Monday, April 20, 2015

Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes is a former police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner, Dark Tide, Human Remains, and Under a Silent Moon, the first installment of the Briarstone crime series.

Her latest book is Behind Closed Doors, the second novel in the Briarstone series.

Recently I asked Haynes about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have just finished reading Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, a novel in which the protagonist is an American called Anna who is living in Zurich, Switzerland with her Swiss husband and children. In part, the story is an exploration of how it can feel to be an ex-pat – belonging to the community by marriage and residence and yet still remaining detached from it.

Anna’s detachment becomes more obvious as the reader progresses through the book. She seems happy enough and yet her behaviour – indulging in increasingly risky and apparently unfulfilling sexual liaisons – demonstrates otherwise. The narrative shows Anna’s disconnected life through snippets of scenes from her past, as well as brief interludes of her sessions with Jungian psychoanalyst Frau Doktor Messerli. It becomes apparent that Anna’s flighty affairs are as much to do with her retaining her free spirit as they are about her need to remain in control.

It’s this seeming paradox that kept me intrigued by Anna and sympathetic to her. I know from reviews of this book that some readers found it hard to connect with Anna, thought her unlikeable because of her apparently casual betrayal of her distant and yet not unkind husband, Bruno, and because she happily leaves her young children in the care of her mother-in-law while she gads about on the Zurich public transport system.

What struck me most deeply, however, possibly because of the detachment and how well it was shown through Anna’s behaviour, was that she was deeply, desperately unhappy.

I felt complete empathy with her because of this – as if she were a real, breathing person and not a character in the book. As a result, when Anna’s infidelities are brought to light in the most hideous of ways, the nightmarish destruction of the stable household that has facilitated Anna’s lifestyle is really quite traumatic.

I found the last twenty pages or so of Hausfrau both impossible to put down and very difficult to read. Without giving anything away, I wished and still wish for a different ending. It’s interesting to consider in a very general sense what is to be done with a character who transgresses; there should be opportunities for redemption as well as punishment, but finding the right ending for such a character is an undeniably difficult thing.

Even several days later I find myself thinking of Anna and her family, working my way through her story in my head and wondering how I would have told it. For a writer, Hausfrau is a masterclass in showing a character fragmenting through a developing crisis. For a reader, it’s a beautifully written, deeply unsettling and thrilling narrative exploring the nature of belonging – and I can highly recommend it.
Visit the official Elizabeth Haynes website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Haynes & Bea.

The Page 69 Test: Under a Silent Moon.

The Page 69 Test: Behind Closed Doors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Joyce E. Salisbury

Joyce E. Salisbury is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. She is the author of Perpetua’s Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman and The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages.

Her new book is Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire.

Recently I asked Salisbury about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot of books. I won’t describe the ones that informed Rome’s Christian Empress directly because the bibliography of the book does that. Here’s some of the books that I’ve read while waiting for my book to appear. I unrepentantly love mysteries, and the more complex the better. I’ve recently read Philip Kerr’s books whose protagonist is a non-Nazi detective in Nazi Germany – most recently, If the Dead Rise Not. I also really liked Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm, and the complex and riveting Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. To be honest, I also read every Jack Reacher novel as Lee Child cranks them out. (Tom Cruise was entirely too small to play the character in the movie!) I think I’m drawn to mysteries because to me the past is a puzzle that needs unraveling, though it’s never as tidy a resolution as a mystery novel.

I’ve also been traveling as I lecture on the British ship, Voyages to Antiquity, and I like to read novels that take place in the places I’m traveling. I enjoyed Rosanna Ley’s Return to Mandalay – plot was a little contrived, but it made me appreciate Myanmar more as we landed there. Preeta Samarasan’s Evening is the Whole Day is perfect when traveling in Malaysia. These books remind me to write about the setting of the past – not just the events.

Finally, right now I’m rereading some Dickens, which I do every now and then. I’m reading Little Dorrit because I don’t remember reading that one before. I occasionally like 19th century novels to remind me to take my time when I write and when I read. Sometimes a story is best savored, whether it is being told or read. Though I will never write so long a book as Dickens – I tend to tell the tale and move on to the next one.
Learn more about Rome's Christian Empress at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Rome's Christian Empress.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jon Land

Jon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor.

His new novel is Black Scorpion.

Recently I asked Land about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading Revival by Stephen King and loving it. I read authors, not just books. King is at the top of my list and Revival has all the elements that explain why. First and foremost, King is a great storyteller. And reading his stories when I was in college made me want to be a writer. Two of the best books I read last year were Doctor Sleep and Mr. Mercedes, both King tales that were entirely different from each other but both were wondrously entertaining. King invests you in the plight of his characters, makes you feel what they’re feeling. Revival features an ex-preacher obsessed with electricity whose path crosses for a second time with a man he knew as a young boy. It’s kind of a play on the classic Frankenstein-theme, a vision wholly realized and entirely satisfying. And that’s the thing that defines a book’s greatness: how much did it live up to the expectations I had going in? The ability of a writer like King to still scare the living hell out of me (Doctor Sleep), make me forget I’m on an airplane (Mr. Mercedes) or keep me up into the cold hours of the morning (Revival) is exactly what I aspire to do in my own books like Black Scorpion.
Visit Jon Land's website.

The Page 69 Test: Black Scorpion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2015

Joy Fielding

Joy Fielding is the New York Times bestselling author of Charley’s Web, Heartstopper, Mad River Road, See Jane Run, Shadow Creek, and other acclaimed novels.

Her latest thriller is Someone Is Watching.

Last month I asked Fielding about what she was reading. Her reply:
What am I reading? The unfortunate answer at the moment is "not very much." I've been so busy with my visiting grandchildren that my reading list consists mostly of books like An Armadillo in Paris and Are You My Mother? I did manage to finish two books of suspense - The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, both of which were okay, but not great - and I've started All the Light We Cannot See, which came highly recommended, and which I'm enjoying, although it's not like I can't wait to get back to it. I seem to be more in the mood for magazines these days, and I'm enjoying the new issue of Vanity Fair.
Visit Joy Fielding's website.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow Creek.

My Book, The Movie: Shadow Creek.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Adam Mitzner

Adam Mitzner's books include A Case of Redemption and A Conflict of Interest.

His new novel is Losing Faith.

Recently I asked Mitzner about what he was reading. His reply:
Unfortunately for me, most of my reading is either drafts of my next book, or briefs written by other lawyers in cases that I’m handling during my day job as a New York City lawyer. But, when I’m lucky enough to read for pleasure, my reading breaks down into three categories.

Books in my genre. I just finished The Girl on the Train, which I absolutely loved.

Books my wife recommends. These are usually a bit more literary. Right now, number one on her list for me to read is Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. It’s a long one, and so I may only read the first 200 pages or so, which I do with a lot of books and enjoy the beauty of the writing more than getting caught up in what is going to happen next. On the other hand, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (also by Chabon) weighed in at over 600 pages, and I loved every word of it. Of course, that might be because it had to do with comic books.

Books I read to my daughter before bed. Alice in Wonderland is presently on her nightstand.

All three types greatly aid me in my own writing. The Girl on the Train has me fascinated with the stories that revolve around unreliable narrators. The books my wife recommends almost invariably have a richness in language that I can only dream about duplicating someday, and reading to my daughter provides me with the daily reminder that there’s nothing more powerful than a good story.
Learn more about the book and author at Adam Mitzner's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Conflict of Interest.

My Book, The Movie: A Conflict of Interest.

The Page 69 Test: A Case of Redemption.

My Book, The Movie: A Case of Redemption.

The Page 69 Test: Losing Faith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Holly Robinson

Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir and the novels Beach Plum Island and Haven Lake. Her articles and essays appear frequently in The Huffington Post, More, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places.

Recently I asked Robinson about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a child, I read any book that fell into my hands. Ours was a small town, with a library the size of a postage stamp, so my mother and grandfather—also avid readers—would troll flea markets for used paperbacks and bring them home. Often, these were mysteries that were completely inappropriate for a child, so naturally I loved them. In this way I developed a thirst for any book with a mystery at the heart of its plot—anything from psychological thrillers to detective fiction, from cozy mysteries to emotional family mysteries like my new book, Haven Lake, with cobwebbed skeletons tumbling out of every closet.

When I find an author I love, I often binge read, devouring the books in order. My latest find is Ann Cleeves. She has been around for a while and has a couple of different series. Currently I'm following in the footsteps of her Inspector Vera Stanhope, most recently in the novel Telling Tales.

What do I love about these novels? Nearly everything, but let's start with the character of Vera Stanhope. Vera is the sort of detective who gets on with things. She is bossy, overweight, has eczema, can't stand weak or egotistical people, mourns her lack of romantic possibilities, and follows her dead-on instincts. Oh, and she loves a whiskey or two at the end of a day.

