Saturday, September 30, 2023

John Keyse-Walker

John Keyse-Walker practiced law for 30 years, representing business and individual clients, educational institutions and government entities. He is an avid salt- and freshwater angler, a tennis player, kayaker and an accomplished cook. He lives in Ohio and Florida with his wife.

Sun, Sand, Murder, the first book in Keyse-Walker's Teddy Creque mystery series, won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. It was followed by Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed and Palms, Paradise, Poison. The newest Teddy Creque mystery is Reefs, Royals, Reckonings.

Recently I asked Keyse-Walker about what he was reading. His reply:
There always seem to be three books on my radar screen at any one time - one I have recently finished, one I am in the midst of and one waiting patiently on deck. Here they are:

Recently finished — Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I’d put off reading this masterpiece for years because of its daunting length (over 800 pages). That was a mistake. This is the quintessential Western Novel and should be on everyone’s reading list. Its exploration of the cowboy life is riveting, brutal, beautiful and almost poetic in quality. I decided to defeat the length by reading it in small bites when I was traveling on airplanes. It took over a year but it was a testament to the quality of the writing and the story that whenever the next flight came, I was able to pick the book up and be immediately engaged again.

In the midst of — Beartown by Fredrik Backman. This book explores life in a small Scandinavian forest town obsessed with its junior hockey team but it could as easily be about a Texas town and high school football or an Indiana county and its boys basketball team. Backman has the small town feel down pat and then throws a violent act into the mix, disrupting lives and the hopes that the town had. Out of the disruption, though, new strengths emerge for some of the characters. This is supposed to be a book about a town and a game but it is really about people and how they react when turmoil visits.

On deck — The Wicked Pavilion by Dawn Powell. Dawn Powell was a friend of Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and E.E. Cummings. I had not heard of her, despite the famous company she kept. She is known for her acid-toughed prose and sharp wit. Hemingway called her his favorite living American writer. The Wicked Pavilion in the book is the Cafe Julian, a place to see and be seen, fall into and out of love, cadge money and puncture the reputations of others, which if her contemporaries are to be believed, Powell does better than anybody. It sounds like wicked fun.
Visit John Keyse-Walker's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sun, Sand, Murder.

My Book, The Movie: Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed.

The Page 69 Test: Palms, Paradise, Poison.

Q&A with John Keyse-Walker.

The Page 69 Test: Bert and Mamie Take a Cruise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 25, 2023

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's new novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. 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 The Letters of T.E. Lawrence:
On August 2, 1909, T. E. Lawrence, five days before his twenty-first birthday, wrote a letter to his mother in which he told her that he had “left Beyrout not long after the beginning of July, and walked straight to Sidon (30 miles or so),” and that “everywhere one finds remains of splendid Roman roads and houses and public buildings, and Galilee was the most Romanized province of Palestine.” This letter, more than 4500 handwritten words in length, is one of 583 letters included in The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, published in 1938. The first letter, also to his mother, was written August 4, 1906; the last, to Henry Williams, was written May 13, 1935, a few days before his death. Forty-six of the letters were written to his publisher, Edward Garnett; fourteen to E. M. Forster, the author of Passage To India, who became one of Lawrence’s close friends; nine to Bernard Shaw, who thought Seven Pillars of Wisdom a very great book; and seven to Robert Graves, whose book, Goodbye To All That, is essential to understanding what the First World War did to those who fought it.

Ten letters were written to John Buchan, an English writer and diplomat, who was convinced that Lawrence’s letters “will rank as high as any of his books, because they show nearly all the facets of his character.” Buchan, who knew everyone of importance, and considered Lawrence “the only man of genius I have ever known,” understood him, perhaps, better than anyone had. When he met him in 1920, “his whole being was in grave disequilibrium. You cannot in any case be nine times wounded, five times in an air crash, have many bouts of fever and dysentery, and finally at the age of twenty-nine take Damascus at the head of an Arab army, without living pretty near the edge of your strength.”

