Tuesday, May 1, 2018

New interview with novelist Tom Corbett

Novelist Tom Corbett has come back to Reviews and Interviews and today we’re chatting about his new work of fiction, Palpable Passions.

Tom Corbett is an Emeritus Senior Scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He holds a Doctorate in Social Welfare and has both taught social policy at the University and has consulted on policy issues at all levels of government in the U.S. and Canada. His most recent books include Tenuous Tendrils; The Boat Captain’s Conundrum; Ouch, Now I Remember; