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Author Interviews

Horses of the Apocalypse: Scott Cheshire's American Epic

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A blurb from Philipp Meyer hails Scott Cheshire's debut novel, High as the Horses' Bridles, as "a great new American epic." At first glance, the page count of Bridles seems too slim to be an epic. But within its swift 300 pages, Cheshire's thematic scope is cast wide, capturing a number of deeply intertwined American ideas.

In many ways, the book is a lens into the expanse of American faith and how unshakable it is, even when that relationship is conflicted. From its opening pages, Bridles is heavily doused in apocalyptic language. Twelve-year-old Josiah Laudermilk delivers a doomsday prophecy to a crowd of four thousand parishioners, all of whom belong to a sect that closely resembles the Jehova's Witnesses. The scene is electric, rapturous.

At Housing Works Bookstore Café in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, where Cheshire wrote most of the novel, he explained his interest exploring America's roots—founded on both religious and apocalyptic ideas.

"If you look at [the country's] very basic mission, which is 'to become a more perfect union', even that phrasing is about benevolence, which is ideally what religion is about: to become better and better and better," Cheshire said. "And there's something even kind of apocalyptic about it. You're striving to get better and better to get to a place of perfection."

High as the Horses' Bridles does a magnificent job unpacking great swaths of the American psyche through a much smaller, more specific family drama. There are strong traces of Cheshire's personal history throughout the book. After the first act, the novel jumps ahead twenty years. Josiah—now Josie—has returned to Queens to take care of his dying father after a decade away from the church.

Continue reading "Horses of the Apocalypse: Scott Cheshire's American Epic" »

Amazon Asks: “War of the Whales” Author, Joshua Horwitz

Joshua Horwitz spent six years researching the story of the marine biologist and the environmental lawyer whose battle against the US Navy and its secret underwater sonar programs went all the way to the Supreme Court. The result, War of the Whales, is one of those rare nonfiction books that reads like fiction – in this case, a delightful mashup of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, Stephen Ambrose and David Halberstam.

War of the Whales was named Amazon’s Best Book of the Month “Spotlight” pick for July. In my review I described it as “a gripping and wholly original tale of the ecological side effects of national security” and “a rare trifecta of a book: important, highly readable, and stunningly true.”

I reached out to Horwitz to ask about his favorite books (duh, Moby Dick), and, as a bonus he shared a couple of cool whale photos.

Describe your book in one sentence?

Whales and submarines collide inside world's deepest underwater canyon. 

Or: Two men take on world's largest navy to save whales.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Favorite books about whales?

Moby Dick -- what else?

Favorite book as a child?

Tarzan, King of the Apes series by Edgar Rice Burroughs

What are you obsessed with now?

How few books teenagers--including my daughters--seem to be reading for pleasure.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My appetite(s).

What do you collect?

Daughters, apparently. (I've got three.)

Favorite line?

Where lies the final harbor whence we unmoor no more? (from Moby Dick)

What's next for you?

More reading, less writing.

What was the best piece of advice you ever got?  From whom?

From Martin Scorcese, as returning NYU fillm alum speaking to us wannabees, on editing. (He was speaking about film editing, but applies equally to text.) -- "Begin with a scalpel, end with an axe."

George Hincapie: Lance's Loyal Lieutenant

George Hincape learned early on that he was made to race bikes. The Queens-born son of a cycling fanatic, he rode early, fast, and occasionally recklessly. As a teenager, he discovered a passion for racing, often testing his talent against older riders, winning frequently and rising through the ranks of competitive cycling. Eventually he crossed paths another racer of enormous ability, the young Lance Armstrong. And as a young man,  Hincapie turned pro and headed for Europe, where he built a reputation as a rider of prodigious natural talent, tactical acumen, and relentless dedication to the success of the team. While he continued to pursue individual success, he found fame when he joined Armstrong for what was (officially then, maybe unofficially now) the most successful run in the history of the sport: Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour de France victories. While Armstrong was the brash and arrogant team leader, "Big George" rode faithfully at his side, shepherding him through danger and doing the hard, selfless work necessary to win the most prestigious bike race in the world.

 

The Loyal Lieutenant

 

Unfortunately, the story didn't end there. 

