by Julie, enjoying the summer in Somerville
I met Debra Goldstein in person last year at Bouchercon. She moderated my first panel as a published author, a great conversation about point of view. She and I also serve on the board of Sisters in Crime together. Yesterday she invited me on her blog, It’s Not Always A Mystery. Today I’m thrilled that she is visiting the Wickeds. I hope you enjoy our interview.
Julie: From lawyer to judge to mystery writer—what an interesting career path you’ve had! Did one inform the other, or are they separate parts of your life?
Debra: Although all three careers incorporated my love of manipulating words to share ideas, the three have been otherwise completely separate. Entering college, I thought I would be a journalist. By the time I graduated three and one-half years later, my goals were to obtain a job in publishing and get on Jeopardy. During my job search, in case things didn’t work out, I applied to law schools. Eight months later, my goals accomplished, I decided to go to law school.
My first job post-law school was as a corporate international tax lawyer. Unfortunately, I hated it. Hoping to interact with and for people more, I became a labor litigator for the U.S. Department of Labor. I attribute my appointment as a federal Administrative Law Judge, twenty years younger than the average age of the job, directly to the writing and arguing skills I demonstrated in my cases, particularly an equal pay case of first impression. As a judge, my job involved knowing or researching the law, being fair when applying legal principles to a fact pattern, and articulating the basis of my decisions. Translated: my writing was rather boring.
Being the one who created the skits for parties and group projects was the only time I wrote for fun until a friend dragged me to a writing conference. It offered several writing competitions and being the non-competitive person I am, I entered several of them the following year. I was hooked. Writing between midnight and four a.m. and on weekends became my release (luckily, my husband’s blood runs crimson and Nick Saban or G-d was leading the charge at Alabama). At first, I tried to keep the writing and judicial career separate, but when a defendant interrupted the end of the proceedings to tell me, “Your honor, no matter how you rule, I’ll buy your book,” I knew I had to make a choice. It was a no brainer – I picked my childhood dream of being a writer. A few of my stories and non-fiction pieces haven’t dealt with law related issues, but mystery usually works its way into my works
Julie: I’d love to hear about your journey being a writer. Were you always drawn to mysteries? Have you written in other genres?
Debra: During high school, I spent one summer writing plays for children’s theater, but I didn’t continue with this genre once I entered college. As my career progressed, I found myself constantly reading biographies or mysteries on airplanes or before bed. Consequently, when I decided to try my hand at writing, I wanted to write things that were like the easy fun reads I enjoyed at the beach, traveling, or just before I fell asleep. It is safe to say my 2012 IPPY Award winning book, Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, and my new book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery incorporate serious theme, but their primary goal is to be fun for readers. My published works also include literary and mystery short stories as well as non-fiction essays.
Julie: I love that you have a theater past–we need to talk about that more when we see each other at Bouchercon. I’d love you to tell us about Should Have Played Poker, especially your protagonist. It is quite the hook to get her sleuthing. Do you plan on this being a series?
Debra: In Should Have Played Poker, Carrie Martin’s precarious balancing of her corporate law job and visiting her father at the Sunshine Village retirement home is disrupted when twenty-six years after abandoning her. She leaves Carrie with a sealed envelope and the confession she once considered killing Carrie’s father. Before Carrie can obtain answers from her father, Carrie’s mother is murdered at the retirement home.
Although instructed by the detective assigned to the case, her former live-in lover, to leave the sleuthing to the police, Carrie is compelled to find out who killed her mother and why she reappeared in her life. As Carrie and her co-sleuths, the Sunshine Village Mah jongg players, attempt to unravel long hidden secrets, their efforts put Carrie in danger and show her that truth and integrity aren’t always what she was taught to believe.
My intention was for Should Have Played Poker to be the first in a series published by Five Star – a division of Cengage. Because Five Star will be ceasing its mystery line in mid-2017, future Carrie books are in limbo.
Julie: I hope they find a home, it’s a wonderful start to the series. How did you decide on setting and secondary characters? Is this a world you’re familiar with?
Debra: Having started as a corporate attorney, I was very familiar with that world and type of people who became the secondary business related characters. Because Carrie is dealing with issues that often are complex or serious, I knew I needed to add comic relief to the book. Thinking of where I was going to have Carrie’s father live, I realized the characters of Michael, his daughter, and the Mah jongg players who were featured in the first short story I ever sold, “Legal Magic,” would be perfect for Should Have Played Poker. So, I moved them, their retirement home, and the corporation to imaginary Wahoo, Alabama, which very much resembles an Alabama town I fell in love with during my book tour for Maze in Blue.
Julie: I love that! So many of our short stories come back and inspire us. We both serve on the board of Sisters in Crime. How has that organization influenced you?
Debra: Sisters in Crime opened doors for me. Whether a New York times bestseller or a fellow bottom of the food chain writer, everyone has been kind, considerate, and helpful in educating and supporting me. The friendships are something I treasure.
Julie: Shamelessly plug your new book, how we can get it, and tell us what you are working on now.
Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery is a fun read that you should grab if you are going to be on an airplane, at the beach, or like to read before bed. Both the hardcover and the e-book versions also are perfect gifts for mothers and mother-in-laws who play Mah Jongg or other games. The big box stores either have it in stock or can order it, numerous indies are carrying it, and it is available from all online sources. I’ve been a little lazy lately, but I have a new book in revision and will have some special short stories coming out in the near future. To find out planned signings and new works, please check my website, www.DebraHGoldstein.com or contact me through DHG@DebraHGoldstein.com .
Thanks for visiting us Debra! Readers, who plays Mah Jongg? I’ve always wanted to learn. Even more so now…
Debra Goldstein’s Bio:
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star Publishing – April 2016) and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Mardi Gras Murder and The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem. Debra serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. Find her on Twitter at @DebraHGoldstein, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/ and on her website, www.DebraHGoldstein.com.