Sunday, May 28, 2017

Alan Smale

Alan Smale writes science fiction and fantasy, currently focusing on alternate history and historical fantasy. His novella of a Roman invasion of ancient America, "A Clash of Eagles," won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile are the first books in a trilogy set in the same universe.

Smale's new novel is Eagle and Empire, book three of the Clash of Eagles trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Smale's reply:
I’m generally reading several books at the same time, both fiction and non-fiction. Since most of what I write these days is alternate or twisted history I’m continuously reading for research, either central or tangential to the story I’m working on or about to start. I’m a knowledge junkie, so this is kind of fun, but it does mean that after five years of writing the Clash of Eagles series and focusing mostly on research, I faced a solid backlog of the fiction that I hadn’t gotten around to when it came out – some of it by my friends, which was particularly embarrassing. Plus, I’m now making a point of reading respected alternate history novels that I missed along the way.

Good examples of the latter are Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart, an alternate history duology by Steven Barnes. Having just deconstructed North America and rebuilt it for myself, with a Roman invasion of the continent when the Mississippian Culture was at its height, I was interested to see someone else’s take. The Barnes novels postulate an America colonized by the nations of Africa rather than of Europe, and thus with switched racial roles: the big plantation homes are owned by a powerful Islamic African aristocracy, while the slaves in the fields are generally white Northern Europeans. It’s not a polemic, and there’s no winking at the reader: the books are a genuinely thoughtful and well-written exploration of a different world, and the characters of all backgrounds are all well drawn and very human. I loved the detail and the pacing, and found them thought-provoking.

Books by friends of mine that I finally got to and enjoyed recently included Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops: Control Point (military fantasy), C.A. Higgins’ Lightless (hard SF), Jason Hough’s Zero World (SF action-adventure), Fran Wilde’s Updraft (second world fantasy), and David Levine’s Arabella of Mars (interplanetary adventure). And then there’s The Devourers by Indra Das, set in Mughal India, which is one of the oddest and most visceral takes on the werewolf myth that I’ve ever read. I’d also recommend New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey, whom I haven’t met yet but by now counts as an “internet friend.” It’s a time travel thriller with plot twists and turns and a strong Roman component, so it pushed all the right buttons for me.

On the non-fiction side, I’ve found the military history books from Osprey Publishing to be invaluable. I relied on their books throughout writing the Clash series for details of weaponry, clothing, battle tactics, siege equipment, ship technology, historical campaigns, and many other topics, for my Roman, Native American, Norse, and other characters. Their books are slim – generally 48, 64, or 96 pages long – but don’t be fooled: they’re so concentrated with critical information that they seem just the right length. Sure, their authors could have padded them out to 250 pages each, and I’ve read plenty of extended academic treatises as well, but the Osprey books bring the essentials with no fuss or fill. I always have an Osprey on the go.

Beyond those, there are three general-level historical books that I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of months. 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline is a great summary of the bronze age civilizations of the Mediterranean and Middle East in the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC, and a study of how their economies all fell over like ninepins around 1177 BC. It shows well how interconnected the various empires and nations were by diplomacy and trade, even so long ago. Carthage Must be Destroyed by Richard Miles is the only book I’ve ever read that gets to the core of the Carthaginian culture and people, who ended up getting wiped from the face of the earth so convincingly by the Romans in the Punic Wars. It’s a deep look into a country that many people perceive as just a failed footnote in history. Finally, Gene Cernan’s death prompted me to read The Last Man on the Moon. I work at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, but even before that I was a space addict. I’ve read a large number of books about human spaceflight, especially through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo eras, and Cernan’s was one of the most human and candid of all.

Audiobooks! I’m new to them, I’ll admit. I didn’t think audiobooks were my thing. I read much faster than spoken-word speed, and I don’t like to wait. But when I’m driving to work and back I can listen to music I’ve heard forty times before, depress myself with news, or learn something. Recently, I’ve been learning, and I’ve found the slow pace helps me to think more. While listening to Mary Beard’s SPQR, I focused in on some political details of ancient Rome that I’d probably have glossed over in book form, because a lot of the stories were already familiar to me. With an audiobook you also can’t skip the gory parts, and so A Short History of Modern Medicine by F. Gonzalez-Crussi was fascinating but occasionally wince-making. I got to grips with the details of how scientific thinking has changed from Isaac Newton by James Gleick, and with how scientific theories themselves evolve from listening to Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory by Edward J. Larson.

