Authors Marjorie M. Liu and Stephanie Chong interview each other

A Boing Boing exclusive: authors Stephanie Chong and Marjorie M. Liu interview each other!

Stephanie Chong (left) is author of the paranormal romance series The Company of Angels.

Marjorie M. Liu (right) is the New York Times bestselling author of the paranormal romance series Dirk & Steele, urban fantasy series Hunter Kiss, and is the writer for Marvel's Astonishing X-Men comics, including the infamous issue #51 featuring Marvel's first gay wedding.

Stephanie Chong: What parts of researching your books have personally interested you the most?

Marjorie M. Liu: I love to read all kinds of crazy non-fiction -- histories, science -- magazines, newspapers. I never know what’s going to inspire me, and once I’m inspired, I read like a maniac about that specific idea or topic. Research is the best, but it never stops.

I loved the international setting of Demoness. Did you do any personal travel for your research?

SC: I wrote about Venice from memory. I’ve been there three times, but the last time I went was seven years ago. I did a lot of research online. Venice is a small city, and memorable, so it was manageable.

My next book is set in France, and while I’ve spent a lot of time there, I did take a trip to Paris and Normandy specifically to map out the characters’ journey. It was a great excuse to take a vacation, and an interesting way to travel.

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Interview with cartoonist Joost Swarte

Bob Knetzger alerted me to a Comics Journal interview with Joost Swarte, who I mentioned last week because he has a new book called, Is That All There Is? Bob says: "Very interesting interview with Joost Swarte. Didn't know he studied industrial design and that he does lots more than comics… and that he coined the term clear line.'"

From David Peniston's introduction to the interview:

Where Le Corbusier is better known for his architecture than for his paintings, collages and drawings, Swarte has moved in the opposite direction, making a name for himself first as a cartoonist and illustrator and in more recent years branching into architectural work and stained-glass widows, even creating furniture and fonts. He has worked with architects on the design of the Toneelschuur Theater in Haarlem and is a major consultant and contributor to the design of the Herge Museum in Belgium. Swarte founded Stripdagen, a biennial international comics festival in Haarlem, in 1990 and has himself been the subject of many exhibitions, including the World Exposition of Joost Swarte, which has traveled throughout Europe. I had Swarte’s home phone number from my contact in Germany, a comics dealer named ebi wilke. So one Monday morning in February, I pick up the phone and place an international call to a number in the Netherlands — in Haarlem to be precise. I tell the woman who answers, “I’m looking for Joost Swarte,” and after a short pause, a low but confident, friendly, male voice, with a slight Dutch accent announces, “Joost Swarte.” (pronounced Yost Svarta).

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Deconstructing Sandy

Yesterday, I got to have a great conversation on Minnesota Public Radio's The Daily Circuit. Host Tom Webber and I spent a good 45 minutes talking about Hurricane Sandy, climate change, and why it's so hard to talk about the connections between the two in an easily digestible, sound-bite format. In the meantime, he might have gotten some good sound bites out of me. Read the rest

Gweek 073: Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn

Interview with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

Goldilocks in space: Interview with Lee Billings about the hunt for aliens and habitable planets

Are we alone in the Universe? Last year, journalist Lee Billings wrote an excellent series of guest posts for BoingBoing about the quest to answer that question. One of those posts — Incredible Journey: Can we reach the stars without breaking the bank? — was recently reprinted in The Best Science Writing Online 2012.

As part of the publication of that anthology, journalist Steve Silberman interviewed Lee about space, the final frontier, and the voyages of starships (both the ones that already exist and the ones we imagine and hope for).

Silberman: Several times a year now, we hear about the discovery of a new exoplanet in the “Goldilocks zone” that could “potentially support life.” For example, soon after he helped discover Gliese 581g, astronomer Steven Vogt sparked a storm of media hype by claiming that “the chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.” Even setting aside the fact that the excitement of discovering a planet in the habitable zone understandably seems to have gone to Vogt’s head at that press conference, why are such calculations of the probability of life harder to perform accurately than they seem?

Billings: The question of habitability is a second-order consideration when it comes to Gliese 581g, and that fact in itself reveals where so much of this uncertainty comes from. As of right now, the most interesting thing about the “discovery” of Gliese 581g is that not everyone is convinced the planet actually exists. That’s basically because this particular detection is very much indirect — the planet’s existence is being inferred from periodic meter-per-second shifts in the position of its host star.

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What a dead fish can teach you about neuroscience and statistics

The methodology is straightforward. You take your subject and slide them into an fMRI machine, a humongous sleek, white ring, like a donut designed by Apple. Then you show the subject images of people engaging in social activities — shopping, talking, eating dinner. You flash 48 different photos in front of your subject's eyes, and ask them to figure out what emotions the people in the photos were probably feeling. All in all, it's a pretty basic neuroscience/psychology experiment. With one catch. The "subject" is a mature Atlantic salmon.

And it is dead. Read the rest

Making the Book Talismanic: An Interview with Robert Ansell

Robert Ansell is the Director of Fulgur Press, which has published the work of esoteric artists for 20 years.

Gweek 068: Matthew Modine

Click here to play this episode. Gweek is Boing Boing's podcast about comic books, science fiction and fantasy, video games, board games, tools, gadgets, apps, and other neat stuff.

My co-hosts for this episode are:

Jamie Frevele, Boing Boing's entertainment editor, comedian, and former editor of The Mary Sue.

Actor Matthew Modine, who has lent his voice talents to a new interactive book for kids called Punky Dunk and the Gold Fish, which is designed to make learning to read fun and something parents and kids can share. Matthew also recently released the Full Metal Jacket Diary app, which is an amazing iPad app that includes Matthew’s on-set photos and diary entries of his experiences during the time he was in the Kubrick movie.

Here's a demo of the Full Metal Jacket Diary app:

FULL METAL JACKET DIARY iPad App Demo Video from Cinco Dedos Peliculas on Vimeo.

Gweek 068: Matthew Modine (MP3)

Past episodes of Gweek: 001, 001, 002, 003, 004, 005, 006, 007, 008, 009, 010, 011, 012, 013, 014, 015, 016, 017, 018, 019, 020, 021, 022, 023, 024, 025, 026, 027, 028, 029, 030, 031, 032, 033, 034, 035, 036, 037, 038, 039, 040, 041, 042, 043, 044, 045, 046, 047, 048, 049, 050, 051, 052, 053, 054, 055, 056, 057, 058, 059, 060, 061, 062, 063, 064, 065, 066, 067, 068 Read the rest

Maggie on Virtually Speaking Science

Today at 5:00 pm Eastern, I'll be talking to MIT professor of science writing Tom Levenson on the Virtually Speaking Science podcast. The show is recorded live, so you can call in and join the conversation. It also happens live in Second Life. Which means that I now have a Second Life avatar. Seems like an interesting concept. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Read the rest

Gweek 066: Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin

Click here to play this episode. Gweek is Boing Boing's podcast about comic books, science fiction and fantasy, video games, board games, tools, gadgets, apps, and other neat stuff.

My guest today is Gretchen Rubin, author of the brand new book called Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life. It’s published by Crown and it’s a followup to her 2009 runaway bestseller, The Happiness Project, in which Gretchen spent a year conducting experiments to find out if doing certain things made her happier or not/ The experiments were based on folks sayings, advice from famous thinkers, and scientific studies.

Past episodes: 001, 001, 002, 003, 004, 005, 006, 007, 008, 009, 010, 011, 012, 013, 014, 015, 016, 017, 018, 019, 020, 021, 022, 023, 024, 025, 026, 027, 028, 029, 030, 031, 032, 033, 034, 035, 036, 037, 038, 039, 040, 041, 042, 043, 044, 045, 046, 047, 048, 049, 050, 051, 052, 053, 054, 055, 056, 057, 058, 059, 060, 061, 062, 063, 064, 065 Read the rest

Video interview with Doug Fine, author of Too High to Fail, book about cannabis industry

Here's an interview with Doug Fine, author of Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution.

"How can you have 56 percent of Americans in support of fully ending the drug war, and zero senators in support of it?" asks Doug Fine, investigative journalist and author of new book, Too High To Fail.

Fine sat down with ReasonTV's Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss his time spent in the cannabis capital of California, Mendocino County, and why he thinks this drug can help save the American economy. And it's not just about collecting taxes.

"The industrial [uses] may one day dwarf the psychoactive ones. If we start using it for fermentation for our energy needs, it can produce great biofuels," says Fine, "already, cannabis is in the bumpers of Dodge Vipers."

I interviewed Doug in July about his book. Read it here.

How Cannabis Can Revolutionize Our Economy: Author Doug Fine on "Too High To Fail" Read the rest

Real history from a pretend pirate

Meet Richard Nolan: quartermaster of the Whydah, captain of the Anne, former coworker of Blackbeard—in general, pirate. He is also—at least through Labor Day—my friend Butch Roy.

Butch is an actor, a founder of the Twin Cities Improv Festival, and the executive director of Huge Theater here in Minneapolis. This summer, he took on a new role, playing pirate Richard Nolan in the Science Museum of Minnesota's Real Pirates exhibit.

When I first heard about Real Pirates I wasn't terribly excited. It sounded like the sort of kiddie-friendly, fact-lite thing that I tend to avoid on museum trips. I mean, for god's sake, there were actors running around going, "Arrgh," at people. But then I got a chance to talk to Butch about what, exactly, he was doing in the exhibit—and what it took to prepare for the role.

Butch and his cohorts aren't just playing pirates—they're playing real, documented people. What's more, all the actors had to build their characters from the ground up, using original historical sources and doing a lot of extra research on their own. They had to learn the skills of a pirate and the skills associated with their specific role on the ship. Butch, at least in theory, now knows how to load and fire an 18th century cannon. His fellow actor Michael Ritchie, who plays ship's surgeon James Ferguson, is up-to-date on all the latest medical research and techniques, circa 1717. The sheer volume of historical information Butch has picked up is absolutely fascinating. Read the rest

Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution - exclusive interview with author Doug Fine

I had a great time interviewing Doug Fine about his latest book: Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution.

Too High to Fail covers everything from a brief history of hemp to an insider’s perspective on a growing season in Mendocino County, where cannabis drives 80 percent of the economy (to the tune of $6 billion annually). Investigative journalist Doug Fine follows one plant from seed to patient in the first American county to fully legalize and regulate cannabis farming. He profiles an issue of critical importance to lawmakers, media pundits, and ordinary Americans -- whether or not they inhale. It’s a wild ride that includes swooping helicopters, college tuitions paid with cash, cannabis-friendly sheriffs, and never-before-gained access to the world of the emerging legitimate, taxpaying “ganjaprenneur.”

While researching the book, what did you learn about cannabis and the use of it that surprised you?

Probably the most surprising revelation to me after a year spent on the front lines of the Drug War is how ready Middle America is for the coming Drug Peace -- especially with regard to legalizing cannabis. One collective I researched, in Orange County, CA (yep, Nixon's stomping grounds) had seniors as the majority of membership. These were people for whom cannabis was not political. It was medicine that worked: for arthritis, glaucoma, appetite stimulation. Americans recently polled at 56% in favor of regulating cannabis like alcohol, up from 49% a year ago. So we could be close to the kind of mainstream tipping point that ended alcohol Prohibition. Read the rest

Attack of the zombie maples

Last month, I spent several days in Harvard Forest, 3500 acres of woods dedicated to scientific research. The forest is home to dozens of research projects, some short-term, others stretching over decades. I told you a little about how I got to participate in some of these studies, learning how to collect and analyze data in the same ways that ecologists do. Along the way, I ran into something a little weird—trees that were very much alive, but weren't growing.

If those of us who are not tree experts know anything at all about tree life cycles it's probably centered on tree rings. We learned back in grade school that trees form a new ring every year. Chop down the tree, and you can see a record sometimes stretching back hundreds of years—burn marks indicating fire, fat rings during times of plenty, and thin rings showing resource scarcity. And we know that scientists use these rings to learn about the past, to find out what was happening in local environments before human beings started to painstakingly record that information.

When it makes a new ring, a tree becomes a little fatter. Over decades, you should see a change in its diameter. So I was surprised, during my time in Harvard Forest, to run across several red maple trees that hadn't grown an inch in 11 years. Scientists had measured the trees in 2001. We came back and measured them in 2012. In that time, the diameters hadn't changed at all. Read the rest

Of hermit crabs and home sales

In 2005, my husband I bought a house in Birmingham, Alabama. I was working for mental_floss and we thought we'd live there for a few years. But, in 2006, my husband got an amazing job opportunity in Minneapolis. So we moved and we sold our house. After a few months in the Twin Cities, we bought another one. In order for me to buy the house I now live in, somebody else had to move. When I left my house in Birmingham, I opened a spot in my neighborhood there that was filled by somebody else.

This is one of those things that seems so basic and "duh" that it's easy to overlook. It's easy to think that it isn't important. But sociologists, and economists, care a lot about these patterns—called vacancy chains. That's because vacancy chains end up describing very similar situations that occur in all sorts of social systems across many, many species.

When a resource is exchanged in a sequence from one individual to another, and every individual in the sequence benefits from the exchange, that's a vacancy chain. You see these patterns in human home sales—I, the people I bought my house from, and the people who bought my old house all ended up with a home that better met our needs. And you see the same thing when hermit crabs trade out their old shells for new ones.

Ivan Chase, emeritus professor at Stony Brook University, studies vacancy chains in hermit crabs and people. He's written about his work for the June issue of Scientific American, and he recently spoke with me about how vacancy chains work and what we can learn about human social systems from watching animals like crabs. Read the rest

Chris Ware interview

[Video Link] An interview with Jimmy Corrigan creator, Chris Ware. (Via Drawn & Quarterly) Read the rest

Energy is more than sources; energy is systems

When we talk about energy, we often talk about it in very disconnected ways. By that, I mean we talk about new renewable generation projects, we talk about cleaning up dirty old power plants, and we talk about personal decisions you and I can make to use less energy, or get more benefits from the same amount.

What we fail to talk about is how all those ideas fit together into a coherent whole. And that matters, because our energy problems (and our energy solutions) are about more than just swapping sources of power or making individual choices. We have to fix the systems, not just the symptoms.

Back in April, I got to go on Minnesota Public Radio's "Bright Ideas" to talk about my book, Before the Lights Go Out. Now MPR has the entire hour-long interview up on video. You can watch the whole thing if you want. But, if you're short on time, I'd recommend the stretch from about minute 8:30 to 10:50. That's where I explain in more detail why systems—infrastructures—are so important and why we can't solve our energy problems without focusing on how choices and sources fit into those larger issues.

Watch that clip, then read this Minneapolis Star-Tribune article about how investments in transportation-oriented bicycle infrastructure have changed the way Minneapolites think about biking and dramatically increased the number of people who choose to bike. I think you'll see some thematic connections.

Learn more about how our energy infrastructures shape our choices and our lives by reading Before the Lights Go Out. Read the rest

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