Friday, May 31, 2013

Derek B. Miller

Derek B. Miller is the director of The Policy Lab and a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Born and raised in Boston, he has lived abroad for over fifteen years in Israel, England, Hungary, Switzerland, and Norway.

His new novel is Norwegian by Night.

Recently I asked Miller about what he was reading. His reply:
I am a solitary reader. I enjoy this solitude so much that I generally avoid reading book reviews, getting into long discussions about books, or otherwise socializing the experience.

I just finished the first draft of my new novel, and while writing it I was reading — one might say studying — a fabulous edited volume from Andrew Delbanco called Writing New England: An Anthology from the Puritans to the Present. I've been especially interested in the way New England has been portrayed in fiction and in early American religious and philosophical writing. Boston was founded in 1635, and is almost a hundred and fifty years older than America itself, so New England writing is rich and formative for the American experience as a whole. Delbanco's anthology both explained and presented that beautifully.

I used that book as a spring-board to delve more deeply into some other writers going as far back as the mid-1600s. Cotton Mather, in particular, got a lot of my attention. Later, I turned to Emerson, E.B. White, Robert Frost, William James, and Longfellow, to name a few.

I've been reading William Maxwell too. They Came Like Swallows is a quiet, and very sad book about a boy losing his mother. I have the first volume of his early novels and stories from the Library of America. I would recommend it to anyone. I wanted to see how he expressed those feelings without over-sentimentalizing them.

I've also been reading James Salter. I was recently asked by The Times of London to review his new novel All That Is. It is my first book review, and I relished the experience, though I wonder if I'll do any more. As for Salter, though: When an 88 year old master author decides to write a book called All That Is, you should read it.

I just finished Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. I've always loved the movie, and I don't know why I never thought to read the book. Naturally there is much more material in the novel, so it was a real pleasure riding shotgun to Grady Tripp with a dead dog in the trunk. Chabon has such a wonderful way of simply landing on the perfect line without over-writing it. He makes it look easy, which is how good he is. I'm keen to read more of his work and have already bought a few of his novels.

I'm re-reading White Noise from Don DeLillo. I loved it years ago when it came out, and I wanted to see whether the comedy stands up to time. It absolutely does. The notion of consumerism causing death anxiety, which is only alleviated by consumerism is simply wonderful material. This book is actually making me want to go back to Joseph Heller. I like novels that have purpose.

I just bought The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham while in London. I have a Penguin edition I found for about a quid in a pile of books. It is described on the back as his most "serious" and "most ambitious" novel. This is often how I find material, by stumbling onto it, or being directed there by other work I've recently read.

And I also recently finished The Writing of One Novel by Irving Wallace, also bought for nothing in a used book store. This is an overlooked and very valuable piece of work by a novelist who took the time — with copious notes — to reconstruct the act of crafting and editing a novel. While he doesn't delve into the theory of storytelling (for that you should read John Gardner), nor the creative act itself, he does take us into the life of being a writer with great detail. It was written in 1960, and here we are fifty-five years later and — aside from technological matters — everything about the experience is familiar.

As an aside, it is powerful to be reminded that the essence of the craft and the life of the writer that comes with it is largely unchanged. There is something to said for noting these continuities and not being dazzled by the outward changes to the industry, the role of the writer in society, and all the technology. Wallace gets us as close as possible to watching it unfold.

I would say that one exception to my solitude as a reader is the joy I get from reading aloud with my family and also being read to. My wife and I read to each other often. I'm the one who started the tradition, but now she's most often the reader. David Sedaris is a favorite. Each Christmas we read "Santaland Diaries" out loud until we laugh so hard we can't anymore. And I read to my children every night without fail. With the kids, I only read "real books" — that is, no electronic devices are allowed at bedtime. And with Camilla, we usually know in the first few pages whether we've come upon something that needs to be shared. She has a wider range of fiction interests than I do, whereas I'm increasingly limiting my reading to books I think are worth reading aloud.
Follow Derek Miller on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meg Donohue

Meg Donohue is the bestselling author of All the Summer Girls and How to Eat a Cupcake, which was translated into Dutch, German, Italian, and Polish. She has an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Dartmouth College. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she now lives San Francisco with her husband, two young daughters, and Cole, her endearing Taiwanese rescue pup.

Recently I asked Donohue about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I just finished reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I found it to be devastatingly sad and beautiful. The characters in the book are so fully realized it seems almost impossible to believe that they’re not real people. And Atkinson is a master at lacing her work with a palpable sense of tension—taut, dark moments of foreboding and threat—that keeps you turning the pages.
Visit Meg Donohue's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: How to Eat a Cupcake.

Writers Read: Meg Donohue (April 2012).

My Book, The Movie: How to Eat a Cupcake.

The Page 69 Test: All the Summer Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A.X. Ahmad

A.X. Ahmad was raised in India, educated at Vassar College and M.I.T., and has worked internationally as an architect. His short stories have been published in literary magazines, and he’s been listed in Best American Essays. The Caretaker is his first novel, to be followed by Bollywood Taxi next year. He lives in Washington, D.C.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading.  Ahmad's reply:
Imagine a great literary author who starts writing mysteries. Added to his gorgeous prose a clever plot, and the dank, gray setting of Dublin in the 1950s.

John Banville won the Booker Prize for The Sea, and that seemed to have loosened him up. Since then he’s been writing a series of mysteries under the pen name ‘Benjamin Black’, featuring a detective named Quirke, and they are stunners. I’ve read them all, and now am re-reading them.

Check out this prose from his first book, Christine Falls:

“The corpse was that of a young woman, slim and yellow-haired; she had been pretty, but death had robbed her of her features and now she might be a carving in soapstone, primitive and bland…. Looking more closely he noticed the dark roots of her hair at the forehead and temples: dead, and not even a real blonde.”

Another Brit that I’ve been reading lately is Martin Booth. Like me, he lived a peripatetic life, growing up in many countries, and each of his suspense novels deals obsessively with people trying to find a place they can call home.

His last book, The American is about a gunsmith who supplies weapons to assassins. Apart from a crackerjack plot, it is also a love letter to a small Italian hill town where the gunsmith finds a few months of rest. There, he befriends a priest, and the two often meet to drink brandy:

“The priest’s house is halfway alongst a twisting alley…a modest fifteenth century edifice…The front door is of heavy oak blackened with age and studded with iron bolts…at the rear snuggles a walled garden, overlooked by other buildings yet remaining secluded….We are sitting on this patio…We are in lazy soporific sunlight. The brandy bottle—today we have Armagnac—is globulous, made of of green glass and bears a plain label…It is called, simply, La Vie.”
Learn more about the book and author at A.X. Ahmad's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Caretaker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Adam Mitzner

Adam Mitzner is the author of A Conflict of Interest and the new legal thriller, A Case of Redemption.

Earlier this month I asked him about what he was reading.  Mitzner's reply:
I'm currently in the middle of three books, two of which involve my daughters. My nine year old and I are reading all of the Hunger Games books aloud to each other, and we're currently midway through Catching Fire. Last year we read all the Harry Potter books and it was the one of the greatest reading experiences of my life. Oh, and we read them wearing costumes of the characters.

To include my fifteen year old, we decided to do a book club. Right now we're both reading Megan Abbott's Dare Me. It's a great book on many levels: the writing is top notch; it's a page turner and has a teenage protagonist but isn't a typical coming of age book, which was the one constraint my daughter placed on my selection process.

And when I have time to read alone, I'm tearing through Jamie Mason's Three Graves Full. Jamie was kind enough to blurb my book, A Case of Redemption, and so I wanted to read hers. It's exciting, scary and funny all at that same time. A great book for summer.
Visit Adam Mitzner's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Conflict of Interest.

Writers Read: Adam Mitzner (May 2011).

My Book, The Movie: A Conflict of Interest.

The Page 69 Test: A Case of Redemption.

My Book, The Movie: A Case of Redemption.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 27, 2013

Darden North

A native of the Mississippi Delta, Dr. Darden North is a board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology. His new novel is Wiggle Room. North has written three previous novels—Fresh Frozen, House Call, and Points of Origin, which received the national IPPY Award, Southern Fiction category. North lives with his wife Sally in Jackson, Mississippi.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading.  North's reply:
I am reading The Rook, Steven James’ second thriller with protagonist Patrick Bowers. Bowers is an FBI criminologist left to parent his late wife’s pierced and soon-to-be tattooed teenage daughter while drawn into an arson investigation in San Diego. James gets away with a smooth mix of writing in both first and third person, confining each to separate chapters or long scenes as we share Bowers’ complicated life. The agent deals with grief over his wife’s cancer death while the truly nasty antagonist Creighton Melice is busy torturing and murdering women. Of course, there’s the expected corporate greed and government corruption and an emerging, new love interest for Bowers. Then the step-daughter is placed in harm’s way.

Bowers already has his hands full, and I’m less than half-way into this novel!

I was drawn to The Rook after hearing Steven James speak at a thriller writing conference in 2012 and picked up a signed trade-paper copy of the novel. The author remains true to his teachings: Creating the horror off screen puts even more fear in the reader.

Another writing tool that James stressed during the conference is that a deep desire, a wound, and an internal struggle develop a strong character. And that can apply to both the good and the bad guy.
Visit Darden North's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Darden North & Valerie and Foxy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sally Cabot

Sally Cabot lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom. A lifelong resident of New England, she is active in the local historical society and creates tours that showcase the three-hundred-year history of her village.

Her new novel is Benjamin Franklin's Bastard.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Cabot's reply:
I’ve just finished reading the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Elinor Lipman, The View from Penthouse B. Ms. Lipman’s book are deceptively easy reads that leave one pondering the greater questions long after the cover is closed (or the “off” key is pressed), which is both a delight and a curse for a fellow writer. I can escape without undo strain to a new place, but sometimes I have trouble leaving that place and returning to the work at hand.

As a writer of historical fiction it might at first appear that Ms. Lipman and I would have little in common, but The View from Penthouse B being a work about a widow, and on reading that Ms. Lipman was recently widowed, I imagine her engaging in some of the same struggles that I do, choosing how much fact to include among the fiction. Do I dare go one outrageous step further and compliment myself by saying we share a similar comedic sense? I think so – after all, I’ve been hanging out with Benjamin Franklin for over three years now.
Visit Sally Cabot's Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Benjamin Franklin's Bastard.

The Page 69 Test: Benjamin Franklin's Bastard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kit Reed

Kit Reed's books include a new novel, Son of Destruction and The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories, which features some Reed classics as well as her personal favorites over several decades, including six new stories, never before collected.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading: Her reply:
Right now I'm loving American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor, a Tin House book that's so good that I have to save the last chapter until the house is empty which it isn't right now.

As to what I've read? Too many to talk about -- when I think about it, Peter Heller's The Dog Stars floats to the top.

As for who I have read that influenced me mightily? The first four grafs of last summer's essay for the Library of America say it all.
Visit Kit Reed's website.

My Book, The Movie: Son of Destruction and The Story Until Now.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kevin M. Bailey

Kevin M. Bailey, formerly a senior scientist with NOAA, is an affiliate professor at the University of Washington and author of Billion-Dollar Fish: The Untold Story of Alaska Pollock. He also operates a boutique consulting firm promoting small-scale traditional fisheries.

Recently I asked him about what he was reading.  Bailey's reply:
All my life I’ve been a step behind. That’s given me a perspective from the tail-end of the crowd. Late in life and true to form, I’ve developed a passion for writing. Since I’m a novice writer without an MFA, I’ve played catch-up by taking some writing classes. It’s helpful to read your instructor’s work before you take a class. Or, if you are like me, you get insight by reading their book after the parade has passed by. Here are three books on my coffee table from teachers of my writing classes, and a couple other books I’ve read recently.

Chris Cokinos, The Fallen Sky. Chris taught at the Wildbranch Workshop sponsored by Orion Magazine. His book is a masterful braiding of astronomy with stories of obsession and memoir. He writes of the compulsion of meteor hunters and also about his own preoccupation with learning their stories, and the deeply personal consequences of that.

Peter Mountford, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism. Peter led a class on story structure at Richard Hugo House in Seattle. I am totally blown away by Peter’s book. It’s a story of a hedge fund analyst who is scoping out the effects of Evo Morales’s election in Bolivia on the natural gas market in South America; a great story and the reading flows effortlessly.

Nick O’Connell, The Storms of Denali. I’ve taken two classes from Nick on creative nonfiction at the Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. His book is abiding on my nightstand. Nick is a master storyteller and a professional writer, and I’m looking forward to reading his book.

Two other books passed by earlier and have themes that still ring true. Erik Larson’s Story of a Gun was written a decade ago, but we are still struggling with gun control legislation and the stranglehold the NRA has on Congress. The other book is Deborah Cramer’s Great Atlantic. This is a story of a voyage woven into a comprehensive view of the Atlantic Ocean. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, exploring the complex relationship of man and the sea.
Visit Kevin M. Bailey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Julie Sarkissian

Julie Sarkissian is a graduate of Princeton University, where she won the Francis Leon Paige Award for creative writing, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her new novel is Dear Lucy.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Sarkissian's reply:
Give Sorrow Words: Maryse Holders Letters From Mexico

Yikes! This book – an epistolary journal of a young American woman’s degrading sexual affairs in Mexico – is almost too painful to read but just too compelling to put down. Witnessing in such gory detail a smart, educated and talented woman subject herself to being used and abused by man after man is excruciating, but her honesty binds you to her suffering in such a way that feels like to turn away from her pain would be to inflict on her yet another injustice.

A Sport and a Pastime – James Salter

As embarrassing as it is, I had never read James Salter until last week. But when a new friend invited me to see him read at the 92Y, I didn’t want to reveal myself as the philistine I am. So in preparation for our date, I bought A Sport and A Pastime and tore through half the novel in one sitting. The pages turned themselves. The novel strikes an elegant balance between beautiful, emotionally wrought language and unexpected literary technique. It also confirms France as best place in the world to have a passionate sexual affair. Easy to see why this book is a classic.

Speed Boat – Renata Adler

After hearing so much buzz, by people more erudite than I, about the reissue of the post-modern classic, Speedboat, by Renata Adler, I had to check it out. The sentences of this novel are gorgeous and clever and the structure and pacing are exhilarating. But I have to admit I can get lost with experimental literature, so I hope I don’t miss too much of what this has to offer because I’m a post-modern neophyte. Regardless, I’m excited to be challenging myself to read something out of my wheelhouse!
Visit Julie Sarkissian's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dear Lucy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is a freelance writer, book critic and movie reviewer.

His new book is Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.

Earlier this month I asked Weldon about what he was reading.  His reply:
I'm taking my sweet time meandering through George Saunders' Tenth of December, putting the book down at the end of each story because I want to spend as much time as I can with it. Man, that guy. I've read every story already, in The New Yorker or wherever, but collected like this I'm finding they keep caroming off one another at oblique angles.

A Saunders story is dependably funny, human, wise. And I want to say ... matter-of-factly heartfelt? Is that a thing? Can it be? Because he's not afraid of big emotions, but he's always careful to earn them.
Visit Glen Weldon's website and follow him on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr was raised in San Francisco, California, and now lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is the author of How to Save a Life, What We Lost, Sweethearts, and the National Book Award finalist Story of a Girl.

Her new novel is The Lucy Variations.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Zarr's reply:
I recently finished Better Food for a Better World, by Erin McGraw (The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard), the debut book of a new publishing venture, Slant Books. It's about love and marriage and family ties, but not in the way any other book I've read is about love and marriage and family ties. It's funny, for one thing. I laughed more while I read this book than I've laughed with a novel in a long time. It's not just funny, though. McGraw manages to hold hope, loss, and longing together in a deft balance with the humor, a lot like one of the side characters--a juggler named Fredd--negotiates a mug, a napkin, and a wristwatch during his act:
Vivy couldn't imagine how he kept all the oddly weighted objects in rotation, much less how he could do so while he showboated, catching the wristwatch under his leg, strolling around the stage, whistling.
Vivy is the lead in the book, though the storytelling job is shared by several viewpoint characters and the Greek chorus of the community's semi-absurd marriage group, Life Ties. (I say "semi" because anyone who has been part of a church group, an encounter group, or part of an overly self-aware family will probably recognize the real experience here.) Vivy and her husband and friends run an ice cream shop in town that's making attempts--sometimes valiant, sometimes vain--to address the hungers of their community beyond ice cream. Hunger for joy, entertainment, beauty, art, world peace, marital bliss, and right relationships with each other and the world are all in play.

They don't aways recognize the effect that their own appetites are having on their quest for the greater good, or even for their own good.

When Vivy starts to suspect her husband has a crush on another woman in their circle, she wonders over his hankering:
Vivy wouldn't have minded Sam dreaming about a nymph. But the notion that he was sighing over prudent, frugal Cecilia, devoted Life Ties member, once-a-month soup kitchen volunteer, earnest stick of a woman who dressed like a Puritan and belonged to the El Campo Arbor Society unsettled Vivy. What in the world could he be hungry for, if Cecilia Moore satisfied the craving? The best Vivy could do was hope the taste was fleeting and easily sated, like his occasional yen for pickles.
It's Vivy's restlessness that drives the action, but all of the characters mismanage their need for better food in ways funny, frustrating, unusual, and moving. Toward the end, the Life Ties chorus observes:
People drag their hungers behind them like tin cans on a string--for a mother who loved enough, for a sister who came home, for a boyfriend who didn't shoot himself, for a dog that didn't die. Nothing goes away. After a while we get tired of all that wanting.
This has been the most surprisingly affecting read of my year so far.
Visit Sara Zarr's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Sara Zarr (June 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dennis Palumbo

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out. As a fiction writer, his short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Strand, Written By and elsewhere, and are collected in From Crime to Crime.

Palumbo is also the author of the Daniel Rinaldi series of mysteries. The debut novel was Mirror Image, followed by Fever Dream, and the newly released Night Terrors.

Late last month I asked the author about what he was reading.  His reply:
As it happens, I’m reading two completely engrossing books at the moment, neither of which bears any similarity to the other.

The first is a terrific, intriguing and psychologically astute novel by Dan Chaon called Await Your Reply. It’s hard to define exactly, though, having just finished it, I guess I’d call it a literary thriller. More importantly, it’s a beautifully complex meditation on the illusion of personal identity, and how today’s technology can play havoc with that particular concept. Though it’s a publishing cliché, there’s no disputing that in this well-plotted novel, nothing and no one is what they seem!

The second book I’m reading is called Lives of the Novelists, by John Sutherland, and it’s a total delight. Its subtitle says it all: the book is “a history of fiction in 294 lives.” With wry wit and amazing erudition, Sutherland presents bite-sized biographies of novelists whose work he feels represents the best of fiction, from the 17th century up to our own. He covers every genre, from gothic to pornography, pop trash to high literature. A fun bedside book, into which you can dip for a few pages, learn something about a few of your favorite writers, and then, edified and enlightened, drift pleasantly to sleep.
Visit Dennis Palumbo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Night Terrors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Beth Hoffman

Beth Hoffman is the New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Hoffman's reply:
When I love a book I’ll often read it more than once, and right now I’m immersed in my second reading of Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp. Every page offers countless reasons to reflect on the art of superb writing. I say superb because Capote’s genius shines in his ability to observe the ordinary through an extraordinary lens. I believe this sentence pretty much sums it up: “The nearest winter came was to frost the windows with its zero blue breath.”

Up next on my reading list is a collection of stories and poems by teenaged writer Ruby Urlocker. I won her book Monsters In My Closet in a blog giveaway, and when I read the poem "Hidden People," I knew she was a talent to watch.
Visit Beth Hoffman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reed Farrel Coleman

Reed Farrel Coleman's eighth and latest Moe Prager mystery is Onion Street.

Late last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Coleman's reply:
Lately, I have been on a big Stuart Neville kick. I’ve known Stuart for years, but hadn’t read his work. I read a review of Stuart’s Ratlines and thought it sounded quite interesting. Of course it was and since I liked it so much I’ve gone back and read Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion. I have always been fascinated by the concept and the absurdity of the law and the legal system during wartime. And though all three of these novels deal with postwar or post conflict periods, you can still sense the problems at hand and smell the gun smoke still in the air. In the end for me, it’s about compelling characters and Stuart sings that siren song of compelling characters to me.
Visit Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

My Book, the Movie: The Moe Prager Mystery Series.

The Page 69 Test: Innocent Monster.

Writers Read: Reed Farrel Coleman (October 2010).

The Page 69 Test: Hurt Machine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Freda Warrington

Freda Warrington, who was born in and lives in Leicestershire, England, is the author of twenty novels. The recently released Grail of the Summer Stars is her third Aetherial Tales novel, her first series to be published in the United States. The first, Elfland, was named Best Fantasy of the Year by RT Book Reviews.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Warrington's reply:
For a fantasy writer, I don’t read much fantasy these days. I certainly don’t have the patience for multi-book volumes full of war, slaughter and sexual abuse (unless it’s by Jacqueline Carey!). That said, there’s a mountain of unread books beside my bed that I’m working my way through, according to what floats to the top and takes my fancy. Lately I’ve been reading some crime novels passed on by my thriller-devouring hubby. Then along came this one, recommended by a friend:

Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit (Penguin). This is a true story, in the form of a long exchange of emails between Bee, a journalist living in London, and May, an Iraqi university lecturer trying to carry on with her life in Baghdad while dodging bullets and bombs in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s downfall. It’s an extraordinary read and extremely hard to put down – being in email form, rather than chapters, you just keep reading one more, and one more… Bee is a mum of three who chats engagingly about the ups and downs of her everyday life, while May, in return, describes the difficulties of teaching English literature to female students who – however bright and eager to learn – struggle to grasp the concept of basic human rights.

That’s if her students turn up at all. That’s if May can even reach the university through hails of bullets, car bombs, or a maze of road blocks as different factions battle for control of the once “middle class” area she lives in. In between, she faces constant power cuts, and dangerous excursions to buy black market fuel – her only means of keeping her car running so she can get to work. Ironically, as a Shia, she’s relatively free to come and go – but her husband, a Sunni, literally dares not leave the house as he’d be killed on sight. So May also has to deal with his increasing depression as the situation steadily worsens. Sometimes the police burst in and ransack the house, searching for non-existent weapons. Sometimes she hears that another of her university colleagues has been assassinated – and then she discovers that she, too, is on the “hit-list”. At one stage, May takes refuge in Syria, describing (with painful irony – the book covers events between 2006 and 2008) how peaceful it is, but how much she hates it there because it isn’t home.

I can’t convey what an extraordinary book this is. It’s shocking, eye-opening. Trying to live in a war zone is everything you’d expect, but it’s everything you didn’t expect, too. A firm, loving friendship develops between the two women and a plot is hatched to get May and her husband out of Baghdad and to the safety of the UK. Yes, May would be safe here – but at the same time it would break her heart to leave Baghdad because, in spite of everything, it’s her home. I won’t give away the ending, just read it!

I’ve just reread The Crone by Barbara G Walker (HarperCollins), a book I first read in the 1990s and felt an urge to revisit. Ms Walker is a renowned writer on “women’s studies” – an unfortunate phrase, I feel, because why should this knowledge be pertinent only to women? Anyway, The Crone examines how older women have become virtually invisible in our society. And not only invisible but – not so very far in the past – reviled as evil, and even mass-murdered, hanged, burned at the stake. Her thought-provoking study examines how women were once attributed with supremacy over life and death – naturally so, since it’s women who give birth, and have always acted as midwives, healers, layers-out of the dead. Terrifying, dark goddesses such as Kali were believed to have the powers both of Creation and Destruction, the power to destroy all other gods and to consume everything into her black Abyss at the end of time.

Walker dissects how male religions arose and set about rejecting the dark goddess – far too terrifying! – by crushing all aspects of female wisdom, sacredness and autonomy. This was in a futile urge to deny Death itself. Female religion was circular, a churning cauldron of life, death and rebirth. Male religion was linear: one life, one God, one afterlife in eternal bliss or torment. In the process, the Crone figure of the older woman was demonized until she all but vanished.

Themes of paganism and ancient earth magic weave through most of my novels, sometimes blatantly so and sometimes more subtly. The Crone, and numerous other books on female spirituality, helped me understand how the idea that women are naturally secondary and subservient to men is a Great Big Lie. What a relief to know that! However, the idea is distressingly persistent. We seem to be taking backward steps, if anything, as young girls are treated as sex objects and women still fight to be taken seriously. The term “witch” is still used as an insult, and there are countries where “witches” are still persecuted and murdered. Sometimes you’d hardly know we were in the 21st century! Walker’s book is as relevant now as it was 30 years ago. And that’s shocking.

Next I’ve got A Glass of Shadow, a short story collection by the wonderful Liz Williams (NewCon Press), to enjoy. If I’m going to read genre it needs to be quirky and this seems to fit the bill, being mostly SF-based with a dash of dark fantasy. I’m only half way through the first story so far but it has a steam-punky, Victorian flavour that I love.
Visit Freda Warrington's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Elfland.

The Page 69 Test: Midsummer Night.

My Book, The Movie: Midsummer Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bridget Siegel

Bridget Siegel, author of Domestic Affairs: A Campaign Novel, has worked on political campaigns at the local, state, and national levels. A graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, she is now an actor, writer, and political consultant. She lives in New York City.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Siegel's reply:
I love getting lost in a book and since my favorite reading spot is where I wrote my book -- on the NYC subway -- a great book will usually lead to me missing my stop and getting lost for real. Since my taste varies broadly, you'll find me on the subway these days, getting lost with...

Dr. Vigilante -- a soon to be released medical thriller by Alberto Hazan. It's one of those books you get so frightened and tense reading that when there's a sudden sound on the subway you literally jump out of your seat.

About A Girl -- Lindsey Kelk's new novel with characters as feisty as all of her others. It's superbly entertaining and allows me to think in an English accent, one of my favorite things to do.

The Miracle Carb Diet -- Tanya Zuckerbrot. My ideal meal, much like that of the character in my book, is a bag of Doritos, so the fact that this book has gotten me to accept that healthy food can be delicious is certainly a miracle to me.

The Age of Greed -- Jeff Madrick. It's got the information of a textbook but reads like a novel. I've never enjoyed learning as much.

Fly Away Home -- Jennifer Weiner. She's my hero of character writing. The people her stories come off the page and into your head so easily and with such vivacity. This book is no exception.
Visit Bridget Siegel's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Domestic Affairs.

The Page 69 Test: Domestic Affairs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Samuel Sattin

Samuel Sattin is a graduate of the Mills College MFA in creative writing and the recipient of NYS and SLS Fellowships. His work has appeared in Salon Magazine, io9, Kotaku, The Good Men Project, and Heeb Magazine,and been featured in the The New Yorker, amongst others. He is currently a Contributing Editor at The Weeklings, and lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, beagle, and tuxedo cat. League of Somebodies is his first novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Sattin's reply:
I’ve been reading an odd combination of highbrow and lowbrow lately. One of my favorite literary works in recent months has been Etgar Keret’s Suddenly, a Knock on the Door. It’s one of those works that barely needs any page space at all to conjure up elaborate, meaty tales that leave you both devastatingly nostalgic and intellectually fulfilled. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I think Keret is probably one of those global geniuses whose brain was simply assembled from earth’s finest materials by pure happy accident.

