Wednesday, July 23, 2014

M.D. Waters

M.D. Waters lives with her family in Maryland. She is the author of Archetype and its newly released sequel, Prototype.

Recently I asked Waters about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently in the middle of Amped by Daniel H. Wilson, which takes a very likely future and sets us in the worst possible outcome. What if we could use technology to, not only make us smarter, but control seizures and other such medical issues? What if the human race got scared because the technology worked? What if the government listened to our fears and decided to take action? There’s a paragraph inside this book that I thought really summed up the answer:
The teenagers don’t run away like I half expect them to. Instead, they surround me quickly, naturally. Gathered around me, they take on a new form. Each of these kids might be okay on his own, but together they’re a hydra: one monster, three heads.
With a government (one monster) supported by a multitude of terrified voices (three heads) the outcome is never good. Cut off one head, three more grow in its place.

It’s a frightening future Wilson is showing us in this book, and probable because most humans at their core are afraid of change. We lose perspective of the other side very easily, and in the case of this book, the other side holds human beings reacting with human emotion, and the instinct to survive.
Visit M. D. Waters's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 21, 2014

Susan Spann

Susan Spann is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing law and a former law school professor. She has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, knife and shuriken throwing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding.

Spann's newest novel is Blade of the Samurai.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Spann's reply:
I read a lot, and widely, so there’s always a nice selection on my desk.

One of my favorite, and fastest, recent reads was Kerry Schafer’s Dream Wars series, a trilogy of novellas that starts with The Dream Runner. Kerry’s a friend of mine, and I loved her novels, Between and Wakeworld, so when I saw she had a new release I jumped at the chance to read it. The Dream Runner tells the story of a young woman “drafted” into the service of a mysterious merchant who can sell a person any dream that his or her heart desires. Of course, the customers quickly learn that getting what you wished for isn’t always a good thing…

As a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, I’d recommend The Dream Runner (and the others in the Dream Wars series) to any fans of speculative fiction with a sci-fi twist.

Tonight, I’m starting Natalia Sylvester’s debut novel Chasing the Sun, about a man whose estranged wife is kidnapped in Lima, Peru, and the lengths he must go to in order to get her back. I met Natalia through The Debutante Ball blog, where I blogged as a member of the “class of 2013” and Natalia is just finishing her tenure with the 2014 “debs.” I’m looking forward to seeing her take on mystery, especially since the story was partly inspired by real events.

Meanwhile, on the nonfiction side of the aisle, I’m reading Eric Rath’s The Ethos of Noh: Actors and Their Art, about the development and history of Noh drama in Japan. It’s one of several research books I’m reading to fill in the fine details on the fourth Shinobi Mystery, Blood of the Outcast, which I’m working on this summer!
Visit Susan Spann's website.

My Book, The Movie: Blade of the Samurai.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rufi Thorpe

Rufi Thorpe received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. A native of California, she currently lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and son.

Thorpe's new novel is The Girls From Corona del Mar.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Because I have a two-year-old and all my adult-time hours are spent writing, I tend to mostly listen to audiobooks. And so I do dishes, fold laundry, and walk the dog with my head half in this world, half in an invented one, and for this I prefer the biggest, thickest, goopiest novels available. Maybe you will not know what I mean by goopy-- I want them to be viscous and clotted with people and places, an overabundance of character and detail, things I haven't seen or thought about, parts of the world I'd like to explore. I just listened to The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, about an early female pioneer of botany. I just adored it. There are many delightfully erotic passages about female masturbation, a subject very seldom explored, as well as really nuanced and elegant examinations of those few abiding philosophical questions: time, mortality, the meaning of life. It is hard to make those things fresh and authentic, and Gilbert does. Other goopy novels I adore: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, anything by Philip Roth, and Ann Patchett, particularly State of Wonder. Oh, and the audio version of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is simply magnificent. It’s a must listen.

At night, I do read on paper after my son falls asleep, but I tend to choose slenderer novels where I want to focus solely on the prose. I just finished Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me, and I was very impressed by it. She allows her ballet dancers to be true athletes and leaves all the known tropes about aspiring dancers behind, instead giving us a world where people have pushed their bodies to the edge of what is humanly possible in a way that also deforms their lives and their hearts. In its best moments, it reminded me of Willa Cather's Song of the Lark.
Visit Rufi Thorpe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Alecia Whitaker

Alecia Whitaker is the author of The Queen of Kentucky and Wildflower.

Earlier this month I asked the writer about what she was reading. Whitaker's reply:
I just finished The Book Thief and boy has that one stayed with me. It's so hard to imagine being without the things we take for granted in our first world country, like a good meal and the freedom to speak our mind about our government. Speaking of, it's also absolutely bonkers to me to think that the propaganda machine that was Hitler's Germany was able to convince and coerce its citizens to participate in such crimes of hate. I feel so thankful, especially on this Fourth of July weekend, to live in a democratic nation.

Besides that, I am reading Since Last Summer by Joanna Philbin and I'm loving getting back into the lives of Rory and Isabel. Since I just finished writing the sequel to my new release, Wildflower, it was great talking to Joanna recently about her experience writing a sequel.

The next book on my list to read is Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. It's a story that sounds very similar to Wildflower and after speaking to Emery on the phone today, we are both so excited to learn that our books really are the perfect companion novels. This is especially exciting since we are having an author appearance event together at Joseph-Beth Books in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. Our fans should cross-over beautifully!
Visit Alecia Whitaker's website.

Writers Read: Alecia Whitaker (February 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

D. A. Mishani

D. A. Mishani is a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature. His first novel, The Missing File, was the first book in his literary crime series introducing the police inspector Avraham Avraham. His new novel featuring the inspector is A Possibility of Violence.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Mishani's reply:
There are books that while reading them you already know that will appear in any "Best books I've ever read" lists that you'd do in the future. There are books that while reading them you know that will change the way you read and even write. And I'm so happy to say that I've just finished reading one of those books. It's called Job: The Story of a Simple Man. It was written by Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth and translated to English by the wonderful Michael Hofmann. I came by it quite accidently, after a long dry period of not finding the right book, a period that ended immediately with the first lines of the charged, direct and poetic prose of Joseph Roth.

Job tells the story of a Jewish family from Eastern Europe in the beginning of the twentieth century. The father, Mendel Singer, is a poor teacher of Hebrew. He's married to Deborah, who gives birth to three normal children, and then to Menuchim.

Menuchim is a disfigured, mute, baby. He seems hopeless but when his mother visits the local Rabbi he promises that the disfigured son would recover someday. The Singers wait years and years for his recovery (even when they leave him in Russia and immigrate to New York) and their hopeful waiting gradually becomes a metaphor, or even a few: a metaphor to the Jewish people's long hope for salvation, a metaphor to our individual expectation that one of these days our defects will disappear and our lives will be redeemed, even a metaphor to the reading process and the reader's wish for a happy ending.

I truly envy those of you who'll start reading this novel, which I can only re-read but not experience again for the first time…
Learn more about the book and author at D. A. Mishani's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Missing File.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing File.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lisa See

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.

See's new novel is China Dolls.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. See's reply:
I’m reading three books right now. All three of these seemingly unrelated books are actually connected to research I’m doing for my next book. Mmmm…what could it possibly be about?

I’ve been reading Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling for about a year. Pu Songling was a failed imperial scholar, who, in the 17th-century, traveled around China, collecting hundreds of stories of fox spirits, ghosts, demons, vampires, enchanted objects, and other eerie creatures and happenings. Pu referred to himself as the Historian of the Strange, and all the stories are presented as being “true.” Some of them are very short – a paragraph or two, while others are as long as twenty pages. They make very good bedtime reading, except when they’re too scary.

I’ve always loved books on science that I can actually understand. I guess you’d call the genre popular science. I recently returned from a research trip to Yunnan province, considered the birthplace of tea. Yunnan is a global biodiversity hotspot. There are more animal and plant species in that single province than altogether in the rest of China. It also has more ethnic minorities than the rest of the provinces in China combined. This made me turn to The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. He isn’t writing about China by any means, but he is attempting to answer the questions I’ve been asking myself about the unique qualities of Yunnan. Why and how did this become a biodiversity hotspot? What is it about the particular plants, animals, and humans that has allowed them to survive and thrive? That’s where his concept of the selfish gene comes in.

In preparation for my trip to Yunnan, I read The Classic of Tea written in the 8th century by Lu Yu. Today, even as it was in Lu Yu’s time, tea was the second most popular drink in the world. He set out to find the universal through the particular of tea. I find it amazing—thrilling even—that so much of what he wrote still resonates today.
Visit Lisa See's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ann Garvin

Ann Garvin is a professor of health and nutrition at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater; she also teaches creative writing in the Masters of Fine Arts program at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Garvin is the author of the novels On Maggie’s Watch and the newly released The Dog Year.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Garvin's reply:
I’m in the middle of two books and they are competing for my attentions lately. The two are so different from each other that it’s not much of a competition in either direction. I’m re-reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving because it is such a favorite of mine. What could I ever say about a book published by John Irving, except that reading it will only enhance your writing, your life and the way you view the world. In an Introduction to 3 by Irving (Random House) Terrence Des Pres wrote, “I think Irving tells the hardest kind of truth, but in the telling insists upon the freedom to have fun.” This to me is what makes a book great.

Jami Attenberg’s book The Middlesteins is my second read and I am taking my own sweet time with it. I had the remarkable experience of spending a week with Jami while teaching in an MFA together. Meeting Jami, hearing her read, and now reading her books is the richest of experiences. Jami (both in her writing and in person is approachable, grounded, kind, and funny and The Middlesteins is that largely buzzed book that deserves all the amplification. I just love it when the good guys get what they deserve.
Visit Ann Garvin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cammie McGovern

Cammie McGovern was born in Evanston, Illinois, but moved to Los Angeles when she was seven years old. She is the author of three adult novels, The Art of Seeing, Eye Contact, and Neighborhood Watch.

Her new YA novel, Say What You Will, was published by HarperTeen in June, 2014. McGovern currently lives in Amherst, MA, with her husband and three sons, the oldest of whom is autistic.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. McGovern's reply:
Because I was an adult author before making a recent conversation to YA with Say What You Will, I’m particularly drawn to books targeted for YA that will also appeal to adults and vice versa (adult books that will appeal to teens.) In the latter camp, I have two books I’m re-reading because I loved them so much and they should absolutely have a wider teen audience, I think.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. This has all the terrifying thrill of a new dystopian grounded in the world of 13 year old, Julia, who wakes up one morning to a television news broadcast announcing that the earth has begun to slow its rotation. Daylight hours are thrown into flux as is time entirely. It’s a beautiful character study about family and friendships and what endures as these people face-down the unknown. It’s my 14 year-old son’s favorite (of my recommendations) and the only one he’s passed along to his friends who also loved it.

Land of the Blind by Jess Walter. For all of his new legion of fans after Beautiful Ruins, this is the second book he wrote, back in his mystery-writing days, and it has a glorious set-up: A man shows up at a police station, confesses to a murder, but won’t tell the poor over-worked, burned out female detective who he murdered and where the body is. He’s got to write it all down, he says. On legal pads. His story goes back to elementary school and high school and is some of the funniest, best, most haunting writing about the hierarchical class system of high school that I have ever read, bar none.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. by Gabreille Zevin I suspect every writer this spring is including this one on their list because it’s such a pleasure of a read for readers, writers, bookstore habitues. What surprised me in reading it was first, how funny and sweet and light it was, and then by the end, how sad and haunting it is. Absolutely worth the read for all bibliophiles, young and old.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. I’m re-reading this right now because I’m working on something where a group of teens are putting on a play and I wanted to figure out how they got the excitement of a theater production onto page (hard to do) but, reading it on page (I listened to it the first time) I’m even more impressed with it. So much is done so very well here—the friendship between a straight 17 year old and his gay best friend (how often have we seen this? Not often and yes, folks, it happens all the time in life), the funny/sad voice of another teen who’s been brutally betrayed by a so-called friend. I’d put this one way above some of Green’s other books that are sitting on the bestseller lists right now…
Visit Cammie McGovern's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Laura Lane McNeal

Laura Lane McNeal grew up in New Orleans, where she lives today with her husband and two sons. She graduated from Southern Methodist University. She also has an MBA from Tulane and ran her own marketing consulting firm in New Orleans.

