Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Brad Abraham

Brad Abraham is the author of Magicians Impossible, creator of the Mixtape comic book series, screenwriter of the films Fresh Meat and Stonehenge Apocalypse, writer on the television series The Canada Crew, Now You Know, I Love Mummy, and RoboCop Prime Directives, and a journalist whose work has appeared in Rue Morgue, Dreamwatch, Starburst, and Fangoria.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Abraham's reply:
When I was writing Magicians Impossible I was very conscious about not reading any books about, or indeed any media involving magic. It’s why I only saw Marvel’s Doctor Strange when it arrived on Netflix this summer, safely after delivering my book to the publisher. But all through the writing of it, I was building a list of titles with a mind to reading them once my book was sitting on bookstore shelves. Right now I’m about three-quarters of the way through Lisa Maxwell’s The Last Magician and have been enjoying the dive into another writer’s take on magic, mystery, secret societies, and my adopted home of New York City. What’s been really fascinating about Maxwell’s book is how she drew from a lot of the same mythologies I did when plotting my book; magical barriers, powerful objects, warring magical clans, heists, and so many wheels within wheels. I like the books I read to be surprising and so far The Last Magician has more than fit that bill.

Another I just finished is a non-fiction art book, and part of Taschen’s All-American Ads series. This one was the volume looking at the advertising of the 1930s and, while hefty (they all are) is one I got through in relatively short order. I’ve been mulling a project set in that decade, and one of the reasons I glommed onto the Taschen books is, for me anyway, the research aspect. So much of writing is visual, but when you’re writing out of your own time-frame there are questions. What did people wear? What did they drive? What did they eat and drink, how did they travel, what toys did they own and cherish? The Taschen Ads series is a great resource for any writer, and you’ll be surprised what ideas will be sparked just by looking at an ad for Bromo-Seltzer from 1934.

Third, I just saw It in theaters on the weekend and have begun re-reading, well, It – a book I first read way back in 1989 (the year the movie version takes place in). Back then, I was the age of the kids of the Loser’s Club. 27 years later I’m the age they’d be as adults now. This will be my first time reading it as an adult and I can’t wait to see how that goes. Books are timeless; we’re the ones who change. The ones who grow up and grow old, while those characters remain forever in amber. There’s something almost beautiful about that; even in a tale as dark and unsettling as this one.
Visit Brad Abraham's website.

The Page 69 Test: Magicians Impossible.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Cora Harrison

Cora Harrison published twenty-six children's books before turning to adult novels with the "Mara" series of Celtic historical mysteries set in 16th century Ireland.

Her latest novel is Beyond Absolution, the third book in the Reverend Mother Mystery Series.

Recently I asked Harrison about what she was reading. The author's reply:
Currently I am reading Hilary Mantel’s book on the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety. It’s not at all as well-known as her Wolf Hall and its sequel, but oddly I find myself enjoying it very much, more so, I think, than her more famous work. I was led to it by an article about Hilary Mantel that I read, in the Guardian, I think, which describes how this, her first novel, was written almost accidentally. She had intended to write a non-fiction book about the French Revolution, had done a tremendous amount of research, filing cabinets full of tantalizing snippets of information, and, no doubt, books, with post-it notes or cards stuck into relevant pages, lying around on tables and desk.

And then, suddenly, her non-fiction book turned into fiction. The three main characters of her research, Robespierre, Danton and Camille began to come alive for her; began to talk; had, in her mind’s eye, childhoods that modelled their future actions; had developed relationships with men and women that were to have consequences. Somewhere or other, Hilary Mantel says that she has to take chances with that. Knowing that she will never know whether she is right, or not, she has to put forward a plausible character, someone who will fit in with the known information. And so far into the book she has won me over completely and I will never be able to consider these three men in any other way than in the way in which she had painted them.

So why am I enjoying it so much more than Wolf Hall? I think that it is because, with Wolf Hall, I know too much about that early Tudor period. I have a couple of shelves full of books on that time, have read virtually all the biographies written about Henry VIII and quite a lot of those written about his numerous wives. And as for the other players on the stage, well, I’ve read about Thomas Cromwell, and I’ve several biographies about Thomas More and my vision of these two men does not gel with the vision put forward by Hilary Mantel. And I know quite a lot about Anne Boleyn, from early girlhood to her tragic end, and somehow my Anne Boleyn is not Hilary Mantel’s Anne Boleyn. So, to a certain extent, despite its fame, despite its obvious merits, Wolf Hall, and its sequel, Bring up the Bodies, is spoilt for me and I did not really enjoy either book.

But when it comes to the French Revolution, I know shamefully little and so Hilary Mantel has woven her spell over me and I accept her vision and for ever those three men will be for me the ones that I have watched through her eyes, during childhood, adolescence, manhood and death. A splendid book and one to give me courage to research and to recreate in my ‘Reverend Mother’ series: A Shameful Murder, A Shocking Assassination and Beyond Absolution, the men and women who took part in the trouble-filled years of the early 1920s, during the emergence of Ireland as a Free State.
Visit Cora Harrison's website.

My Book, The Movie: Cross of Vengeance.

My Book, The Movie: Beyond Absolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 22, 2017

Dave Zeltserman

Jacob Stone is the byline chosen by award-winning author Dave Zeltserman for his new Morris Brick series of serial-killer thrillers. His crime, mystery and horror fiction has won top praise and has been translated into six languages.

His novels Small Crimes and Pariah were both named by the Washington Post as best books of the year. Small Crimes topped National Public Radio's list of best crime and mystery novels of 2008 and is being made into a feature film.

Stone's new novel is Crazed, the second Morris Black thriller.

Recently I asked Zeltserman about what he was reading. The author's reply:
I've been reading John Lutz's Quinn series out of order, and the last book I finished was the second book in this series, In for the Kill. Lutz has a breezy witty style, and he's a masterful crime thriller writer, and I'm reading these books both because they're a lot of fun, and also to study them. I think a lot of crime thriller writers could improve their craft studying Lutz.

Right now I'm about 50 pages from finishing up Loren Estleman's American Detective. Like Lutz, Estleman is a masterful writer, and I'm a big fan of both his Claudius Lyons Nero Wolfe pastiche stories and his Amos Walker PI novels. Also like Lutz, I read Estleman's books both because I enjoy the hell out of them and also to study his writing.

I've also got H. P. Lovecraft's complete works loaded on my kindle, and I've been working my way through it, and just finished The Shadow over Innsmouth, which is probably one of the better Lovecraft works.
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Crazed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Alys Clare

Alys Clare lives in the English countryside, where her novels are set. She went to school in Tonbridge and later studied archaeology at the University of Kent.

Clare's new novel is The Devil's Cup.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
This question has come at an opportune moment, since I’ve just been enjoying a short break from writing and have caught up with a great deal of reading. One of my early mentors used to say that a writer needs to breathe in as well as breathe out, and ever since in the course of my 28 years as a professional writer, I’ve tried to have regular breathing-in breaks in my work schedule.

I’ve read quite a stack of recent best-sellers, as another good piece of advice for writers is to stay aware of what’s doing well. With the exception of Ruth Hogan’s charming and delightfully idiosyncratic The Keeper of Lost Things, however, I’ve been disappointed, since the rave reviews clearly saw something in the fast-paced and often shallow thrillers and psychological mysteries that clearly I was missing. With relief, then, I went back to a tried and tested favourite and re-read Ruth Rendell’s Going Wrong. (I should perhaps point out here that my summer reading hasn’t been restricted to authors called Ruth and this was purely a coincidence).

Going Wrong was written in 1998, at a time when Ruth Rendell was at the height of her powers. On the face of it, it’s simply the story of a very good-looking man who falls for a rather ordinary girl when they are young and whose love for her endures when hers fades away as they both grow to maturity. But in the hands of a master of the psychological intricacies of human beings, what a tale develops. Ruth Rendell had a rare ability for going into the minds of superficially ordinary, socially functioning people and, by taking the reader in there with her, making it steadily and alarmingly clear how far from normal these people are. Guy Curran is such a man, and his obsession for Leonora, as we see it from the vantage point of his own mind, is perfectly sane and reasonable; there's always a logical explanation for those aspects of her behaviour that don't conform to what Guy wants, and he will find it even if it takes him all night.

But Guy, we soon realise, is a person with serious problems. But so is Leonora. And why is she so irresistible? Dowdy, unfashionable, greasy hair and no make up, capricious, feeble... unless you are Guy or Leonora’s somewhat compliant fiancé, it’s impossible to say. But it’s precisely such questions as these, prompted by the intimacy and credibility of the skewed mental worlds into which the reader is drawn, that make classic Ruth Rendell such a joy to read.

If I may be allowed to extend the question to include what I’m listening to, I’m a latecomer to the delights of audio books. My summers are spent in a cottage on the edge of a Breton forest where it’s very, very dark at night and there are no sounds except those emanating from the natural world, and I’ve discovered that a good ghost story has about ten times the impact when narrated by a skilled reader. E. F. Benson’s Ghost Stories, selected and read by Mark Gatiss, was my first selection, and there’s one about a strange creature shaped like a huge slug that haunts a wood that really freaked me out. Later I went on to Thin Air and Dark Matter, both by Michelle Paver, the first read by Daniel Weyman and the second by Jeremy Northam. Both books concern hauntings in wild, inhospitable and desolate places, inimical to human life; both were so well-read by their respective narrators that at times, lying perfectly safe and secure in a comfy bed with my sleeping husband beside me, the utter darkness of the Breton night got to me - but it wasn’t, of course, the darkness - and I had to press the pause putting on my headphones and put the story aside till daylight.
Learn more about The Devil's Cup at the publisher's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devil's Cup.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Scott Reintgen

Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned was that inspiration isn’t equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers of his classrooms.

Reintgen's latest novel is Nyxia.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m always reading several books at a time. Right now, I’m halfway through Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb. I’ll humble brag and say that I picked the series back up after sitting down for drinks with Robin and a handful of other authors at San Diego Comic Con. She is such a delight, and her writing always casts a spell over me. It’s such traditional fantasy, and follows a character in Fitz who we know is worth following.

I’m also reading Dear Martin by Nic Stone. It’s a brilliant and quick read about a young man wrestling with racial injustice by writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It doesn’t release until October 17th, getting to read it early is just one of the many perks of being an author with Random House.

And last but not least, I’ve started edging my way (finally) into Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. It’s received such praise and I’m eager to have time for it.
Visit Scott Reintgen's website.

The Page 69 Test: Nyxia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lisa Berne

Lisa Berne read her first Georgette Heyer book at fourteen, and was instantly captivated. Later, she was a graduate student, a teacher, and a grant writer — and is now an author of historical romance.

Berne's latest novel is The Laird Takes a Bride.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m slowly making my way through Jane Austen’s Letters, a great thick volume which is so interesting — so funny — so revelatory — and also such an important contrapuntal to her fiction, that I’m in no rush to finish it. I’ve long felt that a true understanding of Austen’s work depends on having at least a passing familiarity with her life and times, and her letters provide tremendous illumination — particularly so as she left behind no diary or journal and remains, essentially, a mysterious person.

I’m also reading Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night and really enjoying it for a variety of reasons. One is the sheer exuberance of discovering a new-to-me author and a narrative style which is enthralling. Another is that it provides a glimpse into 19th-century Paris — a very exotic and seductive world. And third, as someone who writes a variant of historical fiction, I’m intrigued by Chee’s approach to the genre. For example, he recently said on Twitter:

“Projecting the present into the past can make the real history invisible, and hopefully that history is what interests you more.”

That has a lot of resonance for me, both as a reader and as a writer.
Visit Lisa Berne's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Laird Takes a Bride.

