Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cherise Wolas

Cherise Wolas is a writer, lawyer, and film producer. She received a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a JD from Loyola Law School.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is her debut novel.

Recently I asked Wolas about what she was reading. Her reply:
I think I’ve read every day of my life since I was five. Although I dip into nonfiction occasionally, my lust is for gorgeously deep, beautifully written, powerful novels that open up new worlds, present unexpected and original truths, peopled with complex, multi-faceted characters who defy easy categorization, the way people are in real life. I adore novels that get me thinking, about the world of the novel, of the world beyond the novel, and of my own work. I adore novels where the words sparkle like gems, where the sentences are jewels, where enormous care has been taken, not only with the story, but in the telling of that story.

Right now, I’m rounding toward the finish line of Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. Despite years of education and my own dedicated reading, I’d never read him. He dropped into my life unexpectedly while I was watching a movie in which a character pulls a copy of Buddenbrooks from his ex-wife’s bookshelf. Nothing more is said about the book, but something clicked for me. The movie didn’t hold my attention, but I will always think of it fondly because it brought me to Thomas Mann.

Having just published my first novel, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, it felt like a serendipitous symmetry when I learned that Buddenbrooks was Mann’s first novel.

It is a story that portrays the lives, loves, loyalties, masked and unmasked desires, and the values, morals, and mores of four generations of a wealthy north German merchant family. Presented as a family saga, it delves into the conflicts that arise from family ties, from pride of position, from failed love, from the limitations that existed even for the well-born in German bourgeois life. It is an intimate portrait of characters the reader comes to know well. Happiness, that elusive quality, bleeds out of this family as the years pass, and it is heartbreaking to know they are aware both of this bleeding and their inability to staunch it. The time period encompassed is from 1835 to 1877, and I imagine the groaning of anyone reading this. But the story and the writing are as current, as modern, as anything being written today.

Mann’s narrative is masterful, often ironic, incredibly rich in details, and cinematic. He handles his characters with a clear-eyed approach that permits us to see them fully and to understand their myriad, often competing, aims. This book portrays drama the way I understand drama—small dramas that create or undo lives.

As I read Buddenbrooks, I have been debating a couple of things: Would this masterpiece, if written by a woman today, and published now, be sloughed off for inhabiting so thoroughly the realm of the domestic, deemed unimportant? I think it’s more likely than not. Recently, there have been some long books written by men about the domestic, books lauded, applauded, and awarded, and it saddens me to realize that had those same books been written by women, they likely would not have enjoyed such rapturous commendations. Second, I’ve been wondering what if Thomas Mann submitted Buddenbrooks to his agent and publisher today? Would he be told It’s too long. Where is the big betrayal? Where is the sex appeal? Please go back and cut, cut, cut. Very possibly. And yet, it’s exactly the length it should be, and reads faster than any thriller I’ve read in the last ten years. This book is, wonderfully, and strangely, a kind of thriller, a sort of detective novel, a biography, a memoir, a roman a clef, a bildungsroman. It is a rare sort of juicy tale.

And as Mann brilliantly culls, tills, and cultivates the domestic, we are privy to numerous betrayals, deep disappointments, longings for real love, for place, for serenity, for hope for the future. Thomas Mann pulled open the heavy curtains in those large rooms in those large houses in that unnamed German town and 116 years after it was first published in 1901, the impact of his novel still stunningly brings us into an entirely fascinating and utterly political world. Not all that different from our world today.

I already have my copy of Mann’s The Magic Mountain on my nightstand.
Visit Cherise Wolas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lynne Constantine

Lynne Constantine is part of the duo writing as Liv Constantine, author of The Last Mrs. Parrish: A Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually have a few books going at a time: one or two non-fictions (one usually pertaining to writing craft), and a novel. Currently, I’m reading Emma in the Night, a psychological thriller written by Wendy Walker, an author who also lives in Connecticut. I enjoy reading fiction in all genres, but lately have focused more on psychological thrillers since that’s what I write. One reason is that I believe it’s important to know what others in your genre are writing. The other reason is that I’m I firm believer in supporting other authors. I met Wendy at a recent book event at the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont. After hearing about her pitch to the audience, I was sold as well. There were five other authors there and we all bought each other’s books. I have a special bookcase dedicated to books written by friends. Happily, that number grows every day, whether it’s authors I know from conferences, book signings, or have met through social media.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is the non-fiction book that is sitting on my desk now. I’ve heard Donald speak at conferences and have been impressed by his command of story and how to make the words convey feeling to the reader. This one I’m taking slow, savoring each chapter and letting the lessons resonate with me. My writing mentor used to joke that I have a book addiction, especially to craft books. I’m more selective these days, but I still can’t resist checking out a book whose title speaks to me.
Visit Liv Constantine's website and Lynne Constantine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Lynne Constantine & Greyson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jake Burt

Jake Burt teaches the fifth grade in Connecticut.

The newly released Greetings from Witness Protection! is his fiction debut.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Burt's reply:
Like most authors, I have a TBR pile that's in danger of toppling over and crushing me; if nobody hears from me in a few weeks, look under the mound of kidlit in my basement. I know it's a wonderful problem to have, and it's one I frequently exacerbate by interrupting the natural progression whenever a book by a favorite author comes out. That's what just happened to me - a gigantic meteor slammed into my good readerly intentions, forcing me to put everything else on hold until I finished Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage.

Like so many readers, I fell in love with Lyra Belacqua from the first pages of The Golden Compass, and I've harbored as vested an interest in her well being as one can for a fictional character ever since. I named my cat after her. I tried to name my daughter after her, but my wife nixed it. So you can well imagine the voracity with which I devoured Philip Pullman's newest work. In doing so, I found it messy, meandering, and stunningly gorgeous. I cried multiple times, and felt that glorious constriction of the chest whenever Lyra, here in infancy, was in danger. That Pullman could have that effect on me, even though I already knew Lyra's fate as surely as I know anything, is a testament to the world he's created and the characters he's populated it with.

La Belle Sauvage is masterful, and I'm contemplating reading it again, even though that's not fair to Oddity by Sarah Cannon.

I'm fortunate to get ARCs of MG fiction from other friends on the author circuit, and Sarah's debut novel is one I've enjoyed so far. The strange little town in New Mexico she's concocted throws curveballs at you every few sentences (the story begins with fifth grade students facing down a leap of leopards in the gym, all as part of a school-sanctioned safety drill...), and though it's a lot for my semi-calcified brain to absorb, I'm certain that the far more elastic imaginations of her target audience will eat up Ada's adventures.

Up next after Oddity on the ol' pile are Cat Valente's The Glass Town Game and F.C. Yee's The Epic Crush of Genie Lo...unless, of course, I can't help but read La Belle Sauvage again...
Visit Jake Burt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Greetings from Witness Protection!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Valerie Constantine

Valerie Constantine is part of the duo writing as Liv Constantine, author of The Last Mrs. Parrish: A Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually have a few books going at the same time and always make at least one of them non-fiction. I just finished Year of the Fat Night: The Falstaff Diaries by stage actor Antony Sher. It is the recounting of the year he spent preparing for the role of Falstaff for the stage production of Henry IV Parts I and 2 for the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. These are two of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and I also had the chance to see Sher perform Falstaff in Part 2 last year, so that made the book even more enjoyable.

Also on my bed stand is Karin Slaughter’s newest release The Good Daughter. I’m half way through and, as always, impressed with her writing, her knowledge and her literary allusions. I think she is one of the finest authors writing in the thriller genre.

The other book, passed along to me by my husband, is Five Days in London: May 1940 by John Lukacs. This is an account of the days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 when the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue the war. The tense talks over these hours show a picture of a new and bull headed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, whose courage and determination changed the course of history. I do love reading about men and women who have impacted our world so powerfully for good.
Visit Liv Constantine's website and Valerie Constantine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Valerie Constantine & Zorba.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 13, 2017

Kali Wallace

Kali Wallace, for most of her life, was going to be a scientist when she grew up. She studied geology in college, partly because she could get course credit for hiking and camping, and eventually earned a PhD in geophysics researching earthquakes in India and the Himalayas. Only after she had her shiny new doctorate in hand did she admit that she loved inventing imaginary worlds as much as she liked exploring the real one.

Wallace's new novel is The Memory Trees.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
These days I find myself usually reading more than one book at a time, most often some thick, meaty nonfiction that takes me weeks to finish alongside several pieces of fiction.

On the fiction side of things, I just finished a pair of novellas by Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow. In the late 19th century, the U.S. government came up with a plan to import hippopotamuses into Louisiana swamps to breed for meat. The plan was real, but it was never carried out in real life. In a stunning example of "I am so jealous I didn't think of that" creativity, Gailey imagines that the infamous and utterly terrible Hippo Plan was enacted, and the result is a fast-paced, rollicking, wild west-by-way-of-the-deep south kind of historical adventure tale full of greed and vengeance and a little bit of romance, with a diverse cast of likeably shady characters led by--obviously--a dashing hippo wrangler. Obviously. Who else?

Both novellas are delightful, fun, a bit silly but still heartfelt, and have succeeded in giving me a deeply entrenched fear of being killed by a rampaging feral hippopotamus.

On the nonfiction side, I've reading about an altogether different sort of massive mammal and its place in American history: Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin. Learning about the history of whaling is one of my stranger habits, the sort of habit I refer to as "research" in polite company, but really I do just because it's fascinating. As of right now I've only just begun the book, so we're still at the stage of early American colonies having legal fights over who has the right to beached whales, but I know that things are going to get rather more exciting--and a great deal more brutal--very soon.
Visit Kali Wallace's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Todd Merer

In his thirty years as a criminal attorney, Todd Merer specialized in the defense of high-ranking cartel chiefs extradited to the United States. He gained acquittals in more than 150 trials, and his high-profile cases have been featured in the New York Times and Time magazine and on 60 Minutes. A “proud son of Brooklyn,” Merer divides his time between New York City and ports of call along the old Spanish Main.

Merer's first novel is The Extraditionist.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I like mysteries and thrillers with strong, eccentric lead characters who are loners and who straddle the bright line between law and criminality. I also love historical nonfiction, particularly about the Civil War. The following are next up on my reading list (I’m a fast reader, so within a month I’ll be drawing up another list):

December 6th by Martin Cruz Smith

Fatherland by Robert Harris

Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter

The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berenson

The House of Wolfe by James Carlos Blake

God is a Bullet by Boston Teran

Creole Belle by James Lee Burke

Mr. Lincoln’s Army by Bruce Caitlin

Hell or Richmond by Ralph Peters

A German Requiem by Phillip Kerr

The Secret Lovers by Charles McCarry

Yes, most of these books are several years old—now that I’m no longer an attorney, I’m catching up on all the authors I love.
Learn more about The Extraditionist.

My Book, The Movie: The Extraditionist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 10, 2017

Stephen R. Bown R. Bown is a critically acclaimed author of several literary non-fiction books on the history of science, exploration and ideas.

His latest book is Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition.

Recently I asked the Bown about what he was reading. His reply:
Right now I’m reading the memoir of the man who spent 23 years backpacking around the world visiting every country and region on the planet. It is called The World’s Most Travelled Man: A Twenty-Three Year Odyssey to and Through Every Country on the Planet, written by Mike Spencer Bown. Mike is my brother, so many of his incredible stories are familiar to me from talks over the years. He didn’t start out with a plan to visit everywhere, he began as most travellers do, exploring different countries out of curiosity and a sense of adventure. But Mike continued beyond the natural time for travel one has in their 20s: he and his then girlfriend ran a gardening accoutrement business out of Bali in the 1990s and he continued travelling around Asia during the off seasons. For the past ten years, however, Mike has single-mindedly devoted most of each year to travel in dangerous and unpleasant places. His stories include being the first tourist in war-torn Mogadishu, hitchhiking through Iraq during the Second Gulf War, being served a platter of goat eyeballs as the guest of honor at a Mongolian feast, and living and hunting with the Mbuti Pygmy tribe in the Congo. His philosophy of travel, and life in general, is “stories, not stamps” – a reference to a certain type of traveller who does so merely to get a stamp in their passport, which he suggests would be like claiming that you “did England,” for example, because you changed planes at the airport in London on your way to Italy. Anyway, this book is a fascinating window into the weird and shadowy places of the world written by someone who actually has been everywhere and seen all the sights.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen R. Bown's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Viking.

The Page 99 Test: White Eskimo.

My Book, The Movie: Island of the Blue Foxes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Casey Daniels

Casey Daniels has a degree in English and experience as a journalist and writing teacher. She fell in love with mysteries early thanks to her father, a Cleveland police detective who enjoyed reading Sherlock Holmes, and went on to devour every mystery story she could get her hands on. Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle are among her favorite authors. When Daniels is not writing, she's usually with her family and two dogs. She enjoys knitting, gardening and, of course, stomping through cemeteries in search of history, stories and inspiration.

Smoke and Mirrors, Daniels's new historical mystery, introduces museum curator and amateur sleuth Miss Evie Barnum.

Recently I asked Daniels about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have a friend who loves to knit.  Knitting isn’t just her hobby, it’s her passion.

So it’s only natural I wasn’t surprised to hear she was opening a knitting store.  Like so many others who’ve taken the plunge, my friend had dreams of what owning a shop would be like: she’d chat with customers about knitting, she’d teach the uninitiated how to knit.  Even more importantly, she’d spend her days in peace, drinking in the luscious colors of the yarns that surrounded her, knitting, knitting, and knitting.

Not so much.

As so many people who love what they do have found out, owning a business is a whole lot different than dreaming of owning a business.  Instead of knitting all day (or baking cupcakes, making jewelry, brewing beer ... whatever the dream may be), they are suddenly thrust into dealing with customer service, attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, working with banks, balancing books, buying advertisements.

That’s a long, round-about way of explaining that to me, reading is a lot like knitting is for that friend of mine, a lovely dream.

If only I had more time to do it!