McNeal's new novel is Dollbaby, her debut.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I don’t know about you, but I have several dozen books stacked in neat piles on the floor next to my bed, waiting for me to finish the other dozen that have actually made it onto the top of my bedside table. Yet none of these are what I picked up to read next. As with everything else in my life, I’m kind of a spur of the moment person – if I walk out of the door and see weeds in the garden, I start weeding. So one fine day a few weeks ago, I stopped by my mother’s house to drop a book off for her, and out of the corner of my eye, spotted a copy of Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup among the books in her bookshelf. All the hype about the movie made me recognize the title. That was your grandmother’s, my mother offered as she watched me flipping through the yellowed pages. Intrigued as to why my parents kept it after my grandmother died some twenty-five years ago, I borrowed it. It never made it upstairs, to the book pile. Instead, I parlayed all my afternoon activities to the ‘do tomorrow’ list and sat down and began reading. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when our city and my home were destroyed, I have devoured books about New Orleans history. (Also the impetus for me writing Dollbaby, by the way.) Twelve Years A Slave chronicles the real-life journey of Solomon Northup, a free man of color, who was abducted and brought to New Orleans, where he was sold into slavery. Most of the story takes place on the bayous of the Red River, not far from New Orleans. What captured my attention was the absolutely beautiful prose, free of vitriol, but full of lush descriptions of his incredible, yet heartbreaking journey. I had expected something different from a man who’d been yanked away from his family, whose freedom had been taken away, as far as he knew, forever. Yet his faith in mankind shows through in his writing. It is uplifting and poignant. He describes it best himself, in the last paragraphs of his book:
My narrative is at an end. I have no comments to make upon the subject of Slavery. Those who read this book may form their own opinions of the “peculiar institution.” What it may be in other states, I do not profess to know; what is in the region of the Red River, is truly and faithfully delineated in these page. This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture. I doubt not hundreds have been as fortunate as myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and are at this moment wearing out their lives on plantations in Texas and Louisiana. But I forbear. Chastened and subdued in spirit by the suffering I have borne, and thankful to that good Being through whose mercy I have been restored to happiness and liberty, I hope henceforward to lead an upright though lowly life, and rest at last in the church yard where my father sleeps.
Thank you Solomon Northup, for sharing your incredible story and showing by example what a man of courage truly is.
Visit Laura Lane McNeal's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dollbaby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Josh Weil

Josh Weil was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his debut collection, The New Valley. A National Book Award "Five Under Thirty-Five" author, he has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Columbia University, the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, and Sewanee. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Esquire, One Story, and Agni.

Weil's debut novel is The Great Glass Sea.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Weil's reply:
I’m reading some door stoppers these days. In particular, Anna Karenina. I’d never read it, and, since my novel is set in Russia, I figured I probably oughta crack the ol’ masterpiece open. And I’ve been happy to find the rest of the world’s not wrong: it is a masterpiece (of course). It’s also just hugely enjoyable, shot-through with such life, and simply humming with the complexities of human relationships. I’m loving it. Which isn’t as expected as it might seem. I’ve read a fair amount of classic Russian literature—Dead Souls, Crime and Punishment, Fathers and Sons…etc.—and I’m attracted to a lot about it, but I’m not someone who reveres the classics over contemporary fiction (I think the great writers today are doing work every bit as great as ones who came before) and I’ve often found myself losing patience with aspects of some of the classics that feel out-of-synch with what I love about reading my favorite literary writers today. I don’t feel that with Anna Karenina, though. It’s one of those classics that teaches me as I read it, that makes me recognize the debt we who are writing now do owe.

The other thick book I’m reading, I’m actually not reading—I’m listening to it on tape. The phrase ‘On tape’ dates me, I know, but that’s how I think of it. I did a 40 hour drive (to Colorado and back) and listened to Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country almost the entire way. It’s such a rich work of imagination. I’m a sucker for sinking into a landscape that comes alive around me and characters whose voices stick in mind, and this book has both. Plus Book 1, at least, is such a great example of how a rock-solid narrative backbone (a single question around which the story is wound) can free a writer up to in other ways. In this case the question of exactly how & why the main character is killed (set up right at the start) lets Matthiessen dip into a swirl of other aspects of the world, spend his time shaping relationships and painting place, without losing my attention. It’s masterfully done.

As is one of the bravest and best debuts I’ve seen in recent years—Mike Harvkey’s In the Course of Human Events. I read an early draft years ago, and was blown away. But I haven’t had the chance to read the published book until now. And now that I’m digging back into it I’m stuck by everything that I loved about it before—how it takes the reader into a world we’re reluctant to enter, and makes us want to stay there by bringing characters to life that we can’t help but fall for; how precise and hard-hitting the prose is—but I’m also seeing the way that weakness has been worked out of the story and it’s just such a ripping read now. By the time this post goes up, I’ll probably have moved on to something else—because that book’s gonna keep me up reading late till I’m done.

Burning the midnight oil, as they say. Which is an apt note for me close on, since the best non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time is one I just finished: Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox. It’s one of those works of creative non-fiction where the writing is as marvelous as the subject. And the subject is so utterly fascinating—it illuminates all sorts of corners of our human history. Though I’m especially interested in it because it bears on my writing right now: The Great Glass Sea takes place in a world where darkness has been eliminated from life and the story collection I’m currently working on, The Age of Perpetual Light, is tied to the novel by that same thread.

It’s funny, I was just going to write that the book I’m most looking forward to reading next doesn’t have anything to do with my own work—but I realized the title makes it seem as if it does (I swear, I didn’t set that up): Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
Visit Josh Weil's website.

--Marshal Zeringue