9 in ’09 with Mary Doria Russell and book giveaway, part 2

To read the first part of this interview, click here.

I will be giving one lucky commenter his or her choice of one Mary Doria Russell title.  After reading part one of the interview leave a comment and you will be entered.  Read Part Two and comment  and earn a second entry.  Those who have gotten a correct answer in my Green Title Quiz have earned an extra entry and those who are winners in my upcoming quiz on Monday will also earn extra entries.  I will draw the winners on March 31st at noon.  I will ship anywhere.

And now for the rest of the interview…

5. I’ve read that you became a novelist because you were out of work.  Is that true?

Yep.  There was this big recession at the end of the Bush administration…Wait!  I’m having deja vu…

Anyway, I lost my job and I had an idea for a short story about Jesuits in space.  That turned into The Sparrow and Children of God.

Would you recommend the writer’s life for the rising number of unemployed Americans?

Um.  Only if you’re married to an engineer with a secure job and medical benefits.  Seriously.  Publishing is under severe stress as an industry, and it was brutally competitive even before the latest economic pooh hit the national fan last fall.  The odds of an unknown getting a first novel published were approximately 4 million to one back in 1995 when I got my first contract.  Today, you’ve got a better chance of fame and fortune if you buy lottery tickets.

On the other hand, if you can’t help yourself, and you live to write, and you are talented and have something interesting to say, the blogoshere is an amazing new outlet.  Making money that way is a different thing.  Occasionally a blog will take off, and be parlayed into paying work, but it’s a lot like standing in a field during a thunderstorm hoping to get hit by lightning.

6. I love quotes.  Do you have a favorite?

You probably mean quotes from famous authors or something, but in our household, about 64% of the conversation consists of quotes from movies.  We use any of a hundred lines from the Princess Bride on a regular basis, but we just watched Moonstruck again a couple of nights ago, and I particularly like “Yeah, well, someday you will die, and I’ll come to your funeral in a red dress!”

My husband and I also use “You’re still gonna die, Cosmo!” whenever we see some middle-aged idiot trying to pretend he’s a young stud.

7. What are you currently reading?

At the moment?  Two non-fiction studies of the Kansas temperance movement in the 1870’s – that’s background research.  Also “Born Fighting,” by Jim Webb, about the history of the Scots-Irish, which explains a huge amount about contemporary American politics.  I’m also reading The Last Judgement by James Connor, which is a wonderful art history book that clarifies the swirl of politics, science, art and war that was the Renaissance.  And recently, I loved a book about death called  Nothing to be Frightened of” by Julian Barnes.  Exquisitely written and funny as hell.

I also read stacks of magazines: current affairs, economics, decorating.  And I watch a lot of TV.  I’m not a snob.  Baseball, HGTV, the History Channel.  Just discovered Dead Like Me, on DVD.  Getting into The Dollhouse, by Joss Whedon.  LOVED Firefly!

8. If you were stuck in the life of one of your fictional characters, who would you choose?

Interesting question…I guess I’d choose Agnes Shanklin, in Dreamers of the Day.  Yes.  Definitely.  Agnes.

I like the way she questions everything and slowly takes charge of her life and handles adversity.  I also like that she stays true to her sensible Midwestern self, no matter who she finds herself among.

9. What are you currently working on?

This time, I’m taking on two iconic figures of the American frontier.  Eight to Five, Against is a murder mystery set in Dodge City in 1878, the summer when the unlikely by enduring friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday began.

The novel takes place almost 4 years before the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, but there’s a direct line from the summer in Dodge City to the gunfight in Tombstone that made the Earps and Doc Holliday notorious.

I’m about 8 chapters from having a complete first draft.  Usually Wyatt is the focus of these stories, but I am totally in love with Doc.  That boy just breaks my heart…

He’s often portrayed as a coldblooded psychopathic killer, but he wasn’t like that at all.  At the time of the novel, he was a frail, proud, beautifully educated 26-year-old dentist living on the rawest edge of the American frontier, still hoping to recover from tuberculosis in the warm dry climate of western Kansas.  That summer in Dodge was the last time Doc was well enough to attempt to practice his profession.  He still believed that he was going to get better and go back home to Atlanta someday, but it never happened.

When will it be out?

Sometime in 2010 is my guess.

BONUS QUESTION   What’s next for you?

I’m starting to get interested in Benedict Arnold now, and there might be a book in that.  I seem to be drawn to characters who are unjustly condemned by people who don’t know anything about them, and I do think Arnold got a raw deal from Washington and the Continental Congress.

I like the idea that Arnold could draw me into the Enlightenment and Baroque music, and early American history.  Not sure what the story would be, though.  When Eight to Five is done, I’ll start reading biographies of Arnold and his wife, and Washington, and so forth.  Maybe a plot will emerge.  Maybe not.

On the other hand, and this is a scoop for you: I may go back to paleoanthropology.  I’ve been thinking about the Dark Ages in Europe, and how everybody – including pregnant and nursing mothers – drank beer and wine almost exclusively for long stretches of European history.  The Dark Ages have been described as a thousand years when each generation knew less than the one before it.  It was a great melting away of high culture, and I wonder if endemic fetal alcohol syndrome had something to do with it.  So I have and idea for how to test that idea using skull measurements from cemeteries.

Have to think some more about this, but it would be fun to get back into the bone biz.


I want to thank Mary for taking the time to participate.  I appreciate it and I’m sure all of you did too!

Dreamers of the Day, by Mary Doria Russell

Cover ImageFinished 3-13-09, rating 4/5, historical fiction, pub. 2008

If we are timid or rebellious or both, then travel – by itself and by ourselves – forces us to leave our old lives behind.  Travel can overcome habitual resistance and the soul in motion along magnetic lines of attraction.  On foreign soil, desires – denied, policed, constrained at home – can be unbound.  What hides beneath the skin-thin surface of the domesticated self is sensual, sexual, adult.

Why then, truly, had I come to Egypt?  To flee everything that was conventional and predictable and respectable.  I wanted to lock up my mother’s house in Cedar Glen and walk away from my own dull mediocrity.  I wanted to escape anyone and everything that had ever told me No.

page 138, hardcover

The dead narrator, Agnes Shanklin, is a forty year-old spinster who loses her entire family, and almost her own life to the 1918 influenza outbreak.  A school teacher in Cleveland, Ohio, she  decides to use some of her inheritance to travel to Egypt, where her sister spent many years as a missionary.  She travels with her little dachshund, Rosie, who causes more than a few problems in Cairo.

In 1921 the fate of the current Middle East was squarely in the hands of the power players at the Cairo Peace Conference.  T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill, and Gertrude Bell were a few of the people that Agnes came in contact with.  Lawrence had been friends with her sister before he became Lawrence of Arabia and through him Agnes was shown into the inner circle where she often shared her hardly esteemed American views.  Her unexpected contact with these power brokers, placed her squarely in the path of the German spy, Karl Weilbacher.

I was enchanted by Agnes .  The running dialog in her head from her mother and a few others imortant to her was a wonderful way to show how she gained strength and confidence and finally become her own woman.  The fact that she was dead when she was narrating this book was unexpected and enjoyable.  Her attachment to her dog Rosie, was a hit with me and I’m sure any other dog lover.  This is as much of her coming of age story as it is an historical one.

Russell did extensive research on the main players.  I was excited to learn that Churchill’s bodyguard was based on the real man who had written a book about that time.  Agnes’s detailed tour through Palestine, Jerusalem and Nile made you feel as though you were right there, although they were the only parts of the book I founds myself sometimes skimming.

I love the nod to Russell’s Cleveland roots by featuring the famous department store Halle’s (inspiration for Halle Berry’s name) and the clerk who was dating Les Hope, who was thinking of changing his name to Bob 🙂

This book is so relevant today that I must recommend it for anyone interested in what is going on in the Middle East and our foreign policy.  Russell became interested in this topic when Osama bin Laden claimed this Peace Conference in Cairo was the reason for the 9-11 attacks.  It could not be any more timely.

Garden of Beasts: A Novel of Berlin 1936, by Jeffery Deaver

Cover ImageFinished audio 1-14-09, rating 3.5, fiction, pub. 2004

In this historical novel Paul Shumann is a hit man for the mob who gets caught red-handed and is offered the choice of the electric chair or traveling to Germany to kill one of Hitler’s power men, Reinhard Ernst.  The choice was an easy one and Paul travels to Germany with the Olympic team where cameos by real Olympians, including the hero of the games, Jesse Owens, add interest.  Once Paul reaches Germany he is almost immediately embroiled in a murder that has the Crypto searching Berlin and beyond for the hit man.

The many storylines are compelling.  You get to meet Hitler and other real characters like Himmler and Goring.  The Cryptos search for Paul is a cat and mouse game that forces Paul into the shadows.  There are a few there to help Paul complete his heady task of killing Ernst.  And the men pulling the strings back in New York are not exactly what they seem.  There is also love and national loyalty at play.

This novel has plenty going on and there were many things I really liked about it.  I thought the first two-thirds of the book was a great set-up full of wonderful characters and storylines.  It was interesting to see that some of the police were not Hitler supporters and it added real depth to the real story being enacted Hitler.  Paul’s sense of duty to his job and his interest in righting injustice made him a compelling main character.

As much as I enjoyed the first part of the book I equally did not find the end satisfying.  The wrap up had plenty of twist and turns, which was good, but at the end there still seemed to be a few things left incomplete. 

If this time period intrigues you or you are a Jeffery Deaver fan you should give this book a try.