When I’m writing fiction, I don’t often read it.  I’m afraid I’ll pick up too much of another author’s voice or unwittingly hang onto phrases I found particularly delicious.  When I’m actively writing a book, most of the reading I do is nonfiction for research.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t make exceptions.  Here are some of my recent reads (fiction and non):

A Brilliant Death

Coming-of-age meets murder mystery.  The novel is set in southern Ohio in a town of hard-scrabble, hard-working folks, and follows the adventures of two boys who are eager to find out more about one of their mothers, a woman who supposedly drowned in the river years before.  The author is Edgar-nominated Robin Yocum and I picked up the book because Robin and I did an event together and I wanted to be familiar with his work.  I’m glad I did.  The book is written in clear, vivid prose, the characters are memorable, and I like little better than a cold case!

A Killer’s Guide to Good Works

Another of the authors on the venue for that book event I recently attended was Shelley Costa.  I didn’t have to scramble to read her book because I read everything Shelley writes, as soon as it comes out.  A Killer’s Guide is a great look into the nature of power and the ability of good to conquer evil.  Shelley’s writing in this book, as in all her others, is breathtaking.  She, too, has been nominated for an Edgar award.

A Season with the Witch

This one is non-fiction, and an engrossing read.  It follows the adventures of author J.W. Ocker and his family as they spend the month of October in Salem, Massachusetts.  Part travelogue, part memoir.  The book gives readers a sense of the true dichotomy of Salem, a town that is half sideshow all the while it is rooted in history and tragedy.  As to why I read it ... I’ve always dreamed of visiting Salem in October.  Now that I’ve read about how crazy it is at that time of year, I’d still like to go, but I think I’ll pass on October!
Visit Casey Daniels's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Cathy Gere

Cathy Gere is associate professor of history at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism and the newly released Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gere's reply:
I just finished Collecting the World by historian of science James Delbourgo, about Hans Sloane, the eighteenth-century physician whose vast assembly of botanical and cultural wonders from all over the globe was the seed from which the British Museum sprouted. My father was keeper of one of the departments of the British Museum, and I grew up in Hans Sloane’s old neighborhood in London, so for me the book holds a double personal significance. I found it a fantastic read, full of hilarious insights into how bizarre and quirky much of the Enlightenment drive towards universal knowledge turned out to be.

Perhaps most impressive is Delbourgo’s handling of the questions of slavery and empire, which are pivotal to the story. Sloane’s early career was as a doctor in colonial Jamaica, and the island was the fountainhead of his obsessions, the place that stirred his insatiable thirst for everything rich, strange and exotic. Delbourgo’s analysis of the Jamaican context is simply perfect: delicate, compassionate, and judicious, it will stand as an enduring commentary on the vexed relationship between natural science and brutal imperialism.

Currently I’m reading Dodie Bellamy’s 2015 collection of essays When the Sick Rule the World, which is a bracing combination of hilarious and terrifying.  Her obscene description of the ‘Whistle While You Work’ sequence of Disney’s Snow White had me laughing out loud. I’m reading it straight through, as part of an effort to get up to speed on the New Narrative movement of which she is a founding mother, but I would recommend taking it a bit more slowly – maybe one or two essays at a time, interspersed with other things – as the cumulative effect of all that intensity is a bit dizzying. I also recently got around to Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, another New Narrative masterpiece, which I read in one great draft, riveted by the way that it braids together shockingly frank autobiography and complex academic philosophy into one unputdownable text.
Learn more about Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ivy Pochoda

Ivy Pochoda is the author of the novels Visitation Street and The Art of Disappearing.

Her new novel is Wonder Valley.

Recently I asked Pochoda about what she was reading. Her reply:
One of the best things about having a novel come out is that, for various professional reasons, you wind up reading books you might not have picked up—whether it's for a blurb or for an author interview. I'm lucky enough to be doing an event with Michael Connelly, so I'm brushing up on my Bosch. I'd read a few before, but this immersion is a blast. I just finished Angels Flight which I love, not least of all because it's set in my stomping grounds of downtown LA. I'm smack-dab in the middle of The Wrong Side of Goodbye which is another masterful look at Los Angeles. Between these I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Robin MacArthur's novel Heart Spring Mountain which blew me away and made me want to move to Vermont. (That would make my dad super happy, as he lives in New Hampshire.)

I'm not usually capable of reading more that one book at a time, but ever since I started teaching a class in writing the essay, I've been keeping essay collections on my nightstand that I read for a break from fiction. I've been dipping in an out of Fiona Helmsley's Girls Gone Old which is so damn fantastic. It's amazing to read a collection of an exact contemporary with similarly bizarre interests.
Visit Ivy Pochoda's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Disappearing.

--Marshal Zeringue