Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Carol Goodman

Carol Goodman is the critically acclaimed author of over a dozen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches writing and literature at the New School and SUNY New Paltz.

Goodman's latest novel is The Other Mother.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Goodman's reply:
When the editor was kind enough to ask me to contribute to Writers Read I thought: “Aha! I’ve got this!” Usually such requests catch me in a lowbrow moment when I’ve just read the latest potboiler suspense novel. Not that there’s anything wrong with potboiler suspense novels—they’re what I write and I write them because I love reading them. In fact, I recently read two delicious ones: A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window and Greer Hendricks’ and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us, both compulsively readable novels featuring unreliable narrators, shifting identities, and some hard drinking. All my favorite things! But this time I also had a tonier response: I just finished reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

I’d read it in my teens, but unlike Jane Eyre, which I’ve reread four times, I hadn’t reread it since. My vague recollections of the novel were of romantic wanderings on windswept moors, Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon playing the star-crossed lovers Cathy and Heathcliff in the 1939 film, and some ghosts. But wasn’t there a whole second half of the book concerning Cathy’s and Heathcliff’s children? And wasn’t Heathcliff kind of a jerk?

Still, when my daughter [illustrator of scene from Wuthering Heights, bottom right] mentioned she was reading it with a group of friends I eagerly joined the group. I like to encourage millennials to read the classics and, after all, I’d dragged my daughter to the Brontë parsonage last summer and made her walk in the rain on the moors. I owed her.

The first thing I noticed was how compulsively readable it is. Talk about a potboiler! Within the first few chapters a ghost has plunged its hand through a window and Nelly Dean has offered to tell the traveler Lockwood the whole sordid tale of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. And what a tale it is! When the master of Wuthering Heights rescues a destitute orphan from the Liverpool streets, he introduces a volatile force into his family that sets off the star-crossed love affair between his daughter Cathy and Heathcliff and a bitter rivalry between Heathcliff and Cathy’s brother Hindley. By the end of the first half of the book, Heathcliff has gone off into the world to make his fortune and come back to reclaim his soul mate—never mind that she’s married to the safe but boring Edgar Linton. One would think that was enough for one book—and the directors of the 1939 film apparently thought so since this was all that film covered. And that’s how most of us remember Wuthering Heights—as a tale of star-crossed lovers.

It is, however, a much stranger and more complicated work. (Spoilers Ahead) Cathy #1 dies giving birth to Cathy #2. Heathcliff gets his revenge by marrying Linton’s sister Isabel and treating her miserably. Isabel goes away (the only character in the book to get the hell out of the frozen Yorkshire Moors and live comfortably in London for at least a few years) and bears Heathcliff’s son, Young Linton. Meanwhile, after Hindley dies, Heathcliff raises Hindley’s son Hareton, depriving him of an education to spite his dead father. All three of these younger characters seem fated to re-enact the doomed triangle of their elders as part of a malicious plot of Heathcliff’s. Heathcliff really is a jerk! When Cathy is dying she bemoans to Heathcliff that he’ll probably get over her and go on to have children he loves. He assures her that he’ll never love his children—and he’s true to his word. He tortures his son, the neurasthenic, frail Young Linton into an ill-suited marriage to Cathy #2, who is basically kidnapped and forced to live at Wuthering Heights even after Young Linton has died and Heathcliff has defrauded her of her inheritance. That’s the point at which the traveler Lockwood comes upon them and it all looks pretty bleak. The only happy solution our narrator Nelly Dean can see is for Lockwood to marry Cathy #2. In fact, one wonders if the whole tale Nelly tells isn’t arranged for that purpose. How reliable is Nelly, after all, as a narrator, considering she doesn’t really like Cathy or Heathcliff and she has her own grievances to nurse—she is, after all, a blood relation of the Earnshaws and might have expected a bigger piece of the steak and kidney pie from the self-involved players of the drama she relates.

Illustration by Maggie Vicknair
[click to enlarge]
By the end of the book I had begun to suspect that Emily Brontë was more interested in the domestic dynamics of dysfunctional families than in spinning a romance of star-crossed lovers. And, in fact, Wuthering Heights shares much in common with the domestic suspenses so popular today: unreliable narrators, shifting identities—Cathy declares “I am Heathcliff!” which, if taken literally, is a bigger plot twist than anything in Gone Girl—and a whole lot of drinking. My daughter and her friends loved it. And why not? It’s the story of how some young people, against all odds, survive the baggage of their elders.
Visit Carol Goodman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2018

Patrice Sarath

Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos (Book I of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the series Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet.

Her numerous short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Black Gate, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and many others. Her short story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” was included in Year’s Best Fantasy of 2003 compiled by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. Her story “Pigs and Feaches,” originally published in Apex Digest, was reprinted in 2013 in Best Tales of the Apocalypse.

Recently I asked Sarath about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m going through a nonfiction phase, specifically about Native Americans, so two books that I’ve devoured recently are Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Tribe in American History, by S.C. Gwynne, and 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann.

If you thought you understood the history of the culture clash between Europe and America before, hold onto your hats. This isn’t your daddy’s history lesson. 1491 is especially revelatory, as promised in the subtitle. Seriously, go read these books if you haven’t.
Visit Patrice Sarath's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Unexpected Miss Bennet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is the Nebula Award–winning author of The Academy series, including The Long Sunset. He went to La Salle University, then joined the Navy, drove a cab, became an English teacher, took a customs inspector’s job on the northern border, and didn’t write another word for a quarter-century. He received a master’s degree in literature from Wesleyan University in 1971. He returned to writing when his wife, Maureen, encouraged him to try his hand at it in 1980. Along with winning the Nebula Award in 2006, he has also been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award. In 2015 he was awarded the Robert A. Heinlein Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Recently I asked McDevitt about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m still trying to catch up on reading assignments from my college years, which takes us back to the 1950’s. The writing abilities of people like Hemingway, Willa Cather, Henry James, and Jane Austen continue to blow me away. Two weeks ago, I finished my first plunge into Theodore Dreiser, and, as I’ve done with others, I wondered how it had taken me so long to catch up with him. The novel was Sister Carrie, in which a young woman moves to Chicago to live with her married sister while she tries to find a job. This is somewhere around 1910, a time when employment wasn’t readily available. She’s pretty quickly out on her own, trailed by two older men who, despite occasionally questionable behavior, nevertheless gained my empathy as they wrecked their lives, and came close to ruining Carrie’s. The novel provides a strong sense of what life was like for ordinary working-class people during that time. I’ll be moving on to Jennie Gerhardt and Twelve Men, and to his short stories as soon as I can make time.

I’m about to finish Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept, an account of the Pearl Harbor attack. Unlike everything else I’ve read or watched on the subject, Prange’s book does not limit itself to the attack, and to the American perspective. We get a detailed account of the Japanese point of view, their debates on whether starting a war with the United States is a good idea, the planning that went into the project, and the strategy they used to get a major naval force of carriers and destroyers within striking range of Oahu without being detected.

Prange tracks the diplomatic efforts on both sides to avoid war, though the Japanese appear to make up their minds early that an attack is inevitable. We see the successful efforts, known as ‘Magic,’ to break the Japanese cryptosystem, and the communications breakdowns on our side that result in our being caught flatfooted on December 7. And we get to witness the combat through the eyes of both sides.

The aftermath also plays out in detail. The automatic reaction is to blame Gen. Walter Short, commander of the Army forces on Oahu, and Admiral Husband Kimmel, the Navy admiral in charge. They are not without blame, but there was plenty of responsibility to be passed around. Various military and congressional investigation committees are put together to try to get at the truth. But there are stumbling blocks to managing a rational analysis of who’s at fault. FDR is a popular favorite for reelection in 1944 for a third term, and the Republicans understand their only real chance to take the White House back lies in their ability to lay the blame on him. Also leading to problems, many of the Army and Navy witnesses have no desire to see their own services held responsible.

I’ve read three Dickens novels and have about twenty to go. I’m just starting A Tale of Two Cities. Like most of the others, this is one I’ve been wanting to get to for most of my life. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ is probably the most famous opening lines of any novel ever. I’m only a handful of chapters in, but I’m hooked already.

And finally, I’m about halfway through Einstein’s Greatest Mistake, by David Bodanis. It’s a biography, the first Einstein book that might be described as easily readable, but also informative.
Visit Jack McDevitt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 20, 2018

D.J. Butler

D.J. (“Dave”) Butler grew up in swamps, deserts, and mountains. After messing around for years with the practice of law, he finally got serious and turned to his lifelong passion for storytelling. He now writes adventure stories for readers of all ages, plays guitar, and spends as much time as he can with his family.

Butler's new novel is Witchy Winter, book two in the epic fantasy series Witchy Winter.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Butler's reply:
I just finished reading Moby Dick for the second time. I think it deserves its claim to be a contender for the great American novel; it's sui generis, it doesn't belong to our time but it didn't really belong to its own time, either. I felt I owed MD a reread after a twenty-year hiatus because I don't think I grappled with it deeply enough the first time. Contemplating the thesis that the white whale might represent suicide gave me an additional hook in the material, and I really enjoyed this reading. I expect I'll come back to it again in twenty years.

Having finished Melville, I'm now starting Lord Jim (for the first time). I loved Heart of Darkness, and had never read any other Conrad. I had forgotten what an astonishingly good writer of English prose this Polish emigre was.

In non-fiction, I just recently finished an English translation of an ancient Jewish grimoire called The Sword of Moses, together with commentary by M. Gaster. I read a lot of arcana and ancient scripture; I do, after all, write fantasy.

I'm also reading several books strictly for language learning and practice purposes. By way of example, I've started again into Clyde Pharr's Homeric Greek, so I'm reading again about the wrath of Achilles in the original dactyls, a little every day. I'm also reading Goethe's Faust, usually 4-6 pages every morning on the cross-trainer. His verse is so song-like in its rhythms, I barely notice the motion of the machine.
Visit D.J. Butler's website.

The Page 69 Test: Witchy Winter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Teresa Dovalpage

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1966. She earned her BA in English literature and an MA in Spanish literature at the University of Havana, and her PhD in Latin American literature at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of twelve other works of fiction and three plays, and is the winner of the Rincón de la Victoria Award and a finalist for the Herralde Award.

Dovalpage's new book is Death Comes in through the Kitchen.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished reading Halsey Street by Naima Coster, released early this year. It deals with family issues, particularly-mother daughter relationships, and I am fascinated by the way they are portrayed. You won’t find the idealized, always self-sacrificing, long-suffering, tamale-making Latina mother there. Mirella, the main character’s mother, is everything but. Ay, que relief! The novel also tackles big issues like poverty, gentrification, and race, but (another big sigh of relief here) without preaching. The story is nuanced with flawed, vulnerable and true-to-life characters. Will there be a second part? I hope so…

I also read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen. I chose it because Hobbs, where I am living now, is home to a strong Mennonite community and I was curious about them. The memoir is funny, well written and very informative about the Mennonite culture. I really enjoy the list of shame-based foods!

Rereading is my guilty pleasure, an act akin to coming home. I am currently back to one of my favorites, Los amantes clandestinos (The Secret Lovers) a novel by Ana Cabrera Vivanco that spans three generations and two continents. A wonderful saga that takes place in Cataluña, Havana and Miami, this literary jewel that deserves to be translated into English soon.
Visit Teresa Dovalpage's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mariah Fredericks

Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives today with her family. She is a graduate of Vassar College with a BA in history. She has written several novels for young adults; her novel Crunch Time was nominated for an Edgar in 2007.

Fredericks's new book is A Death of No Importance, her first mystery for adults.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Confession: I am a book slut. I flit from read to read, and it’s rare I read just one book all the way through. I read a lot for research, so I always have a fiction and non-fiction going. And usually one re-read.

My mystery series is set in 1910s New York, so when Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919, Mike Wallace’s follow up to his magisterial Gotham, came out, I went straight to the bookstore and told them to bring it up from the stockroom. I could say I’m reading this book, but it’s more like I’m married to it. This is what my copy looks like [image left].

You want to know which blocks Irish immigrants in the building trade lived on? Wallace will tell you. You want to know when Sophie Tucker gave up black face and why? The Italian experience of the ILGWU? Wallace will tell you. And he writes beautifully. If he ever felt less than enthralled by any aspect of the city’s history, I would never know.

For fiction, I’m reading The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. It’s easy to get distracted by the bustles and beaver hats with a turn-of-the-century author. But even after decades of reading Wharton, I’m amazed at her witty, compassionate take on the intersections of sentiment and commerce, especially in the lives of New Yorkers. In the first story, “Mrs. Manstey’s View,” a lonely woman faces a crisis when her neighbor’s extension threatens her beloved view. What does the fragile, genteel lady do? She burns down the damn extension. Now that’s a New Yorker.

My re-read for this month was Presumed Innocent—so good on the jagged edges of human nature and how we torment one another. It has aged less well in some of its stereotypes, which Turow acknowledges but doesn’t entirely fix with the sequel, Innocent.

Finally, at my 11 year old’s recommendation, I’m reading Marvel Comics’ Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Which is every bit as wonderful as the title would suggest.
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl in the Park.

