Friday, May 31, 2019

Clark Thomas Carlton

Clark T. Carlton studied English and Film at Boston University and UCLA and have worked as a screen and television writer, a journalist, and as a producer of reality television in addition to a thousand and one other professions.

His novels include The Prophet of the Termite God (and its fellow books from the Antasy Series).

Recently I asked Carlton about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m absorbed by T.C. Boyle’s Outside Looking In, a novel about the early days of LSD. It begins with its synthesis in Switzerland by Albert Hoffman and then its passionate embrace by Timothy Leary and his psychonauts in Zihuatanejo and Millbrook when Kennedy was president. These men, women and their children were the proto-hippies who lived communally, practiced “free love” and believed their experiences with acid and other hallucinogens were explorations as important as those of Columbus or Vasco da Gama. Midway through the book, the psychonauts are still considering whether acid is an entheogen: a piece of God’s own flesh that allows Him to be experienced directly after consuming. Albert Hoffman called LSD his “problem child” and I am sure the problems at Millbrook will continue to mushroom. They will likely reflect the usual trajectory of any cult with a charismatic leader who will attempt to capitalize on his fame.

Speaking of drugs, I savored Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog and its follow up, The Cartel and I will finish the trilogy with The Border. No one else is writing as convincingly about modern Mexico and its devastation by the drug wars. Winslow is not a world builder but he’s an extraordinary world knower and his novels are profoundly researched. Like Donna Tartt, he’s one of those authors I’d love to meet to ask how he entered into so many worlds. And just how close did he get to some fascinating and dangerous characters?

The protagonist, Art Keller, like so many protagonists, is one of those people that straddles two worlds but belongs to neither and he’s fueled by rage and a passion for justice. That’s my kind of guy. Winslow makes deft references to Mexico’s grisly pre-Columbian past when humans were sacrificed to the Mayan and Aztec death gods, and then he shows us how that religion has reemerged in the modern worship of Santa Muerte, Lady Death, the patron saint of narcos. The violence in these novels is lurid but all together real.
Visit Clark Thomas Carlton's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Prophet of the Termite God.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Candy Gunther Brown

Candy Gunther Brown is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University and author or editor of six books, including Testing Prayer: Science and Healing and The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America.

Brown's new book is Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion?.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have seven books (so far!) on my summer reading list.

I just finished Seth Perry’s Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States. I was interested in picking up this book because it’s in the field of my first book, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789–1880. Perry’s book focuses on questions of authority. He offers illuminating examples (for instance creation of the Book of Mormon) of how Americans in the early national period used references to the Bible and myriad print bibles to make authoritative claims for themselves. This process, Perry claims, changed the Bible itself.

I am excited about five recent books about mindfulness, given that my most recent book treats this subject as well. I am at various stages of engaging with each of these books, but I can already tell that all of them are rich and insightful. They each draw upon extensive fieldwork and/or personal experience and help to answer the questions of how Buddhist-inspired meditation practices have become popular and why this cultural development matters.

First is The Mindful Elite: Mobilizing from the Inside Out, by Jaime Kucinskas. Drawing on interviews with mindfulness leaders, the book details how American elites have successfully marketed mindfulness as a tool for health, happiness, and social reform. Kucinskas also points out shortcomings of the movement, for instance failure to produce lasting, structural reforms.

Second is Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion, by Ira Helderman. Helderman writes from the perspective of a practicing psychotherapist who holds a doctorate in religious studies and works as an adjunct professor of counseling. The book includes revealing stories of how actual psychotherapists incorporate aspects of Buddhism into their therapeutic encounters.

Third is Inward: Vipassana Meditation and the Embodiment of the Self, by Michal Pagis. This book won’t be published until later this summer, but I got a preview at a conference we both attended. Pagis is based in Israel, and she has done ethnographic work on meditation retreats both there and in the United States. She paints a fascinating portrait of retreats—as both intensely individual and social experiences.