The dirty details of doping have been discussed at length elsewhere: see Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race for a gritty/gripping insider's account of performance enhancing drugs, while Wheelmen and Cycle of Lies provide detailed histories of Armstrong's rise and long fall into disgrace. Now Hincapie has written his own account of his career, The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris (with Craig Hummer). Like Hamilton and almost every successful bike racer of that era, Hincapie was caught up in the wave of PEDs and all its paranoia. But unlike his former teammate, he doesn't necessarily offer a mea culpa for his participation. He is neither proud nor dismissive, but instead focuses on the culture of cheating and his eventual choice to race without drugs.

We talked to Hincapie at Book Expo America about his experience as a cyclist and a teammate, and his efforts to clean up the sport he so clearly loves.

 

Of Maps and Memories: Francisco Goldman Interviewed by Daniel Alarcón

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Daniel Alarcón, author of At Night We Walk in Circles, sits down to talk with journalist and novelist Francisco Goldman, about driving — and grieving. --Sara Nelson


Daniel Alarcón: So first of all, The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle is a beautiful book: part memoir, part map of an infinite city, part meditation on mourning, part reportage. One of the things I love about it is that it seems effortless, straddling all these genres with great elegance. So I want to begin by asking how you conceived of this book when you started writing it. Was there a plan? Did you worry about genre?

Francisco Goldman: I didn’t know it was going to be a book when I started. Its origins go a year or so back, when I began to talk to an editor at The New Yorker about doing a piece on my “driving project” — how I was going to overcome my phobia over driving in Mexico City by using the Guía Roji, that fat and fabulous book of Mexico City street maps, that book of “infinite roads” so indispensable to every Mexico City taxi driver, like an I Ching: close my eyes, open to a random page, jab my finger down, and then try to drive to wherever the finger had landed. That was the idea and I’d agreed with that editor to give it a go, even though I didn’t have a formal assignment. I also owed Grove, my publisher, a third magazine piece which they wanted to bring out in a book alongside two other pieces I’d published earlier that year, one in The New Yorker on children of the Dirty War-disappeared in Argentina, and another in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on Camila Vallejo and the student movement in Chile.

My plan was to carry out the driving project in the summer of 2012, in the DF (The Distrito Federal a.k.a. Mexico City). But it turned out to be a summer in which a lot happened in my life, a dramatic, wild, transformative summer during which, as my Chilango or Mexico City friends liked to put it, I hit “rock bottom,” and then “resurrected.” That spring/summer began with the approach of the fifth anniversary of the death of my wife Aura [Estrada, a grad student and writer], and with the sadness and walled-off emotional loneliness of grief, a feeling that seemed like it was never going to end. The summer ended with me most unexpectedly falling in love again. In between were months of out of control, self-destructive behavior, culminating in a night (the “hit bottom” night) of absurd violence. These were transformative months for Mexico too, with a national election that returned the PRI to federal power, and a massive student movement that seemingly arose out of nowhere, a youthful desperate surge of hope and resistance aimed at preventing the election of the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto as president.

Continue reading "Of Maps and Memories: Francisco Goldman Interviewed by Daniel Alarcón" »

Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks

This weekend variant edition of Graphic Novel Friday arrives with an exclusive interview.  Hope everyone had a great July 4th holiday!

Author Max Brooks continues to re-think and refine the zombie phenomenon.  From World War Zthe blockbuster novel that led to the blockbuster film, and the follow-up/send-up The Zombie Survival Guide his name is cemented in the zombie canon. This month, he launches a new graphic novel with Avatar Press that takes another wild look at zombies (and vampires!) in The Extinction Parade. Mr. Brooks nicely took time to answer a few questions over email:

Q: You have two new collections out this spring, The Harlem Hellfighters and The Extinction Parade. What’s your comics origin story—what first inspired you in the medium?

Max Brooks: I can’t remember how old I was, but it was a time before the Berlin Wall fell. We used to spend our summers on a little strip of sand off New York called "Fire Island." I fished and swam and rode my bike everywhere, but one thing I didn’t do was read. Being dyslexic, reading was a real chore. And then I found ROM: Spaceknight at the general store and I recognized it from an action figure I had. It was the first king sized annual. I hadn’t intended to read the whole thing, but before I knew it, I was on the last page. That was the first time in my life I’d ever voluntarily read something, ANYTHING cover to cover, and I still own that exact issue.

Q: The Extinction Parade began as a short prose story. What led to its translation into comics? What aspects did you have to re-think when converting it for Avatar Press?

Max Brooks: Converting from prose to comics is no easy task. For one thing, you can’t ignore any information. In prose, I don’t have to describe anything that’s not integral to the story. Out of sight, out of mind. A comic book is visual. The reader sees everything. I have to pay attention to clothes, hair, architecture, every detail I want to be accurate. Because The Extinction Parade takes place in Malaysia, where I’ve never been, I have to use 3D satellite images to show the artist where our characters are and what we, the readers, would see in the background.

Q: The Extinction Parade is filled with storytelling, from character-to-character moments to detailed narration boxes. What is your method of scripting comics? Are you more hands-on or hands-off in terms of page layouts and character designs?

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks" »

BBQ King Steven Raichlen on "Ensemble" Cooking

MealsFireworks won’t be the only things flaring in America’s backyards on this Fourth of July.

You’d think after centuries of cooking with fire, man would have it down. But so many backyard chefs still scorch that precious steak or salmon. We overcook, we undercook, we set good food on fire.

For many years and across many books--notably his bestselling Barbecue Bible--BBQ guru Steven Raichlen has been trying to school us. During a recent swing through Seattle, over lunch at Tom Douglas’s Bravehorse Tavern, I asked for a little help: What do men do wrong at the grill?

“They don’t control the fire, they let the fire control them,” Raichlen said, while dunking a fresh-made pretzel into a bacon peanut butter dip.

Too many guys throw a hunk of meat on the grill or cram it full of chicken pieces and hope for the best, instead of practicing Raichlen’s “30-percent rule”--keeping 30 percent of grill food-free, to provide room to maneuver in case of a flare-ups.

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With a World Cup match roaring in in the background, we discussed Raichlen’s new book, Man Made Meals, which moves indoors and aims to teach guys to cook more like women. Raichlen believes women think in terms of meals while guys think in terms of dishes; women cook with a spirit of nurturing while men cook with a spirit of showing off. With his new book he’s hoping to help guys think “ensemble,” from the main dish to side dishes, from deserts to “rockin’ the bar shaker.”

In addition to the crash course in culinary literacy for guys--“What dishes should every self-respecting red blooded American male know how to do?”--there’s an activist message in Man Made Meals. If we’re careful about how and where we buy food, and how we cook, “we can have a positive impact on ourselves and our health, on the health and well-being of our families, and on the well-being of the planet,” Raichlen said.

Speaking of health and well-being... here's one of Raichlen's go-to dishes:


Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs, with Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce

Shop: Baby backs are the easiest ribs to cook, thanks to their generous marbling and intrinsic tenderness. To up your game, try an heirloom breed, like Berkshire pork or Tamworth.

Gear: Your basic kitchen and grilling gear including an aluminum foil drip pan, a charcoal grill (sorry guys; you can cook the ribs on a gas grill, but you need charcoal to smoke them), a rib rack (optional), and a spray bottle.

What else: I like to smoke baby backs at a somewhat higher temperature than the low and slow guys on the barbecue circuit. Which is to say, I grill the ribs using the indirect method at 325°F rather than the 225°F of traditional barbecue. I like the way the heat melts the fat and crisps the meat fibers, giving you chewier, meatier ribs than with the lower-heat method. If you prefer your ribs to have a softer texture, cook them at 225°F for 4 to 5 hours.

Time: About 20 minutes preparation time, plus about 1-1/2 hours cooking time 

These ribs sound an apple theme--you smoke them with apple wood chips and serve them with a made-from-scratch cider rum barbecue sauce. Once you master the process, you can infinitely vary the character of the ribs by changing the seasonings. Texas style? Use a rub based on cumin and chile powder and spray the ribs with beer. Jamaican style? Use jerk seasoning and spray the ribs with pineapple juice. You get the idea. 

Makes 2 racks of ribs; serves 4 normal guys as part of a full meal or 2 big guys with corresponding appetites

  • 2 racks baby back pork ribs (4 to 5 pounds total)
  • 6 tablespoons Raichlen’s Rub #1 (recipe follows) or your favorite barbecue rub 
  • 1 cup apple cider in a spray bottle
  • Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce (page 286) or your favorite barbecue sauce
  • You’ll also need: 1 1/2 cups hardwood chips or chunks, preferably apple or hickory, soaked in water to cover for 30 minutes, then drained

1 Set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a large aluminum foil drip pan in the center of the grill under the grate, and preheat the grill to medium (325°F).

2 Place a rack of ribs meat side down on a baking sheet. Remove the thin, papery membrane from the back of the rack by inserting a slender implement, such as the tip of an instant-read thermometer, under it; the best place to start is on one of the middle bones. Using a dishcloth, paper towel, or pliers to gain a secure grip, peel off the membrane. Repeat with the remaining rack (or ask your butcher to do it).

3 Season the ribs with barbecue rub (about 1-1/2 tablespoons per side), rubbing the spices onto the meat with your fingertips. 

4 When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the ribs, bone side down, in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat. (If your grill has limited space, stand the racks of ribs upright in a rib rack.) Toss the wood chips on the coals. Cover the grill and cook the ribs for about 45 minutes.

5 Spray the ribs with some of the apple cider. This keeps them moist and adds an extra layer of flavor. Cover the grill again and continue cooking the ribs until they are darkly browned, cooked through, and tender enough to pull apart with your fingers, 45 minutes to 1 hour longer, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours in all, spraying the ribs with cider once or twice more. When the ribs are cooked, the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by 1/4 to 1/2 inch. If you are using a charcoal grill, replenish the coals after 1 hour or as needed.

6 Just before serving, brush the ribs on both sides with about 1/2 cup of the Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce or the barbecue sauce of your choice. Move the ribs directly over the fire. Grill the ribs until the barbecue sauce is browned and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

7 Transfer the ribs to a large platter or cutting board. Let the ribs rest for a few minutes, then cut the racks in half or into individual ribs. Serve the ribs at once with the remaining barbecue sauce on the side.

Raichlen’s Rub #1

Here’s a barbecue rub--sweet with brown sugar, spicy with pepper and paprika--that would feel right at home in Kansas City, Memphis, or North Carolina. Makes 1/2 cup

  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard, preferably Colman’s
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

Place the salt, brown sugar, paprika, pepper, dry mustard, onion powder, and celery seeds in a small bowl and mix with your fingers, breaking up any lumps in the brown sugar or onion powder. Stored in an airtight jar away from heat and light, the rub will keep for several months.

Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce

A sweet, mellow barbecue sauce invigorated with dark rum and apple cider. Good choices for rum include Myer’s Rum from Jamaica, Gosling’s Black Seal from Bermuda, or the new Ipswich rum from Massachusetts. The recipe makes more than you’ll need. Refrigerate any excess in a sealed jar--it will keep for several weeks. Makes about 2-1/2 cups

  • 1 cup apple cider
  • about 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 cups ketchup (I like Heinz) 
  • 1/2 packed cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, or more to taste 
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 Place the cider, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large heavy saucepan and let come to a boil over high heat. Let the cider mixture boil until reduced by about half, 4 to 6 minutes. 

2 Add the ketchup, brown sugar, rum, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, liquid smoke, onion powder, pepper, and cinnamon and whisk to mix. Reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce simmer until thick and flavorful, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding more rum and/or mustard as necessary. Transfer the sauce to a bowl or clean jars and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the sauce until serving. It will keep covered in the refrigerator for 3 weeks. Reheat it over low heat before using.

Photo Essay: How Did the Statue of Liberty Get Built?

LibertyElizabeth Mitchell's myth-busting Liberty’s Torch--a Best Book of the Month for July--is a hoot of a story packed with entertaining cameos by Victor Hugo, Ulysses Grant, Thomas Edison and more. At center stage is the maddeningly egotistical artiste, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a snobbish boor who disliked America and her "subpar" people, yet, through persistence and will, found a home for his statue in New York Harbor.

In advance of Independence Day, we asked Mitchell to share a few photos and anecdotes from her rigorously researched tale of how a sculptor’s obsession became a nation's icon.

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We take it for granted that the Statue of Liberty belongs in the New York harbor. But if it were not for one driven man, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, this globally recognizable symbol would never have seen sunrise over the city.

Bartholdi dreamed up the idea of the colossus, he pitched, pleaded, sweated, and schemed to get her built. My new book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, tells this tale of one man battling obstacles and accidents to make his unusual vision a reality.

It helped that Bartholdi birthed this creation during an era when artist, inventors and engineers constantly tried to one-up each other. He had seen the colossal statuary in Egypt, the sphinxes and pyramids, and he wanted to also create something that would last for eternity. All he had to do was solve the mechanical feats, clear the fundraising hurdles, and keep everyone alive in the process.

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1) Here is Bartholdi, looking like Dave Grohl. He was spunky, funny, emotional, and a huge egotist. He alone came up with the idea of the Statue of Liberty and set out to convince France and America to build it. He wasn’t so much in love with America as he was entranced by the idea of crafting a massive statue. He did appreciate that America had successfully created a democracy while his France struggled violently for the ideal.

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2) He originally designed the piece for Egypt, for the mouth of the Suez Canal, but the deal fell through so he went looking for other locations. At the time, America was showing new growth after the Civil War, taking on constructions like Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The cross continental railroad had just been completed. The nation seemed a likely candidate to absorb the plan that had failed elsewhere.

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3) Short on funds and public enthusiasm, Bartholdi built Liberty in pieces, exhibiting a bit at a time to raise money to create more. Here is the torch being shown at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. At the bottom, Bartholdi set up a kiosk to sell souvenirs and tickets to the top.

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4) Bartholdi showed the head at the Paris Exposition of 1878. It arrived on a wagon from the workshop where she was created, having wended her way through the streets of Paris. People waved and sang the Marseillaise as the massive head passed.

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5) To test the design, the statue was first put together in a neighborhood in Paris near the Parc Monceau. People could pay a ticket to climb up and look over the rooftops.

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6) Liberty was inaugurated on October 28, 1886 in a heavy fog. Bartholdi himself tugged an enormous French flag from her face to reveal her to the world. A few weeks later, he ventured out in a nighttime rain to say goodbye to his creation. He told a reporter that he could no longer sense the immensity of her as he had when he was working on her in Paris. He said, “She is going away from me. She is going away from me.” She now belonged to America.

--Elizabeth Mitchell

The Wildest Books in America

Untamed Will Harlan’s new biography, Untamed, explores the remarkable and controversial life of Carol Ruckdeschel, a woman who eats road kill, stalks alligators, and lives in a ramshackle cabin on the wild Cumberland Island--the country's largest and most biologically diverse barrier island, off the Georgia coast--all in defense of sea turtles and the future of the park.

We asked Will for his perspective on environmental writing, as well as the books that inspired him to track down the story of the "wildest woman in America."

Untamed is an Amazon selection for 2014's Best Books of the Year So Far.


BEST VOICES OF ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING by Will Harlan

Nature writing can be pretty, and environmental books can be convincing, but I ultimately crave the raw emotion of fellow human beings struggling to find and protect their place in the world. The best environmental writing, I believe, is about people.

People are the problem and the solution. Good environmental writing reconnects people to nature—not through lectures, but through living, flesh-and-blood examples of courage and commitment. We feel the landscape through them.   

For years, I’ve tried to write about the tangled environmental politics of Cumberland Island. Finally, I realized that the best way to tell the island’s story was through the heartbreaking adventures of its most powerful personality. Carol’s experiences are more persuasive than any political argument.

Here are a few of my favorite environmental voices and books. Instead of preachy diatribes or flowery descriptions, they inspire me with gritty, gutsy characters—some legendary, some overlooked—who stand their ground and speak for the wild.

 

The Last American ManThe Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert


A modern-day pioneer living nearly self-sufficiently on a wild reserve in Appalachia, Eustace Conway embodies the ideals of American masculinity—ruggedness, courage, and independence. However, those hard-fought ideals have a price. Liz Gilbert shows us the tired, lonely man behind the bravado. A tough, buckskin-clad maverick hunts for the one thing missing from his mountain refuge: love.

 

 



Into the Wild Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer


Chris McCandless is either a stupid kid or self-reliant hero. As soon as he graduates college, he gives away all of his savings and wanders the wild, seeking adventure and an authentic relationship with the land—until he finds himself starving to death alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Barely able to lift a pen, he scribbles this final message, which continues to haunt and shape my own life: “Happiness only real when shared.”

 

 



Encounters with the Archdruid Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee


McPhee masterfully captures the nuances and complexities of the most influential modern environmentalist, David Brower, by shadowing him on close-combat crusades to protect America’s last wild places. But don’t expect classic confrontations with battle lines clearly drawn; Brower is far more kaleidoscopic. Like Brower himself, the book’s strength is in its subtlety, with finely drawn characters exquisitely presented in shades of gray.

 

 



Refuge Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams


Williams’ mother is dying from exposure to nearby nuclear testing, and wildlife is being wiped out by dams and development. In her unflinching memoir, Williams wrestles with life and death out in the wide-open Utah desert and seeks shelter where there is none.

 

 

 

 

Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodEcology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray


Ray’s hardscrabble upbringing in a south Georgia junkyard is an unlikely start for an environmental luminary, but the rusted scrap heaps of her childhood are chock full of raw, resourceful characters—including an authoritarian father who locks his family in a closet and a snuff-dipping coon hunter who introduces her to the wild woods. Ray weaves her own story into the razed red-clay landscape and leads a rebellion to save the South’s last longleaf pine forests.

 

 



Desert Solitaire Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey


It’s definitely the most sermonizing selection of the bunch, but Abbey’s coarse, thunderous voice crying out for the wilderness still echoes across the desert he called home. Amid his nerve-tingling adventures as a park ranger, the monkey-wrenching anarchist unleashes forceful, full-blooded pleas for the last scraps of wildlands.

 

 

 



The Lost Grizzlies The Lost Grizzlies by Rick Bass


Grizzly bears had not been seen for 15 years in southern Colorado until a small group sets out to find them. Bass seeks more than bears, though; he is tracking his own wildness and the longings of the human heart, which only are revealed in the presence of something larger.


How I Wrote It: Alan Furst, on the "special vitamins" of wartime Europe

FurstAlan Furst's thrilling and endearing new historical spy novel is once again set in Europe as the shadows of war darken the continent and its people. As with his previous novels, Midnight in Europe portrays the tense unease of a region--in this case France and, in particular, Spain--on the verge of fracture, with allegiances and loyalties in constant and dangerous flux. Heroes and villains are sometimes indistinguishable, mainly, says Furst, because most of Europe was "scared to death."

"I don't quite understand why, but that era had special vitamins. It just did," he told me. "What was it about ther '30s? I don't know, but there was this bursting of creativity that came along."

Speaking at the annual Book Expo America conference in New York, we also discussed the 1984 trip he took through Europe, on assignment for Esquire. "I came back a changed person," he told me. Interestingly, he rarely visits Europe these days, which is far different from the version of Europe he writes about. "I'm used to another Paris," he said.

Proudly "blue collar" in his approach to writing, Furst is already pounding out the next novel, two pages per day, every day. "I can't fool around and wait for inspiration," he said. Like one of his own characters, he still writes on a typewriter, a Lexmark. "Descendant of the mighty IBM selectric," he gushed proudly. "I think I write better on a typewriter." 

Brad Meltzer is Obsessed with "Ordinary People Changing the World"

RosaBrad Meltzer is a shape-shifter and, apparently, the guy doesn't sleep. Known mainly for the bestselling thrillers he's been writing since his twenties--starting with his 1997 debut, The Tenth Justice--he also writes comic books, screenplays, and hosts his own History Channel show, Brad Meltzer's Decoded.

More recently, he's shouldered the laudable task of inspiring kids--his, and ours. Meltzer's first such efforts--Heroes for my Daughter and Heroes for my Son--led to this year's Ordinary People Changing the World series, the latest of which is I Am Rosa Parks, on sale this week.

The "I Am..." books depict heroic Americans during their childhoods, as regular boys and girls. The first two, Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln, will be followed by Albert Einstein (September) and Jackie Robinson (January).

At BookExpo America in New York last month, we spoke with Meltzer about his own childhood heroes, his love of story, his paranoia, and his radical belief that "a reality TV show bimbo is not a hero." (And if you don't like my interview, check out one of the best book trailers I've seen, featuring Meltzer's family and friends trash-talking him.)

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