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In Conversation With Author & Journalist Joel Samberg Whose Recent Novel, Blowin’ in the Wind, has just been published
From:
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal , QC
Wednesday, September 02, 2020

 

Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, author and journalist, Joel Samberg.

Joel began in journalismat age 17 as a stringer for his hometown newspaper on Long Island,and continued training in college as a reporter and arts reviewer

.

His first position aftercollege was as an assistant editor on a video trade magazine. He thenmoved into marketing communications for several firms as an accountexecutive, public relations manager and employee communicationswriter.

As a journalist his workhas appeared in Connecticut Magazine, Pittsburgh Magazine, NewJersey Monthly, Hartford Magazine, Dramatics Magazine, SeasonsMagazine, Bergen County Magazine, Moment Magazine and manyothers. He has also written humor and opinion columns for severalregional newspapers and magazines.

Joel is the author of thecoming-of-age novel Blowin’ in the Wind, as well as fivenonfiction books, most recently Smack in the Middle: My TurbulentTime Treating Heroin Addicts at Odyssey House (co-authored withDr. Gibbs Williams). His previous nonfiction was Some Kind ofLonely Clown: The Music, Memory & Melancholy Lives of KarenCarpenter.  

Joel had two originalplays come to life on stage, including Six Tens from a Fifty, aseries of short pieces performed by the Love Creek Theater Company inManhattan, and The Ballad of Bobby Blue, which was part of aone-act play festival sponsored by the Phoenix Stage Company ofConnecticut.

Joel has also produced CDsof the work of his late grandfather, Benny Bell, a comedy singer andsongwriter about whom he wrote a book in 2008, called Grandpa Hada Long One: Personal Notes on the Life, Career & Legacy ofBenny Bell.

Good day Joel and thanksfor participating in our interview.

Norm: Why do youwrite? Do you have a theme, message, or goal for your books?


Joel: There is only oneway to answer that, Norm, and I’ll leave it up to the world atlarge to decide if it’s simple honesty or naive immodesty.

The thing is, ever since Iwas a little kid, so much of what I saw, read in the newspaper,learned in school, overheard in the distance, or simply wonderedabout I turned—in my head, at first—into books and plays andmovies. I don’t know why.

That’s just the way itwas. So I began to look for signs to confirm that I should at leasttry to become a writer. There were a few. For one thing, I sent ascreenplay called Crooked Dreams to MGM when I was twelve.

Although it wasn’taccepted for production, MGM executive Roger Ahrens said to me in hisreturn note that I have “an imaginative style” and should feelfree to contact MGM in the future. (I still have that letter, ifanyone wants to see it!)

Then, three years later,my ninth grade English teacher accused me of plagiarizing a bookreport because she said it was too well written for a 14-year-old.She sent a note home to my parents. I did not plagiarize that report!That settled it: from then on I decided to devote my professionallife to writing.

There is no overridingtheme or message in my portfolio as a whole. My solitary goal is formy work to be effortless and enjoyable to read, and that afterreading it, people feel just a tiny bit better off for having spenttime with whatever it is that I wrote. 

Norm: What did you findmost useful in learning to write? What was least useful or mostdestructive? 

Joel: The most usefulthing was simply the desire to write. That led me to find a couple ofauthors to read voraciously and emulate. That, in turn, led me to alevel of passion, dedication, and skill that attracted the attentionof a few great teachers in high school and college who mentored andencouraged me.

Everyone should learn to be a competent writer becauseit’s important for business and social interaction—but if youhaven’t been dreaming about writing from childhood, and if youdon’t have the patience to think about the way every singlesentence sounds and how it fits in with the one that comes next, thenjust continue to write well but please don’t call yourself awriter.

Anyone can write well, butnot everyone can be a natural writer. Which brings me to a pet peeveof mine—vanity presses—but I’ll save that for another time,other than to make just one point: Many people who self-publishimmediately call themselves professional writers, even though theirskill is dubious at best.

To get back to youroriginal question, self-publishing (at least without an editor—andmost self-publishers refuse to hire an editor) is by far the leastuseful and most destructive way to learn to write. It’s leastuseful for the writer, and most destructive for the writingprofession. 

Norm: Do you thinkabout your reading public when you write? Do you imagine a specificreader when you write?

Joel: I rarely if everthink of my readers in terms of any sort of demographics. But as amatter of habit and as a self-directed prerequisite, I always thinkof my readers in terms of how they’ll get along with my prose.

Toward that end I alwaysreread the last ten minutes of my work as a reader, not as a writer.Is it a smooth read? Will any words or phrases trip up the reader?Does the prose accurately support my characters, the setting, thesituation? Is there anything that can cause my intent to bemisinterpreted (misplaced modifiers, extraneous commas, mixed tensesand narrative voices)? Am I talking down to my readers? Am I sayinganything that I’m familiar with but that my readers will findcompletely alien?  

Norm: In your opinion,what is the most difficult part of the writing process?

Joel: The most difficultpart? Believing you can make a fantastic living doing it to theexclusion of all else. That may sound a bit tongue-in-cheek, butthere’s some truth to it.

The writing itself, likeany job or art or hobby, has its good times and bad, its ups anddowns, its tranquility and challenges. You either accept it or youdon’t. Sure, some difficulty is built in, but that’s normal. Andif you learn how to handle the difficulty, it just adds to therichness of the final result. So it’s tough to call thedifficulties difficult, as counter intuitive as that may sound.

That said, the business ofwriting is an often uphill, frequently frustrating, always highlycompetitive, often sadly de-valued, and miserably underpaidprofessional endeavour. So if there’s nothing else you’d ratherdo, well, you either deal with that or you decide to be a miserableS.O.B. for the rest of your life.

Norm: How do you dealwith criticism?

Joel: By believing in andconcentrating on three things all at once: 1) That I tried my best,2) That all readers and reviewers have their own preferences, likes,dislikes, tolerances, and even backgrounds which sometimes play intowhy they like or don’t like something, and 3) that I’ve beenlegitimately publishing in one way or another for more than fortyyears, so a little criticism really isn’t going to prove anythingone way or another, or for that matter change me in any significantway.

If anything, it can helpyou improve (if it comes from a skilled, professional source).

Norm: How do you choosethe names of your characters?

Joel: Two things come inplay here. The first is that I seek character names that will providethe least amount of hesitation or confusion on the part of thereader—names that in the most important ways fit the characters,demographically, emotionally, and in various other ways.

Secondly, I think of aname that means something to me, even if it means nothing to thereader. If I can sufficiently justify a name in my own mind, I liketo believe that it translates to a subconscious justification on thepart of the reader. I’ll give you one example.

In Blowin’ in the Wind,the main character’s name is Daniel Hillman. He’s the youngestchild in a Jewish family on suburban Long Island. First of all, Iwanted a first-and-last name combination that sounded relativelyconventional but not overbearingly common, and one that was passableas being Jewish without hitting the reader over the head with it,since that wasn’t the most important theme.

I remembered back to whenmy wife and I were having our third and last child (in other words,our youngest). We, too, wanted a first name that was conventional butnot overbearingly common. We named him Daniel. (There were only twoother Daniels in town at the time.) So I borrowed his first name forthe novel.

For the last name, Iresearched Samberg, since the family at the heart of the novel was aslightly-more-than-marginal imitation of my own family. There is oneschool of thought that says the name Samberg is derived from ancientYiddish words meaning People of the Hills. So Hillman became Daniel’slast name. (I should also note that the town he lives in is calledWestbrook Hills.)

I use the same methodologyfor all my fiction writing, although the specifics change wildly fromproject to project. Of course, there are also instances where thetale dictates the name, such as a short story I wrote called “Funny,You Don’t Look Dead,” in which the two characters are called Mr.White and Mr. Black, who turn out to be God and Adolf Hitler.     

Norm: How do you dealwith the loneliness that comes with writing?

Joel: It’s never been anissue. When I’m writing, my characters keep me company. When I’mthinking about what to write or the potential aftermath of anything Ido write, my daydreams keep me company.

I’m fortunate to have anactive enough social life, a big enough family nearby, and plenty ofother responsibilities (so that the mortgage can be paid) toguarantee that I will never be left alone with my writing for toolong. It’s not exactly like “The Shining,” where I’m stuck inan empty, remote hotel for the entire winter with a weird family.Almost, but not quite. 

Norm: What do youconsider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in yourwriting career?

Joel: I’m proud of allthe writing I’ve done on Richard and Karen Carpenter, from theSeventies group, the Carpenters. Over the past seven years I’vebeen involved in a series of projects that were interesting,educational, fun, well-received, and even a bit instrumental inadding to the overall Carpenter scholarship.

It began with a report Iwrote and narrated for NPR’s All Things Considered. That ledto a lengthy feature article for The Downy Patriot, thenewspaper in the California town where the Carpenters lived when theybroke out as superstars. The theme of that piece provided the basisfor my own book on Karen, called Some Kind of Lonely Clown: TheMusic, Memory, and Melancholy Lives of Karen Carpenter, which hasmoved fairly well.

I felt honored that NeilSedaka and Petulia Clark agreed to read the book and providetestimonials. After that, a few other magazines asked me to writearticles, most recently a Connecticut quarterly called Seasons,for which I did a piece on the lack of memorials, monuments andtributes to the Carpenters in New Haven, where they were born. I wasalso asked to be a contributing commentator for a coffee table bookcalled Carpenters: An Illustrated Discography, by RandySchmidt.

It’s a gorgeous book,and I’m pleased to be a part of it. 

Norm: Can you tell usabout your newest novel, Blowin' in the Wind?

Joel: Blowin’ in theWind is a suburban saga about a musical prodigy named Daniel, and hisfamily, as they navigate the baffling decade of the Nineteen Sixties,beginning with President Kennedy’s assassination.

Daniel struggles with whatmany in his orbit consider his preordained destiny as a professionalmusician, while his shy sister Lori—the story’snarrator—discovers a surprising spiritual path to her ownself-fulfilment.

It has several incidentsmirroring my own childhood on Long Island, and a number of intriguingcameos that include Hillary Rodham, Don Rickles, John Gotti, KarenCarpenter and, in the book's most dramatic episode, Bob Dylan.

In a way, the book hadbeen in the making for more than fifty years—since I was Daniel'sage when the story begins. That’s when a classmate insulted me at aschool talent contest, an event not unlike the emotional one Danielexperiences in the novel.

Then the popular rabbi atmy temple was fired for infidelity, as is Daniel’s beloved rabbi inthe story. Following that, I received a rejection letter from MGMabout a screenplay I wrote when I was twelve, as I described before,not dissimilar to the note that Daniel gets from MGM about his ownscreenplay—although Daniel doesn’t take the disappointment nearlyas well as I did.

Norm: How did youbecome involved with the subject or theme of your book?

Joel: When I was six orseven, one late afternoon in the winter, I was down the block at mybest friend Scott’s house. We were playing outside. But I wasn’thaving a great time. Things seemed to be changing. Scott and I weregrowing apart.

We suddenly had differentinterests. Our families pushed and pulled us in different ways.Dealing with people and emotions was getting harder. I wanted to gohome, because I was confused about my feelings.

Scott begged me to stay. Irelented and said I’d stay until it got “one more darker,”meaning that I’d stay until it seemed like the sun went down just alittle bit more. Well, many years ago I wrote a book called OneMore Darker, about a boy who realizes that each year gets alittle harder than the one that came before—a little darker—andthat nothing ever stays the same. That book eventually morphed intoBlowin’ in the Wind. 

Norm: What were yourgoals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel youachieved them?

Joel: My goal was tocreate a family who could lead readers on an interesting journeythrough a fascinating decade, while at the same time addressing theage-old question: how do we decide what we want to do with our lives?

Although it’s almostimpossible for a small independent publisher (and a writer withlimited funds) to do the kind of marketing and promotion necessary tomake a nationwide impact, I can’t help but be pleased with thereactions, feedback and support I’ve gotten, and in that way I haveto say that I achieved my goal.

Don’t get me wrong: I’dbe far happier if I could achieve a broader impact nationwide throughmarketing, promotion, word-of-mouth, and increased reviews. But atleast the book is published and will be out there somewhere for alltime. There’s comfort and satisfaction in that.   

Norm: Did you write thenovel more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?Please summarize your writing process.  

Joel: The only logic,really, is the effort to make the story seem logical—notnecessarily to write always-logical scenes or even createalways-logical characters. That’s because sometimes there’s notmuch logic in the world, in why things happen, and what motivatespeople to do the things they do.

In that regard, I neverdepend on pure logic. As with most of my fiction, I already had abeginning and an end when I started. So, with a beginning and an end,I don’t know if it’s logic or intuition that helps bridge thetwo. I guess I’d call it creative mechanics.

My job is to find a way toget from the beginning to the end while keeping it fresh, engaging,surprising, and revealing. The only way to do that is to build scenesand situations one after the other, take them apart if necessary,rebuild them in a different order, replace some people and somedialogue, add other people and other dialogue—that kind of thing.It’s engineering, really. It’s physics. It’s mechanical. But itwon’t work without creativity running through the process.     

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you and Blowin' in the Wind?

Joel: You can type thename of the novel into Amazon’s search bar for books, or into thepublisher’s search bar at  BEARMANORMEDIA.COM

You can also visit myown AMAZON PAGE  which listsall my nonfiction work, too) or the novel’s DEDICATED BLOG

The blog features the entire first chapter (to help you decide ifthey want to really get into it), images from the story, and more. Ithink it’s a fun visit. The book is also listed on the Barnes &Noble website and other online booksellers.  

Norm: What is next forJoel Samberg?

Joel: I’ve completed twoother novels, Almost Like Praying and Remember Me to HeraldSquare, and right now I’m shopping both around for agents orpublishers.

Almost Like Prayingis about the family that lives across the street from the Hillmans inBlowin’ in the Wind, and concerns a devout Irish-Catholicmother, her relationship with her illegitimate half-Puerto Ricangranddaughter, and a startling revelation that comes to light aboutthe past.

Remember Me to HeraldSquare is about a young newspaper reporter in New York City in1984, his beloved high school sweetheart who is also in town tryingto become an actress, and the unexpected collision course on whichthey find their careers.

I also have a book ofshort stories, collectively called Weinerface (that’s thecollection with the story about God and Hitler) for which I’mtrying to find a home, and a proposal for a nonfiction book calledAlways: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Marriage, whichis about my parents.

When they met, my momthought my dad was rich, and he thought she was rich. Neither wasrich. Finally, I purchased the theatrical rights to Bernard Malamud’sclassic 1957 novel, The Assistant, and wrote a play version.

It’s completed. I’mvery happy with the result, but the pandemic has stalled theaternationwide, and when it’s over I fear everything will be backed upand producers will play it very safe. So The Assistant seemsto be in a bit of jeopardy, and that’s one of the saddest things toreport about my professional career. On the other hand, nothing willever stop me from writing. Writing is optimism.   

Norm: As this interviewcomes to an end, if you could invite three writers, dead or aliveinto your living room, who would they be?

Joel: Pearl S. Buck, ChaimPotok, and John Steinbeck.

Norm: Thanks once againand good luck with all of your future endeavors.

Reviewed By Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Norm Goldman
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
Direct Phone: 5144868018
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