Fourth is Mindfulness and Its Discontents: Education, Self, and Social Transformation, by David Forbes. Forbes’s perspective is an interesting one in part because he draws on his experience as a high school counselor and professor of school counseling in New York. He has seen meditation benefit students. Yet he provides a forceful critique of how efforts to sever mindfulness from its Buddhist roots to make it acceptable in secular contexts such as public schools can increase rather than alleviate suffering.

Fifth is McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, by Ron Purser, which will also be released later this summer. Purser is both an ordained Buddhist teacher and a professor of management, so he offers insight into the relationship between “McMindfulness”—a term he coined—and neo-liberal capitalism. Purser argues that genuine mindfulness has revolutionary potential, but McMindfulness is worse than neutral because it reinforces an ailing status quo.

Finally, I’m looking forward to reading Steven Green’s The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1940–1975. Green is a prominent lawyer and professor of law and religion who has participated in several First Amendment religion cases that have traveled all the way to the Supreme Court. This book offers insight into how the ideal of “church-state separation” developed and also how the Supreme Court’s application of this principle has given rise to second thoughts by many Americans.
Visit Candy Gunther Brown’s Indiana University faculty webpage and Psychology Today blog.

The Page 99 Test: Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Erin Gough

Erin Gough is a Sydney-based writer whose first young adult novel, The Flywheel, won Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Prize. The Flywheel was published in the US as Get it Together, Delilah! and was shortlisted for the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Older Readers and the Centre for Youth Literature’s Gold Inky. It was also named a White Raven International Youth Library title.

Gough's new novel is Amelia Westlake Was Never Here.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Highway Bodies by Alison Evans and The Lost Arab by Omar Sakr

Both of these books are a dose of what I love best: queer writing by Australian authors. Highway Bodies is about a zombie apocalypse in Melbourne. It features a range of queer and gender non-confirming teens banding together to stay alive. It is Australian soap opera meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I'm loving it.

The Lost Arab is Sakr's second collection of poetry, and having just finished my first read through, I'm reading it again. I want to live in these poems. They are haunted, and challenging, and beautiful, and sexy. They crack open the world.
Visit Erin Gough's website.

The Page 69 Test: Amelia Westlake Was Never Here.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Jennifer Cody Epstein

Jennifer Cody Epstein's books include The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, winner of the 2014 Asian Pacific Association of Librarians Honor award for outstanding fiction, as well as the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai.

Her new novel is Wunderland.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Epstein's reply:
I currently have several books in bedside rotation (pretty standard practice for me):

The Unconsoled (Kazuo Ishiguro). A lyrical, dark, and subtly surreal novel about a famous pianist who comes to an unnamed Central European city to give the performance of his life, but instead finds himself being sent off on endless distractions and errands by the townspeople he encounters. I’ve loved other of Ishiguro’s novels—in particular, Never Let Me Go—and while this is a radically different and somewhat more challenging read for me (it’s a bit like being trapped in a very beautifully-rendered anxiety dream) I’m finding it both inspiring and compelling. It reminds me a little of Italo Calvino.

Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay (Elena Ferrante). This is the third book in Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet and I’m finding it just as compulsively readable as the first two. I love how the novels—particularly this one--are unapologetically feminine and intensely intimate, but also fiercely intellectual. Ferrante has a way of delving so deeply into the DNA of female friendship that it almost feels subversive; it is truly unlike anything I’ve read before.

Another Side of Paradise (Sally Koslow). As a huge fan of both F. Scott Fitzgerald and smart historical fiction I’m finding this a treat. It’s about Fitzgerald’s three-year affair with L.A. gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, who herself hid a very Gatsbyesque past (she grew up impoverished and Jewish in London) to become a glamorous Hollywood muckraker in the 1930’s. She also become Fitzgerald’s lover, muse and conscience at the very end of his life, a relationship this novel explores with both great sensitivity and laugh-aloud wit.

