Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Prentis Rollins

Prentis Rollins has over twenty-five years of experience working as a writer and artist in the comics industry.

His debut full-length graphic novel is The Furnace.

Recently I asked Rollins about what he was reading. His reply:
I recently, finally, read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I say ‘finally’ because it’s a classic of American literature, very often required reading in high school—but it’s one of those books that if you don’t read it then, likely as not you never will.

But I did, and I’m glad. Sinclair spent seven weeks working in Packingtown (the gigantic stock yard/meat processing and packaging facility) in Chicago in 1904 as research for the novel. The experiences of many of the immigrant workers he met there are telescoped into his protagonist, Jurgis Rudkus, who has newly arrived with his family from Lithuania. Through Jurgis’ eyes we witness the appalling ordeal these immigrants endured—the relentlessly long hours working in shockingly unsanitary conditions, the low wages (kept low by the ever-growing surplus of men and women clamoring for work), the ubiquity of predatory conmen and political bosses, the miserably shabby housing, and the poisonous food (Jurgis has no idea that the milk his infant son drinks is watered-down and doctored with formaldehyde).

The book is a portrait of a living hell-on-earth. In its wake domestic and international sales of American beef and pork declined by 50% (if Sinclair is right, men who fell into the mixing vats simply became part of the sausage—not to mention the rats that fell in, and the meat tainted with cholera). The book also led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. A blistering, nauseating read about capitalism at its very worst and man’s inhumanity to man, told in terse, to-the-point prose, and ending with a ringing call for revolutionary socialism.

From one Sinclair to another—I recently re-read Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. This much-neglected classic from 1922 is (as far as I’m concerned) suddenly and strangely relevant. Lewis had a love/hate relationship with America—the hate side predominates here (for the love side, check out Dodsworth). George F. Babbitt, real-estate salesman, comfortably married, father of three, Rotary Club member, Sunday-go-to-church Christian, Republican who wants a ‘business’ president, is the perfect epitome of smug, complacent, myopic, ‘respectable’, hypocritical, racist and sexist American conformist mediocrity. He is so perfectly average, in every conceivable respect, that you can only call him excellent at it. He begins to suspect that his existence is a hollow lie (he doesn’t have the vocabulary to formulate it like that to himself, but he knows something is badly off-kilter), and he fecklessly attempts in one way and then another to burst the tiny confines of his life. This book is incredibly funny, and sad, and a true eye-opener about how little some aspects of the peculiarly American character have changed over 100 years. You may not like George Babbitt, but you might just find yourself (swear to God!) rooting for him.

One of my very favorite films is Cool Hand Luke—for years I didn’t even know it was based on a novel of that name by one Donn Pearce. It is—it was Pearce’s first novel, published in 1965 (he wrote several others, but is mainly remembered for this one). It bears comparison to The Jungle inasmuch as Pearce spent time in a Florida chain-gang prison (his ‘research’), and, though it is fiction, it can be viewed as an expose’ of the harsh life these convicts endured.

Lloyd Jackson—who acquires the prison moniker ‘Cool Hand Luke’—is 28, a heavily-decorated WW2 hero, rootless—a perfect embodiment of the sort of anomie and resentment examined in Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. He ends up in a chain-gang road prison in sweltering Florida. His crime? Cutting the heads off of parking meters with stolen plumbers’ tools during a drunken spree.

The book is told by another prisoner as a series of flashbacks, in which we see Jackson’s gradual acquisition of almost mythical, Christ-like status through his stunts in the prison (he eats 50 boiled eggs in one hour on a bet, a scene brilliantly recreated in the Paul Newman film), and his doomed multiple escape attempts (he is beaten and worked almost to death in the wake of these attempts, also recreated on screen). He becomes a sort of second Christ for his surviving prison ‘family’-members—the myth of Luke becomes part of the oral history they pass on to each other in order to survive. What we get in the book that’s not in the film is a much fuller picture of Jackson’s backstory, and his inner life—his perplexity at and hatred of American hypocrisy (a man commits multiple murder overseas during war and is dubbed a ‘hero’; at home he commits petty vandalism and is slapped in prison—WTF?!)

The prose is desultory, conversational, laced with prison slang, occasionally soaringly poetic—it put me in mind of the voice that would later be adopted by Chuck Palahniuk in Fight Club. A profoundly beautiful, thought-provoking book.
Visit Prentis Rollins's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Furnace.

The Page 69 Test: The Furnace.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 30, 2018

Libby Page

Libby Page graduated from The London College of Fashion with a BA in fashion journalism before going on to work as a journalist at The Guardian. After writing, her second passion is outdoor swimming. Page lives in London, where she enjoys finding new swimming spots and pockets of community within the city.

The Lido is her first novel.

Recently I asked Page about what she was reading. Her reply:
I think most writers start as readers, and I am no exception! I read constantly. I like to read a real mix of fiction and non-fiction and I have recently started dipping back in to children’s books too. Children’s books were how I fell in love with reading, so it is a joy to go back to them and remind myself of how that passion first started. As an author I do feel a certain pressure to read the ‘right’ kind of books but I am trying to resist this and maintain reading as something I do simply for enjoyment.

The most recent book I finished was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, borrowed from my local library. I never read the Northern Lights trilogy as a child but they were some of the favourite books of both my sister and boyfriend, so I decided to give them a go. I found it a little slow to start with but before I knew it was racing through, desperate to find out what happened. I love the concept of daemons and when I finished the book my boyfriend and I spent a long time discussing what our daemons would be! I shall be checking the next book in the series out of the library!

Another book that I’ve been recommended many times over the years is My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, so on a recent holiday I finally read it. I’m so pleased I did as I found it completely charming. I loved the description of all the creatures (human and otherwise) and it was the perfect read for a holiday. I’m now desperate to read all his other books.

A more recently-published novel that I have enjoyed was The Librarian by Salley Vickers. It is about a children’s librarian in a small town and is a gentle but compelling story that captures a moment in time (it is set in the 50s) so well. I loved the messages in it about the importance of books and libraries, particularly for children.

I’ve also read a few non-fiction books over the past few months that I have loved. One was Impossible Things Before Breakfast by author and actor Rebecca Front. It is a book of essays or ‘sketches’ of remembered significant moments in her life. I absolutely loved it – everything is so poignantly observed and captured. I love people-watching (it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to be a writer!) so I really identify with the way Rebecca sees the world and her desire to capture moments and stories on paper.

Two others I loved are The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. Both are about the art and science of happiness, a subject that I am fascinated by. I am a naturally optimistic person but also work hard to be this way. In both books the authors combine research and personal experience in order to explore ways to live happier lives. I’m a little obsessed with books in this area at this moment as I find them incredibly uplifting and inspiring, and these are two of my favourites. The Happiness Project in particular left me with a million ideas of new things I’d like to do, and I have since recommended it to lots of friends.
Visit Libby Page's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Spencer Wise

Born in Boston, Spencer Wise is a graduate of Tufts University and the University of Texas at Austin and worked in the editorial departments at Sports Illustrated and Time Out New York. His work has appeared in Narrative magazine, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Florida Review, and New Ohio Review. He is the winner of the 2017 Gulf Coast Prize in nonfiction. Wise teaches at Florida State University and lives in Tallahassee.

His debut novel is The Emperor of Shoes.

Recently I asked Wise about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been on the road for over a month touring, so I’ve had to poach some time here and there to read. Mostly short stories. I adored Elizabeth McCracken’s collection Thunderstruck. It’s a few years old. What I love about it--the narrators and protagonists are all laughing about things you absolutely aren’t supposed to laugh about. The grandmother in “Hungry” mocks her granddaughter’s appetites at the same time she encourages them. The granddaughter loves “heat-lamped fried chicken and tall glasses of cubed Jell-O”and she’s already split one pair of pants and didn’t care in the slightest. It’s hilarious and wrong. None of this cheek-pinching nonsense, here’s a grandmother that you know is real. “Juliet,” the story about the murder of a library patron, is also somehow funny. The narrator gets you to lower your guard and fall in love with her voice, but then you slowly realize it’s all about grief and how we process loss. That’s true of the whole collection. McCracken is obviously an incredible talent. We also both adore Grace Paley--who writes in a similar style. Lots of humor and pathos all mixed together. In fact, and maybe it’s just the zeitgeist that makes me think of this, but the brilliant author, Leslie Epstein (Please read King of the Jews, just trust me) once said to me when I was interviewing him: “Wherever humor is absent, perk up your ears--trouble is on the way.” That always stayed with me.

I also went back to “Kindness” by Yiyun Li. It’s from Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. She’s tremendous, as everyone knows. This story is heart wrenching. Moyan, the middle-aged protagonist, is basically a recluse. This narrative relies on a lot of dramatic irony. Moyan says right at the start that she doesn’t feel alone and yet goes on to tell a novella-length story about loneliness. She has two primary female mentors--one from her time in the People’s Liberation Army, the other a professor. The voice is straight and without much adornment, and that makes it even more heartbreaking when, for instance, she remembers how her father solemnly shook her hand at the train station when she went off to the army. It also gets at why we as humans feel so terrible all the time. I mean, why are we sad, why are we alone even when we’re surrounded by people. It’s those huge ineffable mysteries that Yiyun Li gets at in this piece, which makes it feel epic.

I’ve also really looking forward to reading Lucy Tan’s new novel, What We Were Promised, set in modern-day Shanghai.
Visit Spencer Wise's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Emperor of Shoes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Tiffany Brownlee

Tiffany Brownlee was born in San Diego, California, and, as with many authors, her love for reading and writing began at an early age. Because her father was in the Navy, she and her family moved around far more often than she would have liked (she went to five elementary schools–not kidding!), but despite the many moves, her love of education, books, and writing remained.

Her family’s final move brought her to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she went on to study for and earn her B.S. in Psychology at Xavier University of Louisiana. Immediately after graduation, Brownlee began work as a Teacher’s Assistant while also pursuing a teaching certification from The University of Holy Cross. Juggling both school and work as a full-time teacher’s assistant was a little hectic for her, but she still managed to squeeze in some time to read and work on a YA novel idea that she’d thought up while rereading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (one of her favorite classics). That idea eventually became Wrong in All the Right Ways, her newly released debut novel.

Brownlee currently works as a middle school English teacher in New Orleans.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m such a sucker for YA romances (which explains why I wrote one), and nothing is better than kicking back by the pool or on the beach with a summer romance, so that’s all I’ve been reading lately. I just finished Always Never Yours, a recent debut from Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley. In a nutshell: it’s about a girl named Megan who has just been cast as Juliet in her school’s Shakespeare production. She’s single and pours herself into the role as a distraction from her failing love life. In walks Owen, an aspiring playwright who agrees to help her prepare in exchange for help writing his new script. As they spend more time together, Megan begins to fall for him, and she just has to hope that things don’t end like every other relationship she’s ever been in: with Megan’s ex falling for the next girl after her.

This is a must-have for readers of YA romance. It’s funny, sweet, and oh-so swoon-worthy!
Visit Tiffany Brownlee's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wrong in All the Right Ways.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 27, 2018

Elizabeth Klehfoth

Elizabeth Klehfoth grew up in Elkhart, Indiana. She received her BFA in creative writing from Chapman University and her MFA in creative writing from Indiana University, where she taught fiction writing and composition. She currently lives in Los Angeles. All These Beautiful Strangers is her first novel.

Recently I asked Klehfoth about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished Judy Blundell’s The High Season, which follows three women in a small town in the Hamptons that’s on the brink of becoming trendy and fashionable among the extremely wealthy and celebrity crowd. There’s Ruthie, a forty-something director of a local museum, who has a teen daughter and is hopeful of rekindling her relationship with her separated husband. Although Ruthie and her husband own a house in town, they are forced to rent it out during the summer to afford to keep it. When they rent it out to Adeline Clay, a wealthy socialite, and her son, Ruthie’s life quickly becomes upended, and she starts to lose her grasp on everything she cares about—her job, her family, and her home. The book also follows Jem, Ruthie’s 15-year old daughter, who’s juggling a falling-out with the popular girls at school and a crush on the handsome and troublesome son of the tenant renting her house for the summer. And finally, there’s Doe, a young woman who’s trying to make her way in the world despite a troubled past by rubbing elbows (and snapping Instagram shots) of the well-to-do in the Hamptons. I loved this novel and devoured it in just a few days. It’s a poignant story that explores the dividing line between the have and the have-nots, is full of laugh-out-loud lines and heartbreak, and is all about second chances, finding yourself, and new beginnings.

I’m currently reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest book, You Think, I’ll Say It, which is a collection of short stories. I’ve been a fan of Sittenfeld’s since her debut novel Prep, which was actually a big influence on my first book. Sittenfeld is a master of expertly capturing the interiority of complex characters and exploring their insecurities in a way that makes you instantly relate to and empathize with them.

The book on my nightstand that I plan to read next is Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, her non-fiction investigation into the case of the Golden State Killer, which was instrumental in actually capturing the serial rapist/murderer. I’m a huge true crime fan, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book.
Visit Elizabeth Klehfoth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Derek Milman

Derek Milman has worked as a playwright, screenwriter, film school teacher, DJ, and underground humor magazine publisher. A classically trained actor, he has performed on stages across the country and appeared in numerous TV shows, commercials, and films.

Milman's newly released first novel is Scream All Night.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Milman's reply:
I'm reading David Sedaris' new book, Calypso. I had been reading a lot of YA recently, and some literary fiction, and I needed a change of pace. The book has Sedaris' typical droll observations on things, and some of his lines are just hilarious. I've laughed out loud a number of times. But to me this book is a little more melancholic and heavy than other works I've read by Sedaris; the stories he tells are woven together with a thicker through-line. There are darker shadows here: getting older, mortality, settling into middle age, the strain of familial relationships over time, the difficulties of romantic relationships over time, and the suicide of his sister, Tiffany, who Sedaris was estranged from. That had to be rough. He's bought a house on the Carolina coast and it just doesn't seem to be the eternal seaside daydream he had hoped. There are always cracks in every foundation, and life isn't ever what you think it will be. People change, and so do expectations. But through it all, there are always moments that crackle: laughter and love, and with age, knowing who you are to a better degree; having that wisdom to see through all the storms.
Visit Derek Milman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Scream All Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Erin Bowman

Erin Bowman grew up in rural Connecticut, where she spent most of her childhood penning tales. She studied web design (and minored in Creative Writing because she couldn’t stay away from stories) at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After several years working in advertising and designing websites for various brands, she moved from Boston to New Hampshire, where she now lives with her family and writes full-time.

When not writing, Bowman can often be found hiking, geeking out over good typography, and obsessing over all things Harry Potter. She drinks a lot of coffee, buys far too many books, and is not terribly skilled at writing about herself in the third person.

Bowman is the author of the Taken trilogy, Vengeance Road, Retribution Rails, and the newly released Contagion.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
With launch approaching and a new baby in the house, I'm not reading something at the moment. But I recently finished and adored Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough. This is a verse novel about the life of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who was raped by her teacher and endured a lengthy trial prosecuting him in which she was tortured to verify her testimony. Blood Water Paint was a powerful, haunting read, and in the heat of the MeToo movement, it resonated with me strongly. Gae Polisner, one of the authors who blurbed the book, said it is “a grave reminder of how little has changed and a hopeful testament to how much more we might achieve." I can't agree more. Women have so much to lose from speaking their truth—in the 1600s and even still today. The subject matter was tough, but the writing was beautiful. This is a book everyone should read.
Visit Erin Bowman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Contagion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sibel Hodge

Sibel Hodge is the author of the number-one bestsellers Look Behind You, Untouchable and Duplicity. Her books have sold over a million copies in the UK, USA, Australia, France, Canada and Germany.

Hodge's new novel is Into the Darkness.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
You Don't Know Me by Imran Mahmood. The topic of UK gangs is so timely right now and I just love books that tell a story in an unusual way. It's masterfully narrated by a young man on trial for murder, giving his final closing speech to the jury. It tackles many very real social issues that are often glossed over or ignored, because if it's not happening to you, why should you care? It delves into gang culture in a realistic and relatable way (kudos to the author for his research!). And shows how you can never really know or judge a person unless you've walked in their shoes. Did he do it? Only you can decide!

The Hanged Man by Simon Kernick. Another high-octane thrilling ride in the Bone Field series. Typically brilliant Simon Kernick and I love everything he does!

Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land. Because it's just wow! A taut psychological thriller that will get under your skin and won't let go!
Visit Sibel Hodge's website.

My Book, The Movie: Into the Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 23, 2018

Carola Dunn

Carola Dunn is the author of many mysteries featuring Daisy Dalrymple, as well as numerous historical novels. Born and raised in England, she lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dunn's latest novel is The Corpse at the Crystal Palace, the 23rd Daisy Dalrymple mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Prague Sonata, by Bradford Morrow

Many aspects of The Prague Sonata appealed to me. The theme is classical music. It's a mystery, the genre I write, though a murderless one: Who wrote the brilliant sonata, and where are the two missing movements, if they still exist? Can the young female musicologist outwit the old men who are trying to steal her discovery? The setting, Prague, is a city I've visited all too briefly and would love to revisit. The history, from WWI through the Nazi occupation of Prague and flight of the Jews, the Prague Spring and the resistance to the Soviet reoccupation, all is familiar but from new perspectives. There's even an understated romance, between the musicologist and an American reporter stationed in Prague. Though I rarely pick up books this long, The Prague Sonata is so well written it kept me fascinated from beginning to end. And it's plausible—the Haydn C major cello concerto was rediscovered after a couple of hundred years.

The Trick, by Emanuel Bergmann

A Jewish boy in Europe runs away to join a circus, becomes a brilliant conjurer, escapes the Nazis, and moves on after the war to a great career in Los Angeles. A young boy in present day LA believes the magician has a love spell that could bring his divorcing parents back together, could he but find the now aged and cantankerous man and persuade him to use his powers. The long and twisted road that ends in their meeting is intriguing, thought the outcome seems pretty well assured. Less certain is what the outcome of the meeting will be, and a final twist caps the story.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan

The day Inspector Chopra retires, forced out unwillingly by a heart attack, his unexpected inheritance arrives—in the form of a very sad baby elephant. Chopra is equally sad—he loved his job and doesn't know what to do with himself, or the elephant. Written by an Englishman of Indian heritage, who spent several years working in India, this mystery is enchanting despite no glossing over the corruption, poverty, cruelty, and filth of modern Mumbai.

Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Suppose one child took seriously a promise to “pay it forward,” and thus changed the world? Utopian, in spite of a tragedy en route, but one must dream....
Visit Carola Dunn's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Carola Dunn and Trillian.

The Page 69 Test: The Corpse at the Crystal Palace.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ruthanna Emrys

Ruthanna Emrys lives in a mysterious manor house in the outskirts of Washington DC with her wife and their large, strange family. She makes home-made vanilla, obsesses about game design, gives unsolicited advice, and occasionally attempts to save the world.

Emrys's new novel is Deep Roots.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just started Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars, in which a dinosaur-level asteroid impact on Washington DC in 1952 kicks off a no-holds-barred program to colonize space. The opening made me cry about five times—it probably didn’t help that I was reading it on the DC metro. It perfectly captures the weirdness of how people respond to crises. The protagonist is Jewish, and about the same level of observant that I am; there’s this point where she’s finally made it to safety, and found a place to stay, and her generous, well-meaning hosts offer her eggs cooked in bacon grease and of course you can’t say anything… Kowal gets the way trivial things push you over the edge in the middle of world-shaking events. The rest of the book is all alternate space program, and still brilliant and but probably less heart-breaking—someone is probably pitching this as Hidden Figures meets Deep Impact, but structurally and emotionally so far it reminds me more of Up.

In between longer and more intense reading, I’ve been going through the first season of Tremontaine, a multi-author serial set in the world of Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. The authors include Kushner herself, Malinda Lo, Racheline Maltese, Joel Derfner, Paul Witcover, Patty Bryant, and Alaya Dawn Johnson. It’s fantasy of manners with occasional duels. It’s queer as hell, and full of fraught romances that are fraught for reasons other than being queer. Major plot points include celestial navigation, the economics of the chocolate trade, and a possibly-hallucinatory possessed opossum. It’s fun, which is something I desperately need these days.

I’m also slowly savoring Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy. It’s a “self-help/planet-help” book about the practical and philosophical aspects of social justice organization, based in the Earthseed movement from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. It’s a thought-provoking mix of essays and poetry and relevant quotes, and discussions of how to mediate and meditate and work for change in the face of immanent dystopia. It uses flocks of starlings as a metaphor for how we can move together towards change—and the book itself is like that, different pieces all moving together, with the relationships between them coming clear at the edges.
Visit Ruthanna Emrys's website.