The Page 69 Test: The Laird Takes a Bride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Robin Merrow MacCready

Robin Merrow MacCready is the author of Buried, recipient of the Edgar Award for Best YA novel. She teaches reading and writing to middle school students, and lives in Maine with her family.

MacCready's latest YA novel is A Lie for a Lie.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
My reading list is a combination of books for kids and whatever my current writing project requires. At school I’m reading Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. This book is set in the sixties and is partially based on the author’s life, though obviously (and hysterically) exaggerated. There’s nobody who does cringeworthy growing pains better than Gantos. It’s a great read aloud and has won numerous awards, including the 2012 Newbery for best Children’s Book.

I’m also reading Took by Mary Downing Hahn. I’m not far in, but it promises to be creepy story of family, fear, and change.

My current work-in-progress takes place in the mid-19th century, so I’m reading and researching about that time. American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever is a fascinating read about Concord, Massachusetts and the very creative cluster of artists that lived there during that time. The Alcotts, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were friends and neighbors in Concord during a time when they produced some of their best works. It was so beautifully written that I didn’t want it to end!
Visit Robin Merrow MacCready's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Lie for a Lie.

The Page 69 Test: A Lie For A Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. Ford is an award-winning short-story writer, an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp.

His books include Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Songs of Willow Frost, and the new novel Love and Other Consolation Prizes.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ford's reply:
I just finished The Burning Women of Far Cry by Rick DeMarinis.

Darkly comic and masterfully written, this is one of those books that defies categorization. Like a richer, funnier, more textured version of Confederacy of Dunces, with a bit of Thomas McGuane and Tom Robbins thrown into the mix. It’s your classic, coming-of-age tale, like the journey of Holden Caufield, but in a warped, hilarious, blue-collar Twilight Zone.

I absolutely loved this book and am saddened that it’s been out of print for 30 years.

But, there is an Indiegogo campaign to give it new life.
Visit Jamie Ford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 15, 2017

Temple Mathews

Temple Mathews, a graduate of the University of Washington and a producer at the American Film Institute, has written dozens of half-hour animation TV episodes and several animated and live action features and direct-to-DVD and video films. His credits include the Walt Disney animated feature films Return to Neverland and The Little Mermaid 2 and the MGM feature film Picture This!

Mathews's new novel is Bad Girl Gone.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne.

I found it compelling and was able to slip into the writer's fantasy land quite easily. The lead characters are immoral, yet intriguing and I was really happy how the book ended, sans the usual hoisted by their own petard kind of thing.
Visit Temple Mathews's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bad Girl Gone.

My Book, The Movie: Bad Girl Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 14, 2017

David Handler

David Handler’s first book in the Berger and Mitry series, The Cold Blue Blood, was a Dilys Award finalist and BookSense Top Ten pick. Handler is also the author of eight novels about the witty and dapper celebrity ghostwriter Stewart Hoag and his faithful, neurotic basset hound, Lulu, including Edgar and American Mystery Award winner The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald.

His new book, the latest Stewart Hoag mystery, is The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes.

Recently I asked Handler about what he was reading. His reply:
As the warm, lazy afternoons of summer have begun to wind down I’ve been finding myself hungering for a big, juicy, old-fashioned novel to lose myself in on my garden bench. Something other than my usual rat-a-tat hard-boiled crime fare.

And so right now I’m totally immersed in re-reading Frank Conroy’s enthralling 530-page saga Body and Soul, which was published in 1993. Body and Soul, a sweeping period novel that starts out in New York City in the 1940s, is the story of an earnest, lonely six-year-old urchin named Claude Rawlings who happens to be a child prodigy on the piano. In fact, Claude, who lives in a dingy basement apartment with his single mother, a cab driver, is about to grow up to become one of the classical music world’s greatest pianists and composers.

Body and Soul is more than a fascinating page-turner. Conroy manages to take us inside Claude’s mind with such incredible insight that we are actually able to get an inkling of how composers do what they do. People often ask me how a writer writes. Me, I’ve always wondered how a composer composes. Where does the music come from? What is Claude hearing? What is going on inside of his head? Conroy is able to take us there. It’s truly fascinating.

And Conroy was a truly fascinating man. Before he wrote Body and Soul, which is his one and only novel, he was best known for his brilliant 1967 childhood memoir Stop-Time, which I keep it on my bookshelf right next to The Catcher in the Rye. The man knew music. He was an accomplished jazz pianist who sat in with the likes of Charlie Mingus. And he knew writing – he was the director of the famed Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa for 18 years until his death in 2005 at the age of 69.

If you’ve never read Stop-Time you simply must. It’s a genuine classic. If you’ve never read Body and Soul you’re missing out on a truly major reading experience. And if the name Frank Conroy is new to you, well, all I can say is that you need Frank Conroy in your life. Please, just trust me on this one.
Learn more about the book and author at David Handler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kelly Simmons

Kelly Simmons is the author of Standing Still, The Bird House, One More Day, and The Fifth of July.

Recently I asked Simmons about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am a scaredy-cat, a bad sleeper, a person who thinks the sound of cats jumping off sofas and the sound of armed men climbing in windows is precisely the same. So I read thrillers by day and try to read lighter things by night -- humorous memoirs, character-driven literary fiction, etc.

But every once in a while, I find a book that kind of works for me round the clock. What a joy! To be a little on edge -- while laughing occasionally and enjoying the characters.

A book I just finished, about an immigrant family tangled up with their Wall Street employer -- filled me with dread, worry and tension --- yet I loved the characters, and understood their decisions both good and bad -- as I was soothed by their tender justifications.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. It's getting a great deal of praise, but for me the highest praise is this -- I enjoyed it every hour of the day.
Visit Kelly Simmons's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Eric Brown

Eric Brown began writing when he was fifteen and sold his first short story to Interzone in 1986. He has won the British Science Fiction Award twice for his short stories, and his novel Helix Wars was shortlisted for the 2012 Philip K. Dick award. He has published sixty books, and his latest include the crime novel Murder Take Three, and the short story collection Microcosms, with Tony Ballantyne. His novel Binary System is due out in Autumn. He has also written a dozen books for children and over a hundred and forty short stories. He writes a regular science fiction review column for the Guardian newspaper and lives in Cockburnspath, Scotland.

Recently I asked Brown about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve just finished the 1984 crime-suspense novel Cul-de-Sac by John Wainwright, a tour de force of psychological realism and a captivating study of dogged detective work. It’s set in the eighties in West Yorkshire, England, and begins with the diary entry of John Duxbury, the successful owner of a print works. The unreliable narrator charts his unhappiness, his failed marriage, and the eventual death of his wife. The viewpoint then switches to several other characters involved as either witnesses to the death, or investigating the events surrounding it, as it becomes clear that his wife’s fall from a cliff was more than just the accident it first appeared to be. The detective, Harry Harker, solves the crime by applying acute psychological analysis to the case, and lays bare the psyche of the suspect, John Duxbury. What is amazing about the novel is this gradual unravelling, in the final chapters, of Duxbury’s fragile character, and the depth of the detective’s sympathy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the master of the psychological crime novel, George Simeon, called Cul-de-Sac ‘An unforgettable novel’… Born in 1921, Wainwright was a police constable for twenty years before becoming a full-time novelist in 1965. In just thirty years he wrote a remarkable eighty-plus novels, many of them of a high quality. It’s perhaps because of his prolificacy, and the fact that he shunned publicity and lived not in literary London but in Leeds, Yorkshire, that he is little regarded these days. It’s a great shame. A re-evaluation of his considerable ability is long overdue.

