The long awaited fifth installment in Marjorie M. Liu’s Hunter Kiss series, LABYRINTH OF STARS, is finally here, and Marjorie stopped by to answer a few questions about the book. Also, we’ve got a copy up for grabs to 1 lucky winner!
Congrats on the new book LABYRINTH OF STARS! You gave up law in 2004 to write full time, but did you always want to be a writer from an early age? Will you tell us a little more about how you started writing?
Thank you so much! Yes, I always wanted to be a writer – or rather, I LOVED telling stories. I was always making up adventures for my toys: grand epics, wild tales of derring-do (cardboard boxes make excellent caves for monsters). That love of storytelling became a love of writing. And I just kept writing, and reading, and never stopped.
What was one of the earliest things you remember writing?
It’s funny you ask, because I recently discovered one of my first attempts. I was going through a box of papers and found a journal that my mom had gotten me when I was very little – maybe three or four years old. It had an orange cat on the cover. I very clearly remember opening it up, and writing a short story about that cat. It was only a few sentences long, but that was the start.
Will you tell us a little about LABYRINTH OF STARS and what readers can expect from this installment?
Maxine is pregnant and her enemies want to kill her baby and husband. Simple as that. She’s got an army of demons at her disposal, but they can’t protect her. Her only weapon is herself. And there’s a price to that, of course.
What do you like most about Maxine, and why do you think readers root for her?
Maxine’s loyalty and her deep, profound compassion for those she loves. She tries so hard to pretend that she’s cold, heartless, when instead it’s just the opposite. Her capacity for love runs deep. And ultimately, that’s always what saves her.
How would you say Maxine has changed the most from THE IRON HUNT to now?
Her world used to be very small, limited to the stories her mother told her, family lore passed down from generation to generation about who she was, and what she’d been born to do. She thought she understood her purpose, but it was an incredibly lonely life – without a lot of hope. But that changes as soon as she meets Grant –and with each book we see her eyes opening, her mind expanding, her heart growing larger. Everything Maxine thought she knew turns out to be a lie, or just a shadow of the truth, and for the last five novels the reader has been with her as she transforms into a new, more powerful woman. A woman with hope.
When you started the series, did you already have an idea of how many books you’d like to write, or did you just decide to see where the series took you?
I had no idea whatsoever. I wish! Instead, I just went where the series took me, and that was often to some very strange, unexpected places. Ideally, I would have had all that planned out ahead of time, but the discoveries came about as I wrote: part of an organic process that created the world that Maxine inhabits. It was an adventure for me, as well. I never could predict how these novels would end – just that Maxine would have her boys, Grant. That her heart would only fall deeper in love with those around her.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Pantser! But I’m trying to become a plotter, as much as I’m able. It’s nice to have a plan, sometimes – even a little one.
What are a few authors that have especially influenced you?
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Gene Stratton Porter, Kelly Link, Sara Donati, Maxine Hong Kingston, Isabelle Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, and many more.
Read any good books lately?
Lynn Viehl’s Disenchanted & Co., Part 1: Her Ladyship’s Curse. Loved that. I’ve also been reading a wonderful graphic novel called Fatale, by Ed Brubaker.
You’ve traveled extensively, especially in Asia! Where would you like to go that you haven’t yet visited?
Istanbul! Budapest! Paris!
Will you tell us something about yourself that not a lot of people know about?
I’m not a huge fan of cake. Or icing.
What’s next for you?
I’m revising a novel about an elderly dominatrix and her granddaughter who set out to solve a murder. And, hopefully, there’s another comic book coming. More on both these projects soon, but folks can stay tuned to my twitter feed or website for updates: http://marjoriemliu.com/ and https://twitter.com/marjoriemliu
If you’ve kept up with this blog for any amount of time, you probably know how much I love the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry, so, I’m very excited to be able to give away (courtesy of the amazing folks at St. Martins) 3 galleys of Code Zero to 3 lucky winners! Code Zero is the direct followup to the first Joe Ledger book, Patient Zero, and it’s just as amazing, trust me. Good luck!
About CODE ZERO:
For years the Department of Military Sciences has fought to stop terrorists from using radical bioweapons—designer plagues, weaponized pathogens, genetically modified viruses, and even the zombie plague that first brought Ledger into the DMS. These terrible weapons have been locked away in the world’s most secure facility. Until now. Joe Ledger and Echo Team are scrambled when a highly elite team of killers breaks the unbreakable security and steals the world’s most dangerous weapons. Within days there are outbreaks of mass slaughter and murderous insanity across the American heartland. Can Joe Ledger stop a brilliant and devious master criminal from turning the Land of the Free into a land of the dead?
Code Zero, a Joe Ledger novel from Jonathan Maberry, is the exciting direct sequel to Patient Zero.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh for Library Journal, and am thrilled to have Adam on the blog. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book, and much more!
Congrats on a fantastic debut, SHOVEL READY! You have a journalism background, but what made you decide to jump into fiction? Will you tell us a little about that progression?
Thanks so much! I’ve always written fiction, even when I was a kid — I wrote a short story in eighth grade about a private detective named Hades Valentine, which seemed to me like the most supercool name at the time. The journalism part came after college, after I had worked on my school newspaper and got involved in writing for magazines. But I continued working on fiction on the side, more or less in secret — kind of like the guy who obsessively works on building a huge model railroad in his basement, painstakingly, out of sight, tree by tree.
What, in particular, inspired you to write SHOVEL READY?
It was two things: One, I arrived in New York City in 2004 to work at New York magazine, and a lot of my early journalistic work was about the huge transformations going on in the city. New York was both post-9/11 but also in the middle of an improbable economic renaissance, that would have seemed unimaginable back in the 70s or 80s. And there was (and still is) a lot of talk in the city about what all these changes mean — what the city is gaining, and losing, in return. All of which got me thinking about what it would take to return New York to its infamous 1970s incarnation — what we remember as this desolate, lawless, chaotic metropolis that thrummed with a very different kind of energy.
The other inspiration was a realization I had, very late in my writing career, about what kind of books I really enjoyed. I read pretty widely as a rule (I like to think) but, as a writer, I had never really given myself permission to experiment in the forms I like the most: noir, hardboiled fiction, speculative fiction, thrillers, and so on. When it dawned on me that my thought experiment about a relapsed, desolate New York might be a promising backdrop to a hardboiled mystery, the story of Spademan, and SHOVEL READY, was born.
Spademan, at first, is a ruthless hitman, only wanting to know the who, but not the why of his targets. He has a few rules, but for the most part, anything is up for grabs. However, as the book unfolds, so does his background, and it reveals why he became what he is. Did you plan to make him a sympathetic character from the beginning?
I did — I felt like, if you’re going to spend a whole book with this guy, you need to get inside his head, learn something about his background and motivations, and eventually start to understand how that makes him more sympathetic. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to really hardboiled characters — I often get fed up with characters who are relentlessly grizzled, unsentimental and tough. (I’m thinking here of, say, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.) I’m very happy if a character is dark — and Spademan is pretty dark — but I also want to know where that darkness comes from. The answer is usually pain. And pain, in turn, once it’s revealed, can make even the most hard-case character sympathetic.
A crumbling New York City is the setting for the novel, and is a very important part of it. Was it always NYC, or did you consider other settings?
It was always NYC, mostly because the city is so mythic in a unique way. I’ve lived in actual New York for ten years now, but the New York City I grew up with (while living as a kid in Toronto) was a wondrous and mysterious and frightening place that I knew only from movies and TV. It was the New York of “The Warriors” or “Fort Apache: The Bronx” or even “Escape from New York” — not movies I actually saw (I was far too young) but that had somehow leaked into my consciousness. I still think of New York in that way — there’s the actual physical city where I work and live and, you know, do grocery shopping and stuff. And then there’s quote-unquote “New York City” — which is kind of like the American version of the Emerald City from “The Wizard of Oz.” A place haunted by a hundred years of accumulated dreams and nightmares.
Did you do any specific research for the book?
I did a bit of research online as to what it’s like to be a garbageman, mostly for Spademan’s backstory. And I did enough research on, say, dirty bombs, to make sure that what I was proposing was at least plausible. Turns out is is — unnervingly so. I read a recent news story about a hijacked truck in Mexico carrying radioactive medical waste, and the fears that it could be used to build a crude dirty bomb. I was both relieved and freaked out to think: Okay, this could actually happen.
What did you enjoy most about writing SHOVEL READY, and what do you hope readers take away from it?