I'm also impressed by the authority with which Cleeves writes about the legal system—she has worked as a probation officer—and by how cleverly she creates a wild assortment of quirky peripheral characters. Her characters are all multidimensional, believable and apt to be flawed. I hardly ever guess the murderer's identity because the plots and characters are so complex.

Perhaps Cleeves's greatest skill, though, is her ability to describe settings in ways that amplify the emotions in her books. Again, this might be due to her background—she has worked as a bird observatory cook, and was with the auxiliary coastguard before she started writing—but she has a real sense of the natural world and how it impacts people who have to cope with the whims of nature. Even the smallest weather details are written with care, in a way that lets us know that trouble is brewing, like these descriptions for Telling Tales:

“Outside it was still raining, but a persistent drizzle. He thought this part of the country had more shades of grey than anywhere he had ever been in the world.” p. 75

Or: “The quiet spell of weather was over. There was a piercing east wind and rain with shards of ice in it, sharp and grey as flint.” p. 184

Her descriptions also give us a strong sense of what life is like in marginal towns where the economy has tanked along with the weather. Here's a great example of that:

“The tide was out when they arrived at the river. There were acres of ridged sand and mud, which seemed to stretch almost all the way to the Lincolnshire coast. A cloud of small wading birds, gathered like insects into a swarm, rose in a cyclone above them then settled back onto the mud. The hull of a clinker-built boat rotted upturned on the shore. There was a rough car park containing a red telephone box, a notice board, which might once have given details of how to contact the coastguard but which had faded into illegibility, and a white wooden post with a lifebelt attached.” p. 275

Ann Cleeves makes me believe that evil lies in the hearts of even the most seemingly well-adjusted small town residents. I want to go along with Inspector Vera Stanhope as she finds out who did what, and why. Then I want to sit in the pub with her and raise a glass of whiskey to cheer her on for being fearless, clever, and apt as not to speak her mind.
Visit Holly Robinson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wishing Hill.

The Page 69 Test: Beach Plum Island.

Coffee with a Canine: Holly Robinson & Leo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Claire Kells

Claire Kells was born outside Philadelphia and has lived in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco since graduating from Princeton University in 2005. An English major, she didn’t start writing fiction until her first year of medical school. Now a second-year resident, she spends her free time writing stories about love, loss, and adventure.

Her debut novel is Girl Underwater.

Recently I asked Kells about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I just recently finished this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Well-plotted, well-paced, with intriguing characters that kept me guessing until the end. I would definitely recommend this to fans of psychological and/or domestic thrillers.

The Martian by Andy Weir. I started this book about a month ago, and I can’t help but appreciate the depth of research that must have gone into creating such a vivid, realistic portrayal of life on Mars. The protagonist has a very distinctive voice, which really draws me into his world. Overall well-researched, well-written, well done.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. Clearly I’m a fan of the domestic thriller! I loved this author’s writing style—spare but sure, which kept the story moving. Oftentimes I’ll read a book written from multiple POV’s and find it hard to differentiate the characters from one another, but that was not the case here. I’m really looking forward to her next one.

On my TBR shelf (not yet released):

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio. I’ve heard such wonderful things about this book, which is about an intersex teenager struggling with her identity. This author is a urologist and therefore more than qualified to write about this challenging subject.

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I don’t often read fantasy, but I always love it when I do. This one sounds a little different than the standard dystopian fare.

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews. This author’s debut, Red Sparrow, was the best book I read last year. I can’t wait for this one.
Visit Claire Kells's website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Underwater.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shanna Mahin

Shanna Mahin is a middle-aged, high school dropout with a fierce desire to overcome what her 9th-grade English teacher predicted would be a lifetime of wasted potential. She mourns his passing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the missed opportunity to point out that she has finally transcended a lifetime of shitty jobs—including dog walker (which was actually kind of great), cook, telemarketer, celebrity personal assistant, theme restaurant waitress, and failed drug dealer, all of which she feels comfortable saying, because the statute of limitations has got to be up by now—to become a bona fide writer. Yep. For money and everything.

Recent fellowships and residencies include the MacDowell Colony, the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, PEN Center USA Emerging Voices, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Writers at Work, and the Eda Kriseova Creative Nonfiction Fellowship at the Prague Summer Program, among others.

Mahin's new novel is Oh! You Pretty Things.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This. I picked it up because I loved his book on writing (Naming the World), and also because I bought a skateboard that has the book cover screened on it as part of a fundraiser for PEN Center USA. I don’t think you’re allowed to own a skateboard with an image of a book you’ve never read. And Oh My God. It’s so, so good. It’s such a magical blend of beautiful, literary writing (which makes sense, since he teaches at Bennington) and page-turning plot twists. It’s a brutal, violent, heart-wrenching story, but there’s virtually no violence on the page. I’m looking forward to reading it again (and again) to break down how he did that. It’s really something.

I always think I don’t like dystopian work (why do I think that?), so I probably wouldn’t have chosen Find Me if it hadn’t been written by Laura van den Berg, and that would have been a shame because it’s fantastic. Wait, am I using that word wrong? Do I mean post-apocalyptic? It’s kind of both. Like Bret Anthony Johnston’s book, it’s a perfect blend of fast-paced story and exquisite writing. When did all these literary writers get so damn good at high concept storytelling? I’ve been a fan of hers since her first book of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, but I went into this book squinting, partly because of the dystopian angle and partly because I sometimes find people who are great short story writers are often, well, less great novelists. Not so here.

Right now I’m reading Christopher Noxon’s Plus One, which is shaping up to be a scathingly funny send up of Hollywood celebrity culture, a subject close to my heart because it’s the same territory my book explores. I found him because we’re speaking on a panel together at the L.A. Times Festival of Books in late April. I’m trying to figure out a way to make him my new best friend. I’m going to start with alcohol. If that doesn’t work, maybe cupcakes.
Visit Shanna Mahin's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Shanna Mahin & Riley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Moriah McStay

Moriah McStay attended Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Two graduate degrees and seven jobs later, she’s finally figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. Now she lives in Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband and three daughters. She’s happy with all the choices and chances that brought her there.

Everything That Makes You is her first novel for teens.

Late last month I asked the author about what she was reading. McStay's reply:
As a 2015 YA debut, most of the books I’ve read recently have yet to come out. (Some of my favorites have been The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, so keep an eye out for those.)

However, I just enjoyed a leisurely week at the beach, during which I devoured The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Like most of Mitchell’s books, it’s hard to pinpoint what The Bone Clocks is about. It begins in England in 1984, as fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes runs away from home to live with her much older boyfriend. The first section is told from Holly’s point of view. We see her on and off through the rest of the book, in chapters told through other characters. The final section is once again hers, sixty or so years later.

Like Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks takes significant leaps of time and jumps heads in a way that’s not altogether clear, at first. While I think Cloud Atlas was the better book—pure genius, really—Mitchell performs the same magic with The Bone Clocks, masterfully weaving storylines through at the end. Various themes run through this book—love, classism, have-and-have-nots, mortality and the stretch of time. It’s a dense, beautifully written thing, with just the right amount of strange thrown in. I was happily surprised by some overlapping characters and plot point from two of his other books, Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I have no idea if he planned the connections ahead of time or if they occurred to him while writing, but it’s a great little treat for those who read those prior. Mitchell’s written several other books I haven’t read, and my curiosity has been piqued. I want to know what other little secrets hide in those books.
Visit Moriah McStay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kirker Butler

Kirker Butler has worked as a lifeguard, a country music DJ, a Tommy Hilfiger Jeans specialist, a medical supply deliveryman, a Christian music DJ, a bartender, a precious jewelry clerk, a prop PA, a telemarketer for a comedy club, a wedding DJ, a brewery waiter, a videotape editor, an entertainment news producer, an actor, a bouncer at a nightclub (one night), a host at a different nightclub, a singing telegram guy, a receptionist at Neiman Marcus, and the set decorator for N’SYNC’s first “I Want You Back” video.

Today, Butler is a two-time Emmy nominated writer and producer who has written for Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, The Neighbors, and Galavant. His graphic novel, Blue Agave and Worm was published in 2010. Additionally, Butler has written for The Academy Awards, E! News Daily, and the WB series What I Like About You.

His new novel is Pretty Ugly.

Recently I asked him about what he was reading. Butler's reply:
Because my brain works better if I’m doing more than one thing at a time, I am currently reading three books. I’m almost finished with Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and it is hands down the funniest book I’ve read in a long time. It’s absurd and infuriating and hilarious and illuminating. It’s one of those books that so well done it almost makes me angry.

I’m also reading the e-book Chunk, my friend Brian Donovan’s memoir about growing up as a fat kid and into a fat adult. It’s very poignant in places and very funny throughout.

I also just started Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a couple years now, and it just felt like the right time to take it down and read it. I’ve been kicking around a story idea about an evangelist who rises to fame, and then I thought, “maybe I should save myself the trouble and just read Lewis’ much better version of the story I would write.”
Visit Kirker Butler's website.

The Page 69 Test: Pretty Ugly.

--Marshal Zeringue