And, let’s be honest: I was never going to read A Tale of Two Cities in book form. I just wasn’t. Too many more current books higher in the pile. But when I had to make the long road trip from D.C. to Memphis and back for MidSouthCon, Dickens kept me company, and I enjoyed his flowing language, both in the long descriptive passages and dialog, the suspense, and the dark humor.
Visit Alan Smale's website.

The Page 69 Test: Clash of Eagles.

The Page 69 Test: Eagle in Exile.

The Page 69 Test: Eagle and Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Jennifer Jaynes

USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Jaynes has always had a passion for writing, even if it took her a while to turn her passion into a career. After graduating from Old Dominion University with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and a minor in management, she made her living as a content manager, webmaster, news publisher, editor, and copywriter. Then everything changed in 2014 when her first novel, Never Smile at Strangers, topped bestseller lists at USA Today, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. At that point, there was no going back.

Since her debut, Jaynes has added two more novels to the Strangers Series. Her new novel is the stand-alone thriller, The Stranger Inside.

Recently I asked Jaynes about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm re-reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

I’ve read (& listened) to this book several times since 2014 and will undoubtedly read it several more.

First published in 1937, it was one of the first books that focused on the power of the human mind--and how thinking in a certain way directly influences the results in one's life.

One of the book's most powerful teachings is this: "The starting point of all achievements is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat."

This book has completely transformed every facet of my life for the better.
Visit Jennifer Jaynes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 25, 2017

C. A. Higgins

C. A. Higgins is the author of Lightless, Supernova, and the newly released Radiate. She was a runner-up in the 2013 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing and has a B.A. in physics from Cornell University.

Recently I asked Higgins about what she was reading. Her reply:
My bookshelf is small and so full of books stacked in like Tetris blocks that at this point it is the books holding the shelf up, and not vice versa. The books that I have recently read, am currently reading, or intend to read shortly exist in a teetering pile alongside my bed.

The most recent read in the pile is Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb. The last of her novels about FitzChivalry Farseer, it lived up to all my love for and investment in the characters in the series. Another fantasy novel is Kushiel’s Scion by Jacqueline Carey; I enjoyed her first trilogy set in Terre d’Ange and am looking forward to starting the second. The series is an engrossing mixture of fantasy, fantasy religion, eroticism, and political scheming.

In nonfiction, I have Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother And Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart. It’s about the various ways plants can hurt you, which is useful both for novel research and for feeding my growing paranoia.

In science fiction, I have Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age; after reading Seveneves, I’m looking forward to experiencing more of his work.
Visit C. A. Higgins's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lightless.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ryan Lobo

Ryan Lobo is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker based in Bangalore.

His work has appeared in National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Boston Review, The Caravan, and Bidoun Magazine.

Lobo's new novel is Mr. Iyer Goes to War.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading several books both fiction and non-fiction.

I also just finished reading The Poetry of Derek Walcott, much of it at 2:30 AM while feeding my one month old daughter. Such powerful writing. A line struck me '..and the doors themselves, usually no wider than coffins'. I recalled a friend telling me the story of a maid who had criticized an apartment building because its stairwell was not large enough for a coffin and it struck me that the architect had forgotten about the possibility of death for the residents when building that building. Such optimism!

I am currently in the middle of the book Voltaire's Bastards by John Ralston Saul. He writes that age of reason ended the powers of kings and courts also aimed to create a more just civilization. However, Saul postulates that the symbiosis between reason and morality has been destroyed and leaders today, bereft of an ethical framework, have turned the age of reason into something that it's founders might abhor. He explores the schism between democratic principles and modern governments. The going is pretty slow on this book as i find I have to re read portions to really understand what is going on but a lot of it seems to have deep relevance to what is happening in the world today.

I just re read A Confederacy of Dunces a book I enjoyed immensely. I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book, even waking up the baby on one occasion. After reading it I even tried reading Ignatius's favorite book, Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy but gave up after the first few paragraphs as it is written in old English. Here's an excerpt 'And all naturall things reioyseth at theyr returne to their owne nature. And nothynge hath any other prescribed order, but that onely that hath ioyned the begynnyng to the ende..' Needless to say but my head spun, unlike Ignatius J. Reilly's.

I also recently finished Paul Beatty's The Sellout. I met him and his lovely partner Althea at a literary festival and had a most interesting conversation with him about films like How to Train your Dragon and Jurassic Park and what they might reveal about America. I bought his book shortly thereafter and found it terrifyingly funny and sad.

Finally, on a stranger note, I just read The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl as inspiration for writing stories for my daughter for when she grows up a bit.
Visit Ryan Lobo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mr. Iyer Goes to War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 22, 2017

Helene Stapinski

Helene Stapinski began her career at her hometown newspaper, The Jersey Journal. She is the author of the memoirs Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History and Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair, with Music. Her essays have appeared in several anthologies, most recently, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up. Stapinski has also written extensively for The New York Times, for Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, Salon, Real Simple, New York magazine and dozens of other newspapers, magazines and blogs. She’s been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, The Today Show and as a performer with The Moth main stage.

Stapinski's new book is Murder In Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm about a quarter of the way through The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a social satire about an African American man's unorthodox upbringing and his appeal before the Supreme Court after his attempt to reintroduce slavery to a Los Angeles neighborhood.

The book is simultaneously incredibly sad and laugh out loud funny, no easy feat. I have a problem with self-serious, pretentious writers who are afraid -- or maybe are just incapable -- of making people laugh. You can tell a moving story and still manage to entertain your reader. Beatty, so far, has managed to tell a painful, contemporary tale, while using wicked, biting humor. His social commentary and riffs come so fast and furiously that I can only read a chapter at a time. It makes my head spin. But in a good way. My first book was described as "heartbreaking and hilarious," which is what I'm usually going for in my own writing. So I'm loving The Sellout.
Visit Helene Stapinski's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jason M. Hough

Jason M. Hough is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dire Earth Cycle and the near-future spy thriller Zero World, which Publishers Weekly said is "a thrilling action rampage that confirms Hough as an important new voice in genre fiction.”

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hough's reply:
As usual I'm devouring two books at once, because I'll do one in print when I have genuine reading time and the other as an audiobook when I'm driving or doing chores.

Right now in print I'm reading an advance copy of Scott Reintgen's Nyxia, which is a wonderful YA sci-fi novel about a planet with a unique and powerful element that the locals will only allow children to mine. It's extremely good and sports a great cast of characters.

On audio I'm listening to A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming, which is the 3rd book in his Thomas Kell spy series.I really enjoy these novels, which are much more calculating and cerebral than, say, a Jason Bourne thriller. Lots of great tradecraft and an extremely engrossing main character.
Visit Jason M. Hough's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lucinda Riley

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and The Seven Sisters. Her books have sold more than five million copies in thirty languages She lives in London and the English countryside with her husband and four children.

Riley's latest book to appear in the US is The Shadow Sister, the third installment in the seven book series, The Seven Sisters.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently tackling the beast that is James Joyce’s Ulysses, as I promised a friend I would attempt it again for the third time to try and make sense out of the book! Having just moved back home to Ireland, it's a fitting time. I’m always fascinated by the background story of the author when he/she was writing a novel and I was told that Joyce was taking medicine prescribed by his doctor while working on Ulysses, which may have contained hallucinatory properties. This has made me see the novel in a different light. Perhaps I’ll be brave enough to take on Finnegan’s Wake next … or maybe I’ll pick up something ‘lighter’, like one of my beloved Inspector Linley novels, by Elizabeth George.

Aside from reading about Leopold Bloom’s journey through Dublin, I’ve been immersed in research for my next book, The Moon Sister, the fifth in the Seven Sisters series, which is focused on the character Tiggy. Paco Sevilla’s biography of the dancer Carmen Amaya, Queen of the Gypsies, has given me fascinating insight into the passion and art of flamenco, and when I was doing research in Granada, Spain I saw the breathtaking dances for myself. I will be tapping my feet to the rhythm of flamenco as I write The Moon Sister.
Visit Lucinda Riley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Storm Sister.

My Book, The Movie: The Storm Sister.

My Book, The Movie: The Shadow Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wayne Franklin

Wayne Franklin is professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His biography James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years was selected as an Outstanding Academic Title in 2008 by the AAUP and Choice magazine.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Recently, I read J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy because I’m always looking for books that open up seemingly neglected areas of American experience, especially if they have a strong spatial component. One of my favorite books of all time, All God’s Dangers, Theodore Rosengarten’s 1974 account of the life of black Alabama sharecropper and labor activist Ned Cobb, shows considerably more power than Vance’s more modest book can muster. But Vance does tell, from personal experience, the tale of twentieth-century Scots-Irish migration from rural Tennessee to industrial Ohio, capturing the sense of social and spatial dislocation that his title is meant to suggest.