I started the book with more or less one goal in mind, which was this: Maximum pleasure. With every sentence, chapter, character and plot twist, I wanted to make the choices that would provide the most thrills for the reader. That might sound corny, but I do think, especially when you’re working in a more so-called literary style, it’s easy to forget that readerly pleasure is even a consideration, let alone a primary goal. For example: I choose the very short, telegramatic style of the book because I personally get great pleasure from word play, interesting juxtapositions and sharp, distilled descriptions — it’s why I like hardboiled writing in the first place. So there were moments when I’d think: Maybe I don’t really need to describe this whole streetscape, but if I can do it in a few sentences that I find very pleasurable, then it’s worth doing. Similarly, at certain junctions of the plot, I’d think: Well, what’s the most extreme choice here? And I’d choose that, just to see where it would take me. And that turned out to be really fun.
Which authors have inspired you the most in your writing?
I mostly gravitate to aggressive stylists: whether it’s famous minimalists like Ernest Hemingway or Joan Didion or egregious maximalists like William Faulkner or Martin Amis. Raymond Chandler once said that “style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time,” and I find, as a reader, I’m primarily attracted to style, to sentence-by-sentence pleasure, rather than, say, plot. (Though I do love a great breakneck story.) But I’d much rather read a familiar story, thrillingly and innovatively told, than a completely original story, boringly told. In the books I love the best, even ones I’ve read multiple times, I might not be able to recount exactly what happens in the story. But I can definitely recite favorite sentences.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Whoa — good question. That’s a tough one. I wish I could read “Slaughterhouse Five” for the first time, in a total vacuum, without some of the attendant baggage that comes from snobbish people who offhandedly dismiss Kurt Vonnegut. I feel like that book is such a daring collision of heartfelt pain and swashbuckling experimentation, and it’s a shame that we’re kind of taught over time (by some people) to turn our noses up at it. I also which I could travel back in time and read a Chandler or Hemingway book without knowing anything about it (speaking of writers with baggage). Both of them have been so imitated and parodied that it would be great to encounter either one with no pretext.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Reading. And beyond that, it feels like a real luxury to take a really long bike ride in the city. Writing, reading, biking, those are the big three — and there’s usually no free time left over after that.
I read that you’re working on another Spademan novel…any hints as to what we can expect (not fishing for details at all;)?
I am — the best hint I can give is that it’s a sequel to the first book, that takes place about a year after the end of SHOVEL READY. So once you’ve read SHOVEL READY, you can imagine what sort of lingering unresolved complications might crop up for Spademan and company. Plus, there are a few new surprises as well.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
Just a thank-you to everyone out there who takes the time to check out SHOVEL READY, since I know the universe of books is vast, and the time to read is short. It’s a great privilege to put a book into the world, and even more of one to know someone out there is enjoying it. And, of course, thanks to My Bookish Ways!
About SHOVEL READY:
The futuristic hardboiled noir that Lauren Beukes calls “sharp as a paper-cut” about a garbage man turned kill-for-hire.
Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self.
Now he’s a hitman.
In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to “tap in” to a sophisticated virtual reality, and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His new job is not that different from his old one: waste disposal is waste disposal. He doesn’t ask questions, he works quickly, and he’s handy with a box cutter. But when his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, his unadorned life is upended: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has a sordid agenda far beyond a simple kill. Spademan must navigate between these two worlds—the wasteland reality and the slick fantasy—to finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he’s not the one who winds up in the ground.
Adam Sternbergh has written a dynamite debut: gritty, violent, funny, riveting, tender, and brilliant.
We Are Here by Michael Marshall (Mulholland, Feb. 25th, 2013)-New York City is a seething and vibrant mass of humanity, and in the shadows, those that are unseen lurk. However, they’re tired of being invisible, and the time has come to do something about that. This is the basis for WE ARE HERE. The book primarily follows John Henderson and his live-in girlfriend, Kristina, and new author David, and his wife Dawn. If you’re familiar with Michael Marshall’s previous work, you’ll recognize John from 2009’s BAD THINGS. John has a bit of a past, and is still reeling from the death of his young son, and his subsequent divorce from his wife and estrangement from his other son. However, he’s happy with Kristina and although it’s clear that they could use some new surroundings, things are good. When Kristina asks John to look into something for her new friend Catherine, the structure of their lives begins to waver. Catherine believes someone is stalking her, and it soon becomes apparent that something untoward is happening. Is it someone from her past? A scorned lover, or a stranger? As John and Kristina investigate, they discover a group of people living on the fringes, or so they think, but they seem like so much more than just forgotten people. They are indeed more, and a man called Reinhart is intent on exploiting them, but to what end?
If it seems as if I’m being vague, there’s a reason for that. I don’t want to give too much away because to do that would be to spoil what makes this novel such a good read. Michael Marshall is a pro at weaving the fantastic with the mundane, and We Are Here is no exception. It’s hard not to get invested with John and Kristina, and by the time you get to the final revelations, you’re thoroughly entrenched in their lives, as well as the lives of David, Dawn, and even the “others.” In fact, the “others” are just as vivid as the main characters, and indeed, Michael Marshall could write an entire book, or books, just about them, easily. Although We Are Here is certainly an effective suspense novel, it’s also about how our lives intersect in myriad ways, on a daily basis, even if we’re not quite aware of these encounters and their consequences. There’s also a bit of observation about how social media has separated us while seeming to bring us closer. Marshall is also very, very good at ramping up the creep factor and although We Are Here is a slow burn infused with creeping dread, the payoff (at least for me) was very worth it. If you haven’t tried anything by Michael Marshall, but enjoy John Connolly’s work, and subtly creepy reads, I urge you to give this one a try.
David Edison’s debut novel, THE WAKING ENGINE, just came out in February, and David stopped by to answer a few questions. Also, we’ve got a copy of the book to give away to 1 lucky winner, courtesy of Tor, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!
I’m very excited about your debut novel, THE WAKING ENGINE! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Thank you! I’ve always been a writer, yes—I’ve tried more types of writing gigs than I can count, from ghost writer to food critic to video game blogger, but working as a fantasy novelist has been my dream since I was wee.
My background does not sound remarkable, but for a Missouri boy I had amazing adventures with travel and books. Like a lot of my generation, I lost myself in books and science fiction/fantasy/horror on television, in film and comics, and of course in video games. I also lost myself in the temples at Karnak and Abu Simbel in Egypt, the ruins atop Les Baux in France, and the gemstones and minerals room at the Museum of Natural History in New York (which remains my favorite place on the planet)—all before puberty. I dunno if that explains how I’ve turned out, or just passes the buck to my lovely parents, who were only trying to enrich their kid, not create a monster. Still… the dialog between my feet and my thoughts has always been an important one—when I can get them both to point in the same direction!
Will you tell us a little about the City Unspoken and its denizens, and what inspired you to write The Waking Engine?
The City Unspoken is kind of an anti-New York. That’s a city where people come to make it big, to start their lives in an epic way—the City Unspoken is a place where people come to end their stories. In the metaverse of the book, we live and die and wake up in some new reality, as ourselves, where we live and die again, and so on across many universes and many lifetimes. Eventually, when we have earned or are desperate for True Death, oblivion, release from the cycle of life and death, we make our way to the City Unspoken. To the people who make this necropolis their home, however, True Death is just another commodity.
The City Unspoken revealed itself to me in odd little faerie glimpses: I’d see it in reflections of rain puddles and store windows, and I’d get incomplete phrases and scraps of dialog and description. When an idea teases me like that, I want to go explore it, and I’m still doing so.
I was never happy with our selection of available afterlives; they’ve always seemed kind of boring to me. I wanted to explore that, too.
When you started the novel, did you already have in might how many books would be in the Ruby Naught, or will you just see where it takes you?
Yes! I decided that the story would fit into four books, but it was an arbitrary decision for a long time. I knew the story was too big for one book and probably for two, and I was tired of reading trilogies. I picked a four-part structure hoping that I would find ways to riff off of the structure as I went along, and so I have! I found a lot of inspiration in visual art, rather than the old Lord of the Rings trilogy structure. Looking to the wider world of art for things-which-come-in-fours was a good exercise in narrative structure.
That said, we’re totally seeing where it takes me. ^_^
The cover art for THE WAKING ENGINE is all kinds of gorgeous! Do you think it accurately captures the spirit of the book, and what did you sacrifice to the cover gods in order to score a cover like that?
Not only do I agree that Stephan Martiniere’s cover art is unspeakably beautiful, but it captures the spirit of the City Unspoken perfectly. It’s like the city leapt out of my head, and I’m still just beside myself about it. Also, the cover communicates the physical reality of the Dome in a way that’s direct and visual. As a first-time novelist with only one published short story, I’m learning all my craft as I go along: Stephan’s artwork helps me with some much-appreciated visual storytelling.
What is your writing process like?
I’m fairly unexciting in my writing: I wake up, get caffeinated, write, go live life, then come back and write some more, then cuddle my dog and read or play video games. Like a Baggins, I try to avoid adventure for long stretches of time. The occasional apocalypse will happen.
What are a few author or novels that have influenced your writing more than others?
Storm Constantine, whose Wraeththu trilogy absolutely rocked my world, and continues to rock me every time I reread it. With her casually queer characters and magical writing style, Storm taught me that there is a place in the world for the type of writer I am. That’s a big deal.
Also Frank Herbert, Neal Stephenson, Greg Egan. I’m just randomly saying the names of writers I love, now. Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare, James Furber.
What are you reading now?
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Nancy Hightower’s Elementari Rising, which both kick ass.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Dune. Duney dune dune dune.
What do you hope readers will take away from The Waking Engine?
I hope they’re entertained, more than anything. I hope my departures from traditional fantasy are entertaining for them—I’m still learning how I work as a novelist, still figuring it out as I stumble along—and I hope readers are willing to come back to see how things work out. Both for the story and for the storyteller!
What’s next for you in 2014?
Writing Book Two! I’m 60k words in and closing. I am learning from the lessons of the first book. I’ll be going to as many conventions as I can, but mostly I’ll have my head down working on the rest of the story.
***Wanna win a copy of THE WAKING ENGINE?***
It’s Berkley Prime Crime’s 20th Anniversary, and to celebrate, we’re giving away a tote back with 5 of their cozies to one lucky winner! Info about the celebration and upcoming events is below, and be sure to check out the giveaway details! I’ve included a cover gallery below the post to give you an idea of what MIGHT be in the tote bag, but Berkley will pick the titles. Good luck!
From Berkley’s press release:
Twenty years ago, in March 1994, Berkley Books introduced Berkley Prime Crime, a mass market mystery imprint that included five launch authors. This year, Berkley celebrates the 20th anniversary of Prime Crime with special author events and promotional giveaways.
In its first year, Berkley Prime Crime (BPC) published approximately forty titles, all mass market. In 2013, the imprint published 150 titles, including mass market originals, trade paperbacks, and hardcovers. Every year, BPC launches approximately 25-30 new series, including several house-owned franchises that editors have developed from idea to execution. In the past year, BPC debuted sixteen titles on the New York Times Bestsellers List (printed and extended lists combined), which comes out to more than one per month!
“When we launched Berkley Prime Crime in March 1994 I believed that the audience for the traditional or ‘cozy’ mystery was still largely underserved and untapped. Twenty years later I can say without reservation that this has proven to be correct and that Berkley Prime Crime has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations,” said Natalee Rosenstein, Vice President and Senior Executive Editor of Berkley.
This spring Berkley Prime Crime is hosting two events at mystery bookstores that have supported Berkley Prime Crime over the years. On March 13, Julie Hyzy, Miranda James, and Rebecca Hale will be at Murder by the Book in Houston, Texas. On March 25 the Poisoned Pen in Phoenix will host Margaret Coel, Carolyn Hart, Earlene Fowler, and Avery Aames.
Throughout the remainder of 2014, more events and promotional giveaways are planned, in addition to Berkley Prime Crime’s annual presence at mystery conventions BoucherCon and Malice Domestic. You can find out more about Berkley Prime Crime titles and authors at The Crime Scene, our cozy mystery Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thecrimescenebooks.
Thomas Christopher Greene’s new literary suspense novel just came out in February, and he stopped by to answer a few questions about the new book, and more! Please welcome Thomas to the blog!
Will you tell us a little about your new book, THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE?
Well, I think it’s the most honest book I have ever written. By honest, I don’t mean true, or autobiographical in the literal sense, but rather that I wrote more completely from the heart and from feeling than I ever have before, hopefully not in a clichéd way, but rather from a sense of believing that elements of my own experience might stir others. I think the book works on a number of levels –it reads like a thriller, I am told, though its beating heart is a marriage, and the nature of love and grief and the very substance of what constitutes a fulfilled life. It asks big questions, I think, in other words, while hopefully making you turn pages to find out exactly what is happening.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I was raised in some ways to be a writer—a big family where storytelling was not only valued but allowed you to stand out in an environment that valued words, and where you were also surrounded by books. Like most writers, I was a reader long before I was a writer. My parents who were both teachers gave me that gift. As a child we had a strict bedtime unless we were reading. If we were reading we were allowed to stay up until we couldn’t read anymore.
But I wasn’t one of those of people who knew they were going to be a writer from the time they were five or whatever. For me it happened later, when I was nineteen or so, and had left college after a year and had returned home and was delivering pizza and thinking that there is no way I want to do this forever. I had that moment that every writer has at one point or another. I read something and said, I can do this. I remember reading Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD and thinking how romantic that was, writing from experience, sucking the marrow out of life. And so I began to write seriously for the first time. And I was smart enough to realize I wasn’t any good. So I returned to college and became a creative writing major and I was recognized for the first time as having a gift for it. I took every class I could and when I graduated I pursued a MFA degree. I did my time. Learned my craft. I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
In sixth grade I wrote a story about a tiger escaping from the zoo and was chosen from my school to read it on the local radio station. I don’t have a copy of it but my guess is that it was pretty kick-ass.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Oh, man. I know I don’t plot. Mainly, I spend a lot of time thinking about a book before I write a word. I live with it. Turn it over and over in my mind trying to figure out my way in. Then I usually write sixty pages or so and throw them out. Then I do it again. Eventually I find my way in and when I do I usually know the climax of the novel, the singular event, and I write toward that knowing that I will be surprised along the way.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
My favorite novel is GATSBY, but that’s the only Fitzgerald I love. I love Hemingway for his sentences, though these days if Donna Tarrtt writes a book I buy it the day it comes out and the same is true of Cormac McCarthy. I think the late Andre Dubus might be the most underappreciated master of the last hundred years. Wonderful writer. That said, I read widely and think we live in a golden age of fiction.
What do you like to see in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
I love great writing but I think the only reason to write books is to tell stories to people who are not in the same room as you. So I hate pretension and writing for writing’s sake; and if you bore me I am out of there.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Probably The Catcher in the Rye. I reread it every few years to remind why I love doing this.
What’s one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Be thick-skinned. The one constant as an artist is rejection. Learn from failure. Take risks. Trust your voice and write the stories you yourself want to hear.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I also run a college, so free time is not my thing. But I love to cook. And surround myself with good friends. My seven year old daughter is my sun and my moon and my stars. I have a little lake house in northern Vermont and swimming with her in the cool, clear water of summer is my favorite thing to do. I play tennis, and should do more of it.
What’s next for you?
I am writing another novel of course. I am also busy as President of Vermont College of Fine Arts building whichI think is one of the most important entities happening in the world of arts today. As long as that continues to be fun, I’ll keep doing it.
Keep up with Thomas: Website
About THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE:
Inspired by a personal loss, Greene explores the way that tragedy and time assail one man’s memories of his life and loves. Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont’s elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has given him his life, but is also the site of his undoing as events spiral out of his control. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another, and the true nature of things, a narrative of love, of marriage, of family and of a tragedy Arthur does not know how to address emerges. Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, The Headmaster’s Wife stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief.
Please welcome Yansze Choo, author of THE GHOST BRIDE to the blog. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book, and more!
You’re a Harvard grad and come from a corporate background, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit more about yourself and what led to writing your debut novel, THE GHOST BRIDE?
Writing has always been a hobby for me – I wrote in my spare time during school and after work, mostly to entertain friends and family but never thought that I would be published. I suppose I’d always thought of writing as some sort of secret activity, one that would be uncovered after you were dead! I think if you like to write, you will always find some outlet for it, whether it’s a diary, or a blog, or a novel.
In my case, after writing short stories for years, I embarked on my first novel – a disastrous elephant detective novel. You can read more about it here on my blog. “The Ghost Bride” actually started out as a subplot, but thank goodness, ended up being its own book!
THE GHOST BRIDE has gotten amazing buzz! Will you tell us more about it?
I was very surprised! Really, I had thought that no one would want to read a book about an obscure cultural practice from a small SE Asian country. But it has been wonderful and I’m very grateful that it was Oprah.com’s Book of the Week, a Barnes & Noble Discover pick, as well as Good Housekeeping and Glamour picks amongst others. In fact, I found out about the Oprah.com pick through a friend who emailed me saying “hey…I think you’re the Book of the Week”. I was actually quite shocked and thought it must be a joke! I owe many thanks to my publisher, William Morrow/HarperCollins, who’s been incredibly supportive.
What did you enjoy most about writing your heroine, Li Lan, and why do you think readers will fall in love with her?
When I got the idea for “The Ghost Bride”, I wrote the first chapter pretty much as you see it in the book in one sitting. Then I put it away for quite a long time, amongst other unfinished bits and pieces of writing. But the character of Li Lan came to me quite strongly. It was her voice, and I had an image of a girl and her father lit by an oil lamp, discussing her future late one tropical evening. That picture stayed with me as I was writing the book, especially the shadows because it is a novel that takes place in many half-lit places, as well as the world of the dead.
I hope that readers will enjoy her journey, as she evolves from being sheltered, or trapped, to become the architect of her own destiny. I tried to be realistic about the challenges she would have faced at that historical juncture. For example, it didn’t seem right to me that she could emerge as some sort of kickass martial arts heroine. She had to survive with her wits and social sensibility, even if that meant crying now and then. But I hoped she was as brave as she could hope to be in the circumstances.
What is your writing process like? Plotter or pantser?
I’m afraid I’m very much a seat of the pantser sort of writer. I know lots of wonderful authors who are able plan every chapter out, but that’s unfortunately not how I work. On good days, it can be lots of fun because it’s just as much of an adventure to me to see how things turn out. I’ll be typing along and suddenly go “Ooh! So that’s why he did that!”. But on bad days it’s just horrible.
What kind of research did you do for THE GHOST BRIDE?
Growing up, my dad had a large collection of old histories of Malay, and that’s what we children were forced to read when we had run out of other options. So to some degree, I had a good basic grounding in that time period. And then when the book really got underway, I did research at Harvard’s Widener and Yen Ching libraries, as well as the National Archives in Singapore. That was very helpful. My uncle also used to live in Malacca, where the book is set, and as children we often visited him. I’ve always thought it had such a rich and colourful history. While I was writing the book, I took a trip to Malacca again just to measure out some of the distances and see if they really could be walked etc. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and well worth seeing.
The headline to your blog says “Likes to eat and read.” I can relate. What’s one of your favorite things to eat?
Just last night, I had a craving for these fried banana fritters that you get in Malaysia. It’s called jemput jemput or kuih kodok and is made of mashed ripe bananas, some flour and sugar and I think baking powder. The soft mashed bananas are deep fried so that they’re crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. Absolutely delicious!
And how about a few of your favorite reads?
There are so many favourite books that’s it’s hard to choose! But definitely Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”, Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”, Haruki Murakami’s “A Wild Sheep Chase”, Banana Yoshimoto’s “Kitchen”, Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name is Red”, Rohinton Mistry’s “Swimming Lessons”.
What are you currently reading, and what do you plan to read next?
I’m actually reading a cookbook right now – Charles Phan’s “Vietnamese Home Cooking”. Whenever I get a new cookbook, I like to lie in bed reading it. Beautiful pictures are a plus! I’ve already made his braised pork belly dish, which involved first boiling the pork, then frying it, then soaking it in cold water, and finally braising it for an hour. It was delicious but I don’t know whether I can attempt again for a while, much to the chagrin of my husband and children.
You’ve spent time in various countries, but is there somewhere you’d like to go that you haven’t yet visited?
Yes – Greece! I’ve heard that the seafood there is amazing. Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals” was one of my favourite books growing up, and I’d love to visit Corfu, although it has probably changed a great deal since the time of his book. I’d also like to go to Vietnam and Cambodia.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on another book that I’m hoping will be a detective novel – but probably without the elephant!
About THE GHOST BRIDE:
Li Lan, the daughter of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia, hopes for a favorable marriage, but her father has lost his fortune, and she has few suitors. Instead, the wealthy Lim family urges her to become a “ghost bride” for their son, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at what price?
Night after night, Li Lan is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where she must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family.
Here are the new releases in Mystery, Suspense, and Fiction for March 2014.I’ve also included audiobook links where they apply. Enjoy!
March 4th, 2014:
March 11th, 2014:
March 18th, 2014:
March 25th, 2014:
William Shaw’s new London based mystery, SHE’S LEAVING HOME, debuted in early February, and I’m very excited to have William on the blog! Please give him a warm welcome!
You have a journalism background and are the author of non-fiction as well, but have you always wanted to write fiction? Will you tell us more about yourself?
Yup. I started writing non-fiction books a long time ago with the idea that I could sneak some fiction past my agent. But I really loved writing non-fiction too. I was lucky enough to be a journalist in the 90s when long form narrative non-fiction was really valued. I really liked writing close-up stories about the strangeness of real life. I’d interviewed Tupac Shakur a couple of times and I was fascinated by the whole myth that grew up about his death. In the late 90s I spent a lot of time in South Central Los Angeles writing about young men there for a book called Westsiders. That taught me a lot about the catastrophic effects of violence – how the pain of unsolved crimes really distort people’s lives. On the more frivolous end of it, I also wrote a newspaper column in the British Sunday newspaper The Observer for several years called Small Ads. I just used to call people up and ask them about their classified ads. It confirmed something I’ve always loved about people: the closer you look, the stranger they are.
