Monday, February 28, 2011

Priya Parmar

Priya Parmar, a former freelance editor and dramaturg holds degrees in English Literature and theatre. She attended Mount Holyoke College, Oxford University and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She divides her time between Hawaii and London.

Among the early praise for Exit the Actress, her debut novel:
“A real triumph…. A vivid imagining of the restoration London of Charles II with Nell Gwynn as a powerful and engaging heroine set in the busy world of the theater. This debut novel captures the glamorous world of the amoral court and the struggle of the city. Priya Parmar is a writer to watch.”
—Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl
A few weeks ago I asked Parmar what she was reading. Her reply:
I am at that really good point in a really good book. You know that lovely place in a hefty, long book when you are well into it but still have hundreds of pages in front of you? It is such a clear sailing, comfy feeling to roam around that space. I am reading Sally Beauman’s Dark Angel just now and have three hundred pages behind me and four hundred ahead. Perfect.

It is evocative, consuming, edgy and gothic novel and I was not expecting to like it so much. I picked it up because it is set in WWI and I am trying to restrict my reading to things set in the first part of the twentieth century. It is a two pronged strategy to wean me off the addictive Restoration period where Exit the Actress is set and launch me into research for my untitled second novel. I keep getting pulled back to the Restoration as I have been missing Nell Gwyn and Charles II and the uproarious libertines terribly!
Visit Priya Parmar's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dave Zeltserman

Dave Zeltserman is the author of ten novels, including Outsourced, Killer, Pariah, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, Small Crimes, and Blood Crimes, as well as many short stories and a collection of short crime fiction, 21 Tales.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The last two novels I read were manuscripts to blurb upcoming books. The last was Diabolical by Hank Schwaeble, which is a followup to Schwaeble's Damnable published by Jove. Damnable was just a lot of fun--this horror thriller with demons, beautiful demon-women hybrids called Carnates, a plot to send everyone to hell, and a tough guy hero, Jake Hatcher. What made the first book so much was this terrific compulsory vibe in to Schwaeble's writing and the way he zags when I think he's going to zig. Diabolical turned out to be even better. The Carnates, Jake, and a new set of demons are back in a book that's so fast-paced you can burn your fingers turning the pages.

Before that I read a debut noir book, The Bastard Hand by Heath Lowrance which New Pulp Press is putting out. This is just a wild book that's almost indescribable, and would be something that maybe Charles Williams and Harry Whittington might've written if they were popping LSD while writing their Gold Medal novels.

And before that I read The Man with the Getaway Face by Richard Stark just for fun which is the second in the Parker series.
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Small Crimes.

The Page 69 Test: Pariah.

The Page 69 Test: Outsourced.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ellen Meeropol

Ellen Meeropol holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. Her stories have appeared in The Drum, Bridges, Portland Magazine, Pedestal, Patchwork Journal, and The Women’s Times.

House Arrest, her first novel, is out this month.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I work part-time at an independent bookstore and serve on their First Edition Club selection committee. This means we read ARC’s (advance readers copies) several months before publication. I just finished Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and Touch by Alexi Zentner.

State of Wonder opens when a vague airmail letter informs pharmaceutical researcher Marina Singh that her friend and co-worker Anders Eckman died deep in the Amazon jungle where he was investigating a research project funded by the company employing them both. Marina is sent to find out exactly what happened to Eckman, to retrieve his body, and to ferret out the progress of the research led by her former medical school teacher, the brilliant and evasive Annick Swenson. A complicated mixture of dramatic plot involving killer anacondas and cannibal tribes, amazingly tactile and rich descriptions of the jungle, and thoughtful contemplation of the ethics of pharmaceutical development, and the lifelong effect a teacher can have on her students make this another first-rate read from a veteran author Ann Patchett.

Touch, a debut novel from Canadian-American writer Alexi Zentner, is also extraordinarily strong in setting, in this case a small village named Sawgamet in northern British Columbia. Stephen is an Anglican priest returning to visit his dying mother in the wilderness village settled by his grandfather Jeannot. Rich details of the rough town, the wild forest and terrifying weather, and the dangerous logging life are combined with a multi-generation love story. The novel shifts back and forth between Jeannot’s memories, Stephen’s boyhood, and his return to bury his mother and take over his stepfather’s church. It shifts back and forth as well between the boom to bust history of the town and Jeannot’s evocation of the wood witches and forest spirits. This is a haunting and gloriously satisfying read.
Visit Ellen Meeropol's website and blog.

See Meeropol's list of five political novels to change the world.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Linda L. Layne

Linda L. Layne is Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer. She is the author Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America, and Home and Homeland: The Dialogics of Tribal and National Identities in Jordan and has edited two volumes on motherhood and consumption: Consuming Motherhood and Transformative Motherhood: On Giving and Getting in a Consumer Culture.

Her latest book is Feminist Technology (edited with Vostral and Boyer).

