Please welcome Jim Steinberg, author of Boundaries, to Genuine Jenn! We are super excited to have Jim take time out of his busy schedule to chat with us and tell us about his new book, writing and some of his favourite treats! Welcome Jim!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why/what inspired you to write? When did you start writing?
When I was a middle school teacher of Language Arts and Social Studies, I had to give kids creative writing assignments, and I had to evaluate them. I had no experience with creative writing, but I did love to tell stories. I had been a history student and had gone to law school and practiced law, both of which involve a quite different kind of writing. They require analysis aimed toward reaching "objective" or at least persuasive conclusions. That's quite the opposite of pure storytelling…and not nearly as much fun! As a teacher, I managed to get by, but I knew it would help to learn storytelling from the inside. So I enrolled in a summer institute at Humboldt State University: the Redwood Writing Project for teachers who teach writing across the curriculum.
One of our assignments was to write a "crystal memory." I fell in love with writing stories. Later I changed the crystal memory into fiction. It became the story "First Passage" and was published in The New Renaissance in 2002. It now appears in my second collection: Last Night At The Vista Café, Stories.
What was your inspiration for ‘Boundaries'?
Boundaries was inspired by two experiences: first, a law case I had when I was practicing law in the 1970's in Colorado Springs, Colorado for Pikes Peak Legal Services, a public outfit for impoverished clients; second, a chance encounter I had with a woman I met in a restaurant here on the Northcoast of California under very unusual circumstances in the early 1980's. My client in the Colorado case was a very powerful woman who had a great influence on me, and the case was very dramatic. The woman I met in the restaurant was really got my attention. I combined the two women into a single character - in a kind of writer's alchemy - for a story about a lawyer and a client who have a most unusual relationship. The story takes place mostly here in on the Northcoast where I live, but also in St. Louis (my birthplace and the birthplace of Ben Snow, the lawyer in the story) and Belews Creek, North Carolina, which I chose for the home of Sydney Bouquet, the client. The result was a story quite different from what actually happened with either of the women who provided me with the basis for the character and the inspiration for the story.
Setting and a sense of place are very important to me. Setting can have the emotional power of a character and can help reveal that character's emotions through his responses to it. So I chose places that are familiar to me and to which I have strong emotional responses. In a sense, I was inspired also by two landscapes and one cityscape that I dearly love.
What three words would you use to best describe Boundaries?
That's a tough one. I'll try these: crossing personal limitations
Can you tell us if you’re working on anything else at the moment?
I am working on a novel entitled Third Floor. It is the story of precocious Rachel and withdrawn Joseph. They are twins who at the age of seven create their own room on the third floor as a haven from the fighting that goes on between their mother and father at night across the hallway. With the complicity of their father, who finds their secret but wants to protect them from their mother, who they fear, they maintain their secret room until they are fifteen and too close. Then they are discovered and separated. Eventually they run away - not together - and remain apart for a long time, mostly at Rachel's insistence. She becomes something of a solitary young woman and a healer. Joseph becomes a mostly lost soul trying to find his sister. Their father's illness even later draws them back together. The story is something like a rite of passage and a reunion.
What was your very first book that you wrote?
"First Passage" was my first story. Boundaries was my first book. I put together the two story collections more recently, but I wrote most of the twenty stories before I began the novel.
Other than your own, what are your favorite books?
To Kill A Mockingbird is my very favorite book. The work of Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose and Crossing To Safety) ranks high. Also the work of Ian McEwan (Atonement), the work of Kent Haruf (Plainsong), and the work of Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient).
When you are writing do you like to listen to music? What is on your playlist?
I like to write with no music on. I need the silence. My music tastes vary from classical (Dvorak's Slavonic Dances is my favorite); to the modern, almost classical banjo of Bela Fleck; also Joshua Bell's violin and fiddle, and Rye Cooder and Jesse Winchester's songs; recently two relatively new bands: Carolina Chocolate Drops and Lake Street Dive.
Who is your favorite character in your books?
Now that's a good one. If I must choose only one, it must be Sydney Bouquet in Boundaries, but now Rachel Singer, one of the twins in Third Floor is in the running. She reminds me of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, though I wasn't aiming for that. I like strong women characters. Many of my short stories contain them, including some who fill the role of the point-of-view character. Sydney Bouquet is a very strong woman.
Do you ever take characteristics or nuances from close friends or family when working on character development and if so has that friend or family member noticed and what was their response to it?
Yes, I do that sometimes, but then I try to use their characteristics as springboards into entirely fictional characters. That is more because I want to give free rein to my imagination than to protect the person who might resent the resemblance and the characterization. This has worked for me. In a few short stories I have pushed the edge, but I've not gotten in trouble.
One famous writer - I don't remember who it was - said to write your stories as if everyone you know has been dead for one hundred years. It's good advice for one who wants to discover the emotional truth that hides in a story. I find that the emotional truth of a story is best found by turning it to fiction. Fictionalizing the facts can open doors to other situations from one's life and to situations never existed but that rise from your imagination. I do that, and I feel safe.
What’s your favorite treat?
1. Cheesecake 2. Pumpkin pie 3. Pecan pie
What’s your Favorite place to read/write?
I read poetry aloud in the morning in my eastern window when the sun rises.
I do my other reading mostly in my most comfy chair in front of my broad, high panel of windows in my living room. It's an oversized monster of a chair. In the day the blinds are drawn for the sunlight. At night they are drawn to make my living room a cozy den.
I write at my big oak desk on what I call the mezzanine. It has a railing from which I can look down into my living room and share all of its bright sunlight. I write strictly on my Mac. It has a wonderfully big screen.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Probably right here in Arcata, in Humboldt County, on California's Northcoast, in the redwood country 300 miles north of San Francisco. It's a terrific community in a beautiful natural setting, and it's a small university town.
My dream place would be Paris. Another dream place is the Scottish Highlands.
About the Author:
Jim Steinberg has been a lawyer, blacksmith, middle school teacher of English and Social Studies, college teacher of Criminal Justice, hippie, and director of basic law enforcement training at a community college. He now divides most of his time between his loved work as a mediator (thirteen years in a small private practice in his home and in tribal courts in Northern California) and his greatest love of the last two decades, writing fiction. He has published one novel, "Boundaries," and two short story collections: "Filling Up In Cumby And Other Stories," and "Last Night At The Vista Cafe, Stories." His current project is a second novel - "The Third Floor," a story about twins, a brother and a sister.
Jim's stories have appeared in Clapboard House, The Greensboro Review, The New Renaissance, Sensations Magazine, Cities and Roads, The Lone Wolf Review, The Bishop’s House Review, Voices From Home - A North Carolina Prose Anthology, and Best Of Clapboard House. He writes his stories to scratch the itches that rise up from within him, to answer the impulses that ask him to visit and lay them in greater repose. When these impulses arise, he finds himself at the beginnings of trails he knows he will follow with minimal planning and no synopsis, plot, timeline, or character description. He jumps right in and finds the stories, making each a discovery for him, the first reader.
Jim is a Fellow of the Redwood Writing Project of Humboldt State University and a founding member of the Lost Coast Writers' Retreat, a week-long gathering on the Mattole River on the remote Northcoast of California. For the last fourteen years he has described this time in a close knit writers' community as his best week of every year. He believes that writing stories is the best way he can get his hands around experience. He believes that the world would be a better place if everyone wrote stories because they all have them, and they are all worth passing on.
You can talk with Jim about writing stories on his blog: "Follow Your Nose Fiction, A Blog About Writing By A Guy Who Writes."
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~*Disclaimer: This post was written by Genuine Jenn. All opinions are honest and my own.*~