Monday, July 18, 2016

Good-bye Judging - Hello Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

Today my guest is my friend and fellow author, Debra H. Goldstein talking about her writing career.
I am, or perhaps I should say I was, a judge. I had a lifetime federal appointment and had gladly served the public for twenty-three years, after being one of the youngest and earliest females to obtain my position, but I gave it up to write mysteries. Why?
Initially, I tried to do it all. In fact, my first book, Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus, was written while I was on the bench. My non-judicial writing time was confined to the weekends or between midnight and four a.m. during the week. With that schedule, Maze wasn’t written or revised overnight, but after several years, it finally was ready to see daylight. I announced that fact at a women’s meeting showcasing four other writers. A member of the audience contacted her best childhood friend, who happened to be co-owner of a small publishing house, and said “There’s a judge with a mystery I think you might want to take a look at. I’ve seen some of her other writings and believe it might be worth your time.” Well, one thing led to another and without ever querying, I had a two -book deal within the week.
The end of 2011 is a blur – speaking engagements, a website and blog, and conferences began to fill my hours. I still continued doing my day job and making sure the two were kept separate. Then, tragedy struck.

A week before Malice 2012, the publisher announced the company was going out of business. It graciously gave all of its authors back their rights. Because I had six more months of bookings, I immediately put the book back into circulation myself while pitching it to Harlequin Worldwide Mystery. During the next year, I went back to the write in the early morning hours and produced a new book with different characters. I also wrote several short stories. All of these things were
accomplished keeping my judicial and writing lives separate.
The new book had more trouble finding a home, but lightning struck at Killer Nashville. Denny Dietz liked the first two pages and agreed to read the rest. Five Star bought my second book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery around the same time period Harlequin Worldwide Mystery purchased and published Maze as one of its selections of the month in May 2014.
With two books under my belt, more in my head, and a few short stories in the hopper, I was beginning to think juggling two careers might not be a good idea. Then, it happened. I finished conducting a hearing and asked, “Is there anything further.” The lawyers said “no,” but one attorney’s client piped up, “Yes, there is.” I looked from the client to the attorney and paused to give the lawyer time to get his client under control, but th
e client shook him off. The lawyer shrugged, so I let the client speak his piece. “Your honor, I just want you to know, no matter how you rule, I’m going to buy your book.”

I bet I didn’t get that sale because I ruled against him, but it made it clear to me, I needed to pick one career. I chose to write full time. Seven months later, I wrapped up my docket and retired from the bench to be a full-fledged writer. I don’t regret deciding to “Make Mine Mystery. 

15 comments:

Morgan Mandel said...

There comes a time when a person needs to decide what they really want to do, instead of what they've been doing for a while. As long as you're happy with your choice of being an author, that's what matters most.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Morgan,
I think so, too. I have seen too many people forced to stay in a career choice because of financial needs or simply fear of change. For me, it was right at the moment I made the choice --- it wouldn't have been much earlier in time. Now, I ask myself how I ever worked because I'm so busy.

Palmaltas said...

Wow! What a story! How wonderful that you were able to go from one career to another.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

It has been a journey. Thank you for leaving a comment today.

M. Johnston said...

HUGE step, and I'm awed by the courage. Sending all my best wishes for even greater successes and Mah-ve-lous reviews.

Marilyn (aka cj petterson)

PS: It was great meeting you at the Alabama Writers Conclave last weekend. Applause, applause to the great volunteer team.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Kudos to TK Thorne (the organizer and whose shoulders it fell on and the rest of the workabees Nina Donath, Hank Henley, Terry Henley, TJ Beitelman, me and others who shall not be named...but best of all, the fun was the 100+ folks who participated. Great finally having the opportunity to meet you, too. Thanks for the good wishes....same to you!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Debra,
So nice to have you here. What some of our books go through are stories in themselves.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

That they are! But as writers, we survive supported by those wonderful people called readers. They make the difference for all writers.

Lorelei Bell said...

What a great story. It's not unlike John Grisham, I guess. Hope to find your books in bookstore (we've been w/o one here for over a year, but soon will get one in fall).

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Inspiring journey! Thanks for sharing, Debra :)

Mary Thornburg said...

Yes, inspiring! Your determination to get that first book written says it all -- you were meant to be a writer. (Are you sure you didn't get that sale? Maybe the client meant what he said!)

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Mary,
No, I'm pretty positive on that one :). He wasn't truthful about much else so it was doubtful that he'd start with my book. Joanne, thank you for many things...support...even though we've never met, you were one of the first people to invite me to blog - your Second Act series. Hopefully, I've fulfilled at least part of what I dreamed of then. Lorelei, I hate that your bookstores have closed - hope the new one opens soon. I am a big supporter of independents and any type of libraries (ask your local one to order my book for you or it is available, if there is no store on Amazon or any of the online sources both as a hard cover and for only $3.99 in e-book form), second hand shops or wherever books can get into the hands of readers. Teaching a child to read can make all the difference in a community.

Kaye George said...

I finally got here to read this post--glad I came! I knew about the bench and leaving it and writing mysteries. I didn't realize you were judging AND writing at the same time for so long. I'm glad you're a fellow mystery writer now!

I feel I'll be fully recovered from the weekend by tomorrow. It was loads of fun! The Alabama Writers' Conclave is an awesome group.

Grace Topping said...

Great message, Debra. So many people know what they want, but then they wait too long to try and get it. You were wise to make the decision to go on to the next chapter in your life while you still have the energy and good health to do so. You readers are happy you made that decision.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Kaye, it was great seeing you at the AWC and listening to your mystery genre class. And yes, when you first met me and for a couple of years thereafter, I was very much a juggler of my day job and my passion "hobby." Now, I wish I was better at the organization I used back then, but I'm so glad, as you note Grace, to have made the decision to reach for this next chapter while I have the ability to do so. Thank you for your kind words and for your continued support.