Your new book, SHE’S LEAVING HOME, is a mystery set in London in 1968. Will you tell us a little more about it?
It’s the first in a trilogy of books set in 1968-9. The body of a young woman is found in the environs of Abbey Road Studios. The detective assigned to the case is Cathal Breen, the son of an Irish immigrant whose reputation with colleagues is at an all time low following an act of cowardice. Just when he thinks things couldn’t get lower he’s assigned a probationary woman constable, Helen Tozer, to take under his wing.
In those days the British police were institutionally racist and sexist, and pretty corrupt too. The liberal attitudes of our generation were about to transform the UK completely. Women police not allowed to actually investigate crimes in those days, they were there to help with women and children and to do the paperwork. But Helen Tozer has her own agenda, which becomes clear in the arc of the trilogy.
The dead woman turns out to be one of the so –called Apple Scruffs. [http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/love-them-do-the-story-of-the-beatles-biggest-fans-20140214]. The Beatles are sort of in the background through that first book. For me they embody the change that is happening in Britain during that time. Our change from a straight-backed, all-in-this-together post-war society to the liberal, individualist Britain we have now.
What did you enjoy most about writing about DS Cathal Breen, and why do you think readers will root for him?
I love that Cathal Breen is constantly struggling to understand what’s going on in 1968. He really doesn’t get it. But he’s a decent man all the same. I like too, that the readers know that he has a thing for Helen Tozer, but he doesn’t really have a clue. Although he’s only in his early 30s, that generation were already middle aged. He struggles to understand everything she stands for.
Obviously time and place is very important in the novel. What kind of research did you do for it, and what was one of the most interesting things you discovered?
Luckily there’s a wealth of stuff about London in the 60s so that part was easy. The harder part was getting into the mindset of London police at that time. The way they thought then – even the language they used – has been so successfully reformed that it’s hard to dig back. I talked as much as I could to men and women who served in the police at that time. For me the most mind-boggling thing was I had finished a complete first draft when I found out that women police wouldn’t have even been able to drive at the time the books are set. I love how shocked people are now when I tell them that. It seems so absurd. But it’s a measure of how different things were.
Why mystery? What do you enjoy most about writing in the genre?
Mystery is a great storytelling form. It’s like a modern Grimms’ tale. Before you’ve even started there is a structure: something awful has happened and a hero has to try to put it right. Writing within that form gives you an incredible freedom. You can write in almost any style, from almost any point of view you choose, as long as you keep the contract with the reader.
What authors or novels have influenced you the most in work, and life?
When I was younger, I fell for American realism, from Hemmingway to Carver. That’s always been the biggest single influence. I think there is something very human and even kind of democratic about the close up view of people’s lives. On the crime side, I love a writer from the 70s called Nicholas Freeling. His books don’t read well these days but for me they showed how crime novels could write about a cultural landscape as much a geographical one which is something I’m keen to do in She’s Leaving Home.
What are you currently reading?
Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst. Nice stuff. I like books where the plot doesn’t hurtle on relentlessly and you have time to pause.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just sent off proofs for the second in the series, The Kings of London. The two subsequent books in the trilogy pick up on some detail from the first book that the reader might have thought was irrelevant but turns out not to be pretty crucial. I’m half way through writing the third now. It would be nice to take Breen into the70s and see how he survives in the era of Rod Stewart and Wings.
About SHE’S LEAVING HOME:
London, 1968: The body of a teenage girl is found just steps away from the Beatles’ Abbey Road recording studio.
The police are called to a residential street in St John’s Wood where an unidentified young woman has been strangled. Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen believes she may be one of the many Beatles fans who regularly camp outside Abbey Road Studios. With his reputation tarnished by an inexplicable act of cowardice, this is Breen’s last chance to prove he’s up to the job.
Breen is of the generation for whom reaching adulthood meant turning into one’s parents and accepting one’s place in the world. But the world around him is changing beyond recognition. Nothing illustrates the shift more than Helen Tozer, a brazen and rambunctious young policewoman assisting him with the case. Together they navigate a world on edge, where conservative tradition gives way to frightening new freedoms–and troubling new crimes.