Monday, March 2, 2015

Kate Riordan

Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London. Her new novel is Fiercombe Manor. She is also the author of Birdcage Walk and is already at work on her third novel.

Last month I asked Riordan about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently in the middle of Rachel Hore’s A Gathering Storm, which I’m really enjoying. It’s just the sort of escapist read I look for when life is busy and the news is depressing. There is a modern strand but It’s mainly set in the 1930s and during the Second World War, and follows Beatrice Marlow from rural Cornwall (which I know and love myself) to war-battered London and back. It’s got all the elements I like in a book – and tried to put in my own: family secrets, a historical setting, a big old house, thwarted romance and a dose of tragedy for good measure. Operating on similar lines, except with a supernatural element, I also read House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine recently.

I’ve also just read Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, which had garnered a huge amount of hype here in the UK ahead of publication and so I was intrigued to read it. The story follows Maud and alternates between her past as a girl just after the Second World War and the present. It’s part detective story, part exploration of the effects of dementia and it’s stayed with me since I finished it. Maud’s confusion and circular thinking as an elderly lady is totally convincing – and also frightening: you can’t help but think about how you would cope with something similar one day.

Next up on my reading list is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. The BBC has just adapted that and its predecessor, Wolf Hall, for TV and I really look forward to watching it every Wednesday night. I’ve been saving Bring Up the Bodies because I so enjoyed the first one and because you don’t want to rush through writing as beautifully crafted as this, but it’s high time I got stuck in now. For those who haven’t discovered it yet, it’s the Tudor-era story of Thomas Cromwell, told in three parts (Mantel is still writing the third). Cromwell has traditionally been depicted as a scheming villain but in this account, he’s clever, wily and witty – but also kind.

I’ve just realized that all the above are at least partially set in the past! I do read contemporary fiction (honest) but there’s something about the past that always lures me in. I’ve been mad about time travelling since I saw Back to the Future with my dad as a little kid. And there’s no question for me: if I had a DeLorean with a working flux capacitor I would definitely go back rather than forward.
Visit Kate Riordan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fiercombe Manor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Emily Gray Tedrowe

Emily Gray Tedrowe has published fiction in Crab Orchard Review, Other Voices, and Sycamore Review, among other journals. She won an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award for one of her short stories, and has received fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation and the Virginia Center for Creative Artists. Commuters, her first novel, was named a Best New Paperback by Entertainment Weekly.

Tedrowe's latest novel is Blue Stars.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm late to the party on this wonderful novel, but I'm so glad I just read A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Earlier this winter I took a long weekend's writing retreat with a good friend, the writer Zoe Zolbrod. We stayed at a Benedictine monastery where I've often found the quiet and simplicity conducive to work. She and I stayed in dorm-style rooms side by side, writing our new novels with the focused intensity two working mothers of young kids know how to bring when they get an opportunity like this. For breaks, we took long walks on the prairie preserve and shared meal time with the monastery community, including the three sisters in residence there. We spoke with admiration about their lives devoted to social justice and care for the earth. Zoe said, this reminds me of Ruth Ozeki's novel - I hadn't read it - but her enthusiasm made me curious. I promptly broke my no-internet rule for the weekend, went online, and ordered a copy. Back home, I was delighted to fall into this inventive and emotionally gripping novel. Ozeki's structure leads us back and forth in time, between two protagonists struggling to make sense of all our basic questions: why am I here? How can I handle pain? What about loss? Also the book overflows with all manner of fascinating material: the Japanese tsunami, the philosophical question of time, suicide clubs, cyber-bullying, land art. My favorite character is the 104-year-old Zen Buddhist nun at the heart of the story, whose long life of sorrow, feminism, art-making also includes the way she gives courage to others, including her desperately troubled great granddaughter. Possibly also the readers of this fine novel, a tribute to fierce peaceful women of all times and places.
Visit Emily Gray Tedrowe's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Weber loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.

Weber and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, the author spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.

Recently I asked Weber about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been burying myself in cozy mysteries lately, both because I love cozies and because I’m trying to improve my writing technique. What better way to learn than by reading my fellow (and I must say, awesome) writers?

Right now I’m particularly excited, because my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose, has been nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel. So, of course, I have to read the competition. Of the other four books nominated, I’m currently reading two: Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris and Finding Sky by Susan O’Brien.

These two novels are great representations of the genre. Although crime takes center stage (in one, a disappearance; the other, a murder) we also learn about the protagonists’ lives, professions, interests, and flaws. Tagged for Death involves a garage sale aficionado/divorcee who is trying to prove her ex-husband innocent of murdering his mistress. Finding Sky highlights the struggles of a single parent widow (who is also a PI-in-training) as she tries to locate a missing teen. To complicate matters, the teen is carrying a child for her best friend.

Both novels are very well written (which you would expect for Agatha nominees), but beyond that, the characters feel real, and the books blur the genre lines just enough to be interesting. I can’t wait to start the other two nominees, Well Read Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran and Circle of Influence by Annette Dashofy.
Visit Tracy Weber's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Weber and Tasha.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Strikes a Pose.

The Page 69 Test: A Killer Retreat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 27, 2015

Auston Habershaw

On the day Auston Habershaw was born, Skylab fell from the heavens. This foretold two possible fates: supervillain or scifi/fantasy author. Fortunately he chose the latter, and spends his time imagining the could-be and the never-was rather than disintegrating the moon with his volcano laser. He lives and works in Boston, MA.

Habershaw's new novel is The Iron Ring: Part I of the Saga of the Redeemed.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
So, my reading life is a complicated one. As a literature professor and a fantasy author, my reading time is split between three things: my love (fantasy and science fiction), my work (literary fiction), and my curse (student writing). In any given semester, I need to read between 6 and 12 novels for my classes and grade an additional 2400 pages or so of student writing. After that, I can squeeze in whatever reading for pleasure I can get. Because of this, my reading for pleasure list is way, waaaay longer than I have time for, unfortunately.

Nevertheless, here’s what I’m reading now:

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

This is a classic of hard-boiled detective fiction from the 1930s—one of the seminal works of the genre. I’m currently teaching it in my Modern American Writers class. If you haven’t read Chandler, you really should (even if you don’t care for detective fiction). What you’re learning here is style. Chandler’s voice is so unmistakable that it’s almost a cliché, but back then it wasn’t. Back then it was new, edgy, and very abrupt. The images stick to your ribs and the people are hard and dark and grim. It’s a perfectly realized, perfectly spare world.

Favorite Line: “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is my most recent pleasure-reading foray. This is a wonderful fantasy novel by an acknowledged master of the genre. Bujold creates a vivid fantasy world with overtones of 15th century Spain and implements an engaging and deeply interesting religion that colors and affects everything in the world. The main character, Cazaril, is brilliantly drawn and quite unique; I loved nearly every minute of this book and, if you care for fantasy or for theology at all, you should too.

Favorite Line: “So you’re saying that I could die at any moment!” “Yes. And this is different from your life yesterday in what way?”

Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

As you can see, I have a tendency to read the classics over the current. This is a classic, too—the basis for pretty much all modern military science fiction and a must read for fans of the genre. I teach this book every year for my Technology in Literature course, wherein we analyze this piece both for its vision of futuristic warfare (from the perspective of a writer living in 1959) and for its interesting social structure—a militocracy billed as a meritocracy yet with fascist overtones. A fascinating, if somewhat controversial, work that I highly recommend.

Favorite Line: The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion…and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself—the ultimate cost for perfect value.
Visit Auston Habershaw's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Ring.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is an editor, writer, and master procrastinator. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose. She's the author of a poetry collection titled Tending, and a handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Weldon's reply:
I usually have several books going at any one time. When I stumble on great ones I love to talk about them.

All the Light We Cannot See took author Anthony Doerr 10 years to write. His craftsmanship lifts this novel into the realm of art. The book's two main characters, who don’t meet until late in the novel, are entirely memorable. Maurie-Laure is a blind girl raised by her father. He has built her a perfect miniature replica of their neighborhood so she will never be lost. He takes her to work with him at the Museum of Natural History, where she learns eagerly. When the Nazis take over Paris, Marie-Laure and her father seek refuge in a walled seaside city. The novel's other main character, Werner, grows up in an orphanage. His intelligence is obvious as he teaches himself to fix radios and understand radio waves. His talent marks him for a privileged spot in an elite military academy. As the war builds, these children grow up in strikingly different ways yet both do their best to stay true to an inner light that leads them. There’s so much to discuss that this title is perfect to read with a book club. I'll be reading it again.

Strange Bodies leads the reader question identity, immortality, and what it means to be human. Author Marcel Theroux introduces us to a man in a locked psychiatric unit who insists he is someone else, a professor known as an expert in the work of Samuel Johnson. The impostor doesn’t look or speak like the man he claims to be, but knows every possible detail of his life. That’s impossible, because the person he claims to be is dead. So begins a tale of speculative fiction that leads from Silicon Valley to Soviet-era experimentation, all the while echoed by new words allegedly written by the reknown Johnson who has been dead for 230 years.

I normally avoid dystopian novels but loved Station Eleven. The author, Emily St. John Mandel, writes tenderly about the current world we take for granted. A world where small rectangles hold the power to connect us with people around the world, where metal cylinders transport passengers across the sky, where warm air flows at the touch of a button, and something magical called the Internet answers every question. In Station Eleven, this time has passed although it can be remembered through artifacts on display at the Museum of Civilization. This novel describes a future where 99% of the population has been killed by a horrific plaque. As expected, there are many dangers including the threat of survivalist gangs and cults. There's also a troupe of artists who travel from settlement to settlement playing Beethoven and performing Shakespeare. Their motto is lifted from Star Trek: "Survival is insufficient." Through storylines that stretch across decades, the reader comes to know all sorts of characters whose lives intersect in unexpectedly compelling ways.

Non-fiction wise I'm all over the map. Here are two of my recent favorites.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today is by Rob Dunn, an engaging writer who pulls together all sorts of fascinating science. In this book he shows how humans evolved in the context of hundreds of other species, including those we host in our own bodies. making each one of us not "I" but "us." Acting as if we're separate has dangerous consequences, from autoimmune disorders to ecological disasters.

Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers is the book I'd been planning to write for the last decade. I've got a whole desk drawer full of notes, not needed any more because author Marcy Axness has done a masterful job of pulling together what it takes to raise a generation "built for peace." She incorporates neuroscience, psychology, spirituality, and much more into compelling core principles (Presence, Awareness, Rhythm, Example, Nurturance, Trust and Simplicity). This is indeed a wise and good book, my go-to gift for new parents.
Learn more about Laura Grace Weldon's poetry collection, Tending, and her handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning.

Visit the author's blog, website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Laura Grace Weldon & Winston and Cocoa Bean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tom Santopietro

Tom Santopietro is the author of The Importance of Being Barbra, Considering Doris Day (a New York Times Editor’s Choice), Sinatra in Hollywood, and The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America, and Me. He has worked for the past twenty years in New York theater as a manager of more than two dozen Broadway shows.

His new book is The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing Von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Santopietro's response:
Right now I’m reading Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins, written by Jenkins’s son Bruce, a sportswriter who has been twice nominated for a Pulitzer.

Gordon Jenkins was one of Frank Sinatra’s two greatest musical collaborators- the other being Nelson Riddle- and it’s fascinating to read both about Jenkins trying to understand his elusive father, and the nature of Jenkins’s art as composer, conductor, and arranger. It was Jenkins who wrote that 2 a.m. of the soul ballad “Goodbye” which became Benny Goodman’s theme song, and Chris Jenkins’s description of the real life events which inspired his father to write the song is heart rending. Having written a book on Sinatra (Sinatra in Hollywood) I’m really interested in learning how Jenkins and Sinatra came to create their boozy, “set-‘em up Joe” noir masterpieces “All Alone” and “Where Are You.” Both men could be the life of the party while simultaneously carrying extraordinary sadness within them throughout their lives. That dichotomy is beautifully described by Jenkins.

I’m also reading the sprawling (600 plus pages) novel We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. The characters are complex, fascinating, irritating, annoying, and sympathetic in equal measure—in other words they are just like the people we encounter in life.
Visit Tom Santopietro's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Godfather Effect.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 23, 2015

Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman is a writer based out of Istanbul. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone among others. He is also a contributor to The Daily Beast, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. Prior to this, he spent eight years in the military as both an infantry and special operations officer.

Ackerman is a decorated veteran, having earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his role leading a Rifle Platoon in the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah and a Bronze Star for Valor while leading a Marine Corps Special Operations Team in Afghanistan in 2008.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ackerman's reply:
I’ve got this blue backpack I lug around with me. It’s the type of thing you probably kept a Trapper Keeper in during high school and I carry my laptop, a couple of Moleskin notebooks, and whatever I’m reading in it. Looking into my blue back pack right now, I’ve got a few things: first, is the novel Munich Airport by Greg Baxter. In it, an unnamed American is stranded in Germany due to a thick fog as he tries to repatriate the remains of his sister who starved herself to death. While the protagonist navigates the byzantine German bureaucracy with his father alongside, a dark family history is revealed which is at times humorous, tragic, and a moving meditation on one man’s struggle to find fulfillment in work, art, and his relationships.

Crammed next to Munich Airport, is Atticus Lish’s novel Preparation for the Next Life. This love story, between an Iraq War veteran and Chinese-Uyghur immigrant, is a beautiful read and the story it tells—of isolation, of contemporary America—is so undeniably of this moment. It’s one of these books which I could imagine someone reading a hundred years from now if they wanted a sense of what life was like in this second decade of the 21st century.

Lastly, crammed in the bottom of my bag, are a couple of slim volumes I always carry, opening them from time to time to read random passages. Dog-eared, with many torn pages from living in my backpack, I carry these books as talismans. They’re an individual copy of the Song of Solomon, one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful love stories—hard to believe it’s sandwiched between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah—as well as The Old Man and the Sea.
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Green on Blue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Victoria Scott

Victoria Scott is a teen fiction writer represented by Sara Crowe of the Harvey-Klinger Literary Agency. She’s the author of the Fire & Flood series published by Scholastic, and the Dante Walker trilogy published by Entangled Teen. Her first stand-alone young adult title, Titans, will be published by Scholastic in spring 2016.

Scott's latest book is Salt & Stone, the second novel in the Fire & Flood series.
I'm reading The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. It's my first read by her, and I'm really enjoying it. Though I write exclusively for teens, I love picking up the occasional adult title to study different voices and writing styles. This one is a win for me!
Visit Victoria Scott's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Collector.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright and the award winning, bestselling author of Gaslamp Fantasy‎ series such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, the Magic Most Foul saga and the new Eterna Files saga for Tor Books.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
It grieves me that I don't get to read much for pleasure these days, it's really only research material I have time for between my book deadlines, theatrical and film projects and other contracts. But on the research front, I'm currently loving a book titled Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead by Christine Wicker, that I bought on a research trip to Lily Dale itself. ‎As my books deal with Spiritualism, psychic phenomena, mediums and clairvoyance of all kinds, this book was a must, and it's compellingly written, a wonderful modern supplement to the historical texts I have steeped myself in to get a feel for the 19th century settings of my own work.

My latest, The Eterna Files, dives deeper into the questions of the human Spirit, the psychology around the paranormal, and the vulnerable, generous strength of those who are Gifted, while darker forces must be kept at bay by an elaborate host of quirky characters. Books like Lily Dale help give insight into actual mediums as I compare them to my own characters and their triumphs and vulnerabilities.
Visit Leanna Renee Hieber's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 20, 2015

David Handler

David Handler’s first book in the Berger and Mitry series, The Cold Blue Blood, was a Dilys Award finalist and BookSense Top Ten pick. Handler is also the author of eight novels about the witty and dapper celebrity ghostwriter Stewart Hoag and his faithful, neurotic basset hound, Lulu, including Edgar and American Mystery Award winner The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald.

His new mystery is Phantom Angel.

Recently I asked Handler about what he was reading. His reply:
I love to comb through used bookstores. There’s a terrific one near my home on the Connecticut shoreline called the Book Barn. I was pawing around in the murder and mayhem section there recently when I came across an old 50-cent Dell paperback from the early 1960s entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 14 of My Favorites in Suspense. I grabbed it. The reason I did is because one of those 14 favorites of his happened to be "The Birds," the 1952 short story by the great Daphne du Maurier that was the basis for Hitchcock’s breathtakingly brilliant 1963 movie. I love the movie. I love Daphne du Maurier’s writing. And yet, for some reason, I’d never come across the story before.

I just read it this morning. Have you ever read it? Oh, you must. It’s amazing. Not at all like Hitchcock’s movie. It’s a spare, simple tale about a quiet English coastal farmer named Nat Hocken who discovers one autumn day that he, his wife and children are suddenly being attacked by birds. Big birds. Small birds. All birds. The Hockens barricade themselves in their cottage and yet the birds keep coming, first breaking the windows, then pecking their way through wooden storm shutters. Nat has no idea why this is happening. He has no time to wonder why. He is too busy fighting to keep his family alive.

Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), invented most of the elements that we remember about the film version of The Birds. The meet-cute between Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor at the pet shop in San Francisco. Her impulsive visit to his family’s place in Bodega Bay with the pair of caged lovebirds. Rod Taylor’s clinging, disapproving mother, played by Jessica Tandy. The village schoolteacher, Suzanne Pleshette, who’s still carrying a torch for him. None of these things exist in the short story.

Yet the terrifying essence, which is that one day our feathered friends decide they don’t want to share this planet with us anymore, is exactly the same. And I swear it’s even more frightening in Du Maurier’s starkly simple telling. If you’re a fan of the movie you’ve just got to read it. You must.
Visit David Handler's website.

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2011).

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2012).

Writers Read: David Handler (August 2013).

Writers Read: David Handler (March 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue