Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker (A Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery) that just released in April and the book, Maze in Blue.
Are you still a sitting judge?
No. Although I remained a sitting federal Administrative Law Judge after my first book, Maze in Blue, was published. I decided to step down from the bench and pursue my passion – writing.
draw from the cases you have presided over?
At this point in my writing, I haven’t felt comfortable drawing from the cases I presided over, but I occasionally use bits and pieces from my past experiences for scenes or steal characteristics from people I have met during my legal career.
For example, in my first published story, Legal Magic, two lawyers think a courtroom is empty. Suddenly, they hear the voice of the judge who is to hear the case fill the courtroom like God speaking on the mountain. Looking around, they realize the judge is lying down behind rather than sitting at his bench. This exact scenario happened to me when, as a litigator, I appeared in front of a judge who injured his back, but wanted to continue hearing his docketed cases until the date of his scheduled surgery. Because he couldn’t sit, he placed a cot behind the bench and held court lying down. Eerie as the actual experience was, it was a perfect scene to incorporate into a story.
I think that is probably the most unusual thing I’ve heard a judge do, and I agree, it is eerie but funny. Might make a good trilogy!
What has been the biggest surprise to you in writing a novel?
The biggest surprise is actually hearing the characters’ voices – especially if I start veering from where they think the story should go.
Has developing plots and scenes been easier for you because of your experience?
For me, plots and scenes grow out of my imagination spurred from chance encounters, overhearing a conversation, reading a news headline or almost anything enhanced by my various life experiences. My legal experience is especially helpful in fleshing out twists that involve courtrooms or issues of law. It makes it possible for me to avoid common fictional legal mistakes and to know odd things that might move a story along.
My writing reflects the totality of my life experiences rather than simply my legal career. This becomes clear if one analyzes the character of the protagonist, Carrie Martin. She is a young corporate attorney whose father moved into the Sunshine Village Retirement Home because he has mild dementia. Although what happens to Carrie on the job never happened to me during my first legal job with a major corporation, I pulled upon that experience as the starting point to write about Carrie’s responsibilities, challenges and interaction with co-workers. In the same way, I used my mother-in-law’s reaction to the initial stages of Alzeheimers, research I did when a family member was considering moving into an assisted living facility and memories of my mother’s long term Mah Jongg game to make the story realistic.
Your newest book, Should Have Played Poker, tell us where the idea came from.
Writers are always told to write what they know. In my case, I started thinking of my relationship with my mother. Unfortunately, it makes for a boring story to say my mother desperately wanted a daughter, loved me unconditionally, and encouraged me in everything I did. Consequently, I decided to write the opposite of what I knew – a story about a woman whose mother abandoned her when she was a child and how that impacted her as she grew into adulthood. This concept opened up doors to the characters who helped raise her, her internal and external emotional ability or inability to relate to others, and her reaction to how her father’s dementia will eventually change their relationship. The problem at this point was that Carrie’s life story was pretty heavy. I needed a counterbalance for the story to be enjoyable for the reader. As I thought about it, I remember the retirement home Mah Jongg players I used in my first published story, Legal Magic, and realized they would be the perfect comic foil for Carrie. Once they came into the picture, the story flowed.
Tell us about your main characters in that book and how you chose them.
The main character in Should Have Played Poker is Carrie Martin, a twenty-nine-year-old corporate attorney who is precariously balancing her job and visiting her father in the Sunshine Village Retirement Home. After having abandoned her family twenty-six years earlier, her mother returns and leaves her with a sealed envelope and the knowledge she once considered killing Carrie’s father. Before Carrie can discover what is in the envelope or why her mother returned, her mother is murdered at the retirement home where Carrie’s father lives. When the detective assigned to her mother’s case, Carrie’s former live-in lover, doesn’t seem to be doing much, Carrie feels compelled to intervene in the investigation. Needing help, she enlists the Sunshine Village Mah Jongg players to help her sleuth. I chose to use the Mah Jongg players because each has a separate personality but together they come together as a family – something that is important to Carrie.
What is the one thing you enjoy most about writing?
The most fun of writing is creating a story that entertains readers, but while I enjoy the process of seeing a story unfold from my imagination, I also am having a blast interacting with readers and other authors.
What authors do you like to read?
Of all the questions you’ve asked me, this is the most difficult one to answer. I love to read and read everything I can get my hands on, but that means I have no one favorite author. Recent authors whose books I have enjoyed include Kristen Hannah, Linda Rodriguez, Hank Phillippi Ryan, T.K. Thorne, Janet Evanovich, and Jane Mayer.
What’s next for Debra H. Goldstein?
For the next few months, I will be traveling and speaking to book clubs, libraries and other groups about Should Have Played Poker. I am in the process of revising a new book, One Taste Too Many, that I hope will find a home in 2017, and I recently signed a contract for a new short story to appear in Alfred Hitchcock Murder Magazine.
There is an excellent interview article about you in Southern Writers Magazine’s July/August issue. An interesting excerpt to me was…“T wo days after graduating early from the University of Michigan, Debra H. Goldstein went to the Big
Apple with two goals: obtain a job in publishing and get on Jeopardy. “In case things didn’t work out while I pursued these goals, I spent each evening during the first
few weeks typing applications to enter law school in the fall”. If you would like to read the interview visit http://www.southernwritersmagazine.com/subscribe.html and order the July/August 2016 edition. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org and order it.
I read your book, Should Have Played Poker and enjoyed it very much as did my husband. Looking forward to your next book.
Thank you for visiting.
Be sure and visit Debra Goldstein at http://www.debrahgoldstein.com/ she will be delighted to hear from you. If you want a good read, order her books.