Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Interview with author Scott Kauffman

Novelist Scott Kauffman is here today to talk a little bit about his new coming of age historical novel, Revenants, The Odyssey Home.

Welcome, Scott. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My fiction career began with an in-class book report written in Mrs. Baer's eighth-grade English class when, due to a conflict of priorities, I failed to read the book, necessitating an exercise of imagination. Not only was I not found out, but I snagged a B, better than the C I received on my last report when I actually read the book. Thus began my life-long apprenticeship as a teller of tales and, some would snidely suggest, as a lawyer as well, but they would be cynics, a race Oscar Wilde warned us knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. 

I am the author of the legal-suspense novel, In Deepest Consequences, and a recipient of the 2011 Mighty River Short Story Contest and the 2010 Hackney Literary Award. My short fiction has appeared in Big Muddy, Adelaide Magazine, and Lascaux Review. I am now at work on two novel manuscripts and a collection of short stories. 

I am an attorney in Irvine, California, where my practice focuses upon white-collar crime and tax litigation with my clients providing me endless story fodder. I graduated summa cum laude from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and in the upper ten percent of my class from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, where I was a member of the Environmental Law Review and received the American Jurisprudence Award in Conflict of Laws.

Please tell us about your current release.
When a grief-stricken candy striper resolves to return home a nameless veteran of the Great War, she must overcome not only his reticence to reveal his past but the skullduggery of a local congressman who controls the hospital as part of his small-town political fiefdom. Revenants is a coming-of-age retelling of Homer’s Odyssey about Betsy’s struggle to regain meaning in her life following her brother’s death in Viet Nam by returning home a war-disfigured patient the VA hospital has secreted away for fifty years. Hidden and forgotten. Almost. Because standing in her path is Congressman Hanna who knows her patient’s name. A name that if revealed would end his congressional career and destroy his marriage. Complicating Betsy’s struggle is her patient’s refusal to surrender his name. Yet he is compelled by his need for contrition to tell his story, dropping clues as to the boy he once was, about the girl he left behind, that Betsy must puzzle together before Hanna discovers she has learned his secret. While not an historical romance novel, a forbidden love, revealed near the end of Revenants, drives the plot. If I have piqued your readers’ interest, they can read the first two chapters on BookBuzzr by going to my website and scrolling down to the lower right-hand corner:

What inspired you to write this book?
Literary inspiration came from Johnny Got His Gun, Legends of the Fall, and The English Patient. Personal inspiration came in part from my late-wife’s uncle who may have been the last American combat death in Viet Nam and is the only American to have died on an MIA recovery mission. Also, I came of age during the Viet Nam war. From 1963 to 1975 it was television and front-page news every day. I only missed getting shipped to Viet Nam myself because I pulled a high enough number in the draft lottery.

Excerpt from Revenants, The Odyssey Home:

January 1984
Just twelve more days to Christmas and I was totally jazzed. Exams ended on a Wednesday, and I absolutely knew I’d aced all of them, even that stupid head cracker in geometry that Lisping Larry Lehman threw at us. Now I was done until the new year that I knew – absolutely knew – would be my greatest ever.
Even better, winter came early. Like it was God’s special reward for a job well done. Almost never did we get much snow and it didn’t get super cold before at least January, but on the day after exams it snowed over a foot, and then the temperature dropped below zero at night so we could go sledding and ice skating at Hanna Park where I’d get to see Billy Hufnagel every day just like if we had classes except without the Gestapo hall monitors eyeballing us to make certain we weren’t holding hands. I mean really. I dare you to name me one girl who ever got herself knocked up while holding hands.
My fuddy-duddy parents wouldn’t let me go steady with guys until I turned seventeen, but Mom said that year I could invite Billy over on Christmas Eve for hot spiced cider and caroling around the piano. Who knows? Maybe he’d slip me a friendship ring, but if he did I’d have to wear it on a chain with my lucky locket so Mom wouldn’t have a cow and make me give it back.
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .
And I knew – absolutely knew – under the tree on Christmas Eve would be a pink cashmere sweater from Fitzpatrick’s I’d been drooling for since September and a silver ID bracelet with “Betsy” engraved on it and maybe because it’d gotten so cold an ice-skating skirt so I could show off my thighs I’d toned up from cheering. But the best presents were on their way. The best presents year-in-year-out came in a box from my brother Nathan.
Nathan was the best. A grownup who hadn’t quite gotten the hang of growing up. When he came home we cruised the neighborhood in his cherry-bomb Barracuda with Tavo his poodle who he never once duded up at the groomers but let his fur grow and grow until Tavo looked like this disembodied Afro waddling about on four legs. If Nathan needed to be somewhere, he’d pay me five dollars to watch him. I would’ve watched him for free, but I didn’t turn down the cash either because when you’re a kid you’ve never sufficient operating capital for necessities like hot chocolate when ice-skating and you can only hustle so much babysitting. Then me and Nathan would go to the Dairy Queen, sometimes twice in the same day, and afterwards, when I was smaller, he’d drive us over to Hanna Park where he’d carry me to the playground shrieking on his shoulders or when I got older if it was summer and sometimes even in winter he’d drop the top down and crank up the radio, and we’d belt out the lyrics, getting these weird looks from other drivers.
Be-be-be-Bennie and the Jets.
Nathan’s boxes, like him, were the best. They didn’t arrive with little-girl stuff anymore but for the woman he saw me becoming. Like the year before his box had this gold watch that Mom said I couldn’t wear every day but only for weddings and the spring prom and stuff. With it came this dozen-drawer jewelry box hand crafted out of ebony, and inside one of its tiny drawers was a pair of half-carat diamond earrings, but Mom said I still had to wait until I was seventeen – what was it with her about me turning seventeen – before getting my ears pierced?
Nathan’s boxes were just so boss, but I always worried they might not make it. No need for me to have worried that Christmas. The one holding his Distinguished Service Cross came with a commendation telling us that on December 13, 1973, his helicopter, part of the Joint Casualty Resolution Center and identified by three orange stripes, took off before dawn from its base in Thailand to search for MIA’s at a crash site in Bin Chanh, twelve miles southwest of what was then Saigon. Nathan and his men, all Special Forces veterans, wore fatigues emblazoned with orange pockets and insignia identifying them as members of the Four-Party Joint Military Team. There was this sort-of-ceasefire in place, and an American delegate to the Paris Peace talks informed the North of the mission a week before. They’d no more than touched down when a Chinese B-40 rocket exploded inside the cockpit, and he and the handful of survivors came under intense machine gun and small arms fire from thirty-some Viet Cong concealed in a row of palm trees. Though pinned down, Nathan stood up, hands raised. Không có vũ khí. Unarmed. Không có vũ khí.
Three days after the American delegate to the Paris Peace talks threw Nathan’s bloodstained jacket across the negotiation table and the day after the honor guard lowered his casket into the frozen earth at the cemetery overlooking Hanna Park, his Christmas box came. The doorbell rang, and I ran stocking-footed downstairs where Mom slumped against the front door, crumple-faced and still dressed in her flannel nightgown because she slept a lot now, the night’s snow wisping over her pale legs, Nathan’s white-dusted box on the porch behind the postman who knelt beside her.
Ma’am? What is it? Ma’am?

What exciting story are you working on next?
Chips Pushed Forward: Before a grief-stricken bounty hunter risks the wrath of the Midwest mob that hired him to track down their fifteen-year old runaway, he must come to terms with his culpability for the suicide of his teenage daughter.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The day my first book was accepted by a publisher: In Deepest Consequences.

Do you write full-time?
I wish.

What do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write early in the morning. My law practice and my writing consume much of my time, but I do read, listen to audio books, and run. I try to work in a ten-miler on weekends.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I enjoy listening to sacred choral music, particularly from the baroque (think Bach, Handel) and Renaissance periods. Just so sublime it makes me more contemplative.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A foreign correspondent. That changed in college (the Watergate era) when half my class went into journalism and other half to law school. We were so idealistic we thought we were going to change the world, which we did, just not the way we set out to do. Talk about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Only to thank them for making it this far.


Thanks for joining me today, Scott.

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