The letters Lawrence wrote read like a novel: everything he does, everything that happens to him, everything he tries, everything he learns, all follow in the ordered sequence of a well-told story; everything , from the very beginning to the very last letter, leading to a conclusion that seems not just appropriate, but inevitable. The twenty year old who decides to write, “a comparison of the castles built by the Crusaders in Syria and Palestine with those of Western Europe;” the twenty year old who, as he wrote on September 22, 1909, had walked more than 1100 miles and seen all but one of “37 out of the 50 odd castles” that “were on my proposed route,” and, in part of the journey, had been “the first European visitor;” the twenty year old who did this was, at the beginning of the war, the only Englishman who knew what the Syrian desert, was like.

In the autumn of 1914, he wrote to a friend about putting together, for the British command in Cairo, a complete map of Sinai. The map was eighteen feet by eighteen feet. “Some of it was accurate, and the rest I invented.” That was not all Lawrence invented. Toward the end of December, he wrote about the situation in Cairo: “There wasn’t an Intelligence Department, it seemed, and they thought all was well without it: - till it dawned on them that nobody in Egypt knew about Syria…so they changed their minds about sending us flying as a good riddance - and set us to collect intelligence instead.” Three months later - March 22, 1915 - he had formulated the strategy of the Arab Revolt he would lead: he will “roll up Syria by way of the Hejaz in the name of the Sherif,” and then “rush right up to Damascus, and biff the French out of all hope of Syria. It is a big game, and at last one worth playing.”

There was not time to write many letters during the war, but those he wrote, and what he wrote in the Arab Bulletin that was circulated among British officials, add a new, and different, light on what happened, than what he wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. When Akaba was taken, after what was thought an impossible journey to the sea coast city from across the desert, he writes that Auda, the leader of one of the most warlike Arab tribes, “had a narrow escape, since two bullets smashed his glasses, one pierced his revolver holster, three struck his sheathed sword, and his horse was killed under him. He was wildly pleased with the whole affair.”Lawrence was less pleased with what had happened to him. In a letter written from Akaba on September 24, 1917, he expressed the hope that “when the nightmare ends…I will wake up and become alive again. This killing and killing of Turks is horrible when you charge in at the finish and find them all over the place in bits, and still alive many of them, and know that you have done hundreds in the same way and must do hundreds more if you can.”

Lawrence may have regretted what he had to do; he never doubted that he had to do it. There were rules in war, but God help the Turks if the rules were broken. With cruel honesty, Lawrence recounted what happened after the Turks took the village of Tapas and raped all the women they could catch. Sherif Bey, the Turkish commander, ordered all the inhabitants killed, including two small children and forty women, one of whom had been forced down on a bayonet. One of the sheiks who rode with Lawrence was so enraged by this, that he “galloped at full speed into the midsts of the retiring column and fell, himself and his mare, riddled with machine gun bullets, among their lance points.” With Auda’s encouragement, Lawrence ordered “No prisoners!”

Despite the order, two hundred fifty Turks were taken alive. “Later, however, they found one of our men with a fractured thigh who had been afterwards pinned to the ground by two mortal thrusts with German bayonets. Then we turned our Hotchkiss on the prisoners and made an end of them, they saying nothing.” Lawrence does not apologize for this. To those who criticized the Arabs for what they had done, he answered that “they had not entered Tura or Tapas, or watched the Turks swing their wounded by the hands and feet into a burning railway truck, as had been the lot of the Arab army at Jerdun.” With all he had seen and done, it is no great wonder that when the war was finally over, he would sit at his mother’s table in the morning and, without moving at all, stare straight ahead for hours.

After the war, Lawrence was determined to do two things: make certain the Arabs would get what they had been promised and to write a true account of the Arab Revolt. The settlement of the Arab situation, which took place during 1921 and 1922, a settlement made by Winston Churchill, “in which I shared, honorably fulfils the whole of the promises we made to the Arabs, in so far as the so-called British sphere, are concerned,” he wrote in a letter of October 1929. “If we had done this in 1919 we could have been proud of ourselves.” The true account he wanted to write, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, took four years, years in which, “I gave it all my nights and days till I was nearly blind and mad.” He didn’t think it good enough to publish, but he wrote to Bernard Shaw that, “I’m shamed forever if I am the sole chronicler of an event, and fail to chronicle it: and yet unless what I’ve written can be made better I’ll burn it.” If Shaw reads it, and comes to the same conclusion, “you will give me courage to strike the match.”

