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In Conversation With Jerome Gold, Author of Sex, A Love Story
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Tuesday, May 4, 2021


Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Jerome Gold, author of Sex, A Love Story. Jeromehas published over 100 articles, stories, reviews and poems inliterary journals, as well as several books, most recently threememoirs based on his career as a rehabilitation counselor in a prisonfor children.

The first of these,Paranoia & Heartbreak: Fifteen Years in a JuvenileFacility (Seven Stories Press) was a finalist for the MontaigneMedal; the second, In the Spider’s Web (Black Heron Press),won a silver award from Foreword Reviews in the true crime category.

Jerome is also the authorof Sergeant Dickinson, a Viet Nam war novel published by SohoPress and favorably reviewed by the New York Times Book Review,Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Asian Wall Street Journal,and other journals and reviews, and In Georgia: A Yankee Family inthe Segregated South, a collection of stories and a novella. 

Jerome lives on FidalgoIsland in Washington.

Good day, Jerome andthanks for participating in our interview.

Norm: How did you getstarted in writing? What keeps you going?

Jerome: Thanks for havingme, Norm. How did I get started? Well, I’ve been writing off and onsince I was eight years old. In the third grade my teacher gave us anassignment to write a short story, and I wrote about my uncle who hadgone bear hunting in Michigan and had shot a bear after a harrowingadventure during which the bear had charged him.

It was all fiction—I wasfollowing my teacher’s instructions to make something up—but whenI read it to the class, they believed it was true, even with myinsistence that it was made-up.

More important for mylater writing career, actually writing the story gave me immensepleasure, so that occasionally over the years of my childhood I wroteother stories even when they were not required for school.

What keeps me going? Atroot is wanting to experience that pleasure again. I don’t knowthat I do experience it with such intensity any more, but I alwaysget a measure of satisfaction that borders on pleasure when I think Ihave written something well, or when I discover something in mywriting that I didn’t know I knew.

Norm: What is the onething other people always seem to get wrong about you? 

Jerome: About me as aperson? I don’t know. People don’t often come up to me and tellme what they think of me. At least not since the Viet Nam era ended.

But, regarding that periodalong with my writing—after I wrote Sergeant Dickinson (itwas originally published as The Negligence of Death in 1984; SohoPress brought it out as Sergeant Dickinson in 1999), I woulddo readings and book signings and there was often at least one personwho would tell me, or say to someone else within my hearing, thatthey found it hard to believe that someone who had fought in Viet Namcould write so well.

One man didn’t believethat I had written it, but didn’t go so far as to say that I hadstolen it from another writer. Some people believed that people whohad fought in Viet Nam were stupid; the proof of it was that they hadgone to Viet Nam when others had found a way to keep from going. Oneman said exactly that to me. 

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

Jerome: I don’t thinkabout my audience. For me, writing is an act of discovery, so Ialmost always write for myself. I should say that I don’t try topublish everything I write.

Some stuff is too close tothe bone for me to want to expose it to the public. But when I’mstymied about how to begin something, or what to do to advance thestory, I imagine myself talking to a particular person I knew manyyears ago and I write as though I’m telling him what I have to say.

Norm: What advice canyou give aspiring writers that you wished you had received, or thatyou wished you would have listened to? 

Jerome: I think writersshould force themselves out of their “comfort zone.” If possible,they should travel to countries where a language other than their ownis spoken.

The idea is to find apsychological place that puts them a little on edge. It is this kindof anxiety, of being on edge, that forces you to see the world as ifit were fresh.

Also, writers should readas much as possible. I am often shocked to find a writer who does notread, who may not even enjoy reading. I was at a book fair once andstopped to talk to a writer of crime fiction who had just publishedhis first novel with a major publisher.

I asked him which writershad influenced him—Dashiell Hammet? Raymond Chandler? Simenon? Hehad read none of the crime fiction greats. In fact, he said he didn’tread at all. “I just write,” he said.

Writers should readwriters who are the best, not only in their genre, if they are genrewriters, but the best of all who have written. The best are there tobe learned from.

Some writers may have todelay reading certain other writers—I was already in my fiftieswhen I read In Search of Lost Time—because they just aren’tready to absorb those books. On the other hand, I read War andPeace for the first time when I was seventeen, and I just read itfor the fourth or fifth time a few months ago.

A novice writer should aimto be as good as, or better than, the very best writer who everlived. He or she most likely will not achieve his or her aim, but itwill help him/her become a better writer.

Obviously I am not talkingabout writers who write only to make money. Actually, I am talkingabout writers who probably will make very little money, but who feelthat they must write, that writing is a calling, like a religiouscalling, not an avocation. 

Novice writers for whomwriting is a need should prepare themselves to make a living inanother way, and practice their “religion” before they go towork, or after they come home. 

I have found that it isbest to avoid working in management for a large corporation. Largecorporations want to own their managers, meaning they want theirmanagers to be available at any time at a moment’s notice. Theywant to own their managers’ time, when what a writer needs is timeto himself or herself. 

Norm: How did youbecome involved with the subject or theme of Sex, A Love Story?

Jerome: The subjectpresented itself through a phone call from someone I hadn’t heardfrom in 40 years. She and I had been close when we were kids. She hadhad a recent bout with cancer and wanted to talk with someone whoknew her when she was “full of myself,” as she put it.

We talked a number oftimes and also emailed. I began making notes on our conversations inmy journal, but soon I found myself making things up, fictionalizingour talks.

Then I started attributingto her things I’d heard about other people, or things other peopleI’d known had told me about themselves or about people they knew.

At first I tried to pullmyself back, to stick to what my friend and I were talking about, butthen I gave up on this and surrendered myself to writing a novel.Something in me was determined to do this in spite of myself. So Iguess you say the subject chose me.

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

Jerome: I wanted to showhow sexual attraction may lead to love. I think I accomplished this.Also I wanted to induce the reader to feel what my characters werefeeling. The book, you know, is a love story, but it’s also aboutjealousy and adolescence and entering the adult world.

And I wanted to show howkids without the advantages of financial security—my characters donot come from parents who are well off; they, both my protagonistsand their parents have to worry about money; my characters areambitious but not all go to college, and those who do go to acommunity college, which they can afford, rather than a four-yearschool—have to deal with the world. 

I think I was successfulin doing all of this. At least early reviewers appear to have strongfeelings about the book, both pro and con. One reviewer who refusedto review it let me know in an email what she thought of it.

She has a family-orientedTV show, and felt the book was not for her audience. But aninterviewer from the same part of the country felt the book wassomething that parents and their adolescent children should readtogether.

Norm: Please tell ouraudience a little about the book.

Jerome: Most of the storytakes place in Fullerton, California, in Orange County over atwo-year period at the end of the Eisenhower administration and thebeginning of the Kennedy years.

Another way of putting itis it’s the end of a period of a kind of conservative complacencyfor white people) and the beginning of the Sputnik age when theAmerican view of the world begins to open up.

Feminism has alreadybegun, though hardly anybody knows it; the Civil Rights movement islimited to the South; while American Special Forces soldiers havebeen in Laos, American troops have not yet gone into Viet Nam in anystrength.

The world is on the cuspof tremendous change, but none of the characters knows it. 

My protagonists are Boband Jen. They meet in a summer school class between their junior andsenior years in high school. Bob is at odds with his parents and Jentolerates her mother but adores her father.

Jen exudes hersexuality—she works at it—and Bob is attracted to her. She feelsvery secure in her own identity, as though nothing bad will everhappen to her, even though she’s aware that bad things do happen toother people.

Bob, on the other hand, isnot as sexually experienced as Jen, but has a more jaundiced view oflife, owing in large part to the kinds of work he does; he has beenworking at various unskilled-labor jobs since before graduating fromhigh school.

They begin dating andbecome intimate. What neither of them has much experience with arethe emotions that attach to intimacy. And what the book is about isthese emotions, which sometimes seem to have a life of their own, andhow these kids try to deal with them.

Norm: What was the mostdifficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most aboutwriting this book?  

Jerome: It wasn’t adifficult book to write. It took me only two or three years, duringwhich time I was working on another book as well.

Most of the novels I’vewritten have taken me many, many years. My first published novel,Sergeant Dickinson, took me fifteen years. 

What did I enjoy aboutwriting Sex, A Love Story? The ease with which it came to me.Even the editing, which almost always requires some hard decisionsabout what to take out and what to leave in, was not very difficult.

Also, I really liked thecharacters, especially Jen. Had I known her when I was her and Bob’sage, I would have been fascinated by her.

Norm: Are thecharacters based on anyone you know and how much of you is in thebook?

Jerome: The character ofJen was based on a real person, but within only a few pages in thebook, started to develop into “Jen,” who combines aspects of anumber of girls and women I’ve known as well characteristics Iinvented.

Much of Bob’s history ismy own history. All of the jobs Bob has in the book are jobs I had:agricultural laborer, assembly-line worker, ware houseman, and so on.And several of the situations I describe actually happened. Twoexamples: one worker attempting to kill another worker; and beingfired from a job so the foreman could hire his nephew to fill myposition.

Norm: How did youdevelop the plot and characters? Did you use any set formula?  

Jerome: No set formula.With all of my longer fiction, characters come to me unbidden.Sometimes it’s an aspect of a person I’ve known, sometimes it’ssomething that begins with a line or phrase that evokes a response inme that I will eventually attribute to one of my characters.

A woman I know once toldme about some odd behavior of one of her pets. She used the line, “Itwas very unsettling.”

Until she said that, Iwasn’t much interested in the anecdote. But that line did somethingto me, and it resulted in one of my favorite stories. 

I don’t think much aboutplot when I write. I think a lot about my characters. I have ageneral sense of direction about where I want them to go, but theysometimes go somewhere else.

If the direction they wantto go feels reasonable—that is, it feels natural to who they are—Ioften let them lead me. 

Norm: Are you workingon any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We wouldlove to hear all about them!)  

Jerome: I’m working on acollection of very short stories—“micro-fiction,” as it’scalled now. Actually, I may have enough now to make a book. Itincludes the story with the line, “It was very unsettling.”

I’m also working on ahistorical (early Cold War) novel based on a true story. A man I usedto know had been an intelligence agent in another country when theCommunists took over the government.

All foreigners were toldto leave by a certain date. He raced to catch a ship that he knew wasleaving, but missed it by several hours. Which meant he had to findhis way over 2,000 miles of hostile and potentially hostile terrainto get to another country where he would be safe.

That’s all I can say fornow. I’ve been working on this book for several years, and it willprobably be another couple of years before I’m ready to show itaround.

As always, I’m mostinterested in character, but in this case, the travails my friend andhis comrades (he hooked up with four others trying to escape) wentthrough make this book even more meaningful. Not all survived theordeal. 

The fictional aspect ofthe story is in the relationships with one another the charactersdevelop, and the psychological adaptations they must make in order toendure. 

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you and Sex, A Love Story?

Jerome: I don’t dosocial media. I find it too distracting. Readers can check out Amazonand Barnes & Noble.com. It’s not on my publisher’s WEBSITEyeT—but will be soon. There’s a fairamount about me and my books on-line. Just search for “JeromeGold.”

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

Jerome: Joan Didion,Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt (a political philosopher, not a writer offiction). A fourth, if I may be permitted to cheat, would be FarnooshMoshiri. All are fascinating stylists. More important, all areinterested the question, “How are we to live in difficult times?”All, in different ways, lived through difficult times. 

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

Jerome: Thank you, Norm.


 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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