Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I'm a married father of two boys, with a joint J.D./MBA degree. After practising law for many years, I went back to school to get my master's degree in education and became a high school social studies teacher (the primary, though not sole reason was because I would never see my children grow up had I remained an attorney). I lived in NYC for about half of my adult life; I am now back where I grew up, about 50 miles north-west of NYC, near my parents.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I first got into writing when I would write my own birthday, father's day, and other occasion cards for my family. Everyone, including people who would not compliment me so freely, thought I was a good writer. As I enjoyed writing so much, I decided to believe, delusionally or otherwise, that maybe they were right. This is only my second book, however. The first, From Courtroom to Classroom: Making a Case for Good Teaching, was published in 2008 and offers a late-career changer's perspective on teaching adolescents.
Tell me about your book.
The book is about the lost opportunity to ask my grandmother (actually, my dad's aunt) about my real grandparents who had perished just before and during the Holocaust. I had lived with her for over two years and, like my dad, had never asked her questions about the past. My father is an only child and she was the last person on earth who could have told me so much about my dad's background. This book is a chronicle of my time with my Grandma Ola and an imagining of the stories she might have shared had I only took the time to ask her the questions.
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I hope that readers take away that - as I write in the book - the time we have with the elderly among us does not include forever, that we need to spend time with our older relatives and talk to them, listen to what they have to say. Such conversations will serve to provide some insight into how you got to be who you are today.
What’s your writing process?
My writing process entails sitting in my living room and writing longhand in a journal from Japan with the most beautiful paper - yes, I am quite tactile. I later will type up sections on the computer, editing along the way. I will then print out the pages and work on them, again, longhand; then repeat the process.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest thing about writing is isolating yourself from your family and friends for long periods of time but you have to do this. You must be alone with your thoughts, I believe, to adequately articulate them on paper.
What do you love most about writing?
The freedom to express myself in the most intimate fashion. When I write, at the end of the day, I am simply having a conversation with myself; the process, to me, represents an endeavour to understand most deeply who I am.
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The incredible J.M. Coetzee who had the unimaginable audacity to write as Dostoevsky his Master of St. Petersburg; Hemingway, whose writing puts you right in the scenes he describes in his writing, and Fitzgerald: "So he waited, listening for a moment to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star;" who writes like this? Just beautiful - I had quoted this fragment along with the next few lines, from Gatsby, to my wife on our first New Year's Eve. Just as we were about to share our first kiss, she started crying!
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Details, details, details - and honesty in your work. I think the more honest you are with yourself, the more interesting readers will find you.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
The Brothers Karamazov. The writing, the story and the ideas combined into one piece of work is simply remarkable.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
They are modest, to say the least, as I am first and foremost a school teacher who practices law on the side. I came to writing rather late in life. I do wish, at times, that I had made a greater effort pursuing it as a potential career in my younger days.
Do you prefer reading e-books or traditional books?
Traditional books - I need to examine the cover, feel the paper.
Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?
I prefer self-publishing because of the fact that the author owns the rights to his works. There was a traditional publisher who was interested in my first book and the first thing they told me was that they would likely change the title of the book. That title had come to me in such a moment of clarity and inspiration and was just perfect given the substance of the book. I then realised I would lose complete control over the book. This is something I don't think I could ever do.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am in the middle of reading City of Dreams, a 400-year history of immigrant New York City. Fascinating. Next up is Jonathan Safran Foer's latest novel, Here I Am.
To find out more about the author, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads. The Conversations We Never Had is available to buy now.
What conversation do you wish you'd had the chance to have? Let me know in the comments below!