Thursday, September 29, 2022

Sofie Kelly

Sofie Kelly is a New York Times bestselling author and mixed-media artist who lives on the East Coast with her husband and daughter. She writes the New York Times bestselling Magical Cats mysteries and, as Sofie Ryan, writes the New York Times bestselling Second Chance Cat mysteries.

Her new novel in the Magical Cats series is Whiskers and Lies.

Recently I asked Kelly about what she was reading. Her reply.
I just finished reading Bad Scene, the third Colleen Hayes mystery by Max Tomlinson. I recently discovered the first book in the series, Vanishing in the Haight, and I was hooked. In my opinion, Bad Scene is the best in the series so far, and that’s saying a lot because the first two books were very good. The stories are set in San Francisco, in the late seventies. Maybe part of the reason I like them is because I’m old enough to remember that time. Colleen is a private detective, on parole after serving prison time for killing her abusive husband. In Bad Scene she learns that neo-Nazis are talking about killing the mayor. She also discovers that her estranged daughter has joined a cult reminiscent of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Colleen is desperate to get to South America and save her child before it’s too late. Tomlinson is a very talented writer and I’ve become a big fan of Colleen Hayes. She’s tough without ever descending into stereotype. I’m looking forward to starting the most recent entry in the series, Line of Darkness. Then it’s going to be a long wait for next summer and the fifth Colleen Hayes mystery.

I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I have been a big fan of Becky Chambers ever since I discovered The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, the first in the four-book Wayfarers series. I read them all and loved every one. Chambers is a talented writer who creates wonderfully well-rounded characters. I’ve just finished the second book in her new Monk and Robot series, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy. Sibling Dex is a tea monk. Mosscap is a sentient robot sent to discover what humanity needs. They decide to travel together looking for the answers both of them are seeking. Chambers has written a book with lyrical prose, complex ideas about what makes us human, and two characters I just keep getting more invested in.
Visit Sofie Kelly's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2022

Kathleen George

Kathleen George lives in Pittsburgh where she teaches theatre and writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Her new novel, Mirth, is her 15th book. It’s the third of her 20th century histories in which she tries to capture a whole lifetime.

Mirth should appeal to a general audience but will be of special interest to writers, constant readers, and those who are widowed.

George is also the author of the acclaimed novels Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, The Odds (nominated for an Edgar® award for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America), Hideout, Simple, and A Measure of Blood. All seven of these titles are part of her procedural thrillers set in Pittsburgh.

Recently I asked George about what she was reading. Her reply:
What am I reading? At the moment a few minutes before sleep each night I take in some of Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility which is mind boggling. So there is a future (in two centuries) in which there are still bookstores? Hooray for that! People like Marshal Zeringue, who runs this site, do their author interviews by hologram and the writers take hovercrafts from one continent to another for their book events and other public performances. I’m truly sorry I won’t be around for all that. There is a mysterious other dimension suggested in this book and I don’t yet know what it entails. Maybe if I walk into a forest and am lifted into another realm I can come back in two centuries or three! Hooray.

Meanwhile recent readings I've just finished and that surface in my mind are Lessons in Chemistry and The Latecomer--because families, happy and not, are still an American obsession.
Visit Kathleen George's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 19, 2022

Clay McLeod Chapman

Clay McLeod Chapman is the author of the novels Whisper Down the Lane, The Remaking, and miss corpus, short story collections nothing untoward, commencement and rest area, as well as The Tribe middlegrade series: Homeroom Headhunters, Camp Cannibal and Academic Assassins.

His new novel is Ghost Eaters.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Chapman's reply:
Right now I'm reading Josh Malerman's Pearl and I'm absolutely gobsmacked by its deceptive design. This is my third Malerman book and I have yet to read a book by him that doesn't blow my mind. I almost didn't pick up Pearl because for some asinine reason I thought it was too slight of a concept to rock my world, but I was wrong. I'm admitting this, in public, because I feel like my shame should be addressed. Here's a book about a telepathic pig. How weird is that? What could possibly be so earth-shattering with that simplistic premise? But this is Malerman's Cujo. It's the simplicity of the premise that allows Malerman to tackle grander topics and bowl you over. There are no small stories, only small minds, and I'll cop to my own shortcomings and happily say Malerman proved me wrong. This book is epic.

The writing in Pearl is so clean. It flows. I wish I could write with Malerman's elegance. To say so much but say it economically... Every line feels necessary. There's no fat here, only poetry, and the poem being told is absolutely terrifying.
Visit Clay McLeod Chapman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Remaking.

The Page 69 Test: The Remaking.

My Book, The Movie: Whisper Down the Lane.

Q&A with Clay McLeod Chapman.

The Page 69 Test: Whisper Down the Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Mary Miley

Mary Miley grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Virginia, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel and business topics. As Mary Miley, she is the author of the award-winning Roaring Twenties mystery series.

Miley's new novel is Deadly Spirits, her third Mystic's Accomplice mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I write mysteries, I read mysteries. While my preference is for historicals, I am very glad to come to the present day with a series I’ve stumbled on, written by Martin Walker and set in France’s beautiful southwest Dordogne region: the Bruno, Chief of Police series. I have spent time in the Dordogne over the past five decades and am thrilled with Mr. Walker’s spot-on portrayal of the people, customs, and places there, not to mention his cleverly plotted mysteries. Each one focuses on a particular specialty of the region: wine, cave paintings, truffles, and so forth. And Bruno (the sole policeman for a small fictional town) is a fascinatingly realistic character, trying to balance his duty to protect his townspeople while skirting the EU regulations or the "letter of the law" that hinder their success. I’ve read the first three and loved each one. Thankfully, there seem to be 15 so far in the series, so I have a lot of reading pleasure ahead.
Visit Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Deadly Spirits.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Monica Wesolowska

Monica Wesolowska is the author of the memoir Holding Silvan: A Brief Life which was named a "Best Book of 2013” by The Boston Globe and Library Journal. Two new children’s picture books are out in 2022: Leo + Lea (with illustrations by Kenard Pak) and Elbert in the Air (with illustrations by Jerome Pumphrey). Her essays and short stories have appeared in many other venues including The New York Times. For over fifteen years, she’s taught creative writing at UC Berkeley Extension, Stanford Continuing Studies, Left Margin Lit and elsewhere around the Bay Area as well as working one-on-one as an independent editor. A graduate of Reed College and a former fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center, she lives in her hometown of Berkeley, California.

Recently I asked Wesolowska about what she was reading. Her reply:
As someone who writes in multiple genres, I read in multiple genres. Not surprisingly, the books I’ve recently read all seem related to elements of my new picture book, including different ways of seeing and being, the solace of art, and the Fibonacci sequence, a popular math pattern often found in nature.

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky is my most exciting recent find, a novel that took me on a wild ride. It begins: “I dream I’m making tender love with an owl. The next morning I see talon marks across my chest…” Soon, the narrator gives birth to an owl-baby. How is this possible and what does it mean? The book does not give easy explanations. It’s a gorgeous metaphor for parenting a child who defies expectations, and Oshetsky extends the metaphor as far as it will go. I love that the mother in this novel allows her owl-baby to be herself. There is rage here, and lyric language, and love.

The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Woman’s Walk in the Wild to Find her Way Home by Katherine May is a memoir I stumbled across as fortuitously as the author seems to have stumbled across her own topic. Until the day she heard an interview about autism on the radio, May never suspected she herself might be on the spectrum. She just thought she was overwhelmed with the noise of parenthood. Who wouldn’t be? So she told her husband she needed time to walk…a lot…and alone. I sank into those long, lush, rainy walks along the South West Coast Path of England with May while she tries to understand how to be comfortable with the family she loves as well as in her own skin.

Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World by Keith Devlin is far outside my usual reading. It’s about math. But to write a picture book based on the Fibonacci sequence, I had to do research and found this book charming. An acclaimed Stanford mathematician, Devlin writes about searching through Pisa for biographical information about this influential medieval mathematician. After enjoying the book, I consulted Devlin about my own book. He pointed out that Indian mathematicians used the sequence long before Fibonacci did, and that Sanskrit poets used it long before that, which was a nice affirmation of my own project of writing a poetic picture book based on the pattern.

Bod’s Dream by Michael and Joanne Cole was a favorite picture book of mine as a child. Curious to know why, I went to find a copy. Thinking this book from 1969 must be obscure, I was delighted to find it had been re-issued in 2016. On the first page, Bod wakes from a lovely dream of strawberries and cream and sets out on his day still thinking about it. Curious to know what Bod is dreaming about, his friends and neighbors all follow him, falling right into a hole in the ground. And you won’t imagine what they find there! I guffawed aloud, and read it again. A strange, profoundly satisfying story about a little stick figure with a big head who follows his dreams.
Visit Monica Wesolowska's website.

The Page 99 Test: Holding Silvan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, is due out soon. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin:
She had “a voice like money.” And with those four short words, F. Scott Fitzgerald described the girl that Jay Gatsby, the Great Gatsby, did everything to win, the girl who would eventually cost him his life. Daisy had “a voice like money.” Reading that, those four short words, you know that what Gatsby thought he had to have to have her, the vast sums of money he was willing to break all the rules to get, meant nothing to her because it was something she had always had. That line, those four commonplace words, stays with you forever, after you have read The Great Gatsby. There are other lines as good as that in the things Fitzgerald wrote. There are more of them in the stories Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s first great writer wrote.

In "The Queen of Spades," Pushkin’s best known, and most popular, story, Hermann, desperate to learn the secret of how to win at cards, sends a letter to a woman he is trying to seduce. “It contained a confession of love; it was tender, respectful, and translated word for word from a German novel. But Lizaveta Ivanovna did not know German and found it very satisfactory.” When he sends her more letters, no longer translations, they are written “in a style that was characteristic of him, expressing both the uncompromising nature of his desire and the confusion of his unbridled imagination.”

In "The Blizzard," Pushkin captures in a single sentence the dominant influence among Russian women in the early 19th century: “Maria Gavralovna had been brought up on French novels and was consequently in love.” In "The Shot," he summarizes the significance of a visit by a rich landowner to one of his estates as “a historical occasion for people living in the country.” They “speak of nothing else for two months before the visit and for three years after.” In "The Guests Were Arriving at the Dacha," the mind of those ambitious for place and power, not just in Russia, but everywhere, is understood immediately when Pushkin writes “Vronski, a wealthy young man who usually let his feelings be governed by the opinion of others, fell head over heels in love with her because the Sovereign had once met her on the English Embankment and talked with her for a full hour.”

Some of Pushkin’s stories are based on real events. "The Captain’s Daughter," written in 1836, is the story about a remarkable fraud, Pugachev, who claimed to be the real Tsar of Russia, wrongly declared dead by the imposter who had assumed power. Three years earlier Pushkin had written a history of Pugachev and his rebellion, a history that can only be described as impossible to understand, and impossible to put down. One battle follows another in an endless chronicle of momentary victory and temporary defeat, a catalogue of constant advances and regular retreats, butchery on an unbelievable scale, making more remarkable the few, the very few, acts of decent treatment of prisoners and restraint in the treatment of women.

In "The Captain’s Daughter," Pushkin uses a single, seemingly minor, incident, a stranger who saves Pugachev, during a blizzard, to make history come alive. The stranger, Petre Andreich Grinev, does not know who Pugachev is or that he is the leader of a rebellion against the Tsar. Sometime later, Grinev, an officer in the Tsar’s army, is taken prisoner by the rebels. Just when he is about to be executed, Pugachev recognizes him and saves his life in turn. "The History of Purgachev," so difficult to follow in all its endless detail, is now a drama that holds you, mesmerized, from the very first page.

Pushkin’s place in Russian literature cannot be overstated. The movement from poetry to prose, which took nearly three centuries in the English speaking world, happened in Russia with Pushkin, who, in addition to his remarkably concise prose wrote Russia’s greatest poetic work, Eugene Onegin. Everything Pushkin did as a writer can be found in Onegin, the romantic disillusionment after the fall of Napoleon, the heightened sense of honor that compelled men to fight duels to the death and made women sacrifice the love they felt to the marriages they were sometimes condemned to enter. It has sometimes been said that unless you read Eugene Onegin in the original Russian, you can not appreciate its power, its hold on the Russian soul, but whatever its failings, the translation by Babette Deutsche in the Penguin edition of l965 is powerful enough.

Tatyana is a young girl who lives in the country. Eugene Onegin, older, though still in his twenties, is a landowner visiting his estate.
The country to the past is tender,

Nor bends to fashion’s tyrannies:

The modern Russian’s worst disease.
Tatyana falls in love with Onegin and writes to him of her love. His reply is polite, dismissive, and devastating to her young heart:
If for a moment I found pleasure

In cosy scenes of fireside life,

You, you alone would be my wife.
My love, first warm, would soon diminish,

Killed by familiar;

Our marriage would mean misery.
Onegin understands himself, understands that he will never bring happiness to a woman’s life. In his own eyes, he is a tragic figure, living in a tragic age. Without intending it, he provokes Tatyana’s brother, Lensky, into a duel.

Tatyana will not see Onegin, “the betrayer.” She must “hate her brother’s slayer.”

But she goes to Onegin’s vacant house where she finds herself reading through his books, which included “Lord Byron’s tales, which well consorted
With two or three bright-backed imported

Romances, upon every page

Exhibiting the present age,

And modern man’s true soul divulging,

One whose embittered mind finds zest

In nothing, but can never rest.
Much later, Onegin sees her in St. Petersburg. She is no longer the “poor girl whose adoration
Of him had filled her simple youth

But the proud princess, cold and serious,

The Queen, aloof, remote, imperious

Of the magnificent Neva
Onegin, regretting everything, falls in love and writes her an impassioned letter, to which she forces herself to reply:
I love you (why should I dissemble?)

But I became another man’s wife;

I shall be true to him through life.
Onegin survives a duel and loses forever the woman who, though she loved him, marries another man. Dueling and marriage, the violence of misguided men and the loyalty of unfortunate women, are frequently the central thread, the guiding force, if you will, in Pushkin’s stories. It would not be going too far to suggest that they are an obsession. In "Dubrovskii," for example, the hero is going to rescue the woman he loves from marriage to an older man she despises but has to marry so her father can recover some of the fortune he has squandered. Dubrovskii, who has become a famous brigand, arrives just after the marriage ceremony has been performed, but he and his men still have time to stop the carriage that is taking the bride and bridegroom away. Durbrovskii tells her that she is now free; she tells him that it is too late. “I am already married.” Too late because she had consented. “I made my vow.” She had waited for Dubrovskii until the last minute. “But now, I am telling you, it’s too late. Let us go free.” And Dubrovskii does what she asks.

"The Shot" is a story about a duel that, in a way, lasts for years, a duel in which death by itself is not enough to satisfy a diabolical thirst for revenge. Following their instructions, the two duelists drew lots to decide who would fire first. Silvio, who had been humiliated, slapped in the face by a Polish count, waits until the count has fired and missed. Then he announces that he reserves until a later time his right to fire. He waits for years, until the count has just married and knows for the first time what perfect happiness is. They draw lots again, this time in the count’s study, and again the count gets the first shot, and again he misses, though this time on purpose. The count and his new bride wait for the fatal shot. Silvio starts to leave without firing, but then stops, looks back, and fires twice, leaving two bullet holes in a portrait hanging on the wall, one just above the other, “a remarkable shot,” that proved for those who know the story, what a marksman Silvio had always been.

Marriage and duels of honor over women were the stuff of Pushkin’s great fiction, and Pushkin’s great fiction was the perfect mirror of his own all too brief life. When he was almost thirty-two, he married the exquisitely beautiful Natasha Goncharova, a seventeen year old girl from an impoverished family who, because of Pushkin’s connection with the Tsar, saw in the marriage the possibility of a connection with the imperial court. She quickly became not only the favorite of the Tsar, but the most desirable woman in St. Petersburg. She thrived on the attention, and if she fell in love early and often, she remained faithful, if not very close, to her husband. But because the world, especially the world made up of court romances and court intrigues, reaches its own conclusions, Pushkin was treated with contempt as a husband who could not keep his wife. Driven half mad by gossip, Pushkin challenged one of Natasha’s would be lovers to a duel, and died in the attempt to save his honor. He was only thirty-seven.

The end of Pushkin’s story cannot be told without telling the story of the story he never finished, "The Blackamoor of Peter the Great." The blackamoor is a young African, Ibrahim, whom Peter sends to Europe to be educated. When Ibrahim returns to Russia, Peter forces a young woman, Natalia, to marry him. Natalia, however, who is in love with someone else, takes to her bed, hoping to die. A household servant tells her when she recovers enough to listen that, “While you’ve been sick the blackamoor has succeeded in charming them all. The master is devoted to him, the Prince raves about him, and Tatiana Afanasevna says, ‘What a pity he’s black; otherwise we couldn’t wish for a better bridegroom.’”

In the same way that "The Captain’s Daughter" was based on the history of the Pugachev Rebellion, "The Blackamoor of Peter the Great" is based on the history of the great Russian Tsar. Every court in Europe had in those days young African boys in attendance. Peter the Great wanted one. Abraham Hannibal, the son of a minor Abyssinian prince had been sent as a small child a hostage to Constantinople where he became a member of the Sultan’s household. Peter’s ambassador bribed one of the Sultan’s viziers and Abraham, only eight years old, was sent to St. Petersburg where he was baptized with Peter as his godfather and the Queen of Poland as his godmother. Abraham became the Tsar’s valet, then his groom, and then his private secretary. Gifted and eager to learn, he traveled with Peter to Paris in 1717, where he was left to study for a career as a military engineer. He rose to the rank of captain in the French army, and in l725 returned to Russia where, just as in the story, Peter forces a woman who loves someone else to marry his blackamoor.

Pushkin never finished the story, but the history had an end. The woman hated Abraham so much she was unfaithful to him both before and after the marriage. Abraham divorced her and married another woman with whom he had eleven children, and in 1752, a major-general, he became the head of the Russian Engineers Corps. Abraham Hannibal, the son of an African prince, however, was not only the inspiration for "The Blackamoor of Peter the Great," he was also Alexander Pushkin’s great-grandfather. Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian writer was, and remains, the greatest writer of African descent the world has ever seen.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and the novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (2020). Where Are the Snows, her latest poetry collection, was chosen by Kazim Ali as the winner of the X.J. Kennedy Prize and will be published by Texas Review Press in Fall 2022. Her latest novel, based on the life and work of the silent movie star Colleen Moore, will be published by in September of 2023.

Recently I asked Rooney about what she was reading. Her reply:
Currently, I’m working on the research for a project that I hope will become my next novel. I’ve always been intrigued by Westerns and would like to try my hand at writing one. I’m fascinated, right now, less by the oft-told tales of the prairies and plains and more by the less-told ones of the mining communities that sprang up in the middle of the country.

I love research generally, but the moments when I find a book that points out something totally insightful that I’ve sort of intuited but not fully expressed to myself are my favorites. Right now, I’m reading such a book, Rocky Mountain Mining Camps: The Urban Frontier by Duane A. Smith from 1974.

He puts his finger directly on something I’d been observing for months, but not in quite so many words: unlike traditional cowboy stories or yarns of bringing law-and-order to rough and tumble tiny settlements, “The mining camp represented something different and, for the most part, new in the American frontier experience: urbanization” (4).

This concept of the “urban frontier” illuminates a great deal and is helping me put my own finger on why this milieu attracts me so much.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

My Book, The Movie: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

Writers Read: Kathleen Rooney (July 2022).

The Page 69 Test: Where Are the Snows.

--Marshal Zeringue