At the moment I’m reading William Cooper’s Scenes from Metropolitan Life, published in 1982. It’s the follow-up to his ground-breaking 1950 novel Scenes from Provincial Life, about the life and loves of schoolteacher Joe Lunn in a lightly-fictionalised city of Leicester. In Metropolitan…, Joe has moved to London and is working as a civil servant; the novel follows his life at work in a government acquisitions department, and his courting of the love of his life, Myrtle. It’s a gently humorous novel, full of sly, witty asides and wry observations of the human condition. Cooper wrote two further novels about Joe Lunn, Scenes from Married Life and Scenes from Later Life, neither of which were as popular or as well reviewed as the first book of the series, which ushered in the age of kitchen-sink realism to British fiction, and influenced other ‘Angry Young Men’ writers such as Kingsley Amis, John Braine, and Alan Sillitoe, among others. William Cooper was the pseudonym of Harry Summerfield Hoff, who wrote three novels under his own name before the war, and in 1950 began writing as Cooper and penned a further eight novels under that pen-name… I’m reading a lot of books written or set in the fifties at the moment as a way of researching the age, as my Langham and Dupré mystery novels are set in that decade. It’s one of the best ways of researching the period, of understanding the social mores and manners of the time – quite apart from eavesdropping on the dialogue of the fifties.
Visit Eric Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: Murder Take Three.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Take Three.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Josh Dean

Josh Dean is a magazine journalist and author based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

His new book is The Taking of K-129: How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History.

Recently I asked Dean about what he was reading. His reply:
Because of the nature of my book — it’s a historical narrative — I’ve tended to read only books that serve to inspire or inform the writing. And even though my book is finished, I haven’t been able to shake that. I guess I should admit to myself that this is just the genre I like most, as a writer and a reader. That means, authors like Erik Larson, Laura Hillenbrand, and David Grann, who can recall historic events in incredible detail and in kaleidoscopic color. Anyone who reads to the end of my book will see that there’s a bit of a link there, between it and Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon. But I finally got to read that book recently, and it’s predictably awesome. How this story was lost to time I’ll never understand. But Grann is a master of the riveting non-fiction narrative, and this book is no exception.

The book I want to read next, if I can get my hands on a galley, is Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes. Jason is a friend and fellow journalist and it’s just an accident that we both ended up devoting two years to books about spies, but the eras, and subjects are very different. He’s one of the best writers in today’s magazine world, so I have no doubt that it will be great.
Visit Josh Dean's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Taking of K-129.

The Page 99 Test: The Taking of K-129.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Roger Johns

Roger Johns is a former corporate lawyer and retired college professor with law degrees from Louisiana State University and Boston University. During his nearly two decades as a professor, he served on the editorial staffs of several academic publications and he won numerous awards and recognitions for his teaching and his scholarly writing. Johns was born and raised in Louisiana. He and his wife Julie now live in Georgia.

Dark River Rising is his first novel.

Recently I asked Johns about what he was reading. His reply:
As usual, I’ve got a few books underway at once. I’m in the middle of Mississippi Blood––the first volume of Greg Iles’s epic saga about the present-day echoes of some stunningly nasty, long-ago attempts by some truly horrible people to thwart the Civil Rights movement. For years I’ve enjoyed reading Amy Tan’s novels because she so beautifully shows how the sins of the past plague us far into the future. Greg Iles is proving to be just as skillful in that regard.

Two weeks ago, I finished The Perfect Stranger, by Megan Miranda. This is psychological suspense at its best. The casual sociopathy of her villain is very well written and the villain’s identity is so cleverly hidden until the end––a real ‘shiver me timbers’ kind of story. Several years ago, I read When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan, about a time when criminals weren’t incarcerated, they were “chromed”––their skin was turned a bright color, with a particular color assigned to specific types of crimes. The Perfect Stranger made me wish there was some similarly obvious, unmistakable way for us to identify the sociopaths among us.

A few days ago, I finished Murderabilia by Scottish crime novelist Craig Robertson––a really disturbing story that takes place against the backdrop of the bizarre hobby some people have of collecting souvenirs associated with killers and their victims. I’ll be appearing on a panel with Craig at the Bouchercon 2017 mystery writers and readers convention in October, so I wanted to be familiar with his work. It’s proving difficult to stop thinking about the book, which, to my way of thinking, means he told a powerful story.

Later today, I’ll start reading These Honored Dead, by Jonathan Putnam. This is the first in his Lincoln and Speed mystery series, in which the new attorney and pre-presidential Abraham Lincoln, and his businessman friend and landlord Joshua Speed, solve crimes and attempt to bring order and justice to a dangerous and chaotic time. I’ve been looking forward to this book topping my To-Be-Read stack for a long time.

Next week, I’ll start an advance copy of Eclipse Alley, by David Fulmer. This is the latest installment in his Valentin St. Cyr mysteries set in early twentieth century New Orleans. I loved the earlier ones. As a native of Louisiana, I know a thing or two about New Orleans, so I feel comfortable saying his books feel very authentic. Full disclosure: David is also a writing instructor and he taught me how to write novels.
Visit Roger Johns's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dark River Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Gerald Elias

A graduate of Yale, Gerald Elias has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

His novels include Devil's Trill, Danse Macabre, Death and the Maiden, Playing With Fire, and the newly released Spring Break.

Recently I asked Elias about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished reading Ishi: In Two Worlds. A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America, by Theodora Kroeber. Though the term "wild Indian" is no longer part of our cultural jargon, the book is a sensitive, compassionate, and deeply insightful account of Ishi, who was indeed the very last Native American untouched by western civilization, whose Yana tribe had survived by its traditional, thousands-of-years-old ways. That is, until he emerged from the deep forest of the California mountains, his tribe driven into extinction, desperate and starving as all his resources had been cut off by whites, into the bustling world of early 20th century commerce and technology. With Ishi’s death in 1914, a civilization that had lasted for thousands of years across all of North America ended.

That Ishi was able to adapt at all to a world with a totally different language, culture, and value system is remarkable in itself. But that he did it with good-natured grace, resourcefulness, and gentle humor is a testament to the strengths of his extinct tribe and to his overwhelming sense of humanity. He was fortunate that he found compassionate white friends, a team of ethnologists including the husband of the author, to assist his transition. Nevertheless, one wonders at the lessons white society could have learned from Ishi's people had we not become so conditioned to violence, greed, hatred, and fear.
Visit Gerald Elias's website.

My Book, The Movie: Spring Break.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Eva Dillon

Eva Dillon spent twenty-five years in the magazine publishing business in New York City, including stints at Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, The New Yorker, and as president of Reader’s Digest, U.S. Dillon and her six siblings grew up moving around the world for her father's CIA assignments in Berlin, Mexico City, Rome, and New Delhi. She holds a bachelor’s in Music from Virginia Commonwealth University and lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dillon's new book is Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship That Helped End the Cold War.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Khrushchev: The Man and his Era by William Taubman

I was inspired by my own book’s main protagonist General Dmitri Polyakov’s antagonism toward First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev to take up this fascinating biography, which left me both warm and cold to the man who wanted to be loved but was a victim of his boorishness and insecurities. Compelling is the contradiction, among many throughout his personality and life, in his devotion to Stalin both before and after his Secret Speech denouncing Stalin’s crimes. Not a quick read, but a lavish gift of detailed chronicle. And I could see Polyakov’s point.

Red Notice by Bill Browder

For me, this book is compelling to read now for two reasons: to pick up where my book left off (just before the fall of the Soviet Union) and as an insight into our current quest to know why (perhaps if) the Russians are so interested in Trump (follow the money, honey.) The story unfolds fluidly with just the right balance of personal intimacy (Browder is quite willing to admit when he’s being obtuse) and nerve-wracking drama – foreign investor vs. oligarchs vs. Putin. Alas, some things never change.
Learn more about Spies in the Family at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Spies in the Family.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Claire McMillan

Claire McMillan is the author of The Necklace and Gilded Age, which was inspired by Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.

She grew up in and around Pasadena, California, but for some reason people always ask if she grew up in Philadelphia. She practiced complex corporate litigation in San Francisco until 2003 and then received an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College.

She currently lives on her husband’s family’s farm near Cleveland with their two children.

Recently I asked McMillan about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry – A Dickensian séance of a book that engages with questions of love, faith, science and religion. The main character, Cora Seaborne, newly widowed from a rich and distant man, is an obsessed naturalist who meets an unlikely parson and his beautiful but fragile wife in a town that might or might not be visited by a sea monster not unlike the Loch Ness Monster. The characters were so real and likeable that I thought about them for days afterward. I want one of my friends to read it immediately so I have someone to discuss it with.

Almost Famous Women, Megan Mayhew Bergman – Reading this group of short stories based on the lives of wild and somewhat famous women was to encounter a world-view and an aesthetic that validated my own and gives me heart as a writer. From a story featuring Beryl Markham, to conjoined twins in love with the same man, to a cross dressing heiress, these stories entranced me with their beauty and the encompassing atmosphere they created.

The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing, Margot Livesey –I’m very picky about writing books, but this one is a jewel. Her chapter, “He Liked Custard: Navigating the Shoals of Research” probably tells you a lot about how my writing has been going lately.
Visit Claire McMillan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 4, 2017

Scott Gould

Scott Gould’s work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Carolina Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, New Madrid Journal, New Stories from the South, and New Southern Harmonies, among others. He is a two-time winner of the Artist Fellowship in Prose from the South Carolina Arts Commission and a past winner of the Fiction Fellowship from the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Gould chairs the creative writing department at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities in Greenville.

His new story collection is Strangers to Temptation.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Gould's reply:
I tend to read in fits and starts, depending on how many student essays are stacked on my desk, whether the fish are hitting, the current phase of the moon. Serious things like that. But right now, I’m on a pretty good tack. Here’s what I’ve had my nose in lately:

The River of Kings by Taylor Brown

I read Taylor’s work because I can be sure every page is chock full of gorgeous sentences that send me into fits of wonder and jealousy, simultaneously. Case in point: “There below them, in a wing of moonlight, stands a stag the size of a thoroughbred horse, head motionless and erect, trees of bone-white antlers twinned crooked and perfect from the crown of his skull.” A wing of moonlight? Damn. Two other reasons I sought this book out: Taylor blends three distinct time periods and their narratives together to create something bigger than its separate parts. I needed to see how that worked. And (probably most importantly), The River of Kings is set on a slow-moving, Southern, black water river in Georgia. My collection of stories is set on the same kind of river in South Carolina. I wanted to read how Taylor uses the river as a character. Does he ever.

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

I make an annual trek to the temple of Charles Portis, because I’ve never read anybody who can maintain such controlled chaos on the page. He walks a tightrope between humorous quasi-absurdity and the real world like nobody I’ve ever read. The fact that he’s not more known is a crime against literature, but if you ask writers (especially those who live in the South) about their influences, the name Portis will invariably come up. The Dog of the South is, like a number of Portis works, a road novel. And I like it when characters have to move. Another thing I’ve always admired is the way Portis can get a long story started very quickly. “My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone.” That’s a first line that guarantees you’ll read the second. (By the way, the second is “I was biding my time.” Damn, again.)

Gradle Bird by J.C. Sasser

I picked up this book because I’d been hearing so many good things about it through the literary grapevines, I felt guilty I hadn’t cracked it open. Also because my buddy, George Singleton, said in a blurb that Gradle Bird was “Absurd, yet utterly believable. Southern, yet universal.” George wouldn’t lead me astray. Though I’m only about a third of the way through, I’m already completely taken with the rhythm of Sasser’s sentences. Oh, and her use of specific detail…Sasser is a writer who keeps her eyes open. “[The bra] was left dangling on a lounge chair by a woman with Florida tags who sped-read bodice rippers, sipped Shasta Grape from a straw, and French-inhaled Misty Menthol Lights.” Damn, three times.

My suspicion is that I’m going to watch Sasser spin Southern Gothic on its ear a little. Which is something Southern Gothic could use.
Visit Scott Gould's website.

The Page 69 Test: Strangers to Temptation.

--Marshal Zeringue