Monday, December 14, 2009

Publishers Weekly review of Rescuing Olivia!

Thanks for the tip from my fellow writer and FWA friend Chris Hamilton, who writes the FWA blog. Chris posted on my Facebook wall earlier to say nice things about my Publishers Weekly review; only thing is, I didn't even know I had a PW review yet!

In the words of Sally Field: "They like me, they really like me!" (PW was my only real negative review of Tell No Lies, so this review is extra special.)
Here it is:
"Rescuing Olivia Julie Compton. Minotaur, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-37876-9

Compton’s intense, entertaining second novel involves a horrifying coverup and a powerful new drug. A hit-and-run motorcycle accident in a Florida forest leaves Olivia Mayfield in a coma in intensive care and her live-in boyfriend, 29-year-old Anders Erickson, feeling guilty. “I was going to ask her to marry me,” Anders confesses to Olivia’s sympathetic nurse. Was the theft of the couple’s helmets from their parked bikes shortly before the crash just a coincidence? Had a car really been following them, as Olivia suspected? Olivia’s father, Lawrence, a pharmaceutical magnate who blames Anders for the accident, informs Anders at one point that his daughter has died. When Lawrence turns out to have a hidden agenda, Anders travels to Clifton, Conn., where Olivia grew up, and later to Kenya in search of answers. While sometimes stretching the bounds of credibility, Compton (Tell No Lies) pulls off a super-satisfying resolution to this romantic thriller. (Feb.)"

Thursday, December 03, 2009

My First Review of RESCUING OLIVIA!

And I couldn't be more pleased! The reviewer "got" it! :-D

"Modern-day fairy tale about a princely Florida lawn guy who must rescue his princess from a clutch of monsters.

"In the five months Anders Erickson has lived with Olivia Mayfield, he’s fallen ever more deeply in love with her and determined to propose marriage. But his plans are put on hold by a motorcycle trip to a special swimming hole at the edge of the Ocala National Forest that turns disastrous when someone steals his two helmets, someone runs his Harley off the road and sends its passengers to two different hospitals, and someone spirits off the comatose Olivia, tells Anders she’s died and expunges every record of her stay. The fact that these malefactors are three different people removes the tale from the realm of documentary reality and nudges it closer to fable. Yet once Olivia’s pharmaceutical-king father Lawrence and her ex-fiancĂ©, Iraq war veteran Brent Campbell, are established as the lead dragons, Compton (Tell No Lies, 2008) burrows so deeply into Olivia’s and Anders’ troubled back stories and dramatizes in such psychologically compelling terms the swain’s attempt to rescue his princess—aided by his friends Lenny and Shel, complicated by Lenny’s ex-wife Crystal, a born siren—that the result is a pleasing hybrid of fairy tale and contemporary thriller.

"Anders’ road is a long one, and the twists along the way won’t keep you on the edge of your seat. But Compton’s increasingly pointed questions about what exactly it would mean to rescue Olivia make the journey worthwhile." Kirkus Reviews

RESCUING OLIVIA reading at Blog Talk Radio

Today (if my voice holds out) I'll be on Blog Talk Radio reading a scene from my upcoming novel, RESCUING OLIVIA. My slot is between 1:00 to 1:15 p.m. Central, 2:00 to 2:15 p.m. Eastern. Check it out!

Link to show.

Thanks to April Robins for hosting this!

(If you don't get a chance to listen today, the archives can be accessed through the link.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Old friends, car washes, and lazy summer days . . . this one's for Hob

One of the best things to happen since being published is being able to reconnect with people I had lost touch with. So many old friends have contacted me after learning about my book through an alumni mag, or word of mouth, etc. (St. Louis is still a fairly small town.)

One of these friends is a guy I knew back when I was a kid. His house was the meeting place for all the kids in the neighborhood because he had a HUGE sandbox in his backyard with an elevated fort in the middle of it. (I had my first real kiss in that fort, though not from this guy!) I was a tomboy when I was little (still am, I guess), and I preferred to hang out with the guys instead of the girls (still do, I guess). The guys simply had more fun, IMO. They didn't gossip, they didn't hold grudges (if they got mad at each other, they tussled and then it was over), they didn't mind getting dirty, they played games that required running, and climbing -- physical things.

Anyway, my friend and I have been exchanging an email correspondence for some time now. He's an incredibly interesting person, and his emails are so entertaining. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, but always interesting.

His parents visited him recently, and I guess he must have mentioned that we were in touch, because his mom brought him some old pictures. He sent me a few, and this one in particular brought back so many memories.

Can you guess which one is me? LOL! The friend I've been corresponding with is the boy standing on the fender; the one who gave me my first real kiss is the boy right in front of the car. The little boy on the left is a younger brother of my friend.
Ah, memories. . .

Friday, October 30, 2009


You know, it dawned on me that I never posted my US cover for Rescuing Olivia here. I remembered to do it on my Facebook page, and hopefully my website will be updated soon to give readers much more information about the book (coming on February 2 in the US, May 7 in the UK), but for some reason I neglected my blog . . .

It's a very different type of image than the UK cover, but I think the two complement each other perfectly. This cover does a wonderful job of symbolizing the plot, while the UK cover captures the theme of the novel so well.
What I especially love about this particular image is how the road almost looks like sand, and the mirage suggests the ocean. And seeing as a large part of the story is set in Florida, well . . . you get the idea.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sorry Justice Roberts, but you're wrong

What am I talking about?

As reported by the Washington Post, the US Supreme Court in Virginia v. Harris recently decided not to take the appeal in a case where the Virginia Supreme Court overturned a drunk driving conviction because the arresting officer didn't actually see the driver breaking any laws, but instead pulled him over because of an anonymous tip that he was driving while intoxicated. Although many states have ruled the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure is not violated by allowing an officer to pull a driver over based solely on an anonymous tip, there are several states that have ruled such action is unconstitutional. Virginia is one of them. It ruled that without the officer seeing some erratic behavior on the part of the driver, he lacked a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to warrant the stop. Without that reasonable suspicion, the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure is violated.

In a dissent to the Court's decision not to take the appeal (the majority did not give a reason for its decision, which is common), Justice Roberts said: "The decision below commands that police officers following a driver reported to be drunk do nothing until they see the driver actually do something unsafe on the road — by which time it may be too late."

It's a tempting argument, one that appeals to the emotions and seems, on its face, logical. But in my humble opinion, it's wrong.

Of course we'd all like to see drunken drivers removed from the road, especially before anyone gets hurt, or worse, killed. Anyone who has been a victim, or knows someone who has been a victim, of a drunk driver understands the life-changing -- often life-ending -- damage so easily done by a drunk behind the wheel of a car.

But there are many wrongs we'd like to stop before they happen; there are many crimes being committed behind closed doors that we may never know of because, in this country, at least, the cops aren't allowed to enter someone's home or other "private" space solely because some anonymous person told them a crime was being committed. It's a slippery slope. If a police officer can pull someone over solely based on an anonymous tip, what's to stop authorities from arguing that they should be able to enter someone's home based on a similar sort of tip? Justice Roberts says drunk driving is different, but why? How is it any different? And if you think this is okay, you'd better beware your neighbor who's mad at you because your dog got loose on his lawn, or that co-worker who doesn't like that you got the promotion before he did. Or what about your wife's ex-husband? Maybe he still hasn't gotten over the split, and he wants revenge. Are you worried about your children being on the internet, and how the kids "flame" each other over the smallest slight? Imagine a teen who realizes she can create havoc simply with a brief, anonymous call to the cops.

There are those who subscribe to the argument that as long as you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about. I beg to differ. If this were the case, we could toss out the Fourth Amendment altogether. Spend some time talking to folks who come from other countries that lack the protections we have, who never know when authorities might be banging on their door, barging in to take a look around for no other reason than they "received an anonymous tip," and I think you'll come to understand the importance of this particular constitutional protection.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

RESCUING OLIVIA news, Rose & Thorn Journal, it's a busy day!

So much to share today! I should split it up into several posts, I suppose, but knowing me, I wouldn't get back to the blog for a week and then it would all be old news . . .

Rick's at Frankfurt Book Fair again. He attends every year, and some of you might remember when he went in Fall 2007, just before TELL NO LIES came out in the UK, he sent back pictures of the wonderful display Macmillan had of my UK book cover.

Well, in my opinion, Macmillan has topped the TELL NO LIES display (there are even lights this time)! These pictures of the RESCUING OLIVIA display, just in yesterday and today, are from Rick's Blackberry:

The one above is self-explanatory, but on the right, if you look close, in the background to the right, you can see the display of RESCUING OLIVIA in the context of the entire Macmillan booth. I'm lucky I have a husband who attends this fair for his job or I'd never even know these displays existed.

The other item to share is not only news, but it's also a recommendation. If you've never heard of The Rose & Thorn, you need to check it out. I've subscribed to the newsletter for this online journal for some years now, and it's always been a first class e-zine with some excellent writing, but the journal recently underwent a "renovation" and it's now better than ever. My new online friend and author of the Gumbo Writer blog, Angie Ledbetter, is one of the co-editors. I've been reading The Rose & Thorn for years, but I recently stumbled across Angie's blog and only learned she was associated with this journal after we'd exchanged a few emails. (These types of connections happen all the time to me. The writing community is smaller than most people think.)

Anyway, I hope you'll check out The Rose & Thorn Journal. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, October 12, 2009


I'm so pleased to be able to share the cover art for the UK edition of my second novel, RESCUING OLIVIA. My editor at Pan Macmillan sent it to me late last week, and I haven't been able to stop smiling. I'm thrilled with it! The designer did such a fabulous job of capturing the essence of the story with just this one image. (Of course, you'll have to read it to know why I say this . . .)

Though the US edition comes out on February 2, the scheduled release date for the UK edition (with this cover) is later -- May 7. I'll be sure to post if that changes.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why Writers Aren't Always the Best Speakers

Finally, an explanation for why I have no problem putting words to paper (or screen) that make sense, but I become tongue-tied when I try to talk about those same ideas.

Why Writers Aren't Always the Best Speakers

Friday, September 18, 2009

Susan Brown, up-and-coming writer to watch

I first met Susan Brown several years back when the leader of my writing workshops, Jamie Morris of Woodstream Writers, suggested Susan and I connect. Like me, Susan is an attorney, but also like me, she wasn't practicing law at the time. Instead, she was writing a humorous memoir about her online dating experiences.

Fast forward a few years. Susan is now married to one of the men she met through an online dating site -- a fabulous watercolor artist named Ed Brown (I'm the proud owner of one of his paintings) -- and living in southwest Florida. She's back to practicing law, but still writing. We keep in touch by email, periodically updating each other on what's happening in our lives. Recently, she shared the news that one of her short stories, "Full Moon Fish House," was a runner up in a local writing contest. The story was inspired by an actual fish house near their home that Ed had painted many times. The radio station that sponsored the contest, WRLN 91.3 FM, recorded Susan reading the story. You can listen to it at Under the Sun. It's an evocative, dreamy piece, so well-written, and Susan's voice is perfect for it. (There's also a picture of her in front of the fish house.) While you're there, you can also hear her read from her dating memoir, still a work-in-progress. The passage she reads from is a hoot; talk about truth being stranger than fiction.

Congratulations, Susan! Don't keep us waiting too long for more.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Interview at Angie Ledbetter's "Gumbo Writer" blog

I'm not even sure now how I first stumbled across Angie Ledbetter's wonderful "Gumbo Writer" blog, but it's one of the most entertaining blogs I've seen. Her topics are wide-ranging but always interesting, and her recipes will leave your mouth watering. (Check out the picture of the Lemon Chicken Breasts for a good laugh, too. Not only does this Louisiana lady have a great sense of humor, she claims it's the best chicken recipe ever. I plan to make it very soon and find out!)

Angie kindly asked to interview me, and she's posted the interview today. Click over and take a look -- her questions were some of the most unique I've been asked, especially the one asking me to tell a "juicy or funny story" about my writing journey. ;-)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

If I Were the Casting Director for TELL NO LIES

One of the most frequent questions I get about my novel Tell No Lies is: Who would I want to play the characters if a movie were made?

Well, thanks to Marshal Zeringue, I finally sat down and gave it some thought. Marshal has several different blogs devoted to books and reading (in the past I'd taken his Page 69 Test about Tell No Lies), and he recently contacted me and asked if I'd like to do a post for another of his blogs, My Book, The Movie. The premise of the post was simple. I simply needed to answer the casting question posed above. Answering this question, I found out, was not so easy.

So for all those who've asked me the same question, check out My Book, The Movie: Tell No Lies, to see which actors and actresses I chose and why I chose them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why I'll Never Forget Frank McCourt

I've told this story to many friends and have always wanted to write about it, but never did. With Mr. McCourt's passing on Sunday, July 19, 2009, I've decided it is time, if not overdue.

In the mid to late '90's, I was a young mother and an aspiring writer living in the Boston suburbs. I was new to the area and had become close friends with another woman, close enough that when I told her I was anxious to read Angela's Ashes, she agreed to lend me the copy she'd been reading. This was quite an act of faith because it belonged to her mother and had been signed by Mr. McCourt. She gave it to me with the admonition, "Whatever you do, DON'T let anything happen to this book! My mother treasures it and would kill me!" I assured her that books were precious to me and that I always treated them with care. Her mother's signed copy would be safe in my possession.

I immediately began to read the book and became enthralled with it. I couldn't put it down, and I mean that literally. At the time, my older daughter was in kindergarten, but the younger one, a three year old, stayed home with me. If she needed me, I went to her with the book still in one hand, sneaking in sentences and paragraphs at every opportunity. At some point, though, I set the book on the kitchen table, opened to the page I was reading, to do a chore at the sink. I don't remember what pulled me away, exactly. Perhaps I was preparing my daughter's lunch, or maybe I was doing dishes. All I remember is my daughter's voice saying, "Mommy, look! I'm writing a book!" or some such exclamation of pride. I looked over and, to my horror, my little girl sat at the table in front of the signed copy of Angela's Ashes, black Sharpie in hand, drawing with abandon on page after page of the book. I'm pretty sure I screamed.

I agonized over what to do. How could I tell my friend what had happened? An idea started to form in my head: what if somehow I could manage to get another signed copy? The first one had not been personalized, so I figured when time came to return the book, I could give my friend the new one, and no one would ever know the difference. But Frank McCourt had become the literary equivalent of a Hollywood celebrity. How, I wondered, would I ever get my hands on another signed copy?

Being a writer, I did the only thing I could think to do: I wrote a letter. A long, honest letter in which I explained the story I've just explained above. Then I bought a new copy of Angela's Ashes and mailed it, along with my letter and a self-addressed stamped mailer large enough to hold the book, to Mr. McCourt's publisher. I asked the publisher to please forward my letter, the book and the mailer to Mr. McCourt. And then I crossed my fingers.

To be honest, I thought I'd never see that new book again. I thought I'd finally have to go to my friend, groveling, and ask for her and her mother's forgiveness. But Mr. McCourt proved me wrong.

One day not long after, a package showed up in my mailbox. At first I didn't register what it was, but one look at the return address and I knew. The return address wasn't the publisher's. No, right there on the package was Frank McCourt's name and the address for his apartment in New York City. I was stunned.

Inside I found another surprise. Yes, he signed the new book and returned it to me as requested, but even better, he sent back my original letter with a small Post-It stuck to the front. On the Post-It I found a personal note from Mr. McCourt – the man who had written one of the saddest books I'd ever read – and to this day, I still cherish the note and the irony behind it. He wrote, simply, "Who could resist such a sad tale?"

Now a published author myself, I have since had the privilege of meeting some big names in the business, but none will ever thrill me the way Frank McCourt thrilled me when he took the time to write that one, clever sentence. Thank you, Mr. McCourt, and may you rest in peace.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Magic of the Internet

I received an email yesterday from a friend of mine, Margaret Reyes Dempsey, thanking me for my friendship and the support I'd offered her over the past year and sending me a link to a recent post she'd made on her own blog. I will admit to getting a little choked up when I read the email and the blog post. What a nice and unexpected thing she did! (To see why I had this reaction, read her blog post at Conjuring My Muse.)

The thing is, but for her generosity and taking the time to reach out to me, I would have never met her. She first contacted me after seeing a blurb in our alumni magazine about my first novel, Tell No Lies. (We both attended Washington University in St. Louis at about the same time, though we never met). She wrote me, a complete stranger but for our Wash. U. connection, to offer her congratulations. She went on to buy my book, read it, and then tell all her friends about it. As she explains in more detail in her blog, we stayed in contact by email, and then also through Inked-In, an online social network for writers, artists and musicians started and run by Joseph Hayes and Jennifer Greenhill-Taylor. I won't go into much more detail, because Margaret has explained it all in her post, but suffice it to say, you never know when one small email to another will lead to a much deeper friendship. By the way, Margaret's first novel, The Benefactor, is being released this November.

Another example of this is the email I received from a reader in Scotland, shortly after Tell No Lies was released in the UK in February 2008. Nick Klepper wrote to me and told me how much he liked my novel. Nick is the author of two nonfiction books about Romania, and at the time, he was working on his first novel, Serendipity, a psychological thriller. We continued to correspond by email. This August, after my husband and I had made plans to vacation in Edinburgh with a group of friends (again, see Margaret's post above!), it dawned on me -- hey, Nick lives in Edinburgh. So I contacted him and invited him and his wife to join all of us for dinner one night. He, in turn, invited me to be his guest at a Society of Authors luncheon during the Edinburgh Book Festival. All this because he happened to write to me after reading my book . . .

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Monday, May 04, 2009

ThrillerFest blog

When I attended ThrillerFest 2008 last July, I had the pleasure of meeting Carla Buckley, whose debut novel OUT OF THIN AIR will be released next year. If you're following the swine flu story closely, you'll definitely want to check out Carla's book. (Just a teaser there . . .)

Carla and I had a conversation over at the ThrillerFest blog today. We get silly as we talk about why we weren't too sure at first that we belonged at ThrillerFest. (ThrillerFest is a conference held in NYC each July for writers and fans of thrillers. If you love thrillers and mysteries, you'd love ThrillerFest.)

Here's the link. Check it out and join in our crazy discussion. ;-)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eliot Spitzer and the Science of Forgetting

I'm at the beach writing this week, but I'm due for a post and a blog post is writing, too, right?

The April 27, 2009 issue of Newsweek had a cover story on Eliot Spitzer called "The Confessions of Eliot Spitzer" and right above his picture on the cover, it says "How Could I?" The story is basically "A Year Later" type of piece.

I'm always interested in the stories about Spitzer and others like him, because they highlight the same question I tried to explore in my novel, TELL NO LIES: Why does a guy who "has everything" do something to screw it all up? What motivates him? The answers are different for everyone, of course, including for Jack, my main character, but I think there are certain traits they share in addition to the specific motivations they might have. There's a great sentence in Jon Meacham's "The Editor's Desk" piece at the front of the issue: "The route between political ambition and sexual hunger is among the shortest in human experience." It's also one of the most fascinating, I think, which is why authors write books about it and news magazines print cover stories about it, over and over again.

Interestingly enough, that same issue of Newsweek had a health article about "the science of forgetting." Why do I say "interestingly enough"? My second novel (tentatively titled HOW TO SAVE A LIFE), which will be out early next year, has a major plot line that relates to deleting traumatic memories from the brain. I don't want to say more lest I give too much away, but I'm starting to feel like someone at Newsweek is looking over my shoulder as I write . . .

Friday, March 06, 2009

ITW and Author Interviews

I'm a member of ITW (International Thriller Writers), and each month for ITW's online newsletter, The Big Thrill, I interview a fellow author who has a new book coming out. I've met some neat people doing this and have been exposed to books that I might not have otherwise known about. Funny thing, it never occurred to me that I should post links here to the interviews over there. (I have to thank fellow Floridian writer Blaize Clement for the idea.) I guess this explains why I didn't choose marketing as a career . . .

So today I'm going to play catch-up. Here's a list of the authors I've had the pleasure of interviewing for ITW so far (starting with the most recent) and the title of his/her most recent book, and from now on, I will try to remember to link to them as soon as they're available on The Big Thrill.

Sandi Ault, WILD SORROW (if you love the West, wildlife, the mountains, etc., you'll love her stuff. Critics do, too; she's the recipient of many awards and starred reviews.)

Blaize Clement, CAT SITTER ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Blaize was once a psychotherapist; in other words, her mysteries featuring Florida pet sitter Dixie Hemingway are more than cute cat capers)

Carole Nelson Douglas, BRIMSTONE KISS (for fans of paranormal fiction; PW gave it a starred review!)

Eric Wilson, FIELD OF BLOOD (the first in a vampire-themed series called Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy which explores "the extremes of religious thought and the emotional damage that comes from it")

Cheryl Norman, RUNNING SCARED (a page-turning thriller featuring a marathoner who not only runs for the finish line, but for her life).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Matt Rothschild, DUMBFOUNDED No More

The Washington Post called it "A family dysfunction story at its best. . . The former trustifarian's portrayal of his bold and brash, potty-mouth grandma is a hoot . . ." The Los Angeles Times said, "Funny and defiant." USA Today: "With genuine affection and brutal honesty, [Matt Rothschild] paints vivid, delightful portraits of the colorful characters who crossed his path."

The book that generated so much praise? Dumbfounded, by Orlando writer Matt Rothschild. Both heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time, Dumbfounded is Rothchild's memoir about growing up with his Jewish grandparents in a luxury Fifth Avenue building of WASPs after his mother left him for Italy and a fourth husband.

I first met Matt at a Florida Writers Association meeting. I was immediately struck by his self-deprecating sense of humor, and since then, every time I've seen him, he keeps me in stitches without even trying.
Matt was gracious enough to take the time to answer the some questions about his life and his memoir.
Julie: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer, and what made you decide to write a memoir about your childhood?

I’m trying to think if my Jackie Collins fantasy was when I decided to be a writer. As a kid there was something so terribly glamorous about her and all of those made-for-TV movies that were created from her books. Sydney Sheldon, too, and he really interested me because of all his work on "The Patty Duke Show" and "I Dream of Jeannie," because when I was younger I thought it might be fun to star in my own television series. It never happened obviously, and so I spent the better part of my childhood pretending I was on television, often posing for imaginary camera shots and memorizing imaginary lines.
I do have a brief memory of responding to a contest in Jack and Jill Magazine. I think you had to write some kind of children’s book, or maybe you just had to write a book, period. I was maybe six at the time. I did it on notebook paper and bound it in a three ring binder. So that was probably my earliest creation. Sadly, I don’t remember what the book would have been about.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I saw writing as really viable. At the time I was something of a lazy reader, really just reading anything that crossed my path. A friend had come out to visit me in San Francisco, where I was working the summer between my sophomore and junior years, and he left a book in my car, David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. Well, it took about a hot minute for me to fall in love with the book. It was after reading it that I knew what I wanted to do with my life; I wanted to write something that would affect people the way Sedaris’ book affected me. The problem, of course, was that I had no real idea how to write. So I found some materials about writing and saw that old truism: Write what you know! So what did I know? Not much, unfortunately. So I wrote a book about a isolated upper class delinquent who pretended to star in his own television series: Me.

Julie: There's so much detail about conversations with your grandparents, your mother, your teachers and friends (some hilarious, some tragic, some both). Do you have vivid memories of these events, or were you forced to recreate how you thought particular events or conversations might have happened? In other words, what process did you have to go through to write a memoir and feel that you'd told the story accurately? After the debacle with James Frey (A Million Little Pieces), were you nervous about it?

Annie Dillard has this great line in an essay about writing memoir that basically says every memoirist has two major dilemmas while writing: What to put in and what to leave out. I felt that acutely while writing Dumbfounded. I guess I had to decide what the real story was. The temptation with any story is to always start at the beginning, but that’s so rarely a good idea. The writer of any book (fiction or nonfiction) has to figure out the best way to tell their story, and sometimes you have to improvise. That said, I think most of us can probably remember twenty or so anecdotes that define our families. That’s what I did while writing Dumbfounded. I thought, Why am I like this? And the events within the chapters answered that question. Now, is everything 100% factual? The easy answer is no. How could it be? I mean, you and I could be sitting in the same room and experiencing the same events and remember the experience in two very different ways. Not only that, but over time, as we gather more experiences, our perspective shifts. That became difficult, too, while writing. Who was the narrator? Was he the boy going through the events, or was he the adult me looking back? So I had to take liberties. I chose which stories to include, and I chose which to leave out. Sometimes I could remember things vividly, other times I had to ask myself, What would he/she have said? It’s really not a far stretch to answer those questions for people you’ve known your whole life and think about every day.

I didn’t think too much about James Frey, because from the beginning I was always very up front about what I changed and what I left alone. I knew that certain things had to be changed, and that it was my responsibility to do that. It wouldn’t have been fair to keep some real names, etc. I think we have all done our fair share of tomfoolery that we are all sorry for, and who needs to be beaten over the head with a club twenty years later for it? Then there were the writerly things that had to be changed to streamline the narrative. That goes under the category of fashioning the text and taking liberties. Admittedly, some readers take a dim view of that sort of thing, and so I put it all in the Author’s Note. I figured the reader could decide for himself/herself if the book was worthwhile. So while I did change things, I’m not afraid to admit to it; nothing I changed altered the fundamental truth of the stories.

Julie: Were your grandparents aware that you were writing a memoir? Or had they already passed away when you started it? How about your mother? Has she read it? How did she react?

No, my grandparents had already passed away. In many ways it was their death that provided the climax for the book. I’ve often thought that if they were still alive, and I chose to write a memoir, the ending would be drastically different. As for my mother, I haven’t spoken to her in about ten years. I don’t believe she’s read it.

Julie: Did your experiences as a child bouncing around to different schools influence your decision to become a teacher?

I’m sure in many ways it did. In the classroom, I used my experiences as a troubled kid to relate with my students. We came from very different worlds, my students and I, but teenage angst is teenage angst. Most of the time, kids just want someone to listen to them and tell them they’re not crazy and to treat them with respect. That wasn’t the case when I was in school, and maybe if someone had done that for me, I would have been much less obnoxious.

Julie: Every writer has a "how I got published" story. Tell us yours.

I’ve known my agent Dan Lazar for the last six years. He’s been my agent nearly three years now. We first met through friends and when he found out I wrote, he asked to see something. I sent him a story I had written, and he asked if I had a book. At the time he was an agent’s assistant, and in his business an assistant gets promoted up to an agent if they can demonstrate that they have a good eye for talent. I was flattered, but didn’t have a book. Fast forward four years and I did. So I emailed him one day and asked how he would feel about having another client. By this point, he’d risen substantially at his firm. He was already a full agent and selling all sorts of titles for enormous sums of money. In response to my question, he told me he wasn’t representing friends because often friends would send him things he didn’t think was right for him and when he’d tell these friends that he couldn’t represent them the friendship would usually evaporate. I understood this and asked if he’d be willing to give me a referral, which he agreed to. He even said he’d critique my query letter. So I sent him my query letter and he emailed me back and said, “I changed my mind. Send me that book!”
After I sent him the book and he’d had a week to think about it, we spoke on the phone. He shared his editorial suggestions and they made sense to me. Essentially, I had to rewrite the whole thing, but he validated that the concept was good. So I rewrote a portion of the book to send to publishers, and then wrote the outline. (Memoirs are usually sold based on the strength of the first few chapters and the outline for the rest). I’d send Dan what I had and he’d comment/critique and then I’d go back to work. It probably took a couple of months. When the proposal was done, we tried to place some of the chapters as stand-alone pieces. Because I didn’t have any publishing credentials, Dan thought that placing the stories in magazines or newspapers would increase my chances of getting picked up by a publisher. We tried to place some stories for a few months and nobody was biting. Eventually Dan decided to send out the proposal anyway to see what people would say.

I have to admit that I wasn’t too optimistic. I had no idea what to expect, but getting a book published is such a long shot. But he sent out the proposal anyway, on a Wednesday I think. By Friday there was already initial interest from Harcourt. The following Monday there was interest from Harper Collins, Penguin, Algonquin and Random House. I spoke with each of the editors, and they were all so terribly nice. I remember being nervous, because I thought they’d be mean and be like, “Why should I publish your book, you nothing?!” But that’s not what happened at all. Two weeks later the book was sold to Random House, and two years later I still don’t think I’ve gotten over the shock.

Julie: What's next for Matt Rothschild? Are you working on another book? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Matt: As a matter of fact I am! It’s taken me a while to figure out what I wanted to write about next, but I think I’ve nailed down a story that I’m still firming up in my mind. It’s basically what happens after Dumbfounded ends, when I, through a series of random coincidences, end up being taken in by a family that appears to be the opposite of my own dysfunctional Rothschild clan, but who end up being more messed up than we ever were. It just took me being in their lives to bring out their dysfunction! It’s supposed to be funny, though. I realize that might read far less hilariously than it should. Shrug.

You can learn more about Matt and Dumbfounded at

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Close Call on the Motorcycle . . .Yikes!

Well, I had my first "close call" on the motorcycle. What a way to start the new year! It scared the heck out of me, but I think it's a good thing it happened because it's given me some confidence in my skills. It's one thing to react properly on the test course, when you know what "emergency" you're being tested for; it's another thing altogether to react on the real road, when the emergency comes when you least expect it.

Ever since I started riding, I've had this underlying fear of "What if I don't do what I need to do and was taught to do in an emergency situation?" One of my biggest fears, in fact, was that in a situation where I needed to stop quickly, I would use too much front brake and not enough rear brake and I'd end up flying over the handlebar. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I worried that in the heat of the moment I'd just react, and my reaction would be the wrong one. Well, this past weekend, my education was put to the test and I'm happy to report, I did what I needed to do. I avoided what could have been a bad accident and lived to tell about it . . .

Rick and I decided to ride the bike to breakfast. Usually, whenever the two of us ride together, he drives and I ride on the back, mainly because the ride feels so different with him on the back. Everything feels balanced so differently. I've ridden with both of my daughters on the back (not at the same time, of course), and that didn't affect the ride too much. But they're light. But having Rick as a passenger is a different story. We'd done a test ride around the neighborhood, and it just felt weird. But on Saturday, he encouraged me to be the driver. He told me he thought I'd done a good job on our neighborhood ride, and he had no qualms about letting me take the lead. And after all, it's my bike. Didn't I want to be the one driving?

So off we went. As soon as we turned right out of our neighborhood onto a two lane road, my emergency skills were put to the test. We'd been on the road for about a half a mile when, from another neighborhood exit on the opposite side of the road, a car pulled out into our lane without stopping to check for traffic. It wasn't even as if this car pulled out in front of us. No, it pulled out right at us. Stopping in time wasn't even an option. Somehow my brain recognized this and I knew that the only way we were going to come out of this in one piece was to avoid the car. But the only way to avoid the car was to leave the road. I remember thinking "well, I can ride across grass on my bicycle so I should be able to do it on the motorcycle" and so I just did it. I drove right into the grass and up onto the sidewalk. I brought the bike to a relatively smooth stop then, and unbelievably, not only did the car take off, it did so very quickly -- as if the driver knew what she had done (yes, I saw the driver, she looked to be about 25 years old, and no, she wasn't even on a cell phone) and didn't want to own up to it. Cars behind us stopped to check on us, and people on a walking/jogging trail on the opposite side of the road called over to us, too, to make sure we were okay. All shook their heads in disbelief at what they'd just seen. But the driver of the offending car just drove off . . . a top-notch human being, huh?

I'd always been afraid that if I ever had a close call like this, it would spook me and I'd have trouble getting "back on the horse," as they say. But surprisingly, I had no difficulty pulling back onto the road and continuing on our way. The incident was good for me, because it taught me that I could react as needed in an emergency. And it's made me even more careful about keeping an eye out for everything around me. I do this anyway -- they told us in our lessons that riding a motorcycle would make us better drivers all around, and that's definitely true -- but having something like this happen in real life is so much better than the hypothetical situations you learn about in class. Well, maybe better isn't the right word . . . how about "a more valuable teaching opportunity?"

By the way, Rick was wonderful. He told me I did a great job, and to my surprise, when we prepared to take off again, he didn't even ask to drive!