Sergio Troncoso writes two books that span immigrant life from the colonia of Ysleta to New York City

Sergio Troncoso, the son of Mexican immigrants, was born and grew up in the unincorporated neighborhood or colonia of Ysleta on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas. His parents built their adobe house, and the family lived with kerosene lamps and stoves and an outhouse in the backyard during their first years in Texas.

Today Troncoso lives part-time in Kent, CT and in New York City, and he is the author of four books. Two of them were published last year, and he’ll be discussing both his novel and his book of essays at the Yale Bookstore at 4 p.m. on July 31st.

This visiting professor at Yale is both a novelist and an essayist, and his prize-winning work has been lauded by reviewers and readers alike, as he crosses the country giving readings.

Kirkus Reviews called From This Wicked Patch of Dust “an engaging literary achievement” in a starred review, and The Dallas Morning News said, “In a media market where cultural stereotypes abound, it’s refreshing to read a novel featuring Latino characters who are nuanced and authentic.  Sergio Troncoso’s latest, From This Wicked Patch of Dust, follows a family from humble beginnings in a Texas border town through several decades as its members move beyond their Mexican Catholic culture to inhabit Jewish, Muslim and Ivy League spaces.”

On Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, The El Paso Times said, “These very personal essays cross several borders: cultural, historical, and self-imposed…. We owe it to ourselves to read, savor and read them again.”, a reviewer of indy literature, said, “A champion for the rights of immigrants who have come to this country for a better, more prosperous life, [Troncoso] condemns politicians and politicos who reach back to ‘ambiguous and even contradictory standards, such as the Constitution,’ claiming their intent is to stop critical thinking, which he deems the measure of good citizenship.”

We are so pleased to welcome Sergio to Books New Haven.



Tell us about your new book.

I have two new books that were published in 2011.  From This Wicked Patch of Dust is a novel about the Martinez family from Ysleta, Texas, who begin life in a border shantytown and struggle to stay together as the children adopt different religions, politics, and geographies.  Julia, the daughter, adopts Islam and marries an Iranian.  Ismael, the youngest, gets accepted to Harvard, works at Yale, and eventually marries a Jewish woman from Massachusetts.  How can you keep a family (and a country) together when its members are changing in radically different ways?  That’s the question at the heart of the novel.

That same year I also published Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, a collection of essays about fatherhood in New York City, immigrant families and what values might be helpful for their success, my wife’s battle against breast cancer, interfaith marriage, the difficulties of father-son relationships, and what I learned as a board member of the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center.

Both books have recently won prizes.  From This Wicked Patch of Dust was selected as a Notable Book by Southwest Books of the Year, and received an Honorable Mention in ForeWord’s Book of the Year Award for Multicultural Fiction.  Crossing Borders: Personal Essays won the Bronze Award in ForeWord’s Book of the Year Award for Essays, and 2nd Place in the International Latino Book Award for Best Biography in English.  I am grateful.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

Well, the two books are complementary in many ways.  Both are about families, and what makes a family, and what undermines it.  Also, I am fascinated by individuals within families, how individuals within the same family can have vastly different experiences.  A family affects an individual in different ways.

This sense of ‘family’ as a cohesive group that is meaningful, is so important, and when you lose it many of us struggle our entire lives to recreate it, in new families and new relationships.  We apply the lessons learned from our ‘old’ family to our ‘new’ family, and so this metamorphosis continues, or gets interrupted and possibly destroyed.  Some of us, of course, never begin with a good family life, and yet even those individuals struggle to gain that sense of unity (and baggage!) that comes with family.

For the novel, I was particularly interested in how this country has lost some of its cohesiveness, and become a land of bitter, somewhat irreconcilable groups, religions, races, ethnicities, and political persuasions.  Can we still have a sense in this country that we are a ‘we,’ even if we have disparate politics, religions, cultures, geographies?  That, I believe, is one of the most important questions the United States is facing today.

Was the subject matter of the book related somehow to your regular job? Or is it something quite outside your field that called to you?

The collection of essays is of course autobiographical, and the novel is similar to my family in Texas, although that is fiction.  The emotions and geographies are true in the novel, but the characters are works of fiction.

Even when my work is somewhat autobiographical, I don’t believe it is mostly about me.  That may sound contradictory, but I don’t believe it is.  I explore questions in my work that I believe others have as well, and so I use myself and my experiences to explore questions that may matter to many people.  Basically, I use myself as a guinea pig to play out problems and philosophical issues, much as a doctor would who is using an experimental medicine on him- or herself first to see what he can find out about his hypotheses.

I believe you are your greatest experiment, and digging into yourself philosophically and psychologically will eventually lead to questions, and answers, that will be meaningful for everyone.

What did you most want to get across to readers that they might not have known about before you wrote this book?

Many people do not know I grew up dirt poor in a border shantytown with an outhouse in the backyard and kerosene lamps and stoves.  My life as a child on the Mexican-American border was tough, but it also taught me many things I find invaluable today, as an Upper Westside parent in Manhattan: grit, creativity, and a work ethic.

I have often told anyone who would listen, including my students at Yale, that places like Ysleta, Texas have as much to teach places like Harvard and Yale as the other way around.  What you learn in Ysleta is never to give up, to outwork your competition, to find ways around obstacles and problems with creativity and resourcefulness, and not to judge somebody as unworthy or stupid simply because they are poor.

I try to impart these lessons to my two sons, Aaron and Isaac, who are New York City kids living in a different milieu than the one I experienced as a child.  For years, Aaron and Isaac told me I was “toughest dad at their school,” by demanding their homework be done first, or no videos or Xbox, by reading to them every night since they could walk, by holding them to be responsible for their mistakes, and so on.  They are great, well-behaved kids who are also excellent students.  I don’t think this is a fluke.  It’s called the hard work of parenting, these ‘immigrant values’ taught to me by my Mexican parents.  These values live on, at least in my Manhattan apartment, thousands of miles from Ysleta.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

For the novel, From This Wicked Patch of Dust, I wrote a chapter-by-chapter outline, which I changed as I would write a particular chapter.  I wanted to have a road map for my novel, but I also wanted to be flexible about where the story and characters might take me unexpectedly.

I also wanted the novel to reflect the fragmentation of the Martinez family itself, and so I wrote each chapter as a moment in time within this family, to show the passage of time, the fraying and reconstitution of family bonds as the children grew and the adults aged.

What has been the most satisfying thing about compiling this information and getting the book written?

I enjoy telling the story to an audience, and answering questions, and creating that live experience of storytelling, so that has been the most satisfying experience with both books.  I have read across the country, from Texas to California to Connecticut, and back, and every reading gives me some sort of encouragement to keep writing.

Were there any surprises along the way—either in the research or in the writing? Did you find sources who were unexpected?

I was surprised that both books were published at the same time, by different publishers, and that both books won nice prizes along the way.  I am always working, or preparing myself for other projects through research or note-taking or reading.  Sometimes I work on smaller projects, like essays or short stories, and other times I am planning another novel.  I never expected both books to be accepted at the same time, so that was wonderful.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, my wife and sons attended a reading I gave at a bookstore, and so it was gratifying to have them in the audience to see what I do across the country.  We had planned that Santa Fe outing, for pleasure and for my work, and I was just glad I had a great reading and an inquisitive audience that day.

The last nice surprise I received for theses books was that I was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters earlier this year.  You can’t apply for this, and somehow your name is put up for a vote, and if you receive enough votes from current members, then you are in.  I admire many of the writers in this group (Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Dagoberto Gilb), and so I was proud to be included with them, and to get to know some of them at a banquet for new members in San Antonio.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I would say in high school.  My paternal grandfather, Santiago Troncoso, was editor and publisher of El Dia, one of the first daily newspapers in Juarez, Mexico in the 1920s.  He was a rabble-rousing journalist who reported on Mexican government corruption.  His print shop was mysteriously firebombed several times, and he was jailed dozens of times.  In high school, when I was editor of the high school newspaper, he warned me not to become a journalist: “If you tell the truth,” he told me, “they will hate you forever.”  He gave me a lot of advice, some of which I took and some of which I ignored.

My maternal grandmother, Dolores Rivero, was also an early influence.  She was a wonderful oral storyteller, with many people sitting around her porch past midnight to listen to her stories of the Mexican Revolution.  She was a survivor of that conflict, gritty and tough-as-nails, and she had astonishing stories about that chaos.  The first story I ever wrote and published, “The Abuelita,” is about her in many ways.  It appears in my first book, The Last Tortilla and Other Stories.

What has happened since this book has been published? What kinds of reactions have you gotten?

I have gotten excellent reviews, and won a few prizes, which I mentioned above.

On the road, I have had some remarkable readings.  In Kent, Connecticut, a town of only about 3,000 people, the public library was packed and we sold out of books!  The audience was terrific, and I stayed and chatted with people for hours because I was having such a wonderful experience.  Small towns, well, we shouldn’t forget them, because avid readers exist in all corners of our country.

What’s next for you? Will there be a follow-up?

I am working on shorter projects, short stories and essays.  I am also planning another novel, but nothing I would want to discuss yet.

I would hope readers visit my website,  I have created it and maintain it myself.  I love tinkering with HTML, and over the years I have learned to do many things I enjoyed on other websites.  My website is the main way I interact with readers, and I want to have appealing news and content for my many readers across the country.  Thank you.

Julie Ann Knudsen and her coming-of-age debut novel about healing a broken heart

First, tell us a bit about your book: what it’s about, what genre it’s in, what inspired you to write it.

My Young Adult novel is titled IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.

And here’s the synopsis:


Butterflies.  Little fluttering butterflies.  That’s what fifteen-year-old Willow Flynn feels in the pit of her stomach every time the mysterious boy is near.  But Willow has other things to contend with as she deals with the tragic loss of her father, as well as her emotionally preoccupied mother, while being uprooted to a new house, a new school, a new life, far away, on an island, in the middle of nowhere.

At the beginning of the school year, the sickly but cute Michael sends Willow the first of many cryptic notes during homeroom.  He stares at Willow and gives her the creeps.  Michael never returns to school after that, but Willow ends up connecting with the poetic boy on-line where they strike up an unusual friendship.

As Willow attempts to fit in and find her niche in the ever-cliquey high school world, she is further confused by Michael who strives to win her over and mend her broken heart.  But will he be able to, especially when his own existence remains so uncertain?”

Julie Ann Knudsen

I was inspired to write the book when my daughter’s friend moved to an island off the coast of Maine and had to rely on a ferryboat to get her to and from school everyday.  This fascinated me and I thought it would make a great setting for a young girl who would start to feel as isolated and remote as the island she now lived on.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

This book came to me relatively easily.   I wanted to write a coming-of-age tale because there are so many kids out there who can relate to the angst we all feel at one time or another as we maneuver through the hallways and heartbreaks of our teenage years.

Do you have a writing process that you can share with readers?

I don’t have a specific writing process.  I start out with general notes and an idea of how the story is going to progress, but find that once I begin to write, the story takes on a life of its own. I can’t explain how it happens, but, even though I am writing the story, it’s as though the characters, themselves, dictate what happens next.  Sounds kinda crazy, huh?

I do need complete quiet, as I’m sure most writers do.  Sometimes, though, when I need inspiration, I will listen to music that I feel would be fitting as a soundtrack for that particular point in the story.

The wild ride to publication is always fraught with drama. Tell us about your journey to self-publishing. Had you tried to go to the traditional route first, or was this always the way you wanted to go?

I had tried the traditional route at first, but got discouraged after receiving over 60 rejection letters.  I struggled with the idea of stopping writing altogether in order to get a “real” job.  Then, one day, I stumbled upon a blog called “A NEWBIE’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING” by J. A. Konrath.  Joe’s blog inspired me to self-publish.  I decided that no one was more in control of my fate than I, so I chose the self-publishing route instead.

What service did you use? And what help did they provide—editing, design, distribution, marketing? Did you agree with their approach?

Joe Konrath listed names of services that he highly recommended.  I used Diana Cox from Novel Proofreading to proofread my manuscript.  I hired a terrific husband and wife team, Amy and Rob Siders from, to convert my manuscript from a Microsoft Word document into an e-book, which I then uploaded, myself, to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

I designed my own book cover by purchasing the photo from a website called  I then had to install Photoshop on my computer in order to alter the photo, as well as add my name and title to it.

I have the best website designer Maddee James, from  She is in the process of finishing my website,, and getting ready to launch it.  When I was debating whether or not to have a website at all, I realized that I don’t have a physical space where people can come to buy my books.  My website is my shop, a virtual storefront for me.

What have been the best and the toughest parts for you?

The best part has been having an idea take seed in my head and blossom into a purchasable book on line.

The toughest part has been trying to figure out how to market my book and get the word about it.

Where is your book available?

My e-book is currently available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Would you go this way again, or are you wishing to break into the more traditional kind of publishing?

I have started writing my second book, a women’s fiction novel, and will most likely pursue self-publishing again.  It will definitely be easier the second time around since I learned so much the first time.  I do believe that self-publishing and e-books are the future.  I’m sure traditional publishing will still exist throughout my lifetime, but, at the end of the day, who is going to promote my book better than me, a story for which I am so passionate?  Also, with self-publishing, I own all the rights to my book.  I believe you lose those rights when you sign with a publisher.

Do some genres lend themselves more to self-publishing than others?

That’s a tough question, because even though Young Adult is a very popular genre, I feel that genres appealing to adults, such as women’s fiction or mystery, probably lend themselves more to self-publishing, simply because a person needs the money to buy an e-reader.  Many teens have to depend on parents to buy their books or they must go to a library to borrow them.

How are you getting the word out about your book?

I have a link on Facebook and just paid for a Kirkus review of my book, which I will use when I advertise on certain websites, such as Goodreads.  I have also given away free copies of my book to teens around the world in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads.  The wonderful thing about e-books versus traditional paper books is that they are timeless.  As long as Amazon or Barnes & Noble don’t remove my e-book(s) from their Internet bookshelf, they can remain on sale forever, whereas most traditional books are limited by their “shelf life” in brick and mortar bookstores.

Chris Pagliuco, of Ivoryton, brings history alive with the story of Whalley and Goffe and their great escape

Chris Pagliuco is a freelance writer who specializes in seventeenth-century colonial history. He teaches high school history in Madison and serves as the town historian in Essex. And now he’s the author of a new book, detailing a little-known story of adventure in America’s colonial life: The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe: Smuggled through Connecticut.

Pagliuco prides himself on making complicated history relevant and simple for everyone to understand. As the New Haven Register writes,  “Pagliuco takes his readers crisply along on the journey, with a sense of urgency and pleasant readability.” Check out his blog at

He lives with his wife and two daughters in Ivoryton. This is his first book.

Here’s what he has to say about this interesting chapter in American history:

Before famous New Haven icons like Eli Whitney,  Roger Sherman, and even Yale University there was the once well-known story of Edward Whalley and William Goffe. So prominent were these men to New Haven history that two of New Haven’s most well-known thoroughfares carry their namesakes, Whalley Avenue and Goffe Street. Yet their story no longer receives even a mention in most history books.  Until now, their legend has lived on primarily through the storytelling of old New England families.

Now, in The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe, Pagliuco resurrects this old tale–compiling, detailing and updating it for modern audiences.

Whalley and Goffe were two zealous Puritans during the 1630’s and 40’s, who toppled King Charles I on the battlefields of the English Civil War and ultimately executed him for treason. Once his son Charles II returned, however, Whalley and Goffe went from being two of England’s most powerful men to being England’s most wanted. Now, facing their own prospective trials and execution, Whalley and Goffe fled to the only place they knew would be sympathetic to their plight: New England.

The colonies of New Haven and Massachusetts Bay figured most prominently in harboring the two fugitives from the King’s searches. Legendary stories about “the Judges’ Cave” in New Haven and the “Angel of Hadley” in Massachusetts represent just two of Whalley and Goffe’s most popular adventures. There are others that take place in Boston, as well as Guilford and Milford.

“The personal stories of Whalley and Goffe are fun in themselves,” explains Pagliuco, “but it is fascinating to learn of the larger history they participated in.” In fact, the merging of New Haven with Connecticut colony, the conquest of New Amsterdam by the English and King Phillips War are all closely associated with the story.

What would have happened if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated? Stephen L. Carter offers a startling legal thriller


Come and hear Stephen L. Carter read from his new novel at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 19 at R. J. Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, in Madison. The event is free, but reservations are required. Call (203) 245-3959.


What if the bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, had missed? Might one of our greatest presidents have faced an impeachment trial for overstepping his constitutional authority both during and after the Civil War?

Yale Law School professor and best-selling author Stephen L. Carter imagines what might have happened, in his latest novel, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln.

The book tells the story of 21-year-old Abigail Canner, a young black woman who has a degree from Oberlin, a letter of employment from the law firm that has undertaken Lincoln’s defense, and the iron-strong conviction, learned from her late mother, that “whatever limitations society might place on ordinary negroes, they would never apply to her.” And so Abigail embarks on a life that defies the norms of every stratum of Washington society: working side by side with a white clerk, meeting the great and powerful of the nation, including the president himself.  But when Lincoln’s lead counsel is found brutally murdered on the eve of the trial, Abigail is plunged into a treacherous web of intrigue and conspiracy reaching the highest levels of the divided government.

This book brings together a courtroom drama, political suspense, and science fiction to capture the emotional tenor of post–Civil War America.

Some early reviews:

“With an encyclopedic command of period detail . . . Carter has created an entertaining story rooted in the legal, political and racial conflicts of 19th-century America. . . . Carter’s delight in all this material is infectious. He’s a fantastic legal dramatist, and there’s the constant pleasure of seeing his creation of Washington City in 1867, alive with sounds and smells. . . . History buffs can test their mettle by trying to unwind Carter’s entangling of fact and fiction, but anyone should enjoy this rich political thriller that dares to imagine how events might have ricocheted in a different direction after the Civil War.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“[T]he best legal thriller so far this year . . . I’ve liked Carter’s four previous forays into fiction. This one, I loved.”
—Patrik Henry Bass, Essence Magazine

“Washington readers will get a kick out of comparing Carter’s vivid portrait of late-19th-century DC with the city they know today. . . . But the best thing about sitting down with this rich, often thrilling novel is watching its alternative history unfold.”
—John Wilwol, The Washingtonian
“[T]he streets come alive in his vision of Washington . . . Carter’s tale comes to a conclusion as thrilling and untidy as the actual events that unfolded during the turbulent postwar years.”
—Andrew Dunn,

“A smart and engaging what-if that has the virtue of being plausible . . . Abigail makes for a grandly entertaining sleuth.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This novel has all the juicy stew of post–Civil War Washington, with the complexities of race, class, and sex mixed in. Carter draws on historical documents and a vivid imagination to render a fascinating mix of murder mystery, political thriller, and courtroom drama . . . Imaginatively conceived.”
—Vanessa Bush, Booklist(starred)

About the Author

Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. He is the author of eight books of nonfiction, writes a column for Bloomberg View, and is a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast and Newsweek. The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln is his fifth novel.

His previous novels include The Emperor of Ocean Park, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for eleven weeks in 2002.


Telling a life story, house by house: Susan Woodall of Madison pens a memoir

My Address Book

Susan Woodall loves houses–and you’ll see why when you read her new memoir, My Address Book: A Way of Remembering. Susan was a Realtor for years, as well as the daughter of an interior designer. When she describes a house, she includes things most of us might not think of.

More poignant, though, is what each house has meant in her life, how each has shaped who she is today.

Visit her website at, or buy her book at

It’ll get you thinking about your own houses, we promise!

Susan Woodall

Tell us about your book.

This book is a memoir of sorts, and a tribute to the homes I’ve lived in over my lifetime.

How did you first know that you wanted to write this story? What were the factors that engaged you from the beginning?

I got the idea for the book in 1992, when it became apparent that I would be moving from the East Coast, where I had spent my entire life, to the Midwest.  I wanted to record the places I’d lived in, as I thought I would never see them again. But life has its own twists and turns, and I am now back in the land of my birth.

Additionally, I have always loved houses and real estate.  My mother was an interior decorator and I spent almost 17 years as a real estate broker. So, I’ve been attuned to houses, décor, and real estate values. I’ve tried to incorporate these values, and a bit of history, into the book.

What was it in particular about this story that made you know it needed to be in a book that you would write?

This is a story (not the story) of my life framed by where I lived and my recollections of those places and what I was doing at the time. I knew that organizing the story by addresses would be a unique and specific way to relate my life.

Were you ever frustrated by having to stick to the facts of the story?

My only frustration was in trying to be as accurate as possible about the facts. I relied on photographs, letters, journal entries, the internet, and other sources to keep the facts as accurate as I could.

 Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

 The writing of the book came very easily to me. I have always wanted to write and publish, but I’d been inhibited by some haunting words to the effect of, “Who do you think you are and what do you think you have to say that hasn’t already been said?!”  It’s taken me a long time to overcome that emotional and personal obstacle.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

For this book, once I had the framework scoped out, I just wrote chapter by chapter. Each chapter is like a little story and each one is linked to the next one.

When did you first know you were a writer?

As a child, I’d always loved writing letters, even thank-you letters! And then when I was a junior in high school, I entered a Scholastic Writing contest, and won third place nationally. I then knew I could write convincingly.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

 Do I procrastinate??? Only for about 40 years have I procrastinated.  Once I have the urge to write, I just go and do it. But, in the process of doing a long piece, which I’m now in the middle of, my procrastination takes one of two forms.  The first and most obvious is surfing the internet. I’m already at the computer, and it’s so easy to drift.

But the more insidious form of procrastination is that little voice inside my head that keeps questioning the validity of what I’m writing.  I guess you’d call it mind-fxxxxxg.  That’s the hardest to overcome.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

I think better in writing than I do in conversing. My thoughts come out more clearly and I can see issues and solutions much more rationally, so that gives me great pleasure.  But the biggest pleasure comes often when someone has read my work and tells me how they’ve related to it, or enjoyed reading it or best yet, learned something from it.

I once wrote an editorial in a small-town newspaper. It was about a civil rights issue locally that was going to be voted on by the town council the day the column appeared in the paper. I went to the meeting that night, hoping that my point of view would prevail.  Much to my surprise, there were a number of people gathered there, with my column in their hands, declaring that they were there that night because of my column.  My writing had influenced people enough to come out and act on something. I was so gratified that the town council voted as I had hoped.  I then saw first-hand the power of the pen.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

Just do it.

Sydney Sherman sees dead people!

Sometimes the best way to get your book out there is to publish it yourself. That’s what local medium Sydney Sherman did when she wanted to let people know about her unusual ability to talk with people who have passed.

Her book is now available, and she will be reading and signing copies at the Edward Smith Library in Northford, on July 14th from 11am-1p.m.

Here, in her own words, is her story:

My name is Sydney Sherman. I am a medium and a self-published author born and raised in Connecticut.

For many years I have helped many people connect to loved ones who have passed.  I have also spent a good bit of time educating people to recognize what is truly possible and showing how much our views of the Afterlife are manipulated by TV and movies rather than actual, rational experiences.

The idea for my book You Are Not Alone; Our Loved Ones Are Here…You’re Just Not Listening, came from my overwhelming desire to share my experiences and educate the public regarding the Afterlife.

The task of becoming self published was not an easy one. I used one of the many on-line services that provide everyone the opportunity to have their words and thoughts read by many.

My main focus for my book is to reach as many people as I can.  I want to give people hope–hope and an understanding that they too can still have a relationship with their loved ones who have passed. In my book I ask my readers this question: “Is it easier to believe what the mind tells you is true, or, is it easier to see the truth and convince your mind otherwise?”

You Are Not Alone…is a personal account of my life growing up in the ’60’s, being different. I trace my struggles to understand my difference and finally accept my ability.

My book also discusses the different myths and legends about many of the strange occurrences that surround us and how they came to be. I uncover the many “tricks of the trade” the “frauds” of the field use and educate my readers on how not to fall prey to their misconceptions.

For me, the book is my way to share my hard-won understanding of this gift with as many people as possible.

I will be reading and signing books at the Edward Smith Library in Northford, on July 14th from 11am-1p.m.


Future book signings and events will be posted on my website at

Copies of my book are also available on my website.

Katharine Weber, of Bethany, delights us with a family memoir filled with sin, scandal…and music

Katharine Weber

Katharine Weber’s five highly-praised and award-winning novels have made her a book club favorite. Her sixth book, a memoir called The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family’s Legacy of Infidelities, was published by Crown in July 2011, and won raves from the critics, from Ben Brantley in the New York Times (“Ms. Weber is able to arrange words musically, so that they capture the elusive, unfinished melodies that haunt our memories of childhood”) to the Dallas Morning News (“gracefully written, poignant and droll”), the NY Daily News (“Old Scandals, what fun…the core of her tale is that of elegant sin and betrayal”), and the Boston Globe (“a masterful memoir of the private world of a very public family”), among others.
The Broadway paperback of The Memory of All That has just been released. Come hear her read from it and meet her at the Jewish Community Center in Woodbridge from 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10.
Katharine, who is busy working on an intriguing new novel (a monkey is involved!), answered our nosy questions about her life and how she came to write a book about her famous family’s deepest secrets.
First, a little background for those who may need a scorecard: Katharine’s maternal grandmother, Kay Swift, was known both for her own music (she was the first woman to compose the score to a hit Broadway show, Fine and Dandy) and for her ten-year romance with George Gershwin. Their love affair began during Swift’s marriage to James Paul Warburg, the multi-talented banker and economist who advised (and feuded with) FDR. Weber creates an intriguing and intimate group portrait of the renowned Warburg family, from her great-great-uncle, the eccentric art historian Aby Warburg, whose madness inspired modern theories of iconography, to her great-grandfather Paul M. Warburg, the architect of the Federal Reserve System whose unheeded warnings about the stock-market crash of 1929 made him “the Cassandra of Wall Street.”
Her mother, Andrea Swift Warburg, married Sidney Kaufman, but their unlikely union, Weber believes, was a direct consequence of George Gershwin’s looming presence in the Warburg family. A notorious womanizer, Weber’s father was a peripatetic filmmaker who made propaganda and training films for the OSS during World War II before producing the first movie with smells, the regrettable flop that was AromaRama. He was as much an enigma to his daughter as he was to the FBI, which had him under surveillance for more than forty years, and even noted Katharine’s birth in a memo to J. Edgar Hoover.


The Memory of All That

Tell us about your book.

The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family’s Legacies of Infidelities is a memoir, but it is also a researched group biography. So it’s a bit of a nonstandard hybrid. It’s a memoir in the sense that it is framed by recollections of my own life and experiences, and it is a highly personal story. But the book is also a group portrait of the extraordinary and accomplished and — let’s call them colorful — people in my family, going back through the generations in all directions. While the family tree has an only-in-America mix, with Benedict Arnold over here and Mendel Gottesfeld over there, with Warburgs and Kaufmans and Swifts and Shippens, the heart of the story is my maternal grandmother Kay Swift’s big romance with George Gershwin. The book is ultimately about the effect that powerful relationship had on every member of the family, from 1925 to the present moment.


How did you first know that you wanted to write this story? What were the factors that engaged you from the beginning?

After five novels, after passing the age of fifty, after a series of family deaths, I think I just started to feel that the time had come in my life to tell this story, to work with all these separate strands of story that are ultimately woven together as one big story, with a goal of making a coherent narrative at last. I have always had awareness of, if not clarity about, the confusing web of interwoven family stories and incidents and events and personalities that have surrounded me throughout my life. Like most families, mine has told its history and explained events in many conflicting and incomplete and incomprehensible stories. Unlike most families, many of these stories have also been told by others, and have been on full display in the public eye for years, and have been, for better or worse, for accurate or confused or simply false, become part of the historical record.  So in one sense, I knew that I wanted to write a counter-story to some of the stories already out there.

 How did you find writing memoir to be different from writing fiction? How was it similar?

That’s an important question. I have no idea what it would be like to write a memoir if I had never written anything else, or if I had written other historical books or biographies. For me, as the author of five novels, writing this was confounding at certain moments, when I had to let the facts and truths of the story, as I uncovered them or assembled them in meaningful ways, dictate the narrative. I couldn’t change facts and details to suit the story, the way I do when I am writing a novel. I couldn’t make things signify more or mean more by shifting things around in order to have everything mean more. I had to make the story out of the facts. I had to find the meanings and signifiers, not invent them.

Nevertheless, writing anything is about making choices, and about shaping a narrative. And at a certain point in the writing, just when I had gotten quite far from the process of writing fiction in some ways, I realized that it was a great deal like writing a novel after all, in that the reader has to know who the narrator is, and trust the narrator, and understand the narrator’s purpose in telling this story now, in this way. So in a sense I had to develop a better understanding of myself as the narrator, the way I have always needed to know what the narrator of any of my novels wants to say and why. Who is telling this story and why? This is information the writer always needs to know deeply.

 Were you ever frustrated by having to stick to the facts of the story?

The frustration wasn’t so much having to stick to the facts as it was not having all the facts, as is always true in life, and not being able to fill in imaginatively beyond a certain level of very clearly labeled speculation.  But I do think my delving in the course of writing the book has led me to believe certain things I had never thought so thoroughly about before, and the research has led me to feel that I know some of my relatives and ancestors far better than I ever would have without bearing down on their stories as I did in the course of writing the book. I don’t just mean the central figures – George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and my grandfather, Jimmy Warburg. I learned a great deal about my father, Sidney Kaufman, by reading his 800 page FBI records. (I also learned a great deal about the terrible narrative voice of the FBI.) I learned a great deal about my great-grandfather, Paul Warburg, the architect of the Federal Reserve System, the Cassandra who predicted the stock market crash of 1929, and the most vilified of all Jewish bankers. In his lifetime, he was called the ringleader of the so-called international Jewish banking conspiracy by Henry Ford, and at this very moment, you can find Louis Farrakhan denouncing my great-grandfather in speech after speech on YouTube. (He calls him “Hitler’s banker” and says that “Paul Warburg stayed in the finest hotels of Europe while Hitler was killing little Jewish babies!” (I note that Paul Warburg died in January, 1932.) I learned about my extraordinary great-great grandfather, Joseph Swift, who spent time in the Montana Territory during the gold rush and was the best friend of a notorious criminal, Henry Plummer. So for all the missing and obscure and unknowable facts, there were the joys of discovery, endlessly. One more:  I discovered that a relative virtually invented the white line at the side of the road (the first experimental stretch thus painted was on the Merritt Parkway.)

 If the story is not about you, did you have to do a lot of research to find out the facts? Was that research easy to accomplish? What sorts of sources did you use?

As a novelist I do all kinds of very nonstandard research, and much of it would not meet the academic definition of research in the least. (For example, I attended candy conventions when I was writing my novel True Confections.)  But for this book I did a great deal of true archival sifting, finding papers and letters connected to my family in the Beinecke (my grandfather’s correspondence with Ezra Pound is there, which led me to a fantastic email correspondence with Pound’s daughter , who was very gracious about permission to quote), the Gilmore Music Library (where my grandmother Kay Swift’s papers are on deposit), and Sterling Library (Paul Warburg papers)  at Yale, the Kennedy Library in Boston (my grandfather James Paul Warburg’s papers are there) in Boston,  and Butler Library at Columbia University, where the Mary Lasker papers contain a treasure trove of hundreds of letters written to her by my grandmother from the ranch in Oregon where she lived after she eloped with a cowboy she met at a rodeo two years after George Gershwin’s death.

Perhaps the greatest single archival source, however, was the massive file of FBI reports on my father, who was under surveillance from 1936 to 1973. The FBI read our mail, tapped our phones, and analyzed every magazine subscription, every name in my father’s address book. My birth in 1955 was reported in a memo to J. Edgar Hoover.   I requested these papers under a Freedom of Information Act request back in 1992, but it took some nine years for the FBI to comply with my request, and apparently they spent much of that time redacting information on nearly every page of the files they released to me, rendering the narrative style even more peculiar. 

There are so many more layers when you’re writing about people who really did exist. What sorts of feedback (and blowback) did you get after the book came out? Were there people whose reactions you particularly feared?

I didn’t fear any reactions, but I have had some pleasant surprises and some unpleasant surprises since publication. Some people have been fantastically broadminded and perceptive about what I set out to do and what I did do in the pages of the book. Others have been, frankly, pained. I have a relative who prefers to keep her late husband (my blood relative, much discussed in the book) embalmed in infallibility. The book is an unhappy subject with her, but it came out a year ago and I think there has been a graceful turning of the page at this point.  I certainly agreed not to speak at the library in her town, when she said she would rather I did not do that, so that event was cancelled.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book? (Some authors say they write the first draft out in long-hand, on yellow legal pads, with a special, sacred pen, after throwing salt over their shoulders and repeating an incantation…while others say they write the first draft in a two-week-long fever and then spend the next two years revising. Others don’t even begin until they know the whole story).

I do like to have an outline. I have learned from experience that it is far more efficient for me to work this way. I map it, I plan it out, and I often have a lot of information about certain little moments, certain large moments. But then I am also always ready to surprise myself. So the best strategy I like to offer my writing students is to make a plan and then be prepared to deviate from the plan. In fact, if you have hit your original marks every step of the way, with no deviations or detours, I would say that is a likely indication that you aren’t tuning in to the material of your story sufficiently, and you haven’t allowed the story to build and inform from the inside what comes next.

 If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I have always felt a pull towards psychotherapy, and also towards, don’t laugh, being a detective. Novelists and detectives and psychotherapists are all interested in understanding motive — why people do what they do.


Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I do. I find fascinating things on the web and tell myself it’s all research.  I am writing a novel right now about a monkey. Do you know how many monkey videos are on YouTube?

 What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

Loving my work, passionately, and being rewarded for it by the world.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

Trust your strangeness. It’s yours. Trust your own strangeness!