After Hillbilly Elegy, I turned to Michael Finkel’s The Stranger in the Woods, the not-quite-as-told-to story of Maine loner Christopher Knight, who spent twenty-seven years living in a secret place amid a maze of huge rocks near vacation cabins and camps that he systematically rifled for food, clothing, fuel, gear (and books) to sustain himself. His story inevitably recalls Jon Krakauer’s 1996 title, Into the Wild, about Christopher McCandless’s briefer, more tragic withdrawal into the Alaskan wilderness.

Also recently, I re-read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and, for the first time, her An American Childhood, published in 1987. The first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974, the year before All God’s Dangers won the National Book Award, is by now a classic of modern environmental prose, notable for its spiritual depth and, again, its avid pursuit of the lessons that loneliness can teach. An American Childhood is a much chattier, more worldly memoir of Dillard’s life (as a privileged young woman named Meta Ann Doak) in the Shadyside/Point Breeze neighborhoods of Pittsburgh from the 1940s to the 1960s. Since I spent five year in those same neighborhoods just about the time Dillard went off to college in Roanoke, near which Tinker Creek runs its course, American Childhood offered me not only some insight into how Meta Doak became Annie Dillard but also into a city I, too, recall with great fondness. I agree with the profound point she makes about space in the opening paragraph in that second book: “When everything else has gone from my brain—the President’s name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and what it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family—when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.” As to me, I recall from Pittsburgh the fact that my neighborhood was quite literally Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, too, since he lived a half mile or so from me. (Dillard had left Pittsburgh before his first show aired there, so she not surprisingly does not speak of him.) I also recall that Fred Rogers, despite his cheery public face, had a security system warning sign out front of the big brick house. But that’s another story.
Learn more about James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 15, 2017

William Christie

William Christie is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a former Marine Corps infantry officer. He is well into middle age, and is the author of eight novels, five under his own name and the latest two under the pen name F.J. Chase, which was basically a publisher’s marketing ploy. He also wrote SEAL Team Seven: Direct Action, for Berkley Books, under the name Keith Douglass, because he needed a new car at the time.

Christie's new novel is A Single Spy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
This is hard, because when I'm writing a novel I try not to read fiction. Or at least the genre I'm writing in. Because when I'm impressed I sometimes find myself writing in that writer's voice. And when I look at the day's work I find myself saying: what the hell? But in writing a historical novel I kept coming back to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. Not just that it is brilliant writing and brilliant use of history. But because she took as her hero Thomas Cromwell, one of history's great villains. Henry VIII's consigliere and brutal fixer. Showing us that with enough skill any character can claim us, if shown according to their own time and their own lights. Hilary Mantel and her novels have nothing to do with my character Alexsi in A Single Spy, but she showed me what was possible.
Visit William Christie's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Single Spy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sam Wiebe

Sam Wiebe's novel Last of the Independents won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and an Arthur Ellis Award, and was nominated for a Shamus award. His second novel, Invisible Dead, was published by Random House Canada and Quercus USA. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, and he was the 2016 Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence. He lives in Vancouver.

Recently I asked Wiebe about what he was reading. His reply:
My local bookstore owner recommended Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson practically at gunpoint, calling it “an aboriginal Twin Peaks.” It’s about Jared, a teenaged indigenous kid trying to negotiate his hellishly dysfunctional family. Robinson is from the Haisla First Nation, and her writing ranges from my hometown of Vancouver to the small towns of northern British Columbia. She writes characters who understand poverty and desperation, but her books also feature moments of humour and genuine kindness. As the title suggests, there are elements of the mythical and supernatural, but like Stephen King’s best work, Son of a Trickster is grounded in strong characters with real-life problems.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy is a non-fiction account of LAPD homicide detective John Skaggs’s investigation into the murder of Bryant Tennelle, a black teenager in South Central who also happened to be the son of another detective. The book reads like a California version of The Wire—dedicated cops trying to do their job despite the realities of racial injustice, limited resources, and a culture dismissive of black-on-black murders. Leovy’s account is fascinating true crime, but also full of sociological insights into police culture, race, and the legal system.
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue