Thursday, July 31, 2014

Katrina Leno

Katrina Leno grew up in Connecticut and spent her childhood summers by the shore in Massachusetts, where The Half Life of Molly Pierce, her first novel, takes place. Leno was first published at the age of sixteen in the Connecticut Review and now holds an MFA in creative writing.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt. I read about 20% of this book before I went to sleep on a Monday night, and I finished the rest of it while flying cross-country the following day. I love reading a book blind—I don’t like to read many descriptions or reviews beforehand, because inevitably your reading of the book will then by tainted by other peoples’ reading of the book. So I’d only heard whispers of this (mostly people saying how much they enjoyed it), and I think it’s the sort of book where going in blind makes it all the more satisfying.

I loved this book from first chapter to last line. I loved the narrator. I loved the way Reinhardt handled the subject matter. I loved all the secondary characters. I especially loved the unique narration (although lots of people on the internet are saying it’s written in the second person, but it isn’t. It’s first person with a second person audience, which I think is a very important distinction. This is not a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” novel). This is one of those books I finished and thought to myself “Damn. I wish I had written this.”
Visit Katrina Leno's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ed Lin

Ed Lin is the author of several books and is an all-around standup kinda guy. Waylaid and This Is a Bust were both published by Kaya Press in 2002 and 2007, respectively, and both were widely praised. Both also won the Members’ Choice Awards in the Asian American Literary Awards. His third book, Snakes Can’t Run, was published by Minotaur Books in April 2010; it was loved by many and also won an Asian American Literary Award, and was followed by in One Red Bastard 2012. Lin, who is of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards.

Lin's new novel is Ghost Month.

Not too long ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Lin's reply:
I love reading musicians' autobiographies, maybe because I had always wanted to be in a fully functioning band. Miles Davis, Chuck Berry and Brian Wilson have all penned incredible books and now Dead Boy co-founder Cheetah Chrome has joined them with the publication of A Dead Boy's Tale: From the Front Lines of Punk Rock. Best live-on-stage photo caption ever: "I think I got thrown in jail after this gig."

It took me three months to read Luo Guanzhong's 2,200-page Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Moss Roberts translation published by Beijing's Foreign Languages Press. It's a classic Chinese novel, but over the centuries the story of China's dissolution at the end of the Han Dynasty and reconstitution has grown to capture the imagination of East and Southeast Asia. Guan Yu, one of the book's historical characters, is recognized as a god in Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist pantheons. Worship doesn't end there. Countless videogames, films and shows are based on stories from the book. You'd think that reading of endless wars, palace intrigue and intra-army deceptions-upon-deceptions would be tiresome, but that's not the case at all. Strategies may lead to the taking of entire towns or end a sentence later with a single blow to the head from Guan Yu's moonblade. Riveting to the last page.

One of the best and most memorable books I've read in the latest 12 months was The Albino Album by Chavisa Woods. It's the story of a strange young orphan with an unpronounceable name who follows her instincts. You know you like a book when you fight about it. This jerk was trying to tear The Albino Album apart by thumbing through it, and reading out loud sentences he found banal. I blurted out, "That's like saying a beautiful mosaic sucks because it's made from a bunch of shitty, broken shells!" I am not friends with this guy nor will I be friends with anybody who dislikes this book, so goddamn read it and love it already.
Visit Ed Lin's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Snakes Can't Run.

The Page 69 Test: One Red Bastard.

My Book, The Movie: Ghost Month.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tammy Kaehler

Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate hospitality introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly racing mystery. Kaehler works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.

Kaehler's new novel, Avoidable Contact, is the third Kate Reilly racing mystery.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Kaehler's reply:
I tend to read a lot of female authors, because I belong to an organization that puts on a Festival of Women Authors every year, and I’m constantly reading to evaluate potential guests. My current list is no exception….

I’m in the middle of Lian Dolan’s Elizabeth the First Wife in order to recommend the author for our event. It seems that Dolan and I graduated from the same college, only five years apart, and we have a mutual contact who recommended Dolan’s books so highly, I had to pick one up. At the halfway point, I’m glad to report that the advance praise I heard is accurate. Elizabeth is a funny, lighthearted novel about relationships (romantic and otherwise) and self-discovery, set in Pasadena, California, and Ashland, Oregon. I’m really enjoying Dolan’s voice and her wry wit.

The second book I’m working on—one chapter at a time, during my lunch hour at work—is a flash-back to my college days as a linguistics and anthropology major: That’s Not What I Meant! by Deborah Tannen. I manage and mentor a number of people at my day job, and I’ve been trying to help many of them communicate better in recent months. I’ve read Tannen’s book before, and I know it to be one of the best books on communication style out there, but it was time for a review. As I expected, the author is helping me remember all the reasons why it’s so hard for different genders, different cultures, and different personality types to communicate. Beyond the value for my day job, I have a feeling her words will inform some pivotal miscommunication in my next mystery novel.

And the book I just finished (which is still with me) is The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent: A Maggie Hope Mystery by Susan Elia MacNeal (a two-time Edgar nominee). I was eagerly awaiting this book’s release in July because I flat out love the series. Maggie is an American mathematician–turned spy and code breaker for the British during World War II (she starts off as a secretary to Winston Churchill). If you think that makes Maggie sound like a smart, tough cookie, you’d be right. But MacNeal also does an incredible job of giving us an amateur sleuth who’s vulnerable and not always good at everything she’s called on to do—in other words, a woman who’s doing her best in some very (very!) trying situations. I highly recommend the series.
Visit Tammy Kaehler's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Man’s Switch.

My Book, The Movie: Dead Man's Switch.

The Page 69 Test: Braking Points.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kelly Fiore

Kelly Fiore has a BA in English from Salisbury University and an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia University. She received an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in 2005 and 2009. Fiore’s poetry has appeared in Small Spiral Notebook, Samzidada, Mid Atlantic Review, Connotation Press, and the Grolier Annual Review. Her first young adult novel, Taste Test, was released in August 2013 from Bloomsbury USA. Her new book, also from Bloomsbury, is Just Like the Movies.

Recently I asked Fiore about what she was reading. Her reply:
Lately, most of the books I read are one of two things – books by friends or books highly recommended by friends. My first recent-read is a little bit of both. Dahlia Adler is an amazingly talented author who I also consider a good friend.

Behind the Scenes by Dahila Adler

There are a lot of things I love about Dahlia’s writing style and characterization, but I think the way she builds friendships is what draws me most to her work. I can hear Dahlia in her characters in the very best way. Her humor, her sarcasm, her emotions – all of them feel so genuine. I may have chosen Dahlia’s book because I know her, but I read the book – and raved about the book – because I loved it. It was, in all ways, an embodiment of what I love about contemporary YA literature. I adored everything about this book.

The second book, though, is a little something different for me. It’s a re-read, but I hadn’t read it in several years, so the experience felt new all over again.

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer

I watched the HBO movie version of this play last week and cried – like ugly cried – for about an hour or so afterward. Then I drove my husband crazy by digging through all of my bookshelves until I found my very old copy of the play itself. As I re-read it, I felt an emotional tug that was all the more potent because of my movie experience. Larry Kramer made me root for characters who I had little in common with personally because, in the end, all that really mattered/matters is the universal human experience.
Visit Kelly Fiore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kimberly Elkins

Kimberly Elkins was a finalist for the National Magazine Award and has published fiction and nonfiction in the Atlantic, Best New American Voices, Iowa Review, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and Village Voice, among others.

She has a B.A. from Duke University, an M.A. in Creative Writing from Florida State, and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University. Elkins grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What Is Visible is her first novel.

Recently I asked Elkins about what she was reading. Her reply:
At this stage in my life, I always seem to be skipping back and forth between books, double- or triple-dipping, paying attention to whichever direction my emotional, intellectual, or even spiritual compass guides that day or that hour.

An esteemed writer friend recommended David Samuel Levinson’s recent debut novel, Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, and I immediately saw why: the prose is brilliant--lush but precise--and the breathtaking plot the kind usually reserved for genre works, but here elevated to Nabokovian literary heights. You know you really love a book when you ardently wish you’d written it.

In the quieter moments, I’ve lately turned to Chloe Honum’s elegant and haunting poetry collection, A Tulip Flame. Poetry does not necessarily come easily to me, but it is impossible not to feel kindled by Honum’s work.

And for just plain fun, I’m re-reading Mary McCarthy’s page-turning The Group, as a treat, the vodka gimlet kind of treat.
Visit Kimberly Elkins's website.

My Book, The Movie: What Is Visible.

The Page 69 Test: What Is Visible.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tom Young

Novelist Tom Young is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and a former writer and editor with the broadcast division of the Associated Press. His latest novel is Sand and Fire.

Not so long ago I asked the author what he was reading. Young's reply:
A lot of my reading lately has come in an effort to fill gaps in my knowledge of history, especially recent history. With that goal in mind, I’ve begun reading The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume nonfiction work about the Soviet prison camp system and his own years as a political prisoner.

As Anne Applebaum’s foreword points out, The Gulag Archipelago is itself a part of history, having first been circulated in the author’s home country in unbound, hand-typed form. Solzhenitsyn describes how a nighttime knock on the door could catapult practically any Soviet citizen from the embrace of family to the torments of the gulag. The victims often had no idea why. A petty rivalry or an incautious word could ruin a life. And, as the author puts it, arrests could race through a town like an epidemic.

To judge from Solzhenitsyn’s case, Stalin’s government feared its own citizens more than it feared the Nazis. While the author served as a young artillery captain, Soviet counterintelligence officers plucked him from the battlefield and sent him to prison for criticizing the government in his private correspondence.

He became an eloquent and unstoppable witness to the excesses of a paranoid regime, relating his thoughts and experiences in both fiction and nonfiction. When he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, he chose not to go to Stockholm to accept the award in person for fear that Soviet authorities would not let him back into his home country.

As a writer, I read The Gulag Archipelago with a great sigh of relief that I live where I can express myself freely. My novels deal with real-world conflicts involving the military; under a different system of government, my books might draw the wrong kind of attention. I can’t help but wonder whether I’d have Solzhenitsyn’s courage if the circumstances required it.
Visit Thomas W. Young's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

M.D. Waters

M.D. Waters lives with her family in Maryland. She is the author of Archetype and its newly released sequel, Prototype.

Recently I asked Waters about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently in the middle of Amped by Daniel H. Wilson, which takes a very likely future and sets us in the worst possible outcome. What if we could use technology to, not only make us smarter, but control seizures and other such medical issues? What if the human race got scared because the technology worked? What if the government listened to our fears and decided to take action? There’s a paragraph inside this book that I thought really summed up the answer:
The teenagers don’t run away like I half expect them to. Instead, they surround me quickly, naturally. Gathered around me, they take on a new form. Each of these kids might be okay on his own, but together they’re a hydra: one monster, three heads.
With a government (one monster) supported by a multitude of terrified voices (three heads) the outcome is never good. Cut off one head, three more grow in its place.

It’s a frightening future Wilson is showing us in this book, and probable because most humans at their core are afraid of change. We lose perspective of the other side very easily, and in the case of this book, the other side holds human beings reacting with human emotion, and the instinct to survive.
Visit M. D. Waters's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 21, 2014

Susan Spann

Susan Spann is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing law and a former law school professor. She has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, knife and shuriken throwing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding.

Spann's newest novel is Blade of the Samurai.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Spann's reply:
I read a lot, and widely, so there’s always a nice selection on my desk.

One of my favorite, and fastest, recent reads was Kerry Schafer’s Dream Wars series, a trilogy of novellas that starts with The Dream Runner. Kerry’s a friend of mine, and I loved her novels, Between and Wakeworld, so when I saw she had a new release I jumped at the chance to read it. The Dream Runner tells the story of a young woman “drafted” into the service of a mysterious merchant who can sell a person any dream that his or her heart desires. Of course, the customers quickly learn that getting what you wished for isn’t always a good thing…

As a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, I’d recommend The Dream Runner (and the others in the Dream Wars series) to any fans of speculative fiction with a sci-fi twist.

Tonight, I’m starting Natalia Sylvester’s debut novel Chasing the Sun, about a man whose estranged wife is kidnapped in Lima, Peru, and the lengths he must go to in order to get her back. I met Natalia through The Debutante Ball blog, where I blogged as a member of the “class of 2013” and Natalia is just finishing her tenure with the 2014 “debs.” I’m looking forward to seeing her take on mystery, especially since the story was partly inspired by real events.

Meanwhile, on the nonfiction side of the aisle, I’m reading Eric Rath’s The Ethos of Noh: Actors and Their Art, about the development and history of Noh drama in Japan. It’s one of several research books I’m reading to fill in the fine details on the fourth Shinobi Mystery, Blood of the Outcast, which I’m working on this summer!
Visit Susan Spann's website.

My Book, The Movie: Blade of the Samurai.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rufi Thorpe

Rufi Thorpe received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. A native of California, she currently lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and son.

Thorpe's new novel is The Girls From Corona del Mar.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Because I have a two-year-old and all my adult-time hours are spent writing, I tend to mostly listen to audiobooks. And so I do dishes, fold laundry, and walk the dog with my head half in this world, half in an invented one, and for this I prefer the biggest, thickest, goopiest novels available. Maybe you will not know what I mean by goopy-- I want them to be viscous and clotted with people and places, an overabundance of character and detail, things I haven't seen or thought about, parts of the world I'd like to explore. I just listened to The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, about an early female pioneer of botany. I just adored it. There are many delightfully erotic passages about female masturbation, a subject very seldom explored, as well as really nuanced and elegant examinations of those few abiding philosophical questions: time, mortality, the meaning of life. It is hard to make those things fresh and authentic, and Gilbert does. Other goopy novels I adore: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, anything by Philip Roth, and Ann Patchett, particularly State of Wonder. Oh, and the audio version of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is simply magnificent. It’s a must listen.

At night, I do read on paper after my son falls asleep, but I tend to choose slenderer novels where I want to focus solely on the prose. I just finished Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me, and I was very impressed by it. She allows her ballet dancers to be true athletes and leaves all the known tropes about aspiring dancers behind, instead giving us a world where people have pushed their bodies to the edge of what is humanly possible in a way that also deforms their lives and their hearts. In its best moments, it reminded me of Willa Cather's Song of the Lark.
Visit Rufi Thorpe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Alecia Whitaker

Alecia Whitaker is the author of The Queen of Kentucky and Wildflower.

Earlier this month I asked the writer about what she was reading. Whitaker's reply:
I just finished The Book Thief and boy has that one stayed with me. It's so hard to imagine being without the things we take for granted in our first world country, like a good meal and the freedom to speak our mind about our government. Speaking of, it's also absolutely bonkers to me to think that the propaganda machine that was Hitler's Germany was able to convince and coerce its citizens to participate in such crimes of hate. I feel so thankful, especially on this Fourth of July weekend, to live in a democratic nation.

Besides that, I am reading Since Last Summer by Joanna Philbin and I'm loving getting back into the lives of Rory and Isabel. Since I just finished writing the sequel to my new release, Wildflower, it was great talking to Joanna recently about her experience writing a sequel.

The next book on my list to read is Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. It's a story that sounds very similar to Wildflower and after speaking to Emery on the phone today, we are both so excited to learn that our books really are the perfect companion novels. This is especially exciting since we are having an author appearance event together at Joseph-Beth Books in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. Our fans should cross-over beautifully!
Visit Alecia Whitaker's website.

Writers Read: Alecia Whitaker (February 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

D. A. Mishani

D. A. Mishani is a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature. His first novel, The Missing File, was the first book in his literary crime series introducing the police inspector Avraham Avraham. His new novel featuring the inspector is A Possibility of Violence.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Mishani's reply:
There are books that while reading them you already know that will appear in any "Best books I've ever read" lists that you'd do in the future. There are books that while reading them you know that will change the way you read and even write. And I'm so happy to say that I've just finished reading one of those books. It's called Job: The Story of a Simple Man. It was written by Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth and translated to English by the wonderful Michael Hofmann. I came by it quite accidently, after a long dry period of not finding the right book, a period that ended immediately with the first lines of the charged, direct and poetic prose of Joseph Roth.

Job tells the story of a Jewish family from Eastern Europe in the beginning of the twentieth century. The father, Mendel Singer, is a poor teacher of Hebrew. He's married to Deborah, who gives birth to three normal children, and then to Menuchim.

Menuchim is a disfigured, mute, baby. He seems hopeless but when his mother visits the local Rabbi he promises that the disfigured son would recover someday. The Singers wait years and years for his recovery (even when they leave him in Russia and immigrate to New York) and their hopeful waiting gradually becomes a metaphor, or even a few: a metaphor to the Jewish people's long hope for salvation, a metaphor to our individual expectation that one of these days our defects will disappear and our lives will be redeemed, even a metaphor to the reading process and the reader's wish for a happy ending.

I truly envy those of you who'll start reading this novel, which I can only re-read but not experience again for the first time…
Learn more about the book and author at D. A. Mishani's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Missing File.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing File.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lisa See

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.

See's new novel is China Dolls.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. See's reply:
I’m reading three books right now. All three of these seemingly unrelated books are actually connected to research I’m doing for my next book. Mmmm…what could it possibly be about?

I’ve been reading Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling for about a year. Pu Songling was a failed imperial scholar, who, in the 17th-century, traveled around China, collecting hundreds of stories of fox spirits, ghosts, demons, vampires, enchanted objects, and other eerie creatures and happenings. Pu referred to himself as the Historian of the Strange, and all the stories are presented as being “true.” Some of them are very short – a paragraph or two, while others are as long as twenty pages. They make very good bedtime reading, except when they’re too scary.

I’ve always loved books on science that I can actually understand. I guess you’d call the genre popular science. I recently returned from a research trip to Yunnan province, considered the birthplace of tea. Yunnan is a global biodiversity hotspot. There are more animal and plant species in that single province than altogether in the rest of China. It also has more ethnic minorities than the rest of the provinces in China combined. This made me turn to The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. He isn’t writing about China by any means, but he is attempting to answer the questions I’ve been asking myself about the unique qualities of Yunnan. Why and how did this become a biodiversity hotspot? What is it about the particular plants, animals, and humans that has allowed them to survive and thrive? That’s where his concept of the selfish gene comes in.

In preparation for my trip to Yunnan, I read The Classic of Tea written in the 8th century by Lu Yu. Today, even as it was in Lu Yu’s time, tea was the second most popular drink in the world. He set out to find the universal through the particular of tea. I find it amazing—thrilling even—that so much of what he wrote still resonates today.
Visit Lisa See's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ann Garvin

Ann Garvin is a professor of health and nutrition at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater; she also teaches creative writing in the Masters of Fine Arts program at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Garvin is the author of the novels On Maggie’s Watch and the newly released The Dog Year.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Garvin's reply:
I’m in the middle of two books and they are competing for my attentions lately. The two are so different from each other that it’s not much of a competition in either direction. I’m re-reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving because it is such a favorite of mine. What could I ever say about a book published by John Irving, except that reading it will only enhance your writing, your life and the way you view the world. In an Introduction to 3 by Irving (Random House) Terrence Des Pres wrote, “I think Irving tells the hardest kind of truth, but in the telling insists upon the freedom to have fun.” This to me is what makes a book great.

Jami Attenberg’s book The Middlesteins is my second read and I am taking my own sweet time with it. I had the remarkable experience of spending a week with Jami while teaching in an MFA together. Meeting Jami, hearing her read, and now reading her books is the richest of experiences. Jami (both in her writing and in person is approachable, grounded, kind, and funny and The Middlesteins is that largely buzzed book that deserves all the amplification. I just love it when the good guys get what they deserve.
Visit Ann Garvin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cammie McGovern

Cammie McGovern was born in Evanston, Illinois, but moved to Los Angeles when she was seven years old. She is the author of three adult novels, The Art of Seeing, Eye Contact, and Neighborhood Watch.

Her new YA novel, Say What You Will, was published by HarperTeen in June, 2014. McGovern currently lives in Amherst, MA, with her husband and three sons, the oldest of whom is autistic.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. McGovern's reply:
Because I was an adult author before making a recent conversation to YA with Say What You Will, I’m particularly drawn to books targeted for YA that will also appeal to adults and vice versa (adult books that will appeal to teens.) In the latter camp, I have two books I’m re-reading because I loved them so much and they should absolutely have a wider teen audience, I think.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. This has all the terrifying thrill of a new dystopian grounded in the world of 13 year old, Julia, who wakes up one morning to a television news broadcast announcing that the earth has begun to slow its rotation. Daylight hours are thrown into flux as is time entirely. It’s a beautiful character study about family and friendships and what endures as these people face-down the unknown. It’s my 14 year-old son’s favorite (of my recommendations) and the only one he’s passed along to his friends who also loved it.

Land of the Blind by Jess Walter. For all of his new legion of fans after Beautiful Ruins, this is the second book he wrote, back in his mystery-writing days, and it has a glorious set-up: A man shows up at a police station, confesses to a murder, but won’t tell the poor over-worked, burned out female detective who he murdered and where the body is. He’s got to write it all down, he says. On legal pads. His story goes back to elementary school and high school and is some of the funniest, best, most haunting writing about the hierarchical class system of high school that I have ever read, bar none.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. by Gabreille Zevin I suspect every writer this spring is including this one on their list because it’s such a pleasure of a read for readers, writers, bookstore habitues. What surprised me in reading it was first, how funny and sweet and light it was, and then by the end, how sad and haunting it is. Absolutely worth the read for all bibliophiles, young and old.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. I’m re-reading this right now because I’m working on something where a group of teens are putting on a play and I wanted to figure out how they got the excitement of a theater production onto page (hard to do) but, reading it on page (I listened to it the first time) I’m even more impressed with it. So much is done so very well here—the friendship between a straight 17 year old and his gay best friend (how often have we seen this? Not often and yes, folks, it happens all the time in life), the funny/sad voice of another teen who’s been brutally betrayed by a so-called friend. I’d put this one way above some of Green’s other books that are sitting on the bestseller lists right now…
Visit Cammie McGovern's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Laura Lane McNeal

Laura Lane McNeal grew up in New Orleans, where she lives today with her husband and two sons. She graduated from Southern Methodist University. She also has an MBA from Tulane and ran her own marketing consulting firm in New Orleans.

McNeal's new novel is Dollbaby, her debut.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I don’t know about you, but I have several dozen books stacked in neat piles on the floor next to my bed, waiting for me to finish the other dozen that have actually made it onto the top of my bedside table. Yet none of these are what I picked up to read next. As with everything else in my life, I’m kind of a spur of the moment person – if I walk out of the door and see weeds in the garden, I start weeding. So one fine day a few weeks ago, I stopped by my mother’s house to drop a book off for her, and out of the corner of my eye, spotted a copy of Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup among the books in her bookshelf. All the hype about the movie made me recognize the title. That was your grandmother’s, my mother offered as she watched me flipping through the yellowed pages. Intrigued as to why my parents kept it after my grandmother died some twenty-five years ago, I borrowed it. It never made it upstairs, to the book pile. Instead, I parlayed all my afternoon activities to the ‘do tomorrow’ list and sat down and began reading. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when our city and my home were destroyed, I have devoured books about New Orleans history. (Also the impetus for me writing Dollbaby, by the way.) Twelve Years A Slave chronicles the real-life journey of Solomon Northup, a free man of color, who was abducted and brought to New Orleans, where he was sold into slavery. Most of the story takes place on the bayous of the Red River, not far from New Orleans. What captured my attention was the absolutely beautiful prose, free of vitriol, but full of lush descriptions of his incredible, yet heartbreaking journey. I had expected something different from a man who’d been yanked away from his family, whose freedom had been taken away, as far as he knew, forever. Yet his faith in mankind shows through in his writing. It is uplifting and poignant. He describes it best himself, in the last paragraphs of his book:
My narrative is at an end. I have no comments to make upon the subject of Slavery. Those who read this book may form their own opinions of the “peculiar institution.” What it may be in other states, I do not profess to know; what is in the region of the Red River, is truly and faithfully delineated in these page. This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture. I doubt not hundreds have been as fortunate as myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and are at this moment wearing out their lives on plantations in Texas and Louisiana. But I forbear. Chastened and subdued in spirit by the suffering I have borne, and thankful to that good Being through whose mercy I have been restored to happiness and liberty, I hope henceforward to lead an upright though lowly life, and rest at last in the church yard where my father sleeps.
Thank you Solomon Northup, for sharing your incredible story and showing by example what a man of courage truly is.
Visit Laura Lane McNeal's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dollbaby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Josh Weil

Josh Weil was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his debut collection, The New Valley. A National Book Award "Five Under Thirty-Five" author, he has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Columbia University, the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, and Sewanee. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Esquire, One Story, and Agni.

Weil's debut novel is The Great Glass Sea.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Weil's reply:
I’m reading some door stoppers these days. In particular, Anna Karenina. I’d never read it, and, since my novel is set in Russia, I figured I probably oughta crack the ol’ masterpiece open. And I’ve been happy to find the rest of the world’s not wrong: it is a masterpiece (of course). It’s also just hugely enjoyable, shot-through with such life, and simply humming with the complexities of human relationships. I’m loving it. Which isn’t as expected as it might seem. I’ve read a fair amount of classic Russian literature—Dead Souls, Crime and Punishment, Fathers and Sons…etc.—and I’m attracted to a lot about it, but I’m not someone who reveres the classics over contemporary fiction (I think the great writers today are doing work every bit as great as ones who came before) and I’ve often found myself losing patience with aspects of some of the classics that feel out-of-synch with what I love about reading my favorite literary writers today. I don’t feel that with Anna Karenina, though. It’s one of those classics that teaches me as I read it, that makes me recognize the debt we who are writing now do owe.

The other thick book I’m reading, I’m actually not reading—I’m listening to it on tape. The phrase ‘On tape’ dates me, I know, but that’s how I think of it. I did a 40 hour drive (to Colorado and back) and listened to Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country almost the entire way. It’s such a rich work of imagination. I’m a sucker for sinking into a landscape that comes alive around me and characters whose voices stick in mind, and this book has both. Plus Book 1, at least, is such a great example of how a rock-solid narrative backbone (a single question around which the story is wound) can free a writer up to in other ways. In this case the question of exactly how & why the main character is killed (set up right at the start) lets Matthiessen dip into a swirl of other aspects of the world, spend his time shaping relationships and painting place, without losing my attention. It’s masterfully done.

As is one of the bravest and best debuts I’ve seen in recent years—Mike Harvkey’s In the Course of Human Events. I read an early draft years ago, and was blown away. But I haven’t had the chance to read the published book until now. And now that I’m digging back into it I’m stuck by everything that I loved about it before—how it takes the reader into a world we’re reluctant to enter, and makes us want to stay there by bringing characters to life that we can’t help but fall for; how precise and hard-hitting the prose is—but I’m also seeing the way that weakness has been worked out of the story and it’s just such a ripping read now. By the time this post goes up, I’ll probably have moved on to something else—because that book’s gonna keep me up reading late till I’m done.

Burning the midnight oil, as they say. Which is an apt note for me close on, since the best non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time is one I just finished: Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox. It’s one of those works of creative non-fiction where the writing is as marvelous as the subject. And the subject is so utterly fascinating—it illuminates all sorts of corners of our human history. Though I’m especially interested in it because it bears on my writing right now: The Great Glass Sea takes place in a world where darkness has been eliminated from life and the story collection I’m currently working on, The Age of Perpetual Light, is tied to the novel by that same thread.

It’s funny, I was just going to write that the book I’m most looking forward to reading next doesn’t have anything to do with my own work—but I realized the title makes it seem as if it does (I swear, I didn’t set that up): Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
Visit Josh Weil's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reavis Z. Wortham

Reavis Z. Wortham is the author of The Rock Hole, hailed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Top 12 Mystery Novels of 2011. A finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award, the second novel in this Red River Series, Burrows, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

The New York Times called The Right Side of Wrong, the third novel in the series, a "sleeper that deserves wider attention."

The newly released fourth novel in the Red River Series is Vengeance is Mine.

Last month I asked Wortham about what he was reading.  His reply:
What am I reading (?)…

…I read the way I write…

…which means multiple processes, and at present, I’m working on three (3) novel manuscripts at the same time, in addition to ongoing weekly newspaper columns and a number of magazine articles for monthly magazines…

…ergo, I’m reading several novels at the same time. They are scattered all over the house, wherever I might sit down for a moment, or on tables in passing. There are two books on my nightstand, three beside my recliner, three here on my desk, and more stacked and bookmarked on my “to read” shelf.

Some people might think it’s hard to keep everything separate, but you don’t have any problem following your weekly television programs, do you, whether it’s the insanity of fake reality TV, or such programs as Longmire, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, or any of the other ongoing stories that you follow without fail.

The book that comes to mind first is Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King. I’ve been a stalwart King fan since Carrie came out in 1974. There is a 4-shelf barrister bookcase in my bedroom, and it’s almost full of his works. The latest cover is occupying its space on one of the shelves while I read the book. I’m a hundred and fifty pages in, and he has my attention once again. Steve always manages to get his hands around my throat on page one, though. I love the links and circles in his novels when he refers to previous characters, places, and plots, and now even tying in to his son Joe Hill’s novels. In fact, a mask of Pennywise the clown has just appeared in a Mr. Mercedes murder car, and this old nemesis reminds me of It, and those novels from long ago.

Another favorite author is Stephen Hunter. At page 144 of Sniper’s Honor, I’m getting a great education on how partisan influence between Germany and Russia helped shape the outcome of the war. While Bob Lee Swagger’s viewpoint has been limited up to this point, I think it’ll accelerate in true Hunter fashion.

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name is pure joy. Once again, Johnson takes us into a world that most of us will never see, unless you live in Wyoming, and since that’s highly unlikely because the population in that wide open state is the lowest in the U.S. Craig’s books featuring protagonist Walt Longmire have more depth and characterization than the television series, and regularly include characters that have barely been touched upon by the series. I have a personal connection with this book because this story includes a casino in Deadwood, South Dakota, and international hit men. My own new novel, Vengeance is Mine, begins in a Las Vegas casino (circa 1967) and winds up in northeast Texas while Kansas City hit men move in to do the job they do best. The similarities between Any Other Name and my own Vengeance is Mine aren’t perfect, but they made me smile at least, especially since Craig “blurbed” Vengeance and has been a champion of my work while on his own book tour.

Fiction isn’t the only thing I read, though. I just finished a book called, Up To My Armpits, by the late west Texas veterinarian, Dr. Charlie Edwards. I picked this one up to use as research for a new series under construction, but I found myself captivated by the day to day experiences of an old country vet. I doubt this book got a lot of recognition, but it’s invaluable to me in regards to speech, land, people, and ranch situations. I wish I could talk to Dr. Edwards for a while over a cup of strong cowboy coffee. Anything from him would greatly enrich these new books.

In some parts of the U.S., Edward Abbey’s name is as recognizable as that of our own president. Excellent author, curmudgeon, and when he passed, one of the country’s foremost environmentalists, critic of public land policies, and anarchist political views. At one time, one of his favorite activities was to chainsaw billboards to the ground. His groundbreaking Desert Solitaire (1968) pulled people to Arches and Zion National Parks, and at least one of his books, The Brave Cowboy, became a movie starring Kirk Douglas (Lonely Are The Brave).

Sandra Brannan’s Liv Bergen series continues with Noah’s Rainy Day. Sandra found a viewpoint in Noah that only she could explore. Trapped inside a body racked with cerebral palsy, Noah is “blind, unable to speak, and cannot run, walk, or crawl, yet his mind works just as well as any other twelve-year-old’s—maybe even better. And Noah holds a secret dream: to become a great spy, following in the footsteps of his aunt, Liv. Meanwhile, Noah, housebound, becomes wrapped up in identifying the young face he sees watching him from his neighbor’s bedroom window, but he can neither describe nor inscribe what he knows. And his investigation may lead to Noah paying the ultimate price in fulfilling his dreams.” It was fantastic.

Others are already in the queue. I’m especially looking forward to John Gilstrap’s new installment, End Game, featuring Jonathan Grave, a hostage rescue expert. Gilstrap is a New York Times bestselling author, and a great friend. His novels are always roller coaster rides of pure adrenaline, and I’m sure this one will amp up the excitement even more than his previous five installments. It came out on June 24. T. Jefferson Parker’s upcoming release, Full Measure is scheduled to hit the shelves in October. It can’t be anything but great.

This morning I read a dozen pages of my elderly copy of Donald E. Westlake’s Busy Body (1966) because in a Starred Review, Booklist said Vengeance is Mine was reminiscent of both that classic and The Fugitive Pigeon (1966). So now I’m back into Westlake heaven. I’m also in the middle of Jon Land’s Strong Enough to Die, Mark Gimenez’s Perk, Stuart Kaminsky’s Leberman’s Law, and Pat Conroy’s Death of Santini.

So here’s my dilemma. When I’m writing, I wish I was reading. When I have a book in my hands, I feel guilty, because my own characters are calling. I guess the happy medium is that I seem to be doing it all at the same time. Will this juggling act be a continuing success? I’ll get back to you on that.
Learn more about the book and author at Reavis Z. Wortham's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Rock Hole.

My Book, The Movie: The Rock Hole.

The Page 69 Test: Burrows.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Reavis Z. Wortham and Willie.

The Page 69 Test: The Right Side of Wrong.

--Marshal Zeringue