need to pay attention as I go through it.

My recent fiction reading was largely determined by what I had brought with me to Germany (where I just spent somewhat over a year) and what I could find in the local bookstore.

I read one of my favorite books of all time, the YA fantasy novel Dragonsong (1976) by Anne McCaffrey, which I brought with me. The story is about a musically talented teenage girl whose parents deny her music and punish her for the slightest infraction, mainly because she is a girl: they say music is something only boys are allowed to do. She runs away and lives in a cave by the sea with some of the local semi-sentient flying creatures, survives there, and is eventually found and taken to the Harper Hall, where she can finally perfect her skills and become a great musician. The story is continued in the next volume in the trilogy, Dragonsinger, which is almost as good as Dragonsong. McCaffrey as usual tells a good tale, even though the song lyrics in the two volumes are mostly disappointing as poetry. This novel in particular has had a powerful hold on me for a long time and I think speaks to the heart of the creative spirit.

The local bookstores in Germany are of course filled almost exclusively with books in German, and I actually did buy and read some of a local best-selling fantasy novel, Das Labyrinth der Träumenden Bücher, by Walter Moers (2011), because the humor came through despite my weak German.

Among the small selection of English language books I found Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003), a Whitbread Prize-winning book. It is a mystery told by a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who is determined to find the murderer of the neighbor’s dog. What apparently appealed to me was the child’s point of view and how his determination to solve the mystery, no matter what, led to major life changes for him and his parents.

During another visit to the bookstore, I found a copy of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize-winning novel The Old Man and the Sea (1952). The beginning still grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and pulled me into old Santiago’s fishing boat, but somehow this time either I was not in the right mood or I have changed, so that I found the struggle with the great marlin and the sharks somewhat tedious, even though it is a very short book.

I also bought a copy of Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and read it again on the first half of the flight from Düsseldorf to Atlanta. It is as charming and attractive a book as ever, and its English as beautiful, though I have read it and The Lord of the Rings well over a dozen times by now. It competes with Dragonsong as my favorite novel.

Another book I bought in Germany, on the strength of my own “first page test” (which usually works very well), is John Connolly’s novel The Book of Lost Things (2006). It looked like it would be a good read, and I started it on the second half of the long flight to Atlanta, but the more I read the more gruesome and depressing it got. I put it aside with some relief when we arrived in Atlanta.

I see that Moers’ book has recently been published in English translation as The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books (2012), so I am looking forward to getting a copy and reading it as soon as I can.
Learn more about Christopher I. Beckwith's Warriors of the Cloisters at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Empires of the Silk Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Niall Leonard

Niall Leonard is a drama and comedy screenwriter, born in Northern Ireland and living in West London with his wife, bestselling author E L James, and their two children. Among his many television credits, he has created episodes of Wire in the Blood, Silent Witness, Ballykissangel, and Hornblower. He has also led seminars and workshops on screenwriting and script editing for the BBC, the Northern Ireland Film Council, and the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, and has lectured on the creative process at the University of Reading.

Crusher is Niall Leonard’s debut novel.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author what he was reading. His reply:
I have been reading an eclectic range of books recently, which is unusual for me as I normally prefer fiction. However last August I found Little America: The War Inside The War For Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran to be stranger, funnier and more tragic than any work of fiction I have read for a long time. Its tale of how bureaucracy, government infighting and terrifying myopia of the agencies meant to be addressing the fundamental problems of Afghanistan have squandered talent, goodwill, billions of dollars and countless lives, both American and Afghani. It's as bleak and as black as Heller's Catch 22 except there is not a word of exaggeration or satire in it - it's almost too horrifyingly true to contemplate.

From there I moved onto Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies, sequel to Wolf Hall, and the second novel tracing the career of Thomas Cromwell, a former mercenary who has worked his way up to become executive minister to Henry VIII. Cromwell's humble origins earn him the contempt of Henry's aristocratic hangers-on and his new Queen, Anne Boleyn. Cromwell plays a longer game and in a few years, when Henry tires of Anne and asks - without asking - to be relieved of this Queen, Cromwell obliges, and ensures that the courtly sycophants that humiliated him share her fate. Yet we sense that Cromwell's own days are numbered and that it is not a matter of if he will fall from grace but when.

Immensely vivid, detailed and human, its dense narrative and subtle political manoeuvres are interwoven with deeply human insight to create a novel that is rich, brutal, tragic, epic, and terrifying in its scale.

My own first novel, Crusher, has recently been released. A crime novel aimed at young adults, it made me realise that crime fiction is a huge field I would like to know better. To remedy this I picked up Black Flowers by the little-known English author Steve Mosby, and although I am only 60 pages in I already feel myself ensnared by an intricate, dark and tangled web drawing me towards something mysterious and horrible. I sense that this will be one novel that delivers on what it has set up, and would happily recommend it to any fan of the genre, or any fan of good novels, in fact.
Visit Niall Leonard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hanna Pylväinen

Hanna Pylväinen graduated from Mount Holyoke College and received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was also a postgraduate Zell Fellow. She is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony residency and a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She is from suburban Detroit.

Pylväinen's debut novel is We Sinners.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading. Pylväinen's reply:
I’m reading novels written in omniscience –– Jim Crace’s Quarantine, José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Halldór Laxness’s Independent People...right now I’m curious about why omniscience is less usable or relevant to the contemporary and the secular, and I’m interested in figuring out how omniscience can shift emphasis to narrative and plot and story, which I think have given way somewhat to the contemporary closeness of third person or, of course, the interiority of first person. Along these lines, I’m rereading Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants, which uses onniscience in a truly interesting way –– she often says she is inspired by William Trevor, and you can see this most closely in her short stories, but I think, also in The Vagrants. It’s terrifically heartbreaking –– and the effect of omniscience is in fact not distancing at all, or didactic, but allows the reader to enter an entire political and social moment via the emotional lives of many, rather than a few.
Visit Hanna Pylväinen's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Michael Kardos

Michael Kardos’s debut thriller The Three-Day Affair has received starred reviews from Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly, which named it one of the best books of the fall. He’s originally from New Jersey and currently co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

A few weeks ago I asked the author what he was reading. His reply:
I recently read two novels set in freezing cold Communist Russia. The first, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, was recommended to me by my editor, Otto Penzler. Child 44 is a multi-layered, sprawling (yet tightly plotted), engrossing thriller featuring thousand-mile manhunts, paranoid government officials, and lots and lots of snow.

The other novel, David Benioff’s City of Thieves, I plucked from the shelf of a bookstore in the Atlanta airport. I’ll admit it: I thought the cover was neat. Then I read the synopsis on the back and liked that, too, so I paid for the book, walked to my gate, and started reading. By the end of the prologue (long before the boarding started), I was completely hooked. The novel is a wonderfully told coming-of-age/suspense/comedy/drama, taking place during the German siege of Leningrad, about a boy forced to risk his life in an attempt to save it. I’ve been recommending it to everyone.

To shift gears completely, I’m currently reading Kevin Moffett’s very engaging story collection Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events. I’d been meaning to read his work for a while. Funny, sad, smart stuff.
Visit Michael Kardos's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2012

Emily Colin

Emily Colin holds a BA in Psychology, with a second major in Literature/Media Studies, from Duke University, and an MS in Family Studies and Human Services, with a specialization in Youth Development, from Kansas State University. She is the Associate Director of DREAMS of Wilmington, a nationally award-winning nonprofit dedicated to building creative, committed citizens by providing youth in need with high-quality, free-of-charge arts programming.

Her debut novel The Memory Thief is now out from Ballantine Books.

Last month I asked Colin what she was reading.  Her reply:
At the moment, I am reading several books simultaneously, more by accident than design. A small sampling: Staying overnight at an author’s cottage after my first reading for The Memory Thief, I discovered Marc Lewis’ Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs. I’ve always had a strong interest in psychology and neuroscience—it’s what I studied as an undergraduate—and something about this book drew me. It’s an accessible combination of memoir and science, and Lewis’ style is both frank and captivating. Alas, I didn’t get to finish the book—I got about 50 pages in and had to return it to the overflowing shelves of the cottage—so now I need to hunt it down at our local library.

I’ve also just started Heather Gudenkauf’s novel, The Weight of Silence. This one I picked up in an airport bookstore, en route to a conference in Oslo. Despite the fact that it was released back in 2009 to critical acclaim, I hadn’t heard anything about it (perhaps I have been living under a rock). Still, the cover caught my eye, and I thought the title was beautiful. Plus, Gudenkauf’s use of multiple points of view appealed to me—as anyone who’s read The Memory Thief will understand. The kicker: one of the two seven-year-old girls who goes missing in this book is a selective mute—a phenomenon that’s fascinated me since, as a teenager, I read psychologist Tori Hayden’s Ghost Girl. Thus far I’ve only had a chance to make it through the first chapter—but at least I own this one, so I won’t have to give it back before I finish!
Visit Emily Colin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2012

D.E. Johnson

D. E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood. He comes by his interest in automotive history through his grandfather, who was the vice president of Checker Motors. Johnson's books include The Detroit Electric Scheme and Motor City Shakedown and lives with his family near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

His new novel is Detroit Breakdown.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading.  Johnson's reply:
I just finished rereading the first three books of William Kennedy’s Albany cycle: Legs, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, and Ironweed. Legs is the story of a portion of the gangster Legs Diamond’s life, Billy is about a smalltime hustler and his unlikely role as the go-between in a kidnapping, and Ironweed is a look at Depression-era homeless people and the prices we pay for what we do. These books follow the same Albany families during the 1920’s and 1930’s, culminating in the story of Francis Phelan.

Ironweed won a Pulitzer prize and is my favorite book of all time. I almost never reread books, but this was my fourth time through. The prose is beautiful, the story is wonderful, but most of all, the characters are real people with the strengths and weaknesses of real people, and I think everyone can see themselves in the characters, for good and for bad. Kennedy loves these people, and he makes us love them as well. The book is a triumph. I also really enjoy the first two, and they serve as a perfect setup for Ironweed.

While I read fiction by choice, most of the reading I’m doing these days is non-fiction for research. Since my books take place a hundred years ago, I can’t take anything for granted and have to double-check just about everything I write. Some of the recent reads that were great for me, but not books I would recommend for others are Compiled Ordinances of Detroit of 1912 (Did you know newsboys and bootblacks needed licenses? Or that the city speed limit had been raised from 10 to 15 miles per hour? Wow!) and History of Eloise, which contains a great deal of information about Eloise Hospital, the insane asylum in which much of my new book, Detroit Breakdown, takes place. Best of all, History of Eloise was written in 1912 and contains incredibly detailed information about the hospital as it was then. Both books are available as free Google e-books, if I’ve piqued the interest of anyone with strange taste in books.
Learn more about the book and author at D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Motor City Shakedown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2012

David Rich

David Rich has sold screenplays to most of the major studios, and to production companies in the U.S. and Europe. He wrote the feature film, Renegades, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Philips, as well as episodes of MacGyver and other shows. He wrote three plays: The Interview, The Rescue, and W.A.R. (Women's Armed Resistance). Forsaking Los Angeles for small town Connecticut, Rich turned his attention to fiction. Caravan of Thieves, his new novel, is the result. Raised in Chicago, he received his B.A. from Tulane, spent one rainy, Withnail-esque year in Wales, and earned his M.A. in English from University of Colorado.

Last month I asked the author what he was reading. Rich's reply:
On the coffee table in my den, Brighton Rock is opened to page 165. Pinkie, cut with razor blades, has returned to the wretched boarding house and reported Spicer’s death at the race track. “The Boy led the way into the bed sitting room and turned on the single globe. He thought of Colleoni’s room at the Cosmopolitan. But you had to begin somewhere. He said: “You’ve been eating on my bed again.”

Redemption can come “between the stirrup and the ground”, and a better life begins with wiping the crumbs off the bedcovers. Dread begins with Graham Greene. I reread this one once a year.

Most of my reading is rereading. It is tough to be admitted to the canon – the great Jim Thompson just got in a few years ago – but once admitted an author is on call around the clock. Books are open all over the house. I read to my mood.

Also on the coffee table is a compilation of short pieces by P.J. O’Rourke opened to page 44. It’s a tight, well written story about working on the Community Underground Press in 1971 in Baltimore. He can’t remember why they used the word Underground. The paper was sold openly. “Though the police did raid the old row house that served as our home and office, it was illegal drugs that brought them there, not publishing.” When he leaves politics out of it, P.J. O’Rourke tells a good story.

Len Deighton’s Spy Sinker is open in the bedroom to page 264. Deighton was admitted the canon on the basis of Funeral in Berlin and Ipcress File. I had avoided him for years, regarding him as le Carré lite. It’s a fair epithet, but those two books are taut and jazzy. Unfortunately, by the time he got around to the Hook, Line and Sinker trilogy he started diluting the meat with oatmeal. There is a lot of filler. I’ll reread Funeral in Berlin soon, but the last three Bernard Samson books I read can be donated.

Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh is queued up next. It’s a double figure choice by now (could any book make it to three figures?). Basil Seal is the perfect scoundrel, so good that Waugh revived him from his earlier novel Black Mischief. Unfortunately for Basil and for England, the powers that be can’t understand that being the perfect scoundrel and purveyor of mayhem would probably make him an excellent spy. Every line of dialogue is the culmination of an elaborate thought process by the character. Every line is timed for maximum effect. It’s a short book, but I never read it fast. It’s too good.

After that I plan to reread The Renegades by T. Jefferson Parker, the newest of member of the club. He reminds me of Jim Thompson.
Visit David Rich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Debra Dean

Debra Dean’s bestselling debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, Confessions of a Falling Woman, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

Her new novel, The Mirrored World, was released last month.

A native of Seattle, Dean lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading. Her reply:
School’s in session again, so much of what I’m reading is as yet unpublished: my MFA students’ manuscripts. But I’m playing hooky right now with Ann Bauer’s The Forever Marriage, which came out in June. It’s an astute psychological depiction of a woman, recently widowed, who believes herself finally free of a stultifying marriage. Then she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Facing down her own mortality, she reexamines her marriage to a kind but socially awkward math genius and surprises herself with a depth of feeling she had not previously suspected. One of the things I’m really appreciating in this novel is that the protagonist is not yet another amiable heroine in a relentlessly uplifting story. There’s no pink bow. It’s better than that: Bauer’s taking the risk to give us a real woman, acerbic and honest and flawed, one who is growing as the novel unfolds.

Over the summer, I read a couple of wonderful books. Ann Patchett is one of my favorite go-to writers, and State of Wonder didn’t disappoint. A paean to Heart of Darkness, the novel is a richly imagined and engaging adventure tale. A mild-mannered scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company is sent to the Amazon to learn what has become of a top-secret research project that is a potential goldmine for the company. Her colleague and friend, sent before her, has been reported dead under mysterious circumstances, and the director of the project refuses to relay back anything more than the curtest snippets of information. State of Wonder creates a delicious tension in the reader: the desire to slow down and savor beautiful prose against the itch to turn the page.

And then a book that I had been meaning to get to since I first heard about it: Faith by Jennifer Haigh. It is set in Boston, 2002, and narrated by the sister of a priest accused of abusing a boy in his parish. Before you turn away – yes, who wants to engage with this continuing horror? – consider this: the novel is brilliant, eminently humane and thoughtful, suspenseful but without a drop of melodrama. Did he or didn’t he is only the surface concern; Haigh explores the subterranean dynamics of the family and the Church and the ties that bind us to each. I’m in awe of her talents.
Visit Debra Dean's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Trish MacGregor

Trish J. MacGregor's books include Esperanza and her new novel Ghost Key, the first two supernatural thrillers in the Hungry Ghost series.

Not so long ago I asked the author what she was reading. MacGregor's reply:
I usually have three or four books that I’m reading at any time. Depending on my mood, I read one at the gym, another at night before I go to bed, another while I’m eating breakfast or lunch.

My book for the gym is W. Bruce Cameron’s novel, A Dog’s Purpose, a delightful story that traces one dog’s spiritual evolution through several lifetimes. As with humans, the dog’s name and circumstances change from life to life. He begins his first life in a litter born in the wild, where he and his litter mates are eventually taken to a chaotic dog rescue place. Here, he’s named Toby and learns how to exist in a fenced area with other rescued dogs. Cameron captures the pecking order in such a situation and does it in a way that instantly pulls you into the emotional texture of Toby’s life. When Toby’s mother escapes from the rescue place, you feel what Toby feels, betrayal, bewilderment, fear. When Toby is attacked by Spike, the local bully, you feel Toby’s horror and pain. You also feel what Toby feels when his leg is damaged beyond repair and he’s euthanized.

Toby is reborn as a golden retriever, and this lifetime really spoke to me; we have owned two goldens. In this life, he’s called Bailey and ends up with a family whose young son is definitely his primary human. He recalls his previous life as Toby, what it was like in that fenced yard, how his mother had escaped, how Spike had attacked him. It’s obvious that Cameron has done his research on dogs. But more than that, Cameron has a real gift for bringing you fully into the dog’s personality, his memories, his love for the boy, his search for purpose.

The novel is extraordinary. I wish I’d written it!
Visit Trish J. MacGregor's website.

Writers Read: Trish J. MacGregor (September 2010).

The Page 69 Test: Esperanza.

My Book, The Movie: Esperanza.

The Page 69 Test: Ghost Key.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 7, 2012

Enid Shomer

A widely published fiction writer and poetry, Enid Shomer is the author of seven books. Her work has been collected in more than fifty anthologies and textbooks, including POETRY: A HarperCollins Pocket Anthology, Best American Poetry, and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best.

Shomer's new novel is The Twelve Rooms of the Nile.

Last month I asked the author what she was reading. Her reply:
Last January I had the privilege of hearing Francine Prose lecture on the stories of Anton Chekhov. Since then, I’ve been reading books by her that I missed when they came out, including the biography, Caravaggio, and the novellas entitled Guided Tours of Hell.

I enjoyed also Geraldine Brooks’s Caleb’s Crossing and Hella Winston’s Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels.

A couple of days ago, I shelved the excellent memoir by Paul Pines entitled My Brother’s Madness.

Finally, I’ve just finished reading Julian Barnes’ latest novel The Sense of an Ending.
Visit Enid Shomer's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Twelve Rooms of the Nile.

--Marshal Zeringue