The Page 69 Test: Deep Roots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 20, 2018

Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the author of the Ash McKenna series which wraps up this month with Potter’s Field. Other entries include: New Yorked, which was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose, South Village, and The Woman from Prague. He also co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hart's reply:
I recently finished There There by Tommy Orange, which is about a dozen Native Americans living in Oakland and converging on a powwow. Some of them are planning to rob it but it’s not a heist novel—it’s more about the Native American experience in this country, and it’s really thoughtful and beautifully-written and just slams you right in the heart.

I just started The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. I read the first 150 pages before bed last night and then woke up at 2 in the morning after having a nightmare, so it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect from Tremblay. Tense, harrowing stuff.

I’ll go for the hat trick and tell you what I’m reading next, too: Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett. It’s won a bunch of awards and I met Kellye and she was super cool so I’ve been meaning to get to it. I will never say no to a good PI novel.
Visit Rob Hart's website.

My Book, The Movie: Potter's Field.

The Page 69 Test: Potter's Field.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Randi Hutter Epstein

Randi Hutter Epstein is a medical writer, lecturer at Yale University, Writer in Residence at Yale Medical School, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank (2010) and the new book, Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Epstein's reply:
I have a stack of books on my night table that balloon until my husband complains when I flail my arm and they go flying off in a noisy avalanche in the middle of the night. Then I have to prune—weeding out the ones I’m not really reading at the moment and putting them back on the bookshelf. I read a mix of non-fiction and fiction, saving the novels for bedtime reading. That’s so I can drift off to sleep mulling over the lives of the imaginary characters rather than worry about the minutiae of my own forthcoming schedule.

I recently pulled out a weathered copy of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov [image, left] that I bought and read in 1981. Dostoyevsky is the perfect antidote whenever I feel that I overthink about overthinking. (Am I thinking too much? Worrying too much?) No, his characters overthink. But this time around, I had the pleasure of immersing myself in 19th century Russia and also reading my pseudo-intellectual notes in the margins along with the lines I underlined when I read the book as a sophomore in college.

I also just finished Allegra Huston’s Say My Name, which is called “erotic fiction,” but it’s just a grand love story with a self-assured female protagonist. Huston knows how to plant a mystery and then seduce you to keep turning those pages. Rather than doze off, I stayed up late reading this one.

Just the other day, I came across a Roald Dahl book that I’ve never seen before on a table of used books sold by a New York City neighbor. I was grabbed by the title, Esio Trot. That’s “tortoise” backwards. When my family purchased our Russian tortoise about 20 years ago, my son (then in kindergarten) told me that he remembers how to spell “tortoise” because, as he said: “it’s esiotrot backwards.” I’m not sure the logic, but apparently Dahl was on the same wavelength. The book is a delightful tale of a lonely old man and his love for his downstairs neighbor. And yes, there’s a tortoise in it too. No spoiler alerts here. You’ll have to find your own copy. And our tortoise is still doing well.

My recent non-fiction is Anthony Donoghue’s Statistics and the Media which is one of the few statistics books to explain the basics without all the hifalutin jargon. This should be used in college courses and kept by the side of all science writers. I’m glad I have my copy. Yes it’s statistics and yes it’s a fun read. He weaves in examples from the media.
Visit Randi Hutter Epstein's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Randi Hutter Epstein, Ellie and Dexter.

The Page 99 Test: Aroused.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Zoje Stage

Zoje Stage lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Baby Teeth is her first novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished reading Beartown by Fredrik Backman. I admit that even though I'd heard so many superlatives in regard to this book, it took a while before I was convinced to read it because the setting of a town that's obsessed with hockey didn't resonate with me. Once I started it though, I realized it was an effective device to explore some very timely issues. Perhaps because I grew up in Pittsburgh, where sports are an obsession, some aspects of the novel felt overdone and a bit stale – particularly the repetitive explanations of just how important hockey was to Beartown as a whole. However, I really enjoyed this book, and the thing I appreciated most was the breathing room. The story took its time, and along the way gave depth and detail to a breadth of different and uniquely sympathetic characters. As a writer of suspense, I often feel the pressure to give every part of my stories an urgency, and this novel was a reminder of the value of letting a story breathe and unfold in an unhurried way.

I'm currently reading The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir. I was interested in this book because of its intersection between a mega-religious family and reality TV. I'm familiar with some of these types of shows in real life, and always wonder to what degree the children are molded to behave a certain way – with extra pressure because of the cameras – when in fact they may hold different beliefs or life goals that contradict their parents and the footage that we're shown. This story very much taps into that, exploring how financial greed can be the true guiding compass, and how a teenage girl tries to salvage her own identity while living a life that's designed to be scripted.
Visit Zoje Stage's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lisa Jensen

Lisa Jensen is the author of the novels Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, Alias Hook, and The Witch From the Sea, proprietress of the entertainment blog, Lisa Jensen Online Express, and longtime film critic for the alt weekly, Good Times, in Santa Cruz, CA.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Jensen's reply:
Right this minute, I'm in the thick of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. It's the epic tales of Thor, Odin, Loki and the gang, streamlined to their essence, and retold in Gaiman's droll voice. He infuses each god and goddess with human foibles, and renders magical stories of gods, giants, and dwarves with life-sized precision. Great fun!

I also recently finished The Master of Verona, by David Blixt, which merges the historical realities of life in the Renaissance Italian city-states with what you might call the origin stories of some of Shakespeare's most famous plays in Italian settings. Since my next novel (the one after Beast) is set in the Italian Renaissance, and also has a Shakespearean element, I thought I could just skim through Blixt's book and pick up some period color. Ha! I got sucked into this wild ride with its non-stop action from beginning to end!
Visit Lisa Jensen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 16, 2018

Alex White

Alex White was born and raised in the American south. He takes photos, writes music, and spends hours on YouTube watching other people blacksmith. He values challenging and subversive writing, but he’ll settle for a good time.

White lives in the shadow of Huntsville, Alabama’s rockets with his wife, son, two dogs and a cat named Grim. Favored pastimes include Legos and racecars. He takes his whiskey neat and his espresso black.

White's new novel is A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
At this moment, I'm re-reading Heather Kaczynski's Dare Mighty Things, the story of Cassandra Gupta, a young NASA intern that gets selected for humanity's first interstellar mission. They take her to a compound along with twenty-five other college-age kids and have them compete in a series of mysterious challenges. The administrators promptly begin playing mind games with the participants, eliminating them one by one, until only a few remain.

I enjoy this work for Kaczynski's lightning-quick prose and perfect readability. For a book about space travel, the writer could've gone into way too much detail or tried to lose the reader in a minefield of technicalities. Dare Mighty Things is accessible, and has no problem explaining some of its more abstract concepts. Pair that with a paranoia-inducing set of psychological and intellectual challenges, and the intensity is undeniable!
Visit Alex White's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe.

The Page 69 Test: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Scott Reintgen

Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. He strongly believes that every student who steps into his classroom has the right to see themselves, vibrant and victorious and on the page. It’s his hope to encourage a future full of diverse writers. As he’s fond of reminding his students, “You have a story to tell and you’re the only one who can tell it.”

Reintgen's new novel is Nyxia Unleashed.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I've actually just returned from the beach and thankfully I got a lot of reading done. The first book I tackled was The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. It's a breathtaking and brutal world that centers around the concept of fifth seasons-- or regular apocalyptic events that threaten to wipe out humanity. Jemisin's world building is transcendent. I'm also reading Circe by Madeline Miller. I'm not sure I've ever encountered such beautiful prose. Miller reimagines the infamous Circe and tells the entire story from her godlike and lonely perspective. I'm also guilty of having a book open in every room of the house, which means I've started Genesis by Brendan Reichs, Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, and The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards.

As an author, I fully believe that our best work is collaborative. So I do read for fun, but I'm also always looking for new tricks and tools to add to my own arsenal. In The Last Sun, Edwards uses a "home base" set up that I adopted for the first half of my sequel, Nyxia Unleashed. And the entire Broken Earth series is a playground for Jemisin to toy with narrative voice. Reading her stories was like permission for me to go try my own playful voice out, so I did. We always learn to write more honestly by reading the work of other authors, it's that simple. I know that Nyxia and Nyxia Unleashed would be nowhere near as strong in their storytelling without all of these open books around my house.
Visit Scott Reintgen's website.

The Page 69 Test: Nyxia.

--Marshal Zeringue