On the less upmarket end, however, I’ve been consuming a mix of non-fiction, graphic novels, and sci-fi fantasy. Grant Morrison’s mythic odyssey Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human, is one of the best things I’ve read in years, hands down. If you’re at all interested in comic books, then dash out immediately and pick this one up. Morrison, with his characteristically psychedelic sentence-works magicks together threads of mysticism, psychology, and philosophy, quilting them into both a memoir and an all-encompassing evolutionary explanation of the comic book, and why it is these pen and ink artifacts have had such a resounding impact on our culture.

Like everyone else in America, I’m slogging my way through the ingenious but unnecessarily dense A Dance with Dragons. Of course it’s amazing, but I can’t spend too much time with it for fear of missing out on a lot of wonderful reads. Books such as Kelly Link’s Magic For Beginners, for example, are haunting and brilliant. Brian K. Vaughan’s glorious new comic series Saga has floored me with its exaction and expertise. That one in particular combines a brilliantly unusual mix of Heavy Metal-style, sexually obscure science fiction and epic elements from Star Wars, Dune, and Blade Runner. Every issue just seems to get better; not that I would expect much less from the guy who created Y The Last Man.
Visit Samuel Sattin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sheri Joseph

Sheri Joseph is the author of the novels Where You Can Find Me (Thomas Dunne Books 2013) and Stray (MacAdam/Cage 2007), as well as a cycle of stories, Bear Me Safely Over (Grove/Atlantic 2002). She has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and the Grub Street National Book Prize, among other awards. She lives in Atlanta and teaches in the creative writing program of Georgia State University.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading.  Joseph's reply:
I almost never get to pick up a book by choice. Even on leave from teaching this semester, I’m still buried under a mound of graduate theses, stories for Five Points, books I’ve been asked to blurb, etc.. But on the other side of that, I presently have the rare luxury of choosing some of my own reading. These books I’ve sorted into two main stacks.

One stack is novels written by friends of mine that are being published near the same time as my own. I read very slowly, but of the ones I’ve gotten to, three have made me envious. Allison Amend’s A Nearly Perfect Copy is a page-turner about art forgery and human cloning. It’s one of those books that provides an education in its topics while following terrific characters through their adventures. Christopher Castellani’s third book in a trilogy about an Italian immigrant family, All This Talk of Love, is a big domestic drama in the vein of The Corrections—it’s nuanced, engrossing, and absolutely stands on its own if you haven’t read the other two novels. Susan Rebecca White’s A Place at the Table tells the story of a young white, gay chef from the South who moves to New York City, where he is mentored by an older African-American chef, a relationship inspired by Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis. Susan is in my writers’ group, so I’ve read pieces of this book in earlier drafts and just recently got my hands on the ARC. It’s a brilliant novel and a pleasure for me to see all she’s done to bring the full story together.

My second stack is composed of books related to my novel-in-progress, which is a campus novel. So I’m reading campus novels and books about school. The best I’ve come across so far, which I recommend to anyone even if you don’t have a particular interest in college or prep school life, are Tobias Wolff’s Old School, Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, John Williams’ Stoner, and Richard Yates’ A Good School. I’ve also been carrying around a couple ragged, elderly paperbacks that are touchstones for the novel-in-progress, in that they are meaningful to some of my central characters: J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman. I read bits of these whenever I have a minute, dipping in and out.

More? I teach a craft class for fiction writers in which the reading list (new every semester) is books recommended to me by other writers as ones aspiring writers should read, either as models for different techniques or as inspiration. I’ve read so many good books for this class that a full list would be overwhelming, but here are some of the more recent choices that made a big impression: Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Alice Munro’s The Beggar Maid, Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World, Toni Morrison’s Sula, Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, Jim Crace’s Being Dead, Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, and Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever?.
Visit Sheri Joseph's blog and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Where You Can Find Me.

--Marshal Zeringue