Posted by Literary Titan
STAINER follows Ben Steiner, a Jewish Columbia undergrad who is a decent person but wishes to be “in” with the “in crowd.” What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Since I wrote the book forty years ago, I must confess that I cannot precisely recollect what the initial idea was. I just sat down and started scribbling (longhand, on legal yellow sheets) and eventually the novel emerged. However, as I explain in my Author’s Preface, the manuscript was an overwritten mess. I was a complete amateur, and made every mistake in the book… (okay, that was a truly cringe-worthy pun.) But now that I think of it, I did have a vague notion that I wanted to somehow skewer an acquaintance of mine, and decided that the cleverest way to accomplish that would be to turn them into a rotten character in a book. Which I did… and no, I won’t tell you which character, but suffice it to say that nowadays my intended skeweree is rich, fulfilled, aging much better than I am, and utterly unaware of my –or my novel’s– existence. Which, all things considered, is exactly as it should be.
Of course, at a distance of four decades, I am now able to perceive things in the novel that weren’t apparent to me at the time I wrote it; by which I mean that there’s more than a trace of autobiographical heartbreak in the story. And I think we’ll leave it at that.
Ben goes through some strikingly personal conflicts throughout the book and his character is meticulously developed. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a 70’s Jewish teen?
Easy… I was a 70’s Jewish teen. Well, not technically… even though I was already in my mid-twenties when I wrote STAINER, my mindset remained that of an irresponsible teenage scamp, and I simply wrote prose in the same the way I spoke/ thought/lived; in other words, from the viewpoint of extremely arrested adolescence (ahem.) Luckily for me, it turned out that I had a knack for accurately capturing the mood and lingo of the times in my writing… who knew?
Ben meets P.T. Deighland, a wiseass from Princeton, who is clearly up to no good. What were the driving ideals behind the characters relationship throughout the story?
“Driving ideals”? Hmm… I have no clue, other than to suspect that the relationship between ‘bad-boy’ P.T. and ‘good-boy’ Ben somewhat reflected the two sides of my own slightly schizophrenic persona; which, in those days, remained more-or-less in a constant state of conflict. To all outward appearances I was definitely a good boy, but like many such young fellows, secretly wished that I had the nerve and coolness to behave like one of the bad boys. Because, after all, the bad boys always got the girls… didn’t they? But, like Ben, my efforts to attain bad-boy status were ultimately doomed to failure, and came at a heavy cost.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have a new novel under way, and it’s as different from STAINER as STAINER is from SHE’S MY DAD. I can only write stand-alone novels; the mere thought of doing sequels or a series is a stupefying bore. For me, once a story is wrapped up, that’s the end of it, and then I’m off to build a new world, with new characters, new problems, new everything. It’s the only way I can stay interested enough to keep going.
As to when the new book will be available, who knows? All I can say is, stay tuned… I do believe it’s a pretty good yarn.
New York City, 1975: Decent-hearted but spoiled Jewish college kid Ben Steiner is naively possessed by an overwhelming desire to be cool. At a springtime party on the night of his twenty-first birthday, he meets two people: Rebecca Glaser, the longed-for sweet girl of his dreams, and P.T. Deighland, a beguilingly knavish wiseacre from Princeton. Seduced by Deighland’s bold irreverence while simultaneously succumbing to his own temptations, Ben makes a cascading series of unfortunate choices which not only threaten his budding relationship with Rebecca, but expose him to ruin at the hands of a ravishing but ruthless fashion model named Anthea Montague.
Against the background of a vanished period in American history, STAINER offers a bittersweet nostalgic trip back to a less complex world, during a time of incautious excesses that, while deceptively fun and carefree, in due course forced many unwary youngsters like Benjamin Steiner to learn some necessary –albeit painful– lessons about growing up.
Posted in Interviews
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Posted by Literary Titan
The Dragons of Alsace Farm is a beautiful story about love and family. What was the inspiration that spawned this novel?
Thank you. I appreciate that so much. After my father’s passing, our previously happy, healthy mother began exhibiting signs of what we assumed was depression, along with anxiety attacks and confusion. After years spent trying to get a diagnosis, it was finally determined that Mom was in the early stages of dementia. Soon after Mom’s diagnosis, we found a young couple with mild disabilities who wanted more independence. They moved into Mom’s home for a time, offering farm help and companionship in exchange for rent. Mom believed she was helping them, and they felt they were helping her. I watched how the three of them rose above their limitations to lift and serve one another. Although I changed the nature of the challenges facing Noah and Tayte, and made Agnes a composite character, it was Mom and this young couple who ultimately inspired the final book.
The bond that develops between Noah and Tayte forms over their mutual love of the elderly woman Agnes. Was there anything about the characters’ relationship that you pulled from your own life?
A bond can develop when people share sorrow. The diagnosis of dementia, or any traumatic diagnosis, can have a dramatic impact on a family. Some people will pull together to protect, and stay connected to, their loved one. Others run away. It’s occurred in our family, and families I’ve interviewed have expressed similar fractures. I did use that experience of shared sorrow to help Noah and Tayte bridge the emotional gap they couldn’t overcome on their own.
Noah, I think, goes through a dramatic transformation. Did you plan the slow personality change or did it happen as you were writing?
It was planned, but earlier drafts had him even more guarded than Tayte, and as the manuscript progressed, and after chats with editors, I decided to soften him a bit, and make him more hopeful and endearing. I needed the readers to cheer for him early on. I have had several experiences with emotionally guarded youth, and interestingly enough, most of these young people were wonderful with small children and the elderly—people less likely to render judgment. I think that acceptance helps them lower their guard. That’s what Agnes does for Noah. She validates the goodness he has been trying to cultivate, and she strengthens his hope for a future that is brighter than his past.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be published?
Thanks for asking! I’ve got two projects in progress. “The Shell Game” has been in the works for over a year. It’s a complex political suspense novel about two last-chance people who arrive in a dying West Virginia mining town. A tip from a ruthless informant sends fallen journalism phenom, Jackson James, to Cutler’s Ridge to chase down a story lead involving three high-level passengers headed for the town in a private plane that didn’t file a flight plan.
Young scientist, Tallie Brown’s, mother forced the two of them to live a life of seclusion. When her emotionally distant mother dies in an accident, she leaves behind a newspaper article and a cryptic message that leads Tallie to Cutler’s Ridge. But the townspeople make it clear they don’t like any strangers, and worse, they seem to fear the shy, reclusive Tallie Brown.
Even the other stranger in town, reporter Jackson James, puts Tallie on his radar when Tallie predicts the fall of the private plane he came to track, right before it falls from the sky, killing everyone on board. James uncovers some strange truths about the town and Miss Brown. She has no recorded birth certificate, and the town is riddled with twenty years of secrets that involve the halls of congress and a local military base. I hope to launch “The Shell Game” before Christmas.
Also, I’ve been invited to contribute a volume for Gelato Books’ highly successful “Destination Billionaire’s Romance Series.” Romance is a new genre for me, but it’s been really fun. You’re hearing it here first—my volume will be titled “Sweet Water.” It debuts in March. I’ve been torn about whether to use my name or the pen name Addison Tayte. We’ll see. . .
Fears and secrets are the dragons we each must face. . . In need of his own redemption, Noah Carter finally confronts his childhood hero, the once-beloved uncle who betrayed him. Instead of vengeance, he offers forgiveness, also granting Uncle John a most curious request—for Noah to work on the ramshackle farm of Agnes Deveraux Keller, a French WWII survivor with dementia. Despite all Agnes has lost, she still has much to teach Noah. But the pair’s unique friendship is threatened when Tayte, Agnes’s estranged granddaughter, arrives to claim a woman whose circumstances and abilities are far different from those of the grandmother she once knew. Items hidden in Agnes’s attic raise painful questions about Tayte’s dead parents, steeling Tayte’s determination to save Agnes, even if it requires her to betray the very woman she came to save, and the secret her proud grandmother has guarded for seventy years. The issue strains the fragile trust between Tayte and Noah, who now realizes Tayte is fighting her own secrets, her own dragons. Weighed down by past guilt and failures, he feels ill-equipped to help either woman, until he remembers Agnes’s lessons about courage and love. In order to save Agnes, the student must now become the teacher, helping Tayte heal—for Agnes’s sake, and for his.
Posted in Interviews
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