Shaw read it, thought it one of the greatest things ever written, and, among his other suggestions, advised him to eliminate the introduction because it was likely to give offense to some of those still living. This was unfortunate. It removed, among other things, the following:

“Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, and make it possible. This I did. I meant to make a new nation, to restore to the world a lost influence, to give twenty million of Semites the foundation on which to build an inspired dream-place of their national thoughts.” He had at least made a start: “I have fitted these people for the new commonwealth in which the dominant races will forge their brute achievements, and white and red and yellow and brown and black will stand up together without side-glances in the service of the world.”

Lawrence continued to consider Seven Pillars a failure, a “hopeless failure partly because my aim was so high.” Everyone else, not just Bernard Shaw, everyone of intelligence and experience, thought it a remarkable achievement, better, by far, than what most other writers had done. Comparisons, however, had no relevance for Lawrence: “Better perhaps than some, than many, almost - but I do not care for relatives, for matching myself against my kind. There is an ideal standard somewhere and only that matters: and I cannot find it.” He tried. He was always reading what others wrote, reading with an eye to how something was done, how a writer achieved an effect other writers could not. In a letter to the publisher F.N. Doubleday, he wrote one of the most insightful things ever written about Joseph Conrad:
“You know, publishing Conrad must be a rare pleasure. He’s absolutely the most haunting thing in prose that ever was. I wish I knew how every paragraph he writes (Do you notice they are all paragraphs: he seldom writes a single sentence?) goes on sounding in waves like the note of a tenor bell, after it stops. It’s not built on the rhythm of ordinary prose, but as something existing only in his head, and as he can never say what it is he wants to say, all his things end in a kind of hunger, a suggestion of something he can’t say or do or think. So his books always look bigger than they are.”
In another letter, written that same year, he explains that, “prose depends on a music in one’s head which involuntarily chooses and balances the possible words to keep tune with the thought.” Music like this is not given to everyone. “Half the books I pick up, now a days,” he wrote in l931, “seem to have no raison d’ĂȘtre: one does not feel that the writer would have burst if he had not got it out. And that discourages me, for I would like my work, if any, to feel like that.”

Lawrence wrote with a fountain pen, and not with a typewriter, because it was impossible “to think…direct on to the instrument Now, with a pen I can hold my fancy in leash and write what my mind dictates or approves.” He had the same disregard for the modern obsession with historical documents: “The documents are liars. No man ever yet tried to write down the entire truth of any action in which he has been engaged All narrative is parti pris. And to prefer an ancient written statement to the guiding of your own instinct through the maze of related facts, is to encounter either banality or unreadableness. We know too much, and use too little knowledge.”

Lawrence had, from the very beginning, wanted to make a new nation, and so he led the Arab Revolt, and then wrote about it so the story would be told and become a reminder that great things could still be done. But he wanted more than that; he wanted, finally, to understand his own moral standing. He had been so much at liberty to decide what he, and all the others involved in the Arab Revolt, should do, he was not sure if what he had done had been morally justified. By “putting all the troubles and dilemmas on paper, I hoped to work out my path again and satisfy myself how wrong, or how right, I had been.” Seven Pillars, he concluded, was “the self-argument of a man who couldn’t then see straight: and who now thinks that perhaps it did not matter: that seeing straight is only an illusion. We do these things in sheer vapidity of mind, not deliberately, not consciously even. To make out that we were reasoned cool minds, ruling our courses and contemporaries, is a vanity. Things happen, and we do our best to keep in the saddle.”

Lawrence despised fame, and despised himself for sometimes liking that he had become famous. It was, for him, no way to live, with journalists showing up all hours of the day and night wherever he happened to be. He had refused to take any money from Seven Pillars, or any of its abridgments, donating the money to those injured in the war. He talked Alexander Korda out of making a movie about Lawrence of Arabia. He sought, and found, escape in the anonymity of a private volunteer in the Royal Air Force, serving under a different name. He tried to explain this to Bernard Shaw:
I just can’t help it. You see, I’m all smash inside: and I don’t want to look prosperous or be prosperous, while I know that. And on the easy level with the other fellows in the R.A.F. I feel safe: and often I forget that I’ve ever been different…. It would be so easy and so restful just to let sanity go and drop into the dark, but that can’t happen while I work and meet simple-hearted people all day long. However, if you don’t see it, I can’t explain it.
Lawrence, famous around the world as Lawrence of Arabia, could have made a fortune writing, or giving lectures, about himself, but lived instead in the privacy of his air force work and the privacy of his mind, writing the kind of letters we have now, in our hurry to tell everyone in ten short words everything we know, forgotten how to write. Of these years in which he avoided the fame and the money and the celebrity everyone else prized, he wrote: “My last ten years have been the best of my life.”
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.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 22, 2023