Villette (Charlotte Brontë). This is Brontë’s lesser-known Gothic masterpiece, about an orphaned young woman who makes her living teaching English at a second-tier boarding school for girls in Belgium. I originally picked this up for “work” reasons (I’m currently working on a novel that has some turn-of-the-century Gothic notes), but as is usually the case with the Brontës I’m finding myself truly drawn in by the wry humor, unselfconscious emotionality and deft descriptiveness of the voice. It’s one of those books that reminds me of what connects us all as storytellers—even across the centuries.
Visit Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Painter from Shanghai.

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Jacqueline West

Jacqueline West is a New York Times bestselling author of several books for young readers. Her most recent novel is the young adult thriller Last Things.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. West's reply:
The book that my husband and I are currently reading aloud to each other during car rides is Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal. It’s ridiculously readable; the book is arranged both chronologically and thematically, so the narrative really flows, and it’s got interviews with everyone: Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Guns N’Roses, Slayer, Metallica, Pantera, Trent Reznor. I’d recommend it to anyone who has ever thrown the devil’s horns.

I just started Jeff Zentner’s latest YA, Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee. I loved Zentner’s first novel, The Serpent King, and this one—about friends who co-host a horror movie program for public access television—is right up my alley.

Dan Gemeinhart’s The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is my current middle-grade read. It’s a quest story, told from the point of view of eleven-year-old Coyote, who is on a cross-country journey with her father and a few strangers-turned-friends who they meet along the way. The characterization is beautifully done, and Coyote’s voice is pitch perfect.

I’m also making my way through The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James. These are great, eerie little pieces, told in such a scholarly style that they feel like nonfiction pretending to be fiction. Ideal for reading on a rainy spring night.
Learn more about the book and author at Jacqueline West's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones (July 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones (July 2013).

The Page 69 Test: Last Things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Susan Shapiro Barash

Susannah Marren is the author of Between the Tides and A Palm Beach Wife and a pseudonym for Susan Shapiro Barash, who has written more than a dozen nonfiction books including Tripping the Prom Queen and Toxic Friends.

She lives in New York City and teaches gender studies in the Writing Department at Marymount Manhattan College.

Recently I asked Barash about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm happiest when I read a few books at the same time. For fiction my style is to read a classic at the same time that I'm reading new fiction.I've just read Liane Moriarty's Nine Perfect Strangers concurrently with Anthony Trollope's Dr. Thorne and I'm about to begin Drawing Home by Jamie Brenner and at the same time will re-read Summer by Edith Wharton. Now that we are approaching summer, I love 'summer reads' and so I'll read Elin Hilderbrand's new novel, Summer of '69 and Mary Kay Andrews' Sunset Beach. I'll juxtapose these with The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe which I've always wanted to read and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot -- a book I've not finished - which is unlike me.

Because nonfiction and poetry mean so much to me, I keep a stack of both near my bedside. I am almost finished with Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher and re-reading Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There is a book that I've used in my classes at Marymount Manhattan College, where I teach in the writing department and my topic is gender. The title is Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and was published in 1861. Once a summer I read poetry by W. H. Auden, Emily Dickinson and Galway Kinnell. I recently read Megan Marshall's Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast.
Visit Susan Shapiro Barash's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Palm Beach Wife.

The Page 69 Test: A Palm Beach Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of four novels including The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, The Lost Art of Mixing, and The Scent Keeper.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Bauermeister's reply:
I am an eclectic reader, mixing together research for new books, audio books that keep me company while traveling, and books I read for pleasure. Here’s a sampling of what’s crossed my path recently:

The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time by Maria Konnikova

How do you con someone? You find the core belief they never want to give up: I’m handsome. The world is a generous place. People are honest. In many ways a con artist is simply a more careful reader than most of us, able to see things we keep hidden and take advantage of weaknesses we don’t want to admit. Maria Konnikova’s book is a thorough, entertaining look into the perplexities and complexities of human behavior.

Spoonbenders: A Novel by Daryl Gregory

A novel of psychics and con artists (sense a trend?), all set in a plot line that is as intricate as the workings of a fantastical clock. There are Russian spies and space-and-time travel and family dynamics. All the pieces fit together, but I defy you to figure out how before the ending. I listened to the audio version, and the reader was a perfect match for the material.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

A big, gorgeous novel about one family and the loss that changes all of them. Tara Conklin’s writing is poignant and insightful. I crawled inside the lives of these characters and didn’t come out until long after the book was finished.

I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell

In Maggie O’Farrell’s hands, a topic that might have become morbid or sensational turns into a series of thoughtful, beautiful essays. Each brush with death creates its own insights and philosophical musings. O’Farrell is a novelist as well, and her memoir-in-essays takes full advantage of her literary skills to create a profound reading experience.
Visit Erica Bauermeister's website.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Essential Ingredients.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Art of Mixing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

S. C. Megale

S. C. Megale is an author and filmmaker. She's been profiled in USA Today, The Washington Post, and New York Newsday, and has appeared on NBC’s Today Show and the CBS Evening News for her philanthropic and literary work. As a humanitarian, she's spoken on the USS Intrepid, at the NASDAQ opening bell, and to universities and doctors nationwide. She enjoys making connections all over the world.

Megale was raised in the long grass of the Civil War, hunting for relics and catching fireflies along the banks of Bull Run. A shark tooth, flutes, and a flask are some of the items that hang from her wheelchair, and she had a fear of elevators until realizing this was extremely inconvenient. She lives with her family which includes her parents, sister and brother, service dog, and definitely-not-service dog.

Megale's new book, This is Not a Love Scene, is her first published novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Grasp your phone or desktop firmly over what I am about to tell you. I'm a student at the University of Virginia and have not read a work of fiction for pleasure since reading Clifford the Big Red Dog in the library and crying because I love this and I'm tired and the coffee store closed and I have to read hundreds of pages of Suetonius and Oceanography. I'm a History major. A lot of primary sources. What I'm immensely proud of, though, is my collection of books at home. When Borders Bookstore closed, I purchased a shelf off their store floor. That shelf, now a relic, is my pride and joy, holding over a hundred of the coolest, rarest, most valued books. Among the library of that shelf are: signed Hunger Games, Harry Potter, John Green, John Grisham, David Baldacci, Divergent, Percy Jackson, and Ranger's Apprentice books, raw conference proceedings, gravestone records, and marriage records of Virginia, astronomical surveys of Stonehenge, a doctoral thesis on werewolves, and much more.
Visit S.C. Megale's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Is Not a Love Scene.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 20, 2019

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Girls in the Picture, about the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood's earliest female legends—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford, The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age.

Benjamin's new novel is Mistress of the Ritz.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Henry, Himself by Stewart O’Nan. This is the third book in a trilogy about a Pittsburgh family; the other two books are Wish You Were Here and emily, Alone. I love these books; they’re quiet, but layered, and each family member is exquisitely drawn; you get the perspective of all of them, from the youngest grandchild to the matriarch and patriarch – even the family dog! But it’s O’Nan’s compassionate portrayal of aging that makes these books so dear to me; he pulls no punches about the ravages of time on the body and the mind, but he also finds comfort in memories, as we all do. His heroine, Emily Maxwell, is one of the best female characters in all of fiction; she’s dignified, funny, exasperating, loving, and endlessly practical about the time left to her. These three books are very similar to Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, other favorites of mine; treat yourself to all three books in O’Nan’s trilogy.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Meghan Holloway

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.​​

She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Holloway's new novel is Once More Unto the Breach.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just turned in my 2020 release to my publisher, and I am giving myself a bit of a break before I dive into my next work in progress. Of course, much of this break will be spent reading research books for my next project, but I am also putting aside time to reread some of my favorites and catch up on books that have been lingering in my ‘To Be Read’ pile.

The books I am rereading include Atonement, All the Light We Cannot See, and All Quiet on the Western Front.

Ian McEwan’s intellectual and literary style always takes my breath away. The postmodern era brought metafiction to prominence, and I am intrigued by works that both tell a story and explore the art of storytelling. But even more than the style, I love the theme of redemption in Atonement. It is the core theme of Once More Unto the Breach as well. We all carry regrets with us, we all live under the shadow of our mistakes, and I am always engrossed by stories that are unflinching in their exploration of those mistakes.

What I love about Anthony Doerr’s hauntingly brilliant masterpiece is that every sliver of backstory you learn adds a deeper level of understanding to the unfolding narrative. I aimed for that same layering in Once More Unto the Breach, with each perspective and every flashback giving the reader deeper insight into the characters and their relationship to one another. In All the Light We Cannot See, the storytelling is as captivating as the plot, and I find Doerr’s lyricism utterly inspiring.

With a protagonist who is a Great War veteran, I knew I had to portray shell shock authentically, and Erich Maria Remarque’s book is one I always come back to for insight into the emotional wounds of war. All Quiet on the Western Front is a bleakly and gut-wrenchingly beautiful saga that is a detailed depiction of a generation utterly ravaged by a war that was on a scale never before seen. The wounding and the detachment of the Lost Generation is so viscerally shown in this book. To my mind, it is the best war story in existence. And like all true war stories, it is a vehement anti-war tome.

I am also catching up on some phenomenal nonfiction and fiction. Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis is a brilliant, harrowing piece of nonfiction that reads like a spy thriller. A.J. Baime’s The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World is an engrossing read about the man thrust into a position of leadership at one of the most tumultuous, pivotal points in history. Jane Healey’s The Beantown Girls is a vivid story of sisterhood, love, and sacrifice that centers around a little-known group of inspiring women in WWII. The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox is a beautiful gothic mystery and romance with a wonderful cast of characters and an engaging plot.

While a large portion of my reading revolves around the World Wars, I love a riveting read, nonfiction or fiction, regardless of time period. If you have any recommendations for great reads, send them my way. What has kept you relentlessly turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning lately?
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Istagram.

My Book, The Movie: Once More Unto the Breach.

The Page 69 Test: Once More Unto the Breach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Leah Hager Cohen

Leah Hager Cohen was born in Manhattan and raised at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens and later in Nyack, New York. She attended Hampshire College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The author of five novels and five works of nonfiction, she is the Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at the College of the Holy Cross.

Cohen's new novel is Strangers and Cousins.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished A Simple Story, the 1923 novel by the Nobel Laureate S. Y. Agnon. Should I be embarrassed to say that I’d never even heard of Agnon until recently?

Any simplicity here is deceptive; the title should be taken with a wink. Although the story, set in the fictional Polish town of Szybusz at the turn of the 20th century, unfolds as if a familiar tale (think star-crossed lovers) in a familiar setting (think Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Fools of Chelm or Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman), it’s anything but.

The experience of reading this book was wonderfully disorienting, as my expectations were repeatedly challenged and ultimately confounded. I might have finished in a huff if not for the excellent afterward by Hillel Halkin, who also translated the novel from the original Hebrew. As it is, I’m left with a complex aftertaste that makes me want to re-read the novel – but even better, leaves me contemplating notions of individuality and community, and how they fit together, and how life should be lived, what we, any of us, are here for.
Visit Leah Hager Cohen's website.

The Page 69 Test: Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Lara Elena Donnelly

Lara Elena Donnelly is the author of the vintage-glam spy thriller trilogy The Amberlough Dossier (Tor), as well as short fiction and poetry appearing in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Uncanny.

A graduate of the Clarion and Alpha writers’ workshops, Donnelly has also served as on-site staff at the latter, mentoring amazing teens who will someday take over the world of SFF. She is currently a guest lecturer in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College and a teacher at the Catapult Classes in New York City.

Recently I asked Donnelly about what she was reading. Her reply:
Back in 2012, one of my Clarion instructors mentioned The Talented Mr. Ripley in workshop. The name was vaguely familiar, but only as a received pop culture artifact. But she talked about it in such glowing terms I thought, I guess I’d better read this.

And I tried. But I bounced off it like a superball.

Years passed. My tastes changed. My own writing, and my understanding of other authors’ craft, improved. And, after a bout with another thriller many blurbs and reviews hailed as “Ripleyesque,” which I found equal parts un-put-downable and deeply frustrating on a couple of craft levels, I thought, maybe I should try Ripley again.

I tore through it this time. Whenever I set it aside to do something else, I was back on the sofa within half an hour. Patricia Highsmith makes every moment of that book feel like a potential turning point in Tom Ripley’s hectic, high-stakes scam. None of the characters is a hero or a villain; the book is a masterclass in winning reader empathy through characterization and context.

Recently, after looking at some pages for a proposed new project, my editor said they reminded her of Highsmith, and asked if I could lean even harder on that tone, those characters, that voice. I had pitched the project as Perfume: The Story of a Murderer meets Brian Fuller’s Hannibal, in the style of Donna Tartt. But as soon as she said “Highsmith,” I knew she was right.

So I’ve lately finished Strangers on a Train, her debut, and Ripley Under Ground. Next is Ripley’s Game. She has such a particular way of presenting her characters’ situations through a lens that invites the reader to adopt a peculiar code privileging personal aesthetic over public morality. Of presenting elevated aesthetics as the highest achievement, an end worth any number of unsavory means.

Supporting this on every page is her lush imagery—setting, art, culture, food, people. She paints pictures of the luxe life, yes, but her skill is apparent even in small, intimate moments. In Strangers on a Train, she describes Anne at work over her illustrations: “When she dabbled her paintbrush fast in a glass of water, the sound was like laughter.” Oof! The gorgeous specificity! If you’ve ever painted in watercolor, you know that sound, and you know she’s dead-on.

The more I read of her work, the less I’m sure I’ll be able to carry off amorality with quite so much elegance. But wow, she really makes me want to try.
Visit Lara Elena Donnelly's website.

My Book, The Movie: Amberlough.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is an American science fiction author. He has won multiple awards including the International UPC Science Fiction award for Ships in the Night, a Nebula for Seeker, a Campbell Award for Omega, and the Robert Heinlein Lifetime Achievement Award. He has over 20 novels available in print, ebook and audio. He resides in Georgia with his lovely wife, Maureen.

McDevitt's new book is Octavia Gone, the latest Alex Benedict novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America caught my attention during one of the author’s appearances on “Morning Joe.” Meacham seems to have a clear perspective on what’s been happening in the United States. And he has won a Pulitzer Prize. In The Soul of America he discusses various dark times, some far worse than this current era, and argues that ultimately it’s up to the citizenry to stand up for what is right. If we can do that, we will get through into the daylight. It may take time, but it is essential that we refuse to despair.

The Churchill Factor, by Boris Johnson, moves into similar territory, using the former British prime minister to demonstrate that one man can move the world. When Churchill assumed office, in 1940, the Germans were winning everywhere. The French were surrendering, the Nazis were moving into Poland. Hitler was offering the British a deal. Back off, he was saying, and everything will be okay. Everyone in the upper levels of the British government wanted to accept his terms. Other than Churchill. He insisted they keep fighting, and he managed eventually to persuade FDR to bring the US into the war. Had he not accomplished all that, 1945 would have been a far darker year.

A Devil’s Chaplain, by Richard Dawkins. This is a collection of essays on assorted subjects by the famed evolutionary biologist. He argues that positions should be based on evidence. He goes in multiple directions. What does evolution actually mean? If every mother were to hold hands with her mother, and we took it back generations, allowing one yard for each mother, in less than 300 miles, we’ll be holding hands with chimpanzees.

I’m also reading H. L. Mencken’s Prejudices, the first volume in the Library of America collection. A brilliant journalist , Mencken took on conformity in American culture and any other target that annoyed him.

Finally I’ve dived into Harlan Ellison’s story collection, Strange Wine. I doubt there are any readers of this blog who aren’t familiar with Harlan’s dazzling fiction.
Visit Jack McDevitt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Octavia Gone.

The Page 69 Test: Octavia Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 10, 2019

Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is a born-and-bred North Carolina girl who loves all four seasons—especially fall in Chapel Hill, where she attended college, and summer in Beaufort, where she and her family spend every free moment. The author of The Secret of Southern Charm, Slightly South of Simple, Dear Carolina, and Lies and Other Acts of Love, Harvey is also the founder of the popular interior design blog Design Chic.

Her new novel is The Southern Side of Paradise.

Recently I asked Harvey about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am currently reading I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagán. It is an insightful and very timely book about a woman whose best friend dies suddenly—of an accidental opioid overdose. In the aftermath of her friend Jenny’s death, Penelope begins to question everything: her career, her marriage, and her relationships with her brother and father. Instead of burying her head in the sand, she decides to face her troubles head on. She and her husband Sanjay make a pact to be brutally honest with each other and ask for the changes they need to make their marriage better. But, as is so often the case, honesty comes with unexpected consequences. It’s a fast-paced read with beautifully drawn characters and a fresh plot. I can’t put it down!

I’m also reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. I must be the only person in the world who hasn’t read her books yet, but they are such a great reminder, especially as I head out on a six-week book tour, that our path and our definition of success is for us to decide. It’s easy to get caught up in worries about what everyone else is going to think about your work, but, as Brown reminds us, what ultimately matters is what we think. My science brain loves that this is a book based on Brown’s years of research. It’s a fascinating read!
Visit Kristy Woodson Harvey's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Southern Side of Paradise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Timothy Jay Smith

Timothy Jay Smith has traveled the world collecting stories and characters for his novels and screenplays which have received high praise. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction for his first book, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Smith was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, "Stolen Memories." His screenplays have won numerous international competitions. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

Smith's latest novel is The Fourth Courier.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The Fourth Courier, my novel set in Poland, was only released a few weeks ago, but I’m already well into my research for a new novel. Set in Istanbul, it’s the story of a gay Syrian refugee who gets recruited by the CIA to go deep undercover to carry out a dangerous mission. I know Istanbul less well than other locations in my novels, so I’m working my way through a small library of books set there.

In fiction, I like to read the kind of books that I write, and the two novels I just finished were relatively fast-paced stories, but not all action, which had depth and could even be accused of verging on literary. They were Joseph Kanon’s Istanbul Passage and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. Also like my own work, both stories were set against the backdrop of a bigger picture issue, so they were enlightening at the same time.

With scenes of Jews hunkered down on rickety ships destined for Israel, Kanon describes the chaos that ensued for many people immediately after the end of WWII. They’re also a metaphor for the chaos in the diplomatic and espionage circles in which his story plays out.

In his thin and brilliant novel, Hamid tells a different refugee story, of a young couple fleeing war in an unnamed country that has all the trappings of Syria. His novel is exceptionally clever for a device he uses, and all I will say is: the doors. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

So now I have embarked on somewhat drier reading territory. I have Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul, to work my way through. He obsesses on details, though I will admit, his Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, which he created as a companion to his novel of the same name, is so obsessed with minutiae of an obsessive love affair that if there were such a thing as installation literature, like there’s installation art, he would define the genre.

Far more adventurous is the non-fiction Midnight at the Pera Palace by Charles King, the title referring to the bar favored by spies and diplomats between the two world wars. It’s great for capturing an era, which isn’t the era I’m writing about, but the circumstances haven’t altogether changed. Istanbul is still a center of intrigue.

I’ve saved the best for last. Certainly the most lighthearted. When someone learned that my new novel involved a gay character in Istanbul, he suggested I read something by Mehmet Murat Somer. (Who? I hadn’t heard of him either.) It turns out, he’s the author of the Turkish Delight detective novels featuring a drag queen Audrey-Hepburn-lookalike who’s also an amateur sleuth. I’m halfway through The Serenity Murders. Who knew that anyplace in Turkey could be so campy?
Visit Timothy Jay Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue