Cindy Eastman and “Flipflops after 50”

Getting old, as Bette Davis once said, is not for sissies.

Luckily we don’t have to do it alone–or in secret anymore. And now a funny, warm author from Connecticut, Cindy Eastman, has written and published a book–Flipflops After50–which can make you feel a lot less alone about the process.

Here is an excerpt from her newly published, fabulous book:

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Excerpt from Flip-Flops After 50: And Other Thoughts On Aging

I Remembered to Write Down  by Cindy Eastman
The Year of Living 50-ishly

In 2008, I joined such illustrious company as Holly Hunter, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, LEGO, AARP, Alpha-Bits, the Rolodex, and Jif peanut butter. How? We all turned 50.

Turning 50 is no big deal, if you’re, say, the Interstate Highway System, which turned 50 in 2006. In fact, you should be 50 if you’re the Interstate Highway System—it gives you a certain air of respectability and responsibility. But when you’re a woman who still feels like she’s, oh, in her late thirties, it can be a little more frightening. Not scary frightening (as in not one but two terms of George Bush), just slightly frightening (as in where the hell is the how-to guide for turning 50?).

For me, approaching 50 was just plain mind-boggling. In the preceding months as I wrote journal entries and notes to myself regarding my upcoming birthday (“For my 50th birthday,” or “Can I find a new job at 50?”), I would stop and look at what I’d written, and it felt as if I was lying about my age, but in the reverse. How could I possibly be this old?

AARP knew I was turning 50 practically before I did. They started the campaign to get me into their little cult about six months earlier, sending me an application for membership and a subscription to their magazine. I guess they wanted to be sure I remembered to join. So I did. Why not? Who doesn’t want to be a member of an organization whose cover girl is Caroline Kennedy? Or whose cover boy is Kevin Costner? I’m game—count me in.

It’s not that I wasn’t ready to be 50, but not for any other reason than that it just didn’t seem right. I don’t mind aging. I don’t look or feel old. One of my vain little secrets is that I absolutely love it when I tell people how old my oldest child is and they say, “What?! You don’t look like you have a child that old!” or when the guy at the Starbucks says, “She’s your mom? I thought you were sisters!” when I stop in for coffee with Annie. (I’m sure Annie loves that one as much as I do.)

For the most part, I was okay with the whole thing. But there are intrinsic elements to turning 50 that have to be addressed. It is certainly a time for reflection and stock-taking. Reflection is okay: I feel lucky that I am in good health, that I’m living my life in a way I can be proud of, and that I have raised amazing children. I am married to a good man who also raised a wonderful daughter, and who lives his life in a mindful and generous way. My parents are healthy, and so are my brother and sister, and we all enjoy a fairly sane and loving familial relationship. My friends are few, but they’re steadfast and fun, and I can call any one of them in a pinch. (Like if I’m freaking out about turning 50. Which I’m not.) And there’s the above-mentioned looking good for my age—which doesn’t hurt. Sure, I could stand to lose a few pounds, but who couldn’t?

It’s the other thing, the stock-taking part, that I’m having the teeniest bit of trouble with. The part where I look back on my life and check and see if I’ve gotten most of the things done that I’ve always wanted to do. The answer is no. And when you’re 50 and the answer is no, a new timeframe is suddenly in place. I only have so many years left to travel to Greece, Italy, and Australia, or to drive an RV across the United States. I only have so much time to live in New York City or start my own business. But the biggest thing—the thing I imposed my own time limit on, was becoming a Writer and Getting Published. I set a deadline of age 50 to get published and, I didn’t meet my goal. But don’t fret. I’m not leaving things at a potentially depressing point. If life is all about the journey rather than the destination, then at this point I’m just getting more information about the remaining trip. Turning 50 is like stopping at a travel center to check the map and maybe get a cup of coffee. Maybe even some presents.

While we’re on the topic, I think you should be able to register for gifts at Bed Bath & Beyond or Target or Best Buy for your 50th birthday. Registering for gifts is the most decadent, self indulgent, brilliant idea ever devised—so why it is limited to the newly engaged? It’s beyond me why all those little scanner guns are reserved for brides- and grooms-to-be when the real buying power is with the Baby Boomers. Seriously, think about it. Registering for gifts for a 50th birthday party is the best idea since Diet Rite Cola (the first diet soda, also 50).

You’re welcome, fellow Boomers.

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Cindy will be making several local appearances to talk about her book. Here are some upcoming events:

The New Britain Museum of American Art – CAPA Author’s Event on April 26, 2014.

Mark Twain House -3rd Annual Writer’s Weekend – CAPA Author’s Event  April 27, 2014

Byrds Books  Bethel, Conn. – Talk and Signing – May 2, 2014
Find & Follow Cindy Online:

Website: www.cindyeastman.com

Flip-Flops After 50 Blog: http://flipflops50.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CLEastmanAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7341531.Cindy_Eastman

Instagram: http://instagram.com/cindyeastman

 

The Opposite of Maybe is here!

The Opposite of Maybe

The Opposite of Maybe

Happy spring! I have a new book. The Opposite of Maybe is coming out on April 8, and it is having its official launch party on April 9. If you happen to be near the New Haven Lawn Club around 7 p.m., please consider dropping in and saying hey.

It’s been four years since my last book (which was called The Stuff That Never Happened)–four years in which I’ve been spending time with a character named Rosie Kelley, who showed up one morning telling me her story.

I don’t mind telling you that it was a doozy–right from the beginning, I could see she needed a book written about her, and I ran for the notepaper and a pen. Through the next two years, she sloooowly unfurled little bits of it from time to time. Her favorite times to tell me new juicy info was 1) as I was falling asleep, 2) when I was in the shower, 3) when I was driving to somewhere important. But I didn’t hold that against her. I learned to 1) get up out of bed, 2) make notes with tub crayons, and 3) pull over to the side of the road and write on any slip of paper that might be available, like my insurance card or car registration. Rosie made it abundantly clear that she would NOT be repeating herself.

“Take this down now, or forget it,” she said. “There’s no second chances in my world.”

Maddie Dawson

Maddie Dawson

Despite being talked to this way, I took down her story. She brought along other characters, too, fun ones! There was her longtime lover Jonathan (the guy she had been going with so long that they’d kind of forgotten they weren’ t already married), and her rascal of a grandmother, Soapie, who had at one time been sort of famous but was now losing the last of her marbles even as she was having an affair with an old flame, and Tony, who is the only one of my characters ever to receive proposals of marriage in my email in-box.

The book is about saying yes to things you probably should say no to…and what happens when your life falls completely apart in ways you never could have imagined–and how you go about starting again, even when you’re 44 and totally over your head. It’s also about love, teacups, breaking up, single fathers, cheating at Scrabble, old people behaving badly, pregnancy, and–why not?–making diamonds in the microwave. As the publicity department at Crown put it, “It’s about the best mistakes a person can make.”

Good things are happening for this book, for which I am very, very grateful. Target has selected it as one of its featured books for the April “Emerging Authors” program. A publisher in Italy has bought the rights. It’s been picked by the Left2Write national book club for their April book, and selected as an alternate by the Book of the Month and Doubleday book clubs.

And here are some early reviews:

“Dawson’s charmingly eccentric cast of characters is at turns lovable and infuriating, ensuring a quick read helmed by a memorable, complex heroine.” Publishers Weekly

“Delightfully witty… A messy, funny, surprising story of second chances.” Kirkus Reviews

“Dawson keeps readers turning the pages to find out who Rosie will choose in the end.” —Booklist

I’ll be reading and signing copies at the New Haven Lawn Club, sponsored by R. J. Julia Booksellers at 7 p.m. on April 9.

I’ll also be at Burgundy Books in Westbrook at 1 p.m. on May 3, and at the Guilford Public Library at  7 p.m. on May 7.

I’d love to see you!

 

 

Tim Parrish, SCSU professor, writes not one but TWO fabulous books!

Tim Parrish works at Southern Connecticut State University in the MFA program, helping turn regular folks into writers. He’s published books before–but never two in the space of just a few months. But both his novel and his memoir came out at the end of last year–and both are amazing.

As the reviewer Eric Miles Williamson, judge of the 2012 George Garrett fiction contest, put it: “Mr. Parrish’s The Jumper is a novel so shockingly good that readers will abandon their favorite authors and rush to read all his work.” Clearly, he’s come a long way from his first effort in second grade, “Trouble for Timothy Turkey.”

Want to hear him speak? Here are some upcoming events:

* Thursday, March 6th, 7:30, Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn, NY, with Sari Botton.

* Wednesday,  April 23rd, 7:30, University of New Haven.

You can visit him at http://www.tparrishauthor.com.

We are so lucky to have him in New Haven, and to welcome him to Books New Haven, talking about BOTH of his books.

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Tell us about your new book.

Amazingly, I have two new books out, which is what can happen after a 13-year drought between books; shopping a novel through a not-so-competent agent; taking that novel out of circulation; working seven years on a memoir; finishing the memoir; getting it accepted; submitting the novel to a contest and winning that contest so that the books come out at virtually the same time. Which, of course, isn’t about the books so much as the labyrinth of the publishing world.

image          The book that’s getting the lion’s share of attention is the memoir, although I like my novel too, and I don’t always say that about my writing. The memoir, Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, is about my upbringing in a racist, Southern Baptist environment during the sixties, then getting terrorized by some sociopaths in the seventies, spiraling into racist violence myself, and getting turned around after some really good people, both black and white, intervened. It’s also a slice of new South, alternative history, depicting, rather than reviling, scared working-class white people during desegregation at a time when their narrow world felt threatened. I think only by really looking at the roots of racism and looking at racists as the complex people they are, and I was, can we fully understand it. At its heart, the book is really a rough coming-of-age story in the midst lots of confusion, turmoil and ugly behavior.

The novel, The Jumper, attempts to combine a lot of genres by being a story of The Jumperstrange family drama, eccentric love, racial identity, crime, and legal intrigue. It starts with an illiterate man, who thinks he’s an orphan, getting a telegram that his roommate has to read to him. The telegram is from his father, who asks him to come to Baton Rouge from Houston because he’s sick. It turns out that the father has ulterior motives connected to a class-action suit and the father’s problems with gambling. Then, once in Baton Rouge, the main character, Jimmy Strawhorn, meets a woman on the existential run herself, and they become involved in an odd romance that includes the impulse to jump from high places. And believe it or not, all that doesn’t give away too much.

 

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

The novel came out of my experience teaching a thirty-something-year-old man how to read back in the eighties, and the story he told me about why he was illiterate and how the state of Louisiana had done him wrong. I won’t tell his entire story, some of which informs my novel and would give away the plot, but his story stayed with me. I think my first impulse was to investigate a rather remarkable tale of mysterious lineage, but then I became fascinated with imagining myself into the psyche and world of a person who can’t read at all and seeing how that person navigates the material world and his own shame and sense of outsiderness. The story kind of took off and quickly complicated and I found myself writing a book with a lot of plot, three different point-of-view characters on the margins of society, and story lines from three different decades. I never expected to write sort of a rip-roarer.

The memoir is the only book I’ve ever felt absolutely compelled to write. It started after 9-11 when I saw Americans get scared and allow the bullies and “crusaders” in the Bush administration to lead us to war in Iraq, which in my childhood church was Babylon,  a hotbed of “Moslem paganism” and the potential starting point for the much-sought-after apocalypse. What seemed to be driving the nation was the same beliefs I had as a kid and teenager, in particular the belief that the way to be safe was to attack someone else, usually someone with darker skin. As soon as I realized the similarities between my youth and the present, old emotions–shame, guilt, disgust, anger–began percolating in me, and I knew I had to tell my story for myself if for nobody else.

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

Different because of having to dredge so many personal emotions and shape seventeen years of my life into a narrative while feeling constricted by not being able to go into other people’s points-of-view or create any scene I wanted. Similar because I still mainly dramatized as I do when writing fiction and because even in memoir I was creating characters, including myself.

Did these books come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle them to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up?

There’s always wrestling. Nothing I write comes easily. I did give up on the novel for a while as I mentioned before, but it kept nagging at me and a couple of  good friends also kept encouraging me to take another look at it. My greatest assets as a writer are my work ethic and my doggedness, a.k.a. obsessiveness, and that’s why I ultimately did not give up. I worked on the novel for three years, put it away, then hugely revised it three times in a year as I was working through the final  revisions of the memoir. By the way, I don’t recommend working full out on two books while having a full-time job, but I’m glad I did it because that intensity very much informs the novel.

The memoir was, frankly, hell to write. It started with a focus on masculinity and was kind of all over the place. I went through three different rounds of submitting it to friends, agents, and editors with massive re-conceptions of the book between each round. I think the nature of the subject matter scared off some people, and I was very frustrated and depressed when I was going into the sixth year of working on it without an agent or a publisher. But I knew I had to stick with it, and I’m glad I did because the responses to the book have been amazingly personal and positive.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

A pantser? Nice. That sounds like I just gave somebody a wedgie.

I guess I’m  somewhere in between pantser and, what, formal dresser? My characters always tell me who they are, at least to a point, while I’m writing, and the story has to bend to fit them. But often I’ve largely imagined them and the story enough beforehand, as well as taken enough notes, to have some sort of template or schematic. So, it’s a combination of knowing and discovering and then applying craft to give the narrative a shape that suits both story and character.

You’ve obviously written characters who are close to or are someone you know, so have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

All the time. And someone has not only been furious but threatened me with a lawsuit for my story “Exterminator” in my collection Red Stick Men. That was the most extreme, but writing a memoir made me struggle constantly with what to put in and what to leave out and how I could be fair and honest in depicting real people or composites of real people and still honestly tell the whole story. I think I do the best I can to be fair to people, even completely fictional people, following what my thesis director, Allen Wier, told me: “You have to love all your characters, especially the ones you hate.”

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

I don’t procrastinate so much as worry and amp up my anxiety until I’m out of sorts and just have to sit down and hack away. I don’t know about favorite mode, but my prevalent mode of both procrastination and life is obsessing. I’m obsessing about these answers right now.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

So many things. I’m lucky to be a writer, in spite of the difficulties writers face. Mainly, what’s made me happy is being able to live in my imagination and take on the challenge of bringing the world in my head to life on the page. And, of course, having readers. People have said remarkable things to me, including how my work has altered how they see themselves and their lives. I mean, I’ve been told that the memoir has made someone understand their father’s and brother’s anger, have heard family and racial stories people have never told anyone before, and been literally embraced by people who feel my story has allowed them some sort of freedom and honesty to speak about race and masculinity.

I never imagined I would do anything that could have that effect.

 What do you tell people who want to be writers?

I tell them they either are or they aren’t, and if they are, they have to commit to the hard work and isolation of it. I also tell them that being a writer is sort of like having a virus. If you have it, you can’t not write. And if you try not to write, you feel worse and worse, like you didn’t take your medicine. Sometimes people ask me how they can tell if they’re writers or not, and I tell them to list everything they could be doing besides writing–making love, reading a book, going for a run–and then see if the choice they would make is to sit alone and write something down, then sit down with that same work again and again. That cuts the mustard right there.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can  bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

Inspiration is a tricky word because it implies some dynamic creative impulse, when I find that to rarely be the case. For me, I just get to a point where I have to write or I’m miserable in the world. The way I get back into something if I’ve been away for a while is to immerse myself in it as much as I can within the demands of life. When I do that, all the elements of a piece start to come back. I’m sure part of the reason for that is because I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s almost like muscle memory, but that’s the pay-off for the work. Basically, it’s always the work that addresses the problems.

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

I’d be a school teacher, like I am at Southern Connecticut State, and like I have been for thirty years. That or a bobsled driver.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I think I knew in high school when an English teacher named Fred Shirley turned me on to the possibilities of writing and to the transport of reading literature. That said, my first written story was in second grade. “Trouble for Timothy Turkey.” It was a pretty high-falutin deconstruction of the feel-good myth of the first Thanksgiving. All my friends and I were animals that the pilgrims and native Americans wanted to put in their stomachs. My best friends made it out; the not-so-best, well, CHOMP!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib cooks up a mystery series to die for

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We here at Books New Haven LOVE the work of Roberta Isleib, a mystery writer who’s given us several intriguing series–along with some midnights when we simply could not turn out the light and go to sleep, for fear of not knowing what was going to happen next.

And we’re delighted that she’s launching her new book, TOPPED CHEF, at R. J. Julia Booksellers at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8.

Isleib’s first mystery series included 5 books featuring Cassie Burdette, an aspiring golf professional. Then, her Advice Column series featured Rebecca Butterman, a fictional psychologist who lived in Guilford with a private practice in New Haven. And now, writing as Lucy Burdette, she’s writing the Key West food critic mystery series. (Being a food critic can be dangerous work, you know!)

Isleib’s books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is a past-president of Sisters in Crime, a national organization founded to support women crime fiction writers. The Florida Book Review has said “in a crowded cozy market, Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic series stands out among its peers.”

roberta isleib

Tell us about your new book:

TOPPED CHEF (written as Lucy Burdette) is the third installment in my Key West food critic mystery series. The books feature Hayley Snow, an aspiring food critic and amateur sleuth living in America’s southernmost island paradise.

In TOPPED CHEF, Hayley is tapped as a judge on a reality TV cooking show. Stakes are high because the winner is slated to become the next cooking superstar. When another judge turns up murdered, Hayley must figure out who’s taking the contest too seriously before she becomes the next victim.

What kinds of research do you have to do for this series?

I have to do a lot of eating, of course. 🙂

Besides that, writing without actually seeing the scene of the crime has gotten harder. An important part of my process is visiting the setting, either before or while developing the story. When I see what’s there, the ideas start to flood in.

For example, as I’m walking and biking around Key West, I notice that homeless people are everywhere, including perched on the stone walls around Mallory Square watching the performers and the tourists. After all, if you had to spend your nights outdoors, you might choose the tropics too. And I think about how they blend into the scenery, but probably notice all kinds of things that visitors wouldn’t see. And so Turtle, the homeless guy, becomes a character. One cool night, after the crowds have thinned down at the Old Town Harbor, he notices two men arguing. When a man is found hung in a sailboat’s rigging later, he doesn’t connect the dots. Or maybe he does, but he would never voluntarily go to the police with this information. But Hayley might worm it out of him. Or a bad guy might realize he knows more than he should and bad things ensue.

And then there are names and characters given to me that I can’t refuse. For instance, last year I offered an auction item to benefit the Waterfront Playhouse–naming rights to a character in TOPPED CHEF. The man who won the auction sent me a photo and bio of the character he wanted me to include–Randy Thompson, an actual drag queen who performs at the Aqua bar on Duval Street as Victoria. I didn’t have the heart to explain that I’d offered naming rights, not character development rights. So I took the real Randy to lunch to chat about the psychology of drag queens and watched him (her) perform a few times, and expanded the character from those points. And then I decided what the heck, and threw Peter Shapiro, the man who’d bought the character, into the mix too.

What’s next for you and Lucy?
I’ve just signed a contract for the next two books in the Key West series; MURDER WITH GANACHE is scheduled for a February 2014 release. I’m delighted because I love writing these books!

Don’t forget: Isleib/Burdette will appear at RJ Julia’s Booksellers on May 8 at 7 pm to launch TOPPED CHEF. Call 203-245-3959 to reserve a seat.

Matt Debenham writes short stories for people who think they hate short stories–and then fall in love with them

Matt DebenhamMatt Debenham of Westport is the author of the story collection The Book of Right and Wrong, published in 2010 by the Ohio State University Press, having won the 2009 OSU Press Prize for Fiction. In 2007 (nothing happened in 2008) he was awarded a fiction fellowship by the Connecticut Council on Culture and Tourism, and was Peter Taylor Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His stories have been published in The Battered Suitcase, Roanoke Review, The Pinch, Painted Bride Quarterly, Dogwood, and North Atlantic Review, and have been reprinted in Weston Magazine. He holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and a BA from Fitchburg State College. (Author photo by Lisa Jane Persky.)

The Book of Right and Wrong

His stories are said to be for people who think they don’t like short stories. At once heartbreaking and hilarious, the eleven stories in The Book of Right and Wrong capture their characters at the defining moments of their lives. A mother finds herself defending her son’s biggest bully from a tormentor of his own; a young man watches as his cape-wearing former high-school classmate proves himself more adept at making friends; a social worker gambles everything on expediting an adoption—and causes unforeseen consequences for every person in her life; a boy standing in for Jimmy Carter in his elementary school’s mock-election inadvertently starts a bloody playground war; an ex-con single father finds himself on the inside of his town’s social circle, with no clue as to how the game is played.

Matt will be reading from his book at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, at Best Video, 1842 Whitney Ave. in Hamden. He joins JoeAnn Hart, of Massachusetts, author of the novel Float.

Welcome, Matt. Tell us about your new collection.

My collection is called The Book of Right and Wrong. It won the 2009 Ohio State University Press Prize for Fiction*, and was published in 2010. It’s a nice, short book featuring eleven stories. The publishing tagline is “stories for people who think they hate short stories.” Five of them are related, so there’s also a little thread running through the book.

(*I usually have to tell people this was a national prize, because otherwise they think it’s some sort of alumni book award.)

Are there stories in there that called to you more strenuously than others?

“Called to you strenuously.” I like that phrase! Yes. The last piece, “Kate the Destroyer,” started out with me trying to write about an incident that I had when I was a kid. I was really stuck, and then I had the idea to write from the mother’s perspective. That just shook the whole thing loose, and I ended up writing a completely different story than what I’d intended, yet it also better encapsulated what I’d wanted to get across about the mother in the first place. That one, as soon as I made that little jump in perspective, really kind of flew out of me in one night. (The first draft did, anyway. There are always many other drafts!)

Oh the other hand, “Failure to Thrive” had started years earlier as a story about a woman with two sons, one a meth addict and one a cop, vying for control of their mother’s house. I could never get it right, so I left it alone. Then, when I was getting ready to send the book to OSU Press for consideration, I realized what I wanted to do with the story. So I rewrote it for what must’ve been the 12th time and added it to the collection the day before the deadline. And it’s the story that most seems to grab people. If someone emails me or tweets me about my book, that almost-lost story is the one they most reference.

As a novelist, I feel that years pass while I’m working on just one plot. It’s unimaginable to me to have so many plots to untangle and figure out. Do they come to you one at a time, or are you often working on different ones at once?

Yes! By which I mean yes to both, at one time or another. Sometimes I’ll have a few stories going, sometimes it’s only one. There’s a magical thing that happens where I forget, every damn time, what makes a really good story for me – which is, there’s a question I HAVE to find the answer to. For example, I get an image of a guy telling his son to do a terrible thing on a playground. Now I HAVE to know how that came about. Those are the stories that eventually see the light of day. There are other stories that I’ll spend weeks on (or far worse), only to realize too late that, um, there was no fascination or question for me, just a premise I thought was cool. I may never learn that premises, by themselves, are not my friends.

Also, I spent way too long writing a novel. By the end, it was impressively big, and I hated everything about it, especially the characters. It was, go figure, a very premise-heavy book. You really need to love your characters and find them endlessly entertaining and fascinating. One day soon I’ll go back to that novel and rewrite it, but I’m going to need to go in there with a sledgehammer and maybe some dynamite.

Any recurring characters or character types in your stories? Or specific themes you feel drawn to?

I keep going back to a character named Miles LaPine, along with members of his family. They’re in those five connected stories in the book, and I’ve since released an independent story called “Challenger” that also features Miles. He’s kind of a combo platter of my own most awkward/earnest aspects, along with a couple of troubled nerds I knew as a kid. Themewise, I like exploring the gulf between a misguided and/or ill-equipped person’s best intentions and whatever reality they’re just not capable of seeing. That gulf is big enough to accommodate a lot of tragedy and comedy, so it’s a good place to play.

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).

Hoo boy. My process is one of fits and starts. I usually start really strong, writing out a first scene or two, just getting to know who and what I’m writing about. Then I back off for a bit, and I do some thinking. As in: Okay, you know who you’re writing about, now where’s it going? Which used to scare me – why am I just thinking?! — but now I understand this is writing, every bit as much as typing words on a screen. Then I usually start rewriting from scratch. Once I have a finished first draft, I put it aside for a while. When I go back to it, it no longer feels personal, so I have free license to go in and really mess with it. That’s where I’ll change genders, timelines, characters’ objectives, etc. This is usually a multi-draft process.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

I think something in-between? I usually have either an ending image or a climactic image, and I work toward that: How did we get here? Why are these people doing this? My stuff is pretty plot-oriented, so when I have my incident and my people figured out and I’ve done a bit of writing, then I do start sketching out a sequence of events and escalations. I like twists. The “gut-punch,” as my wife calls it.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can  bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

Coffee’s good for this. I follow the advice of Ron Carlson, who’s a writer everyone should read. In his book Ron Carlson Writes A Story, he tells you: Do not get up. Stay seated. Ignore the urge to get a drink or do some chore, and instead force yourself to sit there. A few minutes after that is usually when the words will start coming. It’s a little like breaking the will of a captive spy. Your brain finally goes, “Ugh, fine. HERE.” I feel that for a lot of writers, half the job is tricking yourself into doing things.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I came to it pretty late. I know a lot of writers say they knew when they were kids, but while I always liked to write and get reactions to my writing, I didn’t think seriously about fiction until I was in my twenties and well into a public relations career. So: 25? 26?

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

I teach as well, in independent workshops as well as for the writing program at Western CT State. I love teaching and would gladly do only that for a living. (IF I could no longer write, that is.) Otherwise, I’d be a good man in a book or video store.

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

I really do like all of it. I used to love first drafts, because I viewed that as the “creation” phase, and everything else was the dirty work. But it’s all creation, and it’s all editing. It’s not a linear process for me. Rather, it’s like a busy kitchen, where some people are prepping raw ingredients and others are grilling and plating. (I may have been hungry while answering these.)

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

I like a little messiness, a little weirdness in my stuff. So when I revise, I make sure my words are good – am I finding the one word to do the work of a paragraph? Do my sentences vary in length and intensity, creating a kind of musical flow, etc.? But what I most work on in revision is getting the moments right. Cutting out the extra crap, while leaving in some of those ragged edges. Oh, and I always read aloud. Every draft. This is crucial.

As far as outside readers go, I have two trusted readers. I show them my stuff either when I think I’m done and I know they’ll have smart suggestions, or when I’m stuck and I can’t see my way out of the hole. I’m actually interested in finding a good writers’ group near me. I think that’d be really helpful, both in terms of having careful eyes on my stuff and in terms of having a regular deadline.

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

Great question! I’m torn, because I’m driven to read interviews with authors who interest me, yet I’m disappointed when I find out a work I liked was drawn almost entirely from the author’s own experiences. Which is completely unfair and hypocritical of me! I think it’s human nature to want to know these things about authors. And I think there’s always something of the author in the work, whether it’s near-memoir or whether the work reflects some nagging fascination of theirs. When I do get those questions, I’m nice about it, because I completely understand where they’re coming from, and because I certainly can’t claim that there’s no “me” in the book.

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

I do! I read the AV Club way too much, or I’ll often find myself on AllMusic.com, reading reviews of a band’s entire discography. Or I’ll think, “Beverly Hills Buntz!” and then I’ll be on Wikipedia, looking up the production history of the failed show about a minor Hill Street Blues character. Then there’s Twitter….

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

A lot of writing for me is problem-solving. How do I get from point A to point D without it feeling contrived? Why WOULD she do that? How can I structure this so that when the big moment comes it feels like a gut-punch? I worked in marketing and communications for a long time, and that was always my favorite part of that job. So this act of realizing the implausible makes me happy. Feeling like I got at a feeling or moment that I haven’t seen done that way before makes me really happy. Externally, I love when someone tells me they were so shaken by a story they had to put the book down. I’ve been lucky enough to hear that a few times, and I think it’s a positive! And I hope I never stop getting a charge out of saying “my book.”

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

I tell them why not? I’m teaching a morning workshop in Westport right now for people who’ve never written before. And these six people have gotten to the point where they’re all producing genuinely good work. I’ve yet to meet the person who can’t write, even a little bit, with some direction and encouragement. And I don’t view this as some exclusive club. Can everyone be a Jennifer Egan or a Toni Morrison? Probably not, but I’m always shocked, pleasantly so, when I see what people are capable of doing.

The “real” Frank Sinatra from the guy who followed him for 60 years

Sinatra and Me

Sinatra and Me

Okay, not many people were allowed inside Frank Sinatra’s inner circle. But Tony Consiglio–of Sally’s Apizza fame–was a boyhood friend of Sinatra’s who remained his friend and confidant for over sixty years. One reason Sinatra valued Tony’s friendship is that he could be trusted: Sinatra nicknamed him “the Clam” because Tony never spoke to reporters or biographers about the singer. From the early days when Sinatra was trying to establish himself as a singer to the mid-1960s, Tony worked with Sinatra and was there to share in the highs and lows of Sinatra’s life and career. Tony was with Sinatra during his “bobby-soxer” megastar days in the 1940s, and he remained loyal to Sinatra during the lean years of the early 1950s, when “the Voice” was struggling with a crumbling singing and acting career as well as his tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner. Tony also had a front row seat to Sinatra’s comeback in the 1950s, starting with his Academy Award winning role in From Here to Eternity and a string of now-classic hit recordings. Tony’s friendship with Sinatra allowed him to rub elbows with the Hollywood elite, including Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Kim Novak, Ava Gardner, and many others. It also brought him close to the political world of the early 1960s, when Sinatra campaigned for John F. Kennedy and then helped plan the Kennedy inauguration. Tony was even at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts, when the election results came in. Sinatra and Me will shed new light on the real Frank Sinatra from the man who knew him better than anyone.

And who better to tell Tony Consiglio’s story than Franz Douskey, who has been published in over 200 publications including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The Nation?  Douskey’s fourth book, West of Midnight, reached number 24 on the Amazon Best-Seller list in 2011 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

SINATRA AND ME: THE VERY GOOD YEARS is the result of eight years of interviews and travels with Tony Consiglio who traveled and lived with Frank Sinatra from 1942 until Frank’s first retirement. The book is Tony’s memoirs of the Sinatra years, as well as never before published photos and letters.

To hear Franz Douskey talk about how he convinced Tony “The Clam” Consiglio to open up about Frank Sinatra, listen to this podcast. http://www.tantor.com/share/FranzDouskey_interview_final.mp3

And come to see Franz Douskey and hear a reading from the book at 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 13 at the Gateway Community College Library, New Haven, second floor.

Welcome to Books New Haven, Franz. Tell us about your book.

The focus of the book is Tony Consiglio, who co-founded Sally’s Apizza in 1938 with his mother and his brother Salvatore, then traveled with Sinatra, worked with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, worked on JFK’s campaign for president in 1960,  and the Inaugural Ball in January 1961, and was a regular visitor at the White House. On occasion he brought Judith Exner, who was having  simultaneous affairs with JFK and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. Tony was friends with with Pierre Salinger, Lou Gehrig, Muhammad Ali, Regis Philbin , Emeril LaGasse, Frank Sinatra’s mother, father, first wife and their three children, Nancy, Jr., Frank, Jr., and Tina.  Every story in the book is a first-hand account by a man who seemed to be everywhere and had the photos to support the stories.

What is your writing process?

I don’t have a writing process because I don’t do one kind of writing.  Early on I did travel writing to support my desire to travel.  Another aspect was a series of interviews with sports figures, such as Willie Pep, Bud Harrelson, Smoky Joe Wood, etc. Also published lots of short stories and some poetry.  When I’m working I’m in a place away from home where only a few people know where to find me.  That is essential.

Was the research for the book difficult?

The research was time consuming and entailed much travel, many phone calls and plenty of dead ends.  What I couldn’t verify didn’t go into the book.

What was the best part of writing this book? What did you enjoy the most?

The best part of working on the book was spending lots of time with Tony.  We visited Frank, Jr., Nancy Jr., we lectured at colleges, visited Emeril numerous times, and even wrote segments for Emeril Live! on the Food Network.  Tony was brilliant, and so much damned fun.  We had a great time together.  Two New Haven bums on the road together.

Did you come across any surprises in researching this book?

There were numerous surprises along the way, too many to mention.  Our early agents wanted us to put in large sections about Frank and the mob, Frank and Marilyn; you know, the usual stuff.  Tony wanted to tell the stories behind the music, behind the night life and the crazy stunts that Dean, Frank, Jimmy Van Heusen, Jack E Leonard and other pals would play on each other.  Also, there were stories Tony didn’t want in the book.  He had promised Frank that there were some stories that he would take to the grave, and he did.

How did you first know you were a writer?

I still have my doubts.  I don’t think of myself as a writer.  I’m just a guy who has had some very amazing experiences, so I have a lot to draw on instead of my imagination.

What have you been working on since the book came out?

Since the book has been published, I’ve been traveling, doing a lot of interviews.  One day there was a “virtual radio tour” and I did 24 interviews starting at 7:23 a.m. and ending at 7:45 that night.  Most of the interviews were live, and some were taped.  Oddly, for a person who likes to be alone, I like doing the interviews and the book signings.  The three that stand out are the Book Party at Sally’s Restaurant that was jammed.  Ruthie, Bobby  and Ricky went all out.  They were amazing.  Tony’s widow, Mary and their two sons, Anthony and Christopher were there and that was very important. But no Tony.  I really regret that Tony didn’t make it long enough to see the book published.

Another fine event was at R J Julia, let’s say the best bookstore in the USA.  We took the tour bus because we had a few friends aboard and it’s a great way to eat and relax while traveling to readings.  I thought there might be ten or twelve people at R J Julia but there were a lot of people, chairs set up in the aisles, and after I told a few stories from the book, people lined up and it took a long time to get all the books signed.  Was my hand tired? Never.  I enjoyed meeting people and listening to their stories about Frank Sinatra and music, in general.  The third best stop was to Imus In The Morning.  Very surprising.  I’m an unknown.  But I got a call and several emails from the producer.  Then Bernard send a great email telling me not to worry and be myself.  Well, I am usually myself, and I had a great time with Imus, Rob Bartlett and Tony Powell.  I had to be there very early.  I hate hassles.  The thought of finding a parking space at Union Station, then the train being on time, then wrangling over a cab contained too many “ifs.”  Just one thing going wrong could screw up the interview.   So, I called my favorite limo service and that was it.  Andrew came to the house in the dark, my wife Sarah and Tantor Vice President John Molish got in, no worries and we got there on time.  Beautiful.  There is no doubt about it, I may not be getting richer in my old age, but I’m certainly cutting down on things that can go wrong.

What’s next?

There are four books done and in line for publishing.  Tantor has rights of first refusal.  One book deals with Memphis, Tennessee, its music and musical icons, some of whom I knew and a few I still know.  There’s a huge book on the history of one year: 1968.  As mentioned those books are done, but I tend to never be finished with a book until it’s in print.  And there is one very intriguing project just being put together.

Chandra Prasad and Jake Halpern at Best Video

Authors Chandra Prasad and Jake Halpern will read from their published works in the Best Video Performance Space, 1842 Whitney Avenue, Hamden,  this Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 PM.

chandra-prasad_72dpiChandra Prasad is the author of numerous books and short works, including three critically acclaimed novels. Prasad most recently penned Breathe the Sky: A Novel Inspired by the Life of Amelia Earhart. Booklist praises this “insightful novel” for getting “inside Amelia Earhart’s psyche to give life to the woman behind the myth.” Wally Lamb proclaims, “from lift-off to landing, Breathe the Sky is a novel that soars.” Breathe the Sky was a ForeWord Magazine finalist for “Book of the Year” in the category of Historical Fiction.

Prasad also wrote On Borrowed Wings, a novel that follows a quarryman’s daughter as she attends 1930s Yale University in the guise of a boy. National Public Radio hails the novel “great, believable storytelling” about “race, class, gender, and family.” The author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen, notes that Prasad’s novel “combines drama and a strong sense of place that provides both a lesson in history and a fine read.” On Borrowed Wings was a Connecticut Book Award finalist.

Prasad is the originator and editor of, and a contributor to, Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, which was published to international raves by W.W. Norton. A combination of Indian, Italian, Swedish, and English, Prasad drew inspiration from her own multiracial identity in assembling the book, which includes original material by Danzy Senna, Rebecca Walker, Ruth Ozeki, and Mat Johnson, among others. Booklist calls the anthology “absorbing and thought-provoking,” while The San Francisco Chronicle calls it “wonderful, deftly crafted, and satisfying.” Mixed has been adopted in university-level English courses across the country.

Prasad will read from her novel On Borrowed Wings and from a young adult novel currently in progress.

Jake_HalpernJake Halpern is an author, journalist, and radio producer.  His first book, Braving Home (2003), was a main selection for the Book of the Month Club by Bill Bryson and was one of Library Journal’s “Best Books of the Year.”  His next book, Fame Junkies (2007), was the basis for an original series on NPR’s All Things Considered and portions of  the book were published in both the New Yorker and in Entertainment Weekly.

Halpern’s first work of fiction, a fantasy novel entitled Dormia (2009), has been hailed by the American Library Association’s Booklist as the next Harry Potter. As a journalist, Jake has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Sports Illustrated, The New Republic, Slate, Smithsonian, Entertainment Weekly, Outside, New York Magazine and other publications.

In the realm of radio, Jake is a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered and This American Life.  Jake’s hour-long radio story, “Switched at Birth,” is on This American Life’s “short list” as one of its top eight shows of all time.  Currently two of Jake’s stories are being developed into fictional dramatic series on HBO—one is being produced by Scott Rudin and the other by Brad Pitt’s production company.  Last, but not least, Jake is a fellow of Morse College at Yale University, where he teaches a class on journalism.  He recently returned from India where he was visiting as a Fulbright Scholar.

Kathy Czepiel’s beautiful new novel talks about sacrifice, women’s lives…and violets

A Violet Season

Kathy Leonard Czepiel is the author of A Violet Season, a historical novel set on a Hudson Valley violet farm on the eve of the twentieth century.

She is the recipient of a 2012 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, CALYX, Confrontation, and The Pinch. Czepiel teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, where she lives with her husband and their two daughters.

Photo by Chris Volpe

Come and hear her talk about the history of the violet industry and listen to excerpts from her novel at New Haven’s Mitchell Library in Westville on Monday, October 29th at 6:30 p.m.

Tell us about your new book.

A Violet Season is set on a Hudson Valley violet farm operated by three brothers at the turn of the twentieth century. Ida Fletcher, who is married to the black sheep youngest brother, has taken up wet nursing to help pay the bills, and her teenage daughter, Alice, has been forced to leave school for work. The novel tells the story of the increasingly great sacrifices that Ida and Alice make for their family’s survival, and the way those sacrifices unintentionally set them against one another and affect the rest of their lives. I wrote the novel in part because I grew up in the mid-Hudson Valley, which was once known as “The Violet Capital of the World,” though there is little remaining evidence of that industry today. I wanted to bring that piece of my hometown’s history back to life. But the story is also about women’s lives at the turn of the century, their relationships with men, their work, and the start of their journey toward more independence.

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

I’m also a teacher, and I love teaching. For the past nine years I’ve taught in the First-Year Writing Program at Quinnipiac University. I don’t have aspirations of becoming a full-time writer because I think I would get really bored and lonely working independently at home all of the time. But if I weren’t a writer and a teacher, and if I were talented enough, and if such a thing still existed, I would play cello or French horn in the pit orchestra of a Broadway show. Or I might be a landscape designer and work outdoors all of the time, except in the dead of winter, when I would go cross-country skiing and read lots of books.

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

My favorite part is the inbetween, which is where I am right now with my second novel. No one has imposed a deadline on me yet, but I have a full draft, so I have something to work with. I’m rocking back and forth between research and writing, so there’s some variety, and the work isn’t linear. I can dip into any part of the manuscript and work on it, now that I can see the big picture. I find first drafts terrifying because it’s just me and a blank page, and what comes out on that page is mostly garbage, and I know I just have to keep going to make something. Final revisions are kind of a drag, the point at which I’m studying every single conjunction and semicolon.

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

Making a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. My husband often mixes a big batch of cookie dough and leaves it in the fridge—very dangerous.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

I’m so lucky to be living my childhood dreams. So many of us leave those behind, and for a long time I did, too. When I think of my ten-year-old self writing stories after school and submitting them to Cricket magazine and telling people she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, I’m really happy because I’ve made that kid’s dreams come true!

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can  bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

I treat writing like a job, because it is. There are days when it feels a lot like work. When you have a “real” job, with a boss and colleagues and a location not inside your house, you might wake up in the morning and say, “I just don’t feel inspired to work today,” but you get up and go to work anyway. Writing is no different.

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

That depends on what kind of writer they want to be. Lots of people are happy writing for themselves, or for their close friends and family. To them, I say: do it! Maybe take a class which will teach you to do it a little better. And don’t let anyone else tell you what you should be writing; write what you feel strongly about.

To the people who have aspirations of wider publication, my advice would be a bit different. Those writers have to take classes—lots of them, whether in a school setting or in professional conferences and workshops. They can’t compete in the marketplace without treating their craft seriously, as something that must be learned and practiced. And then, they must be extremely persistent. They must keep showing up, keep studying and reading and writing and sending their work out there despite all the rejection and discouragement. There’s no denying that luck also plays a role in becoming a published writer, but the persistent writers will be there when luck turns up.

Guilford author Barry Schaller writes about about veterans and PTSD

Barry D. Schaller of Guilford is the author of VETERANS ON TRIAL: THE COMING COURT BATTLES OVER PTSD, published by Potomac Books, in June.

Schaller is a clinical visiting lecturer at the Yale Law School, where he received his law degree, after graduating from Yale College. He also teaches undergraduates and graduate students as an adjunct faculty member at Trinity College and at Wesleyan University, in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program. He received a book award for excellence from Quinnipiac University School of Law for his first book, A Vision of American Law. He holds an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Quinnipiac School of Law. He is a Charter Life Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, and a member of the American Law Institute. He has served on all of Connecticut’s statewide courts. Since retiring from the Connecticut Supreme Court, he actively continues his judicial service. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut.

He will be reading at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at the Guilford Free Library.

Tell us about your new book.

Veterans on Trial deals with the problem of post traumatic stress disorder from the ground up, starting with the issues and obstacles that returning veterans and their families face. When they leave the battlefield to become civilians again, many military personnel are not prepared or are unable to cope successfully with the challenges. Their compounded anxieties often result in serious trouble – marriage breakup, unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, suicide and even criminal actions. The book explains how PTSD as a mental disorder developed, what causes it, how it will affect the courts in the next decade, and how it can be prevented or alleviated.

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

After my last book, about bioethics and law, I was planning a book on neuroscience – looking into the human brain — and what it would mean for life in our society. An unexpected opportunity came along at that point when I was asked to be the “legal” member of a multi-disciplinary working group on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Yale Bioethics Center. By the time that project came to a close some two years later, I had become so interested in PTSD arising in the military that I got in touch with the editor with whom I had worked on my bioethics book. The publisher accepted my book proposal. The steady stream of first-hand reports from Iraq and Afghanistan about mental health injuries in soldiers and veterans had gotten my attention. There was a great deal of PTSD being reported. It was clear that we were in for a siege that would go on long after all our troops were home. I wanted to write about what combat PTSD is, how its symptoms were dealt with in previous wars, what its destructive effects are, and why everyone – civilian and military leaders, courts, and citizens – should be aware of it and work to minimize it in the future.

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

There is a connection between my writing and teaching and my career experience. The connection is not simply deciding cases that involve a subject that I’ve written about or taught. Judges have to decide a wide variety of issues arising from all kinds of situations, affecting all kinds of people. It’s very important that judges get to know about all kinds of human relationships and events, especially those outside their personal experience. They need to understand life in our society in the broadest sense. In individual cases, they can’t decide based on their own personal experience but it is important that they understand life in our society. Every individual’s experience is necessarily very limited, no matter what it is. If we broaden our knowledge, work at understanding other people — especially those different from us — we should be able to gain a broad perspective and workable understanding of people and events.

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

There are several messages. PTSD is a psychiatric “construct” or creation that has important social and legal implications. Although the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) diagnostic criteria govern treatment and insurance coverage, the DSM is really just a general guide to PTSD. There is no uniform set of PTSD symptoms or conditions that occur in all cases. PTSD has many different causes and many different manifestations. It can cause behavior ranging from extreme anxiety or dysfunction in relationships to violence and even suicide, which is on the increase in the military. PTSD is often associated with depression and substance abuse. It can arise in civilian and military settings. Within the military context, it is clear that all wars have produced psychiatric injuries but only recently have its full implications been acknowledged. The present PTSD formulation didn’t arise until after the Vietnam War. Mental health consequences still are not taken into account when political decisions are made to go to war. Another message concerns special courts for veterans. Many cities and states around the country have set up special criminal courts for veterans with mental health problems. There is no doubt that veterans need help from the government but courts should not bear the primary responsibility. Courts are bound to make opportunities available to non-veterans as well in order to guarantee equal protection of the laws.

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 book arose quite naturally from my prior work with the subject of PTSD. I’ve always had a strong sense of urgency about my work. Once I’m engaged in it, I can’t stop until it’s finished. That may be a blessing or a curse. On the practical side, I get an early start every day. By the time 9am comes around, I’ve probably put in 4-5 hours of research or writing. My three books all deal with the role of law in our society, each relating to a different aspect of American life – cultural issues, bioethics, war and mental health. I didn’t plan a “trilogy” of books on the role of American law in our society. Each one came about for different reasons. But I believe that the books as a whole present my view about what our society is and how I envision it should be. I believe it is part of the judicial function to educate and inform the public about the role of law in our society. Although judges are restricted by the Code of Judicial Ethics, there is ample room for expressing views and engaging in educational activities.

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

When I have a serious idea for a book, I begin a personal brainstorming process. I write down my thoughts whenever they occur to me and then, from time to time, I organize the notes. Basically, I let my mind run free, realizing all the while that much of what I put down will have to be refined later on. Writing for me is integrally related to thinking. I begin researching the ideas. Once the topic is reasonably well formulated, I want to find out what has already been written and said about it. While I draw on that information, my goal is to go beyond it and get deeper insights, farther-reaching thoughts, solutions that have not been formulated yet. My goal is to do fresh thinking and advance the thinking about a particular subject. And so the process of researching, thinking, and writing goes on together for weeks and months. Once I have a sense of the entire work, I prepare a book proposal. That process usually helps to shape it further into a coherent and worthwhile project. The research, thinking, and writing do not end there, of course, and further change and reshaping takes place. Writing a book is a dynamic process and change is inevitable. Given the nature of my method, many drafts are inevitable. I write and rewrite until I have the finished product.

Was the research fairly easy to come by, or did you have trouble finding the sources you needed?

The problem was not too few, but rather too many sources and too much information. I read a vast amount of material and had many conversations with a great many people, including veterans. I had to keep my focus on what I could contribute that was new, insightful, innovative, and above all the plain truth. In this particular field, the networking with others was phenomenal. I found many people who were willing to talk to me, to share their information and ideas, and to help find resource materials.

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

Interviewing veterans of the Vietnam, First Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars was the most interesting part of my research. Beyond that, studying how mental health problems arose during previous American wars and how they were dealt with turned out to be fascinating. Trying to imagine what future wars involving ground troops (and mental health problems) might look like is intriguing – but elusive. The nature of war changes in unpredictable ways.

When did you first know you were a writer?

Writing has been very important to me throughout my life. During high school, I wrote for the school newspaper. In college, where I was an English literature major, I was a member of the Yale Literary magazine board. That gave me the opportunity, not only to write, but to meet writers like Robert Penn Warren and scholars of American literature like Cleanth Brooks. In the late 1980s, I started teaching a law and literature course, among others, for state court judges on behalf of a national judicial education organization. This involved teaching about the role of judges by using stories, novels and plays. Before deciding to go to law school, I had planned to do graduate study in literature and go on to teach. About 20 years ago, I wrote a law review article about Faulkner’s use of law in his novels and stories. That got my writing career going again and led to my first book, A Vision of American Law: Judging Law, Literature, and the Stories We Tell, which was about how cultural ideas central to American life have played out in American literature and law.That, in turn, led to my book about the relationship between bioethics, law and our culture, Understanding Bioethics and Law: The Promises and Perils of the Brave New World of Biotechnology.

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

The response has been overwhelming. I’ve gotten a great deal of positive feedback, not only from people who have experienced war and the mental health problems of war, but from experts in all the fields that I draw upon – the military, government, mental health, and law. Another result is that, as with my first two books, people are asking me questions that reach beyond the confines of the book. I find myself grappling with issues that I discussed at some length but also some that I merely touched on. In addition, I am asked to talk about issues that have arisen in the months since I submitted the manuscript for publication. I find all this fascinating and challenging.

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

Several projects appeal to me for the future. I haven’t written yet about what judges experience in the course of decision making. I’ve had experiences – and observed others – that I’ve never read about anywhere. I want to share those experiences, most likely through fiction. Judges usually feel appropriately reluctant to reveal the emotions that occur in the process of making decisions. Judging impartially requires suppression of emotions, beliefs, personal experiences in deciding cases but those are essential parts of all human beings. Writing about neuroscience developments and its potential impact also interests me. I’ve done some teaching about discoveries that will have a big impact on the way we live in American society. I’d like to explore some of these subjects. And I have much more to say about war, mental health and law.

Lucy Burdette (aka our own Roberta Isleib) reveals the secret of where books come from

Ohhh, Luuuucy!

(That’s our best Desi impression, and it’s appropriate here because Lucy Burdette, who is in real life our own successful mystery writer Roberta Isleib, has written a delectable, delicious brand new book, and it’s out now–and she’s coming to R. J. Julia Booksellers on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. to read from it.)
She’s here on Books New Haven to tell us the real mystery behind her mysteries: how does she think them up? That is, after all, what everybody always wants to know from authors: where do ideas come from? And Roberta/Lucy has a wonderful answer:

 

How a Book Might Get Written by Lucy Burdette

 

Though it’s hard for me to believe, my tenth book, a Key West food critic mystery called DEATH IN FOUR COURSES, has hit bookshelves this week. Lots of new writers, and people who don’t write, and even those who do but who imagine that someone must know an easier way, ask me about my writing process. Though it’s an ugly, tortured path, I did think of a couple of things that dependably move my stories forward.

The first is no revelation: Plant butt in chair and write. Remain there until I hit my predetermined word count. Lately I’ve been trying for around a thousand words a day. If it takes two hours to write those words, then YAY!, I have time to do other things that all sounded more appealing as I fended them off while writing. On the more painful days, especially when I don’t know where I’m headed with the story, it might take seven or eight hours because I’ve checked my gmail inbox every five minutes. And then remembered there must be some urgent laundry to do or the dog needs walking or I can’t go one more minute without organizing that messy kitchen drawer. But I try to stick with it and to ignore the voices in my head telling me this is the worst dreck I’ve ever written. Because I know I can always (almost) fix it later. As my good friend Hallie Ephron famously tells her students: “Hold your nose and write!”

The second important part of my process is visiting the scene of the crime, either before or while developing the story. (And I’d be the first to admit, this is no hardship when it comes to Key West.)

Could this be “Marvin” with Lucy Burdette?

A research outing might go like this: As I’m wandering through the crowds at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square on the Key West harbor, I spot a tarot card reader set up at a card table, wearing a deep blue turban with an enormous teardrop rhinestone bisecting his forehead. My mind begins to spin. What if my protagonist, aspiring food critic Hayley Snow, is addicted to having her cards read because she’s insecure about making her own decisions? And what if her tarot reader sees a card scary enough that even he gets rattled? And what if Hayley uses what she thinks she sees in his reactions to dig herself into deeper trouble? And so Marvin the card reader is born as a character. Only then one of my pals says ‘who’d go to a psychic named Marvin?’ So I change his name to Lorenzo, but later he admits that he grew up as Marvin but who’d want their cards read by a guy with that name?

Then, as I’m walking and biking around Key West, I notice that homeless people are everywhere, including perched on the stone walls around Mallory Square watching the performers and the tourists. After all, if you had to spend your nights outdoors, you might choose the tropics too. And I think about how they blend into the scenery, but probably notice all kinds of things that visitors wouldn’t see. And so Turtle, the homeless guy, is born into the story. One cool night once the crowds have thinned down at the Old Town Harbor, he notices two men arguing. When there is a man found hung in a sailboat’s rigging later, he doesn’t connect the dots. Or maybe he does, but he would never voluntarily go to the police with this information. But Hayley might worm it out of him.

And then suppose, while I’m attending the Key West Literary Seminar on food writing, that I get the idea that the keynote speaker for my fictional writing conference threatens to tell everyone’s secrets. Because secrets are caustic. Hmmm, how many people would kill to protect their interests?

So with those ideas and story fragments, I go back to my desk and apply seat to chair again.

Isn’t it a miracle that books get written as often as they do?

 

Lucy Burdette is the author of the Key West food critic mysteries, most recently DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. She also wrote 8 mysteries as Roberta Isleib. You are invited to follow her on twitter (www.twitter.com/lucyburdette) or facebook (www.facebook.com/lucyburdette) or check out her website (www.lucyburdette.com)  where the artwork is gorgeous and the recipes to die for.