The Page 69 Test: A Death of No Importance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sam Wiebe

Cut You Down, the latest novel in Sam Wiebe's series featuring Vancouver PI Dave Wakeland, is garnering rave reviews, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He's also the author of Invisible Dead and Last of the Independents, and the editor of the forthcoming Vancouver Noir. Wiebe lives in Vancouver.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Wiebe's reply:
Sheena Kamal’s follow-up to her best-selling debut The Lost Ones is titled It All Falls Down. It takes flawed heroine Nora Watts from Vancouver to Detroit in search of clues to her father’s mysterious death, and to her own fractured family life. It builds on the strengths of the first book, while adding new dimensions to the character and delving into topics like North America’s treatment of refugees and soldiers. I really like Nora’s (and Kamal’s) sense of humour, which veers between acidic and absurd.

I’ve also been reading Joe R Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series, trying to keep ahead of the TV series. Mucho Mojo finds Leonard, a gay black Vietnam vet, inheriting a house from his uncle, only to find the body of a child buried beneath the floorboards. Narrated by Hap, an ex-prisoner and conscientious objector, the story unfolds like a John D. MacDonald novel told by Mark Twain. Darker than the first book, but leavened by the terrific interplay between characters, Mucho Mojo led me to immediately pick up the third book, The Two-Bear Mambo, which has one of those great James Crumley-esque opening paragraphs. Pick it up and see for yourself.
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

My Book, The Movie: Invisible Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Invisible Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Spencer Kope

Spencer Kope is the Crime Analyst for the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office. Currently assigned to Detectives Division, he provides case support to detectives and deputies, and is particularly good at identifying possible suspects. In his spare time he developed a database-driven analytical process called Forensic Vehicle Analysis (FVA) used to identify the make, model and year range of vehicles from surveillance photos. It's a tool he's used repeatedly to solve crimes. One of his favorite pastimes is getting lost in a bookstore, and he lives in Washington State.

Kope's new novel is Whispers of the Dead.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I recently finished Ready Player One, and what a cool ride. I loved the story, not just because it paints an accurate picture of what I believe our dystopic future might look like, but because it also looks back to the best decade of my life: the 1980s. It’s one of the best stories I’ve read in a while, so I also picked up a first printing to add to my collection of first editions. Now that the Spielberg movie is out, I’ll be lining up to see it at the theater in the next week or so.

I’m currently reading Suspect by Robert Crais, which is shaping up to be a great story, and before that it was Yesterday’s Echo by Matt Coyle, which I really enjoyed.

Much as I’d like to spend my life in novels, I also read a lot of non-fiction. Some of this is research for books I’m writing, other times it’s just because I’m curious by nature. I recently took a load of grief from family members who thought it was hilarious that I was reading a book about salt. They wanted to know if the sequel was called Pepper. The book was Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, and it was fascinating—or at least I thought so.

Another non-fiction title I recently finished was Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. This one was research for my crime series, which features a recurring villain nicknamed Leonardo because of the subtle depiction of the Vitruvian Man that he leaves behind. Finally, one of my all-time favorite non-fiction titles remains Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Pure gold.
Visit Spencer Kope's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Nell Hampton

An avid foodie and writer, Nell Hampton (AKA Nancy J. Parra) decided to finally combine her two loves. She lives in Richmond, VA.

Her new novel is Lord of the Pies.

Recently I asked Hampton/Parra about what she was reading. Her reply:
Oh, gosh so many wonderful things. I’m really into research right now for my next book and I’ve been reading British cook books. I have this great one called The Royal Touch by Caroline Robb. She was Princess Diana’s personal chef when the boys were young and the stories that she intersperses with her recipes are wonderful. I like the insight into how the Princes grew up.

I also am reading some great history books on London and Kensington palace. The workings of large households fascinate me.
Visit Nell Hampton / Nancy J. Parra's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Nancy J. Parra and Little Dog.

The Page 69 Test: Lord of the Pies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 13, 2018

Emma Berquist

Emma Berquist grew up in Austin, Texas and sunburns easily.

She currently lives in New Zealand and avoids the beach.

Her new novel is Devils Unto Dust.

Recently I asked Berquist about what she was reading; her reply:
I’ve recently been treating myself to some middle grade books and I just finished Merrill Wyatt’s Ernestine, Catastrophe Queen. Even if I didn’t know the author, I’d have to pick this one up because it’s about a precocious girl trying to start the zombie apocalypse, and I’m all about zombies. This book is so enjoyable, a fast-paced mystery with an irrepressible main character and a cast of farcical elderly patrons. Since I’ve been all kinds of anxious about my first book releasing, I really needed a laugh and a distraction, and this hit the spot exactly.
Visit Emma Berquist's website.

The Page 69 Test: Devils Unto Dust.

--Marshal Zeringue