Linda L. Richards

Linda L. Richards is the award-winning author of over one dozen books. The founder and publisher of January Magazine and a contributing editor to the crime fiction blog The Rap Sheet, she is best known for her strong female protagonists in the thriller genre. Richards is from Vancouver, Canada and currently makes her home in Phoenix, Arizona.

Her latest novel is Dead West.

Recently I asked Richards about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I am reading The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin. I have not read this book before, and yet it gives me the feeling of getting back to my roots as a crime fictionist. I’ll tell you why. The Edgar-Award winning novel came out in 1958. It has the slow burn and languorous pace of a Patricia Highsmith novel, where you find yourself with your heart in your throat and you can’t even imagine how it got there.

In The Hours Before Dawn, an overworked and undervalued young mom takes in a boarder who soon appears to be not quite what she seems. This is proto suspense thriller done to perfection. I can’t wait to see where this one goes.

Fremlin was the author of 16 novels, many of them, as British author Lucy Lethbridge has said, “centering round the home as the harbour of a particularly horrible, intimate, terror.”
Visit Linda L. Richards's website.

My Book, The Movie: Endings.

The Page 69 Test: Endings.

Q&A with Linda L. Richards.

The Page 69 Test: Exit Strategy.

The Page 69 Test: Dead West.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Clay McLeod Chapman

Clay McLeod Chapman writes novels, comic books, and children's books, as well as for film and TV. He is the author of the horror novels The Remaking, Whisper Down the Lane, and Ghost Eaters. He also co-wrote Quiet Part Loud, a horror podcast produced by Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw for Spotify.

Chapman's new novel is What Kind of Mother.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished the one-two punch of Josh Malerman’s Spin a Black Yarn and Ronald Malfi’s They Lurk. I would wholeheartedly recommend a double bill of these books back-to-back.

First off, they’re both novella collections, so you’re getting bite-sized Malermans and Malfis.


But most of all, I feel like you’re seeing these two authors—authors who I admire and aspire to emulate—at their most playful. These two are masters of modern horror. Let there be no doubt: They have staked their claim at the top of Mount Monstrosity. They are living legends.

Reading Malerman’s “Half the House is Haunted” is a masterclass in nightmare inception. He plants an idea in your head—my head—and it just won’t leave me be. I’m still thinking about it.

Reading Malfi’s “The Stranger” is nihilistic comedy at its blackest. The horror is in how far he goes, the depths that he descends, and how there’s something so cosmically awful about it all, that you just can’t help but laugh. Cackle, actually. It’s madness at its pitchest and I loved it.

Other choice cuts—for me—are Malerman’s “Argyle” and Malfi’s “Skullybelly,” but really, any one of these novellas is a meal in of themselves. There’s so much to love here. You feel the authors having fun, positing these nightmarish notions and then simply going to town.

So grab yourself a copy of both and have yourself a Malerman/Malfi sandwich! Yummy in the tummy!
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.

The Page 69 Test: What Kind of Mother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 11, 2023

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of eleven Tom Harper mysteries, eight highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and five Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Nickson's newest book is Rusted Souls, the final book in the Tom Harper series.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Nickson's reply:
Although born and raised in Britain, and now back living there, I spent three decades in the US. As a music journalist I was very aware of Britpop in the 90s, and reviewed a fair bit of it. But I didn't have the story in a British context. Reading Daniel Rachel's Don't Look Back In Anger, which covers the entire Cool Britannia period of the 90s, along with Animal House by James Brown, the story of his magazine, Loaded, and Dylan Jones's Faster Than A Cannonball: 1995 And All That (which covers more than just that year) gives me a full picture of a time I never experienced over here directly. Honestly, I'm not sure I missed much. Not research, just curiosity

There's also fiction. Patrick O'Brian's Blue At The Mizzen takes me back into the world of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, such perfectly drawn characters that it's always like a visit with old friends. In a Little Free Library yesterday I found Jay McInerney's debut Bright Lights, Big City, which made such an impact in the mid 80s. I read and loved it back then, but would something so much of the period hold up? I've barely begun it, but so far the answer is yes: much of the writing is as good as I recall.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Rusted Souls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 7, 2023

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 for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and published by Texas Review Press in Fall 2022.

Rooney's new novel is From Dust to Stardust.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Back in January, I asked my friend Cassandra Gillig—who always has the best book recommendations—if she had read any books lately that I absolutely must know about, and she recommended Jill Johnston’s The Disintegration of a Critic.

Released by Sternberg Press in 2019, it’s a collection of 30 pieces that Johnston—feminist, cultural critic, and lesbian icon—first published in her weekly Village Voice column between 1960 and 1974. Cassandra described the texts as being “all so messy & fun” and said that they “frequently veer into a terrain of almost too off-topic before getting back on track in a way nothing else could.” Now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading the essays, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Every page is full of goofy wordplay and poetic lyricism and astute political observations and clear-eyed cultural commentary, like when she writes “Life is a raincheck to oblivion” or explains that:
It is not easy to see. Outside the theatre, living as we do, most of us see very little with our eyes wide open. In action the eye absorbs space forms to function; in repose the eye becomes a facial decoration as sight turns inward. And our training is such that when we do look for non-functional reasons, it is usually at something huge and spectacular, like cathedrals or sunsets. And even then it is rare to see more than a general outline. Or to see more and still enter. That is the crucial transition, from seeing to entering. Not only crucial but mysterious so I won’t say any more except to note that I think that most people who go to dance concerts don't see very well, not even dancers, sometimes especially dancers, and most often critics, who must attend special classes in becoming blind.
Johnston gets the reader to see and to enter. And Cassandra never misses.
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.

The Page 69 Test: Where Are the Snows.

The Page 69 Test: From Dust to Stardust.

My Book, The Movie: From Dust to Stardust.

Q&A with Kathleen Rooney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Sung J. Woo

Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written four novels, Deep Roots (2023), Skin Deep (2020), Love Love (2015), and Everything Asian (2009), which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award. In 2022, his Modern Love essay from The New York Times was adapted by Amazon Studios for episodic television. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.

Recently I asked Woo about what he was reading. His reply:
The book I'm "reading" right now is Robert A. Caro's The Path to Power, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1. I'm wrapping quotes around the word "reading" because I'm listening to the book on audiobook, or more accurately, book on tape that's been converted over to mp3s (what a convoluted world we live in!). They really are conversions, as I'm told over and over again that the book is continued on the other side of the cassette or on the next cassette.

Previous to this aural undertaking, I listened to all 66 hours of The Power Broker, Caro's first book about Robert Moses. It took me about six months to get through it, and what I'll never forget is the weird feeling I got near the end, when Moses' power was waning and I was filled with sadness. Looking back, I believe it was a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. Let me explain: Moses was not a great guy. In fact, even though he did amazing things for the state of New York, building countless bridges and highways in record time, he was also a terrible racist and a power-mongering monster. And yet, when I saw him getting older and slowly losing his grip on the city and its surroundings, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. All credit to Caro for painting such a nuanced, complicated portrait of a man.

I've just started listening to the first LBJ book (2 hours into a 36 hours), and it's every bit as riveting already as The Power Broker. I love how Caro goes all the way, way back to LBJ's roots, to the land itself, the deceptive Hill Country of Texas. No wonder that growing up, LBJ's nickname was Bull -- not because of the steer, but of bullshit. What a tangled web he wove into the fabric of America and the world.
Visit Sung J. Woo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Asian.

My Book, The Movie: Skin Deep.

Q&A with Sung J. Woo.

The Page 69 Test: Skin Deep.

My Book, The Movie: Deep Roots.

The Page 69 Test: Deep Roots.

--Marshal Zeringue