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.
Your energy puts me to shame, Debra. I hope sales of Poker are going well and the other book you’re working on sells. In the meanwhile, Go Blue!
Having a ball with Should Have Played Poker. Just spent the weekend in Ann Arbor doing signings in Jackson and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Came home only after buying out the Michigan Den. And to you, too, Go Blue!
What a delight filled interview: especially the defendant promising to buy your book!
Thank you for your kind words. You can imagine how difficult it was for me to keep a straight face when he made his promise.
Loved Maze in Blue, can’t wait to read Poker!
Kate, you are too kind. I’m glad you enjoyed Maze and would love to hear your reaction to Poker. I’m glad to recommend the hardcover or getting it from your library, but I do notice the e-book is on sale for $3.99. Thanks for stopping by today.
Thanks for visiting the Wickeds, Debra! Years ago my husband bought me a Mah Jongg set but we still haven’t figured out how to play. Sometimes I get it out and spread the tiles out on the dining room table simply to enjoy looking at them!
Glad to be a guest today on the Wickeds. It is one of my absolute favorite blogs!The old Mah jongg tiles – ivory and beautifully crafted are a joy to look at. The game itself is not difficult to learn. Be glad to teach it to you if we ever have the opportunity to cross paths. (I keep a set with four cards in my car).
Jessie, I’m delighted to be visiting the Wickeds. It is one of my absolute favorite blogs. I also enjoy looking at old sets. The ivory in them usually is so beautiful. If our paths ever cross, I’ll be glad to teach you the game – – it really isn’t difficult. Just find me with my car … I keep a set and four cards in it at all times.
As you can see, it didn’t look like the first reply had gone through. 🙂
It’s great to see you here at the WIckeds! I only played Mah Jongg once and wasn’t very good. I loved hearing your background and hope your series finds a new home!
Thanks, Sherry. Maybe from your mouth to …. Anyway, glad to be here at the Wickeds. As I noted above, it is one of my favorite blogs –probably because I love the books by all of its authors. Writing cross interviews with Julie today was especially fun. BTW, thought of you and your yard sale shopping recently. I discovered one of my friends goes to yard sales religiously looking for old mah jongg sets.
Well that sounds like fun!
Fun to learn more about you, Debra. Your book sounds like a lot of fun.
Brooke, thanks for your comment. Being fun is exactly the motivation for all of my writing. Hope if you pick up Poker, you enjoy it.
What an interesting life story you have, Debra! I read your Poker book and really loved it. You have a great sense of humor.
You are too kind….but keep telling me how much you loved it as it makes my day. Thank you. Humor is extremely important to me, so I’m glad you’ve found it in my writing and in our exchanges.
Good for you, for finding what you truly wanted to do. Sometimes the path isn’t exactly a straight line, but you must have lots of interesting material stored up.
I’ve never even looked at a Mah Jongg board (except maybe orphaned at a flea market). My grandmother taught me to play backgammon, and that’s the last board game I learned.
You speak as a woman who I know has found what you truly want. I’ve been loving the various blogs and posts you have written about finding your perfect home abroad. Hope you can make a straight line back there soon.
Welcome, Debra! Thanks so much for joining us today. Best of luck finding a home for Carrie and company.
Thanks. I’m thrilled to be here today because I enjoy the Wickeds so much. Congratulations on your daughter’s wedding. It looked lovely. I’m looking forward to reading your new book. Of course, because we did the cross interviews, I’m putting it in the TBR pile right behind Julie’s new Clock and Dagger book.
I learned to play Mah Jong one summer when my friends and I had nothing better to do. I love your career path to reaching the title Published Author. My family also did the law path, with four lawyers in it. Oh, I also wonder if we are related. I’m a Goldstein also. My grandfather was one of five boys…. A Brooklyn Family of course.
It would be interesting to discover if your family was in some way related to my husband’s family. I believe most of his settled in the South, but my maternal side, Green and Schreier, had relatives in Brooklyn and New Jersey. We’ll ave to compare notes at some point.
I’ve never played Mah Jong. I’ve played lots of games, but never that one.
Love the sounds of the book. I really need to read it. Good luck finding a new home for the series.
Mark, thank you. I certainly hope it finds a home because I believe it could well be a series rather than a stand alone. In the meantime, people seem to be enjoying Poker — and that’s what is important.
Sounds like a fun read! I’m going to check it out!
Thank you for stopping by. Appreciate you chcking Poker out.
Welcome to the Wickeds, Deb! The book sounds wonderful!
Thank you, Liz. I’m delighted to be visiting today.
Appreciate you have me as a guest and for your reciprocal visit to It’s Not Always a Mystery. Doing the interview exchange was fun and I feel we both learned a lot about each other. My special thanks to all the Wickeds for having one of the best blog sites out there!
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