Several weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Over the holidays I read two books on consumer culture. The first, Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss, was a Christmas gift from my partner. It was unlike anything I had ever read. After inheriting a collection of tiny Japanese sculptures of animals and figures carved out of ivory or wood from a great uncle, de Waal spent several years meticulously tracing the social history of the collection, how the objects got “handled and handed on” through four generations of his “ridiculously wealthy,” cosmopolitan, Jewish ancestors who were based in Odessa, Paris, Vienna, and Japan. It is inconceivable that anyone else could have written such a book. Waal is an art ceramist and so has a particular relationship to material culture. In addition, he studied English at Cambridge. The result is a book one can luxuriate over. His netsuke collection was purchased by Charles Ephrussi, an up-and-coming art collector, critic, and historian in Paris in the 1870s, during the rage for japonisme when wealthy Europeans were buying art treasures for a pittance from impoverished daimoyos and samurai. Once in Europe, these fine objects were used as “props” for “the sensuous reimagining of the self” (p 56). De Waall quotes contemporary collectors on “the intoxication of hunting and buying, a process that could send you towards mania.”

The second book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, is one I picked up thinking it might be a nice addition to my course on Consumer Culture. It was perfect for my return flight from visiting my parents in California. Written by a psychologist and a social worker who have worked together on this subject for many years, the book presents eleven case studies of “highly intelligent” people who represent different “types” of hoarders. The book raises fascinating questions about what distinguishes collectors like de Waal’s uncle from the six to fifteen million Americans thought to suffer from hoarding. The authors note that although hoarding in some ways resembles obsessive- compulsive disorder, it differs because hoarding is fueled by positive feelings, the pleasure that acquiring and having possessions gives. They also suggest that hoarding “may stem from an extraordinary ability” to appreciate objects; for hoarders “every object is rich with detail…The physical world of hoarders is different and much more expansive than that of the rest of us” (p 15). Is this so different from the extraordinary abilities of de Waal and his ancestors? How does this passion for ownership differ from the mania for hunting and buying bibelot (small, attractive trinkets) among the demi-mondaine in 18th century Paris? In both cases, things are used for creating an “expanded identity” (Frost and Stekettee P 45); for creative self-fashioning.

More recently I read three memoirs, Look Me in the Eyes: My Life With Asperger’s by John Robison, which I loved and on the basis of which bought his brother’s memoir, Running with Scissors, which I hated, and Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asberger’s, by the music critic Tim Page, which I found too boring to finish.
Learn more about Feminist Technology by following the blog at the University of Illinois website.

Visit Linda L. Layne's faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: Feminist Technology.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

David Halperin

Back in the 1960s, David Halperin was a teen-age UFO investigator. He later became a professor of religious studies—his specialty, religious traditions of heavenly ascent. Journal of a UFO Investigator, released this month by Viking Press, is his first novel.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
For the first time in some years, my current reading consists of newly published books in which UFOs are a main topic. The quality is vastly higher than I remember it as being in my “UFO investigator” days fifty years ago.

The gorgeously illustrated Hidden Realms, Lost Civilizations, and Beings from Other Worlds (Detroit: Visible Ink, 2010), by veteran UFOlogist Jerome Clark, puts UFOs into the broader spectrum of what Clark calls “anomalous” phenomena. These Clark divides into “experience anomalies” and “event anomalies,” the latter being those that seem to belong to consensus reality. (Like, in Clark’s opinion, a small core of inexplicable UFO sightings.) The former category, which Clark plainly finds the more intriguing—as do I—are things that can’t possibly exist in the usual sense of the word, and yet appear to be something more than products of witnesses’ imaginations. Genuine experiences, that is, of things that can’t genuinely be.

Take the “Great Airship Mystery” of 1896-97. This term refers to the numerous, seemingly reliable sightings, from many parts of the US, of a winged flying machine that can’t have existed. Yet it was on multiple occasions seen to land, its pilots encountered and conversed with. No small gray beings from distant galaxies, they. Rather, they appear in the reports as American inventors, on at least one occasion from New York State, often with an odd tendency to be named “Wilson.” The stories can’t possibly be true; are they therefore lies? Fantasies? Clark thinks not, and what they really are is an unsolved mystery.

As a former professor of Judaica, I’m fascinated by the appearance of one Rabbi Aaron Levy of Beaumont, Texas, among the airship witnesses. The European-born Levy, whom Clark has shown to have been an unquestionably historical person, claimed to have hurried out to a farm where the airship had landed, spoken with one of the pilots who’d gone into the farmer’s house, shaken hands with him. Now, what was a rabbi doing investigating landed airships? Maybe this is no question at all, and Levy’s interest in the notorious airship was something perfectly natural for any alert citizen. But maybe there’s more than meets the eye.

One of the themes of the UFO myth—for so I regard it—seems to me the experience of alienness, and the transcending of it. Surely Aaron Levy, foreigner and Jew, was a double alien in the rural Texas of the 1890s. By narrating (imagining?) himself into the Great Airship Mystery, transporting himself to the farm where it had landed, he wove himself into rural America and the quintessentially American narrative of daring invention that a few years later was to reach a high point at Kitty Hawk. By grace of the Unidentified Flying Airship, alien no more.

From this to Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (University of Chicago Press, 2010), by Rice University professor Jeffrey J. Kripal. The core of this book, which I’m now in the middle of reading, is a series of close studies of four writers, from the 19th-century Frederick Myers of the “Society of Psychical Research” to the contemporary Jacques Vallee and Bertrand Méheust. What the four “authors of the impossible” have in common is their use of writing as a means of widening the borders of consensus reality, taking in those eerie entities that historically were relegated to religion or anti-religion (witchcraft)—when they weren’t ignored altogether.

In this gallery of the strange, UFOs occupy a prime spot. Vallee, whom I knew briefly in California forty years ago, has devoted most of his life to UFOlogy. (He’s the model for the Francois Truffaut character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) An early rebel against the extraterrestrial-visitors hypothesis, Vallee reveled in the resemblances between UFOs and traditional folklore. He didn’t conclude from these parallels, as he might have, that UFOs don’t exist any more than fairies and elves do. Nor did he turn the elves into misidentified spacemen. UFOs, fairies, elves—to Vallee they all manifest some reality beyond our current understanding, for which interplanetary spaceships are a banal conventionalization.

I’m yet more fascinated by Kripal’s second author, Charles Fort. Fort died in 1932, fifteen years before the modern flying saucer age began. Yet he managed to be a UFOlogist before there were UFOs; and in his embittered rebellion against the smugness of conventional science, he was a culture hero of my own UFOlogist days.

I don’t think he wears well. Flipping through the 1062 pages of the collected Books of Charles Fort, which were once a sort of Bible to me, I now find myself put off by his nyaah-nyaah-nyaahing at the scientists, which strikes me as nihilistic and juvenile. Maybe we need to “subvert the dominant paradigm,” as the bumper sticker says. But it’s awfully difficult to live without paradigms, scientific and otherwise, and somebody has to build them so others can have fun poking holes in them. Was it really unforgiveable for the scientists to ignore Fort’s beloved anomalies, like tadpoles falling from the sky (as dead birds do nowadays), supposing that sooner or later they’d probably be explained and in the meantime probably weren’t all that important?

And yet. There are times when Fort’s hyperbolic, almost hysterical language takes on a remarkable poetic resonance. Consider the opening of his first truly “Fortean” work, The Book of the Damned (1919):
A procession of the damned.

By the damned, I mean the excluded.

We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.
Read this without “data” and “Science”; keep it at the level of metaphor. It might serve as a cry of liberation for an adolescent who thought he knew the pain of exclusion, who in his loneliness—largely self-inflicted, though I didn’t know it at the time—felt himself damned to a solitary hell. Decades before I was born, Charles Fort carried my banner, emblazoned with the post-Fortean image of a flying disk. A writer who evokes such feelings, in a boy separated from him by more than two generations and a world transformed, cannot be without some merit.

Kripal likes Fort better than I do. He’s persuaded me I need to take another look.
Learn more about Journal of a UFO Investigator at David Halperin's website and blog (“my thoughts on UFOs, religion, the writer’s life, and other subjects dear to my heart”).

Watch a video trailer for Journal of a UFO Investigator.

The Page 69 Test: Journal of a UFO Investigator.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Michael David Lukas

Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. He is a graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, and his writing has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and the Georgia Review. Lukas lives in Oakland, less than a mile from where he was born. When he isn't writing, he teaches creative writing to third- and fourth-graders.

Lukas's new novel is The Oracle of Stamboul.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply is titled “Reading Proust in the age of Twitter:”
I finished Remembrance of Things Past—Marcel Proust’s thirty five hundred page, seven volume novel—just a few days ago. Ever since, I have been trying whenever possible to work it into conversation, without much success. Much like mountain climbers and scuba divers, readers of Proust will take any opportunity to introduce the topic of reading Proust. It’s hard not to talk about the mountain I just summited, even if such conversations almost invariably fall flat. For while there may in fact be many social situations that his work can illuminate, the words “that reminds me of a passage in Proust” are almost always followed by silence. And so, when offered the chance to write a few hundred words on the topic of what I have been reading lately, I jumped at the chance.

I had a similar feeling a bit more than a year ago, after finishing Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy (1,349 tightly-printed pages). To mark that achievement, I wrote a blog post for VQR entitled “In Defense of Longness,” in which said that the long novel feels like “a ponderous brontosaurus with its head in the canopy, lazily chomping leaves while an army of swift moving, razor-clawed creatures are building a new civilization its feet. It is a relic, teetering on the edge of extinction.” In a world of 140 character thoughts and fleeting updates of status, sitting down each day with a bulky and wordy novel about high society in fin de siècle Paris, makes one feel like the dinosaur oneself. And yet, Proust’s tone is decidedly contemporary. Gossipy, ruminative, obsessive, and procrastinatory, Remembrance of Things Past often reads like a hyper-literary blog. It’s the kind of book Perez Hilton would write if he had been born a hundred years earlier. Proust is many things to many people. To Jonah Lehrer he was a neuroscientist. Alain De Botton says he will change your life. But to me, Proust will always be a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun—or at least, very little.
Visit Michael David Lukas' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 21, 2011

Craig McDonald

Craig McDonald is the Edgar®/Anthony nominated author of Head Games, Toros & Torsos, and Print the Legend.

His new novel is One True Sentence.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
My reading time has become alarmingly scarce the past several months between fulltime journalism, evening and weekend fiction writing/book touring, and the pending release of two novels this calendar year.

Consequently, I’ve been squeezing in quick reads of books related to or feeding my own works-in-progress, or regarding personalities that touch on things I’m toying with in some way.

At the moment, I have four books going simultaneously.

• I’m re-exploring the uneasy, at times mutually destructive, friendship of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway as told by Matthew J. Bruccoli in Fitzgerald and Hemingway: A Dangerous Friendship.

• At the same time, I’m slowly making my way through the don’t-drop-it-on-your-foot, massive biography Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame by Benita Eisler. Mostly, as I press on, I find myself continuously struck by how little the literary life has changed since the Romantic period in terms of publicity demands, censorship, critics and the uneasy friction of writers as friends (ala Fitzgerald and Hemingway, for instance).

The Films of Sam Peckinpah by Neil Fulwood: A warts-and-all study of the brilliance and wasted promise of the films of that magnificent bastard who was Peckinpah, an artist time and again undone by the system, intruding execs, and, to be fair, his own demons.

• Lastly, Crystal & Stone by Joe Ziemer: A biography of one on my favorite singer/songwriters, the late and criminally under-known Mickey Newbury. (Though, if you’ve seen The Big Lebowski, whether you knew it or not, you have heard at least one Newbury classic — think bowling pins and showgirls.)
Learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Toros & Torsos.

The Page 69 Test: Head Games.

The Page 69 Test: Print the Legend.

My Book, The Movie: Print the Legend.

The Page 69 Test: One True Sentence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ben Tarnoff

Ben Tarnoff is the author of Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters. He has worked at Lapham's Quarterly and graduated from Harvard in 2007.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
While writing Moneymakers, I was reading history all day. Which meant the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was to read more history. Instead, I began reading fiction. Historical fiction, mostly: books like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Caleb Carr's The Alienist. Also science fiction, which is kind of like historical fiction in reverse, like Samuel Delany's Dhalgren. The more I read, the more I realized how much novelists and historians have in common. Both try to create a credible world for their characters to inhabit. Both use memory in interesting ways: the historian tries to retrieve memories of the historical past, while the novelist draws on memories from his or her personal past. Around this time I read David Shields' Reality Hunger. Shields helped sharpen my thinking on the overlap between history and fiction. He points out that anything remembered, even a few seconds after it's taken place, is already at some distance from the truth. All memory is fiction, of a sort; the moment we've reprocessed an event into a story with a beginning and an end, it loses its basis as absolute reality. This doesn't mean that historians don't have an obligation to the truth. My book has a lot of endnotes, and I tried to be as scrupulous as possible in my sourcing. But I've become skeptical about looking at history as a science. It's not enough for historians to be truthful. Their stories need to feel true, in the same way that a novel makes imagined facts feel true. The world of the story can be weird, can take place a hundred years ago or three centuries in the future--but whatever that world looks like, it needs to feel as though it shares a boundary with ours. My favorite novel is probably E.M. Forster's Howards End. Its epigraph, "Only connect," still feels like the best possible motto for writers of history, fiction, or anything else.
Read an excerpt from Moneymakers, and learn more about the book and author at Ben Tarnoff's website.

The Page 99 Test: Moneymakers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ellen Byerrum

Ellen Byerrum is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and a produced and published playwright. She holds a Virginia private investigator’s registration. A Colorado native, she lives in Virginia.

Her new novel is Shot Through Velvet: A Crime of Fashion Mystery.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
When book deadlines crowd me, like right now, as I am supposed to be working on my next mystery, Death on Heels, I don’t have a lot of time to read books. And I don’t want to get too distracted from my work in progress. On the other hand, glossy magazines never fail to divert me, with their lovely shiny covers and dreamy full-page picture spreads. Mmmm, red carpet gowns! Ooooh, perfume

But I’ve also been re-reading my favorite short stories by Chandler.

The name is Chandler, Raymond Chandler. King of noir, crown prince of the quick-draw quip, the guy who sets you right down in the mean streets of sun-washed mid-century Los Angeles, where murder belongs. In the flickering neon, where all the women are heartbreakers or drudges and all the men are either noble (if a little run-down) knights errant, or brutal thugs. Chandler’s twisted morality plays stalk the harsh California sunlight, where you might be tempted to believe it bleaches out your secrets, and your sins.

When I read Chandler:

* I want to wear silky white dresses and tap dance on men’s hearts in my red high heels. Just for fun, you understand, just for practice, not for keeps.
* I want to sip martinis in midnight-lit bars on the beach, where a small band plays the blues, and all the musicians wear matching suits. And fedoras. Where the slinky singer wears slinky gowns and sings into a giant round microphone. With blood-red lips.
* I want to dine in a swank establishment where small lamps sit in the middle of each table, the waiter brings me a phone (a rotary!) when I simply must to take a call (from the cops? the killer? my agent?), and danger swirls around the room like a heady perfume. Oh, there’s that perfume thing again.
* I want to banter wittily with a worthy opponent, swatting the sparkling conversation back and forth like a tennis ball, instead of merely blogging and tweeting.

In the depths of winter, as we prepare for a wicked new storm, it is particularly appealing to read about the much warmer wickedness of Raymond Chandler’s California. Like the famous opening of Red Wind, where Chandler vividly evokes the Santa Ana wind sweeping in from the desert—and the meek little wives feeling the edge of the carving knife and studying their husbands’ necks. And anything can happen. Feel the heat? Feel the characters come alive? And drop dead, at regular intervals?

Beats a Washington DC snowstorm any day.
Visit Ellen Byerrum's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Ellen Byerrum's Crimes of Fashion mysteries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kelly Simmons

Kelly Simmons is a former journalist and current novelist/advertising creative director. Her first novel, Standing Still debuted in February 2009.

As president of bubble advertising, Simmons is not only one of the most award-winning advertising writers on the East Coast, she is the only gender marketing expert in the Mid-Atlantic. Prior to launching bubble, Simmons was Chief Creative Officer of Interpublic-owned Tierney Communications, a partner in the gender marketing agency goose, and Executive Creative Director of Earle Palmer Brown.

Her new novel is The Bird House.

Recently I asked Simmons what she was reading. Her reply:
I read novels week after week until I’m stuffed and almost queasy, so full of motivations and twists and fat paragraphs of prose, that I think if I see one more prologue I’m going to barf. Then I relieve the distress with a very select work of non-fiction or a collection of essays or short stories. Something to cleanse my palate after gorging myself on all that conflict and redemption. (Redemption alone can bloat you for days.)

Last week I found myself in such a coma after reading another big juicy tale, that I knew it was time to crack open a book of short stories: Ann Beattie’s The New Yorker Stories.

Ann Beattie is one of my very favorite writers, and this collection is an act of sheer bravery: her short stories in chronological order, over a 20-year span.

That’s right. She is baring the timeline of her own abilities. Was she best when she was young and fresh? Or was she obviously green compared to her later years? Time will tell. Because unlike novels, I read collections of short stories slowly. One slim slice at a time.
Read more about The Bird House, and visit Kelly Simmons' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Standing Still.

My Book, The Movie: Standing Still.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

T.J. Forrester

T. J. Forrester has been a fisherman, a subsistence farmer, a bouncer, a window washer, and a miner. He is one of the few hikers in the world to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. He has written fiction since 2001, and his stories have appeared in numerous literary journals. Forrester also edits Five Star Literary Stories, an online site that brings the best fiction published on the web to a new audience for both reading and review.

His new novel is Miracles, Inc..

Not so long ago I asked Forrester what he was reading. His reply:
I recently finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. The plot provided enough tension to keep me interested, but Lisbeth Salander made me hunker under the lamp and turn pages late into the night. I'm a sucker for dysfunctional characters who are capable of change, and I enjoyed watching her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist grow as the adventure progressed.

At the moment I am perusing the Appalachian Trail Data Book, the section north of Damascus, Virginia, where the mountains open into wide spaces in the Grayson Highlands. I was there earlier this year, and it was so cold my boots froze. I've hiked the AT three times, two thru-hikes and one hike made of long sections, and that was the coldest I've ever been on a trail. Brr. The only plus side was the bears were asleep.

I am also rereading my own novel, Miracles, Inc., which I suppose sounds a bit odd. I've never performed in front of a crowd, something I'm certain will come up in my career, so I need to practice reading aloud. I practice a scene in which the main character's little sister asks him to smother her if the pain becomes too much to bear. It's a poignant scene, and I cannot read it without my voice cracking.
Read Chapter 1 of Miracles, Inc., and learn more about the book and author at T.J. Forrester's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Miracles, Inc.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rachel Brady

Rachel Brady is the author of the Emily Locke mysteries, Final Approach and Dead Lift.

Among the early praise for Dead Lift:
"Now that I've read her second, I can tell you that there's no sophomore slump. In fact, this one's even better the the first."
—Bill Crider, Anthony award-winning author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series
A couple of weeks ago I asked Brady what she reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m reading Writing From the Inside Out, book for writers by Dennis Palumbo. Palumbo is a psychotherapist for creative people, many of whom are writers. He addresses the challenges many of us face (writer’s block, procrastination) within the context of what may be going on psychologically. Examples are given from his work and personal experiences, and I like the short, digestible chapters. I’d recommend this one for writers of all kinds.

Next up is The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton. I bought this last January at my local indie mystery store and am only now getting around to cracking it (pun intended). Guess that says something about the size of my TBR pile. Simultaneously, I’ll have Wayne Dyer’s Awakened Life playing on CD in my car during my commutes to and from work.
Visit Rachel Brady's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Lift.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bradford Morrow

Bradford Morrow is the author of numerous acclaimed works of fiction and poetry, including Ariel's Crossing and Giovanni's Gift. He is also the founder of the literary magazine Conjunctions, which he has edited since 1981. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2007 and is a professor of literature at Bard University.

His new novel is The Diviner’s Tale.

Recently I asked Morrow what he was reading. His reply:
My reading at the moment is all over the map, but here goes. Two wildly imaginative first novels that are just now being published and which really impressed me are Karen Russell's Swamplandia! and Benjamin Hale's The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. In a way, they're both bildungsromans--one about young, motherless, brave Ava Bigtree growing up in a world filled with ghosts, gators, and grief; the other a memoir by the world's first talking chimpanzee, a riotous and eloquent recounting of his intellectual, psychological, sexual maturation in a human universe that just doesn't know how to deal with him. Both writers are in their twenties, and both are masterful storytellers with astonishing gifts for language that crackles with energy, is richly metaphoric, and honed to razor-sharpness. Their debut novels are something to behold. (Karen Russell's was preceded by a remarkable collection of stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which, like Swamplandia!, was mostly set in and around a surreal Florida--that one I've read more than once, also love, and talk about on street corners to anyone who will listen.)

On a very different note, I'm rereading Willa Cather's My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop, novels that are way more formally revolutionary, more modernist than they might appear at first glance. Cather's use of landscape as a kind of character in each of the books--one set in Nebraska, the other in New Mexico--is powerful stuff. Her unnamed but likely very autobiographical outer-frame narrator who introduces the reader to My Ántonia's second but primary narrator, Jim Burden, states that Ántonia “seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.” But throughout the novel, that same country and its conditions interact with Ántonia and everyone else in such a way that people, places, and things are richly interwoven, interactive--inseparably so. Cather is, to me, one of the most underappreciated “famous” writers around. We all know of her, but it wasn't until I read through everything of hers a couple of years ago that I realized the vastness of her achievement.

On yet another front, I've been rereading Barry Cooper's biography of Beethoven as part of the research I'm doing for my next novel, The Prague Sonata. Cooper has a unique way of bringing Beethoven to life, gives the reader a palpable, earthy sense of the man even while exhaustively analyzing the music itself. Much as I admire Maynard Solomon's epic psychoanalytic Beethoven (his revised edition is the one to read), and much as I was persuaded by his thrilling quasi-detective account of the Immortal Beloved--and yes, it is actually thrilling, if you're into this particular mystery in Beethoven's life--I feel that Cooper offers a more empathetic, warmer portrait of the composer's often messy life, sidelining the Freudian elucidations that are part and parcel of Solomon's work. I'm coming away with a firmer grasp through Cooper's lens than that of Solomon of what the Enlightenment meant to Beethoven. Of course, Thayer's quintessential biography remains, well, quintessential. By the way, the title of Cooper's biography is Beethoven. What else?

Finally, I'm always marinating myself in Angela Carter, especially her short stories. The Bloody Chamber and Saints and Strangers (Black Venus it's titled in England) are pure genius.
Visit Bradford Morrow's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Matt Haig

Matt Haig is the author of The Labrador Pact, a UK bestseller narrated by a Labrador; The Dead Fathers Club, a widely acclaimed update of Hamlet featuring an eleven-year-old boy; and The Possession of Mr. Cave, a horror story about an overprotective father. His work has been translated into twenty-four languages.

Haig's new novel is The Radleys.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm reading Roald Dahl's biography at the moment. It is called Storyteller and is by Donald Sturrock, who knew Dahl personally. I think that is what stops this book from feeling like another dry, academic biography. He really makes Dahl's life breathe in all its complexity. What is interesting is not only the sensational stuff (killing as a Royal Air Force pilot in WW2; the death of his young son in a traffic accident; the visits to prostitutes; speaking out about the Salman Rushdie affair), but also the stuff about his writing.

What I didn't quite realise was how late in his career he started properly writing for children. Before that he was chiefly an adult writer, working on novels, plays and short stories (though it was Dahl's adult short stories - dark and sexy and twisty and often very funny - which I love even more than his kids' stuff, and which has always been a big influence on me). And what was also interesting to read was about the uproar that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory created on its first release. All the self-appointed moral guardians of the day were in uproar. People said it had a terrible effect on their childrens' behaviour, as if it was a violent video game of today.
Read an excerpt, watch a video trailer, and learn more about the novel at the official The Radleys website. Visit Matt Haig at his official website.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Fathers Club.

My Book, The Movie: The Dead Fathers Club.

The Page 69 Test: The Labrador Pact.

The Page 69 Test: The Radleys.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kenneth Slawenski

Kenneth Slawenski is the creator of, a website founded in 2004 and recommended by the New York Times.

His new book is J. D. Salinger: A Life. Among the early praise for the book, from The Sunday Times (UK):
A welcome trove of information. Partly through exhaustive biographical research (especially into the early years) and partly through porings over almost unknown, uncollected stories, Slawenski enthrallingly illuminates what turned Salinger into an extraordinary literary phenomenon.
Recently I asked Slawenski what he was reading. His reply:
The Golden Gandhi Statue from America by Subimal Misra

A crazy old beggar living in a tree rescues a near-dead young woman. Frightened by her disease, her neighbors have exiled her from the village and left her to die. In time, the old man nurtures her back to health – but he demands sex as payment once she is healed. When the villagers discover the girl has been defiled, they kill the crazy old man with “righteous” indignation.

This is one of twelve short stories – parables, really - contained in The Golden Gandhi Statue from America by Subimal Misra. Revered in his homeland, the collection is Misra’s first publication outside of India. His stories are drenched in symbolism and multilevel metaphors. They are often angry, shocking and profane, but always colorful and thought provoking.

The book’s primary messages are clearly geared to Indian society as they repeatedly chastise and challenge the status quo of that region. Yet, I enjoyed reading the book through Western eyes. Misra’s most vital themes are universal. However named or depicted, our gods are all the same. And so are our sins.
Visit the Dead Caulfields website, and read more about J. D. Salinger: A Life at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wallace Stroby

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and a former editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. His novels include the acclaimed Gone ’til November and the Barry Award finalist The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

His new novel is Cold Shot to the Heart.

In late January I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
In 1981, I picked Tom McGuane’s novel Ninety-Two in the Shade off a rack at a now-defunct bookstore in St. Augustine, Fla. I had no idea who McGuane was, or what the book was about. That it looked quirky, and that it was set in Florida – where I’d just arrived to attend college – was all I knew. Reading it was like a shot of adrenaline and blotter acid. It made my head spin. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. I’ve read almost everything he’s written since.

But it‘s been nine years since McGuane’s last novel, The Cadence of Grass, and I picked up his latest, Driving on the Rim, with a little trepidation. Had the master of the American comic novel lost his mojo somewhere down the pike? Turns out there was no reason to worry. Though it’s not quite up there with his masterpieces, such as Ninety-Two, Panama and Keep the Change, Driving on the Rim is indisputably a Tom McGuane novel, something no one else on the planet is capable of producing.

Driving is the odyssey of Irving Berlin “I.B.” Pickett, a small-town Montana doctor with a weakness for pursuing the wrong women, and an inexplicable blindness when it comes to choosing the right one. Told in first person, Driving is I.B.’s confession of sorts, beginning with his childhood with a Pentecostalist mother and cynical, but long-suffering father (“I was nearly middle-aged before I learned that my mother’s hometown in Arkansas was not called, as my father had said, ‘Crackeropolis’.”). I.B. meets lots of friends, mentors, enemies and tormentors along the way, but the constant thread in his life is women, beginning with his seduction by his aunt at age 15 (“I believe that Silbie instilled in me a healthy attitude toward sex: she pumped and I squirted. It was completely lacking in a moral or religious dimension.”).

I.B.’s inability to keep it in his pants eventually undoes him, when the death of a patient and former lover leads to accusations of negligent homicide. Still, on the verge of losing all, I.B. obsesses over a woman he can never truly possess – an independent and secretive pilot whom he rescues after a plane crash, but who never seems to have his best interests at heart.

Heavy as all this may sound, Driving on the Rim is often spit-take funny, and its final line – like many of McGuane’s – is a beauty. He’s the true heir to Charles Portis, and a long line of American comic novelists going back to Mark Twain. That the book is sometimes shot through with sadness only make the laughs that much richer.
Visit the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

The Page 69 Test: Gone 'til November.

The Page 69 Test: Cold Shot to the Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Trent Jamieson

Trent Jamieson lives in Brisbane, Australia. A multiple Aurealis Award winner for short fiction, he has taught short story writing at the Queensland University of Technology, and Clarion South Writer's Workshop. Death Most Definite, Book One of the Death Works Series, was published by Orbit Books in September 2010. Book Two, Managing Death, was released in January 2011, and Book Three, The Business of Death, is due for publication in September 2011. He has just sold a two book series of Steampunkish novels to Angry Robot Books, the first of which, Roil, is due for publication in September 2011.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've just recently finished reading a fabulous debut novel by a friend of mine Chris Currie. The book is called The Ottoman Motel, and is due to be published by Text Publishing in May 2011. I make mention of the fact that I know Chris, because when you read a book by a friend, someone you've worked with for years, you go into it with certain expectations, and trepidation as well - what if I don't like the book?

Well, I loved the book, and it's truthful depiction of loss and small town life in coastal Australia. Chris is a funny guy, he makes me laugh a lot. I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't this dark meditation on yearning and fear, and just what happens when the world you thought you understood is yanked out from under you. But I'm glad that's what I found. It's the sort of book that draws you in softly and slowly then takes your breath away.

And the writing. Oh the writing!

I don't have the book with me, but some of his similes made me at once extremely jealous and extremely joyous, because Chris is an author than can make you see a simple gesture, the commonest sort of thing as a revelation of the new.

Good writers are about angles, drawing you in, making you see the world in different way, or from a different perspective. Chris has that talent and then some: he isn't just a good writer but a superlative one. And The Ottoman Motel is the start of what I am sure will be a fabulous literary career, in and out of Australia.
Visit Trent Jamieson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Managing Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 7, 2011

Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith is the New York Times bestselling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls.

He also writes the “Holmes on the Range” mysteries for St. Martin’s Minotaur. The newest entry in the series, World’s Greatest Sleuth!, came out last month.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The last book I read, Kurt Vonnegut’s funny-sad-brilliant Hocus Pocus, took me three days. The book I’m reading now, on the other hand, has taken me close to three weeks...and I’ve still got 100 pages to go.

You’d think I was subjecting myself to War and Peace, but that’s not the case. It’s The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins that I’m crawling through. I’m enjoying the crawl, though! Don’t think I’m complaining. It’s just that the book -- an exhaustive (and devastating) critique of religion -- is so densely packed with ideas and arguments that I have to take it slowly. I usually read for half an hour each night, enough to take a decent-sized bite out of a Vonnegut novel, say. In the same amount of time with Dawkins’s book, however, I’m only getting through 10 or 15 pages. It looks like this is going to be my Book of the Month.

And that’s fine by me. Well, not entirely. Oh, to be a speed reader, zipping through Gravity’s Rainbow in the dentist’s waiting room; polishing off Infinite Jest while waiting for cookies to come out of the oven; ending the day with a nice, hot bath and quick rereading of The Brothers Karamazov!

Alas, such is not my life. But I’ve accepted that. I don’t mind taking my time with a book so long as I’m getting something out of it. And Lord knows I don’t always. I was on the Ulysses Death March for a week, slogging through perhaps 80 pages before realizing that I didn’t understand or even remember anything I’d read. It was like a Thesaurus had vomited, and someone slapped a cover on it and called it “Literature.” So I moved on to another book.

I hope it was a detective novel. Something with a subtitle like “A Brick McMasters Mystery.” That’d show ’em!

Only once has Dawkins come close to losing me like that. Way back in the ’70s, apparently, he created the concept of “memes” -- ideas that spread and evolve almost like living things. Cool! Not so cool: the sub-chapter of The God Delusion that Dawkins calls “Tread Softly, Because You Tread on My Memes.” I know. Sounds painful, doesn’t it? And not just the treading. The reading was pretty rough, too.

As I’m no longer in college, I don’t feel obligated to put in the hardcore rereading, analyzing and necessary to explain why the book had to get all meme-y. I will, however, offer a representative sentence from that particular section: “In this second stage of the process, memes were selected against the background of already existing meme pools, building up a new memeplex of mutually compatible memes.”

Look it up in the book if you want the full context. Then send me an e-mail explaining it. Please.

Fortunately, the meme-apalooza ended after another few pages, and it was back to arguments pulled from history, science and pure reason rather than anyone’s backside. If all goes smoothly, I should be done with the book in two weeks, max. Then it’ll be on to a palette cleanser.

Get ready, Brick McMasters, or whatever your name’s going to be. I’m coming for you.

Visit Steve Hockensmith's website.

The Page 69 Test: On the Wrong Track.

My Book, The Movie: Holmes on the Range.

The Page 99 Test: The Black Dove.

The Page 69 Test: The Crack in the Lens.

The Page 69 Test: World's Greatest Sleuth!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 5, 2011

John Woestendiek

Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter John Woestendiek is a 33-year newspaper veteran. Most recently, he worked as the features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes and produces the popular dog website ohmidog! which gets over 1,000 hits a day. Woestendiek has also worked for the Arizona Daily Star, Lexington Herald-Leader, Charlotte Observer, and Philadelphia Inquirer. He has recently served as the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Montana School of Journalism. In 2003 he was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame.

Woestendiek's new book is Dog, Inc:The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man's Best Friend.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he was reading.  His reply:
For most of 2009, I was reading almost entirely dog books – partly in connection with research for my book, partly because I produce a dog website, ohmidog!. The one that stands out in my mind was Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz, which provides a lot of insight into what makes dogs tick, and how dogs make us tick.

For most of 2010, I’ve been on a steady diet of John Steinbeck.

He has always been one of my favorite authors, but after finishing Dog, Inc., in May of 2010 – inspired by him, and by being unemployed – I took off on a road trip across America (two laps) with my dog, Ace.

The idea was (and is) to put together a modern day version of Travels With Charley, Steinbeck’s classic work about touring the U.S. with his poodle. I figured while I may not be the writer John Steinbeck was, Ace is a far more fascinating dog than Charley. So we traveled for eight months, covering 22,000 miles, visiting animal shelters and sanctuaries, shacking up in cheap motels, tents, on a boat, in a camper, with a stranger and so on, attempting to spend no more on our travels than I was for rent and utilities while I was stationary. Our adventures are recounted on my website.

In recent months, I’ve read my well-thumbed, marked and dog-eared paperback version of Travels With Charley more than 10 times (getting something new out of it each time), reread much of Steinbeck’s other work, and am still working my way through the voluminous John Steinbeck, Writer, Jackson J. Benson’s biography, previously entitled The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer.
Visit John Woestendiek's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue