1.Did you always know that you wanted to be an author or did you have another dream?
As I kid I loved to read books, and I wanted to write; but I gave that dream up to pursue the “reasonable and responsible” goals of becoming a professional, in my case a psychologist.
I returned to writing about twenty-five years ago. At first I wrote a lot of poetry and some essays for local newspapers. Then the novels started to demand their way into my psyche.
2.How long did you write until you were finally published?
My poetry and a few professional papers were published right off, but the first novel took about twenty years during which time I’ve actually written three. In addition to “Widow’s Walk,” which came out in September, I have a contract for a second book, “Memoirs From the Asylum,” which should come out sometime next year. The third, a conspiracy novel, is still looking for its home.
No ritual, in fact, I don’t even have a set place. Some of my writing is done at the computer, but I also go to the coffee shop or bookstore with my pencil and notebook. The one thing I do require is a handy cup of coffee or tea and the inspiration – that powerful yet elusive voice that suddenly puts word in motion.
4.Do you plan the story out or just let it flow?
I start with a plan, but then the characters take over. They tell their story through me. For example, the main love affair in “Widow’s Walk” wasn’t suppose to be about love; Arnie and Mary were supposed to have a mentor-student relationship, and Mary was supposed to meet another man. However, they fell in love; and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Another example from “Widow’s Walk” is the love relationship between Kathleen and Danny; that was supposed to end happily, but it didn’t work out that way.
I guess writing is like life: You can start with all kinds of plans, but you can never really know what fate will bring.
5.Do you have any WIP that you might want to share with us?
My next novel is “Memoirs From the Asylum.” It’s finished, and I have one contract offered. Let me share an excerpt from this new tragic-comedic novel.
Those dingy green-yellow hospital walls are really off-putting. It’s like living inside a puddle of puke. The people are the chunks of undigested food – no longer human just unidentified floating objects. Some of them are really revolting. The others, “the patients,” aren’t so bad.
Mostly, the diagnosed only want to be left alone – alone – caught between the grief of being and the terror of not. Once in a while there’ll be somebody who wants to fight the world, but mostly the world they want to fight is that revolting staff so you silently root them on. At least, that is how I see it.
Charlie comes back to the ward – good for Charlie. He’s had enough shock to fry his brain – too bad for Charlie. He shuffles along and drools; when he’s excited he shouts “Oh boy!” in a repetitive Tourette bark – now Charlie fits in. Good for Charlie? Nope, good for the system. Modern medicine has won another round. The world of the asylum grinds the people; it makes pabulum of their brains and mush of their wills. The system works; the person doesn’t. We all celebrate Charlie’s return by standing around and rocking from side to side.
6.What character is more like your personality or is it a combination of more than one?
I draw on my own personality and on people in my life to develop characters, but in the end they all take on their own characteristics and ideas. Many people know me and have who have read “Widow’s Walk” think that I’m very like Arnie Berger; but I think I’m more like Jem, the very wise woman who is more in the background yet seems to know so much about life.
I love Jem’s comment toward the end of the book:
Jem shakes her head when she hears the coroner's findings. "I guess he don’t know much about souls," she observes. "There's pains of the body, and there's pains of the soul. This poor lady died of the pains in her soul. They say that God don’t give no one more than they can carry, but He sure done give her too much … way, way too much."
7.When you have a moment to sit down and breathe, what kinds of books do you read?
I enjoy almost all kinds of books. I’m a major history buff and biography. I will on occasion try to read in philosophy, science, and, of course, religion. Then there’s the fiction. I try to read at least one novel a month. I just finished Kawabata’s “The Sound of the Mountain.” I loved the way he related to nature. I can’t say that the story worked for me.
The next book on my pile – the pile of books I’ve put aside to read - is Gottlieb’s “The Dream of Reason.” However, I do have a couple of review books from friends that need a good look.
Last, I should mention that I read (and write) a good deal of poetry. Just for fun, I’ll share this short poem I wrote recently.
On viewing a picture of a dervish
The slow dignity of the dervish dance; the eternal mystery of the poet's chant: Allah be merciful to me, a lowly ant; cast down on me one sacred glance.
8.What author or authors inspire you to write the way you do?
I can list some of my favorite authors, but I don’t know that they really inspire the way I write. Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorites. I love Conrad. Isaac Singer is another. Perhaps Steinbeck had the greatest impact on me when I was younger. And, no list, not even this partial one, is complete without mention of Chekhof and Kafka.
I think that there is a wonderful melding of external and internal worlds within the novels I like. What is attended to in the environment of the book is related to what the characters are experiencing. I don’t like extraneous description that is unrelated to the story and that is added for the sake of sounding literary. A direct, sparse and yet complete quality is what I strive for in my own writing.
9.Do you have any tips for those aspiring authors out there?
Write! Then write more!
Find friends with whom you can share, and don’t be afraid of the process of discussing your work.
And, let me end with another excerpt from “Widow’s Walk.”
The paths along the banks of the reservoir are uneven. It takes all a jogger's concentration to keep from tripping and tumbling into Boston's water supply. That is probably why so many joggers have passed her prone body without noticing. It is only when one, glancing up at the sound of a scurrying animal, starts back in shock and lands on his seat that she is seen. "Oh, my God!" he exclaims as he scrambles back to his feet. “Oh, my God,” he repeats so taken aback that he doesn’t even notice the pain from his fall, “somebody get help. Somebody, anybody, for Christ’s sake, get help!”
Gingerly, as if he is approaching a dangerous animal, he inches his way towards her. "Miss, Miss. Are you OK?" His voice is at first a whisper, which grows louder and more tremulous.
Kathleen doesn’t stir.
"Miss!" He is shouting now. His wide eyes take in the scene. Her panty hose have been ripped off. They and her shoes are in a small tangled pile a few feet away. Next to them are her well-worn green parka, scarf, and dark green gloves with leather palms. The sheepskin hat with ear flaps that Karen had given her is tossed farther from her body. Kathleen’s plaid skirt has been ripped. It still clings to her waist but has been pulled up and now covers her torso rather than her legs and buttocks. Her head is turned sideways, and the jogger can see that there is a thin stream of blood still coming from her mouth and soaking into the ground next to her broken glasses.
He bends over her, afraid to touch. "Get help," he shouts into the frosty air – still to no one. They are alone. "For God's sake, get help," he repeats once more. He isn’t sure, but he thinks he sees her body moving ever so slightly. "Is she still alive, or is she dead?" he asks aloud in the frigid empty air. "Help!" he screams.
There is a handbag nearby. Instinctively he reaches for it. He can not bring himself to touch her body, but the inanimate handbag is less threatening. Its contents seem untouched. "Mrs. Dougan," he whispers to her. If yelling hasn’t worked, something in his brain tells him that softness might. "Mrs. Dougan," he tries again.
He is looking at an identification card that Kathleen carries in her wallet. Ironically, it is the one piece of identification on which she still uses her married name. It is her library card, something that she had stopped using once she had decided that her life would never move forward. At one time Kathleen had been an avid reader, but that had been when she thought it would still matter if she were to learn – that had been before it had seemed that her life had stopped.
Knowing Kathleen’s name makes her seem more alive. The jogger focuses himself enough to pull off the top of his jogging suit and use it to cover her upper body. Still he can’t bring himself to actually touch her, not even to adjust her clothing.
Kathleen makes no response. "Oh, my God," he exclaims again.
He hears the sound of another runner. Even though the trees are bare, the jumble of bushes makes it difficult to see. Jumping up from his crouched position near Kathleen’s head, the jogger waves his arms and yells, "Over here. I need help. Over here." He can hear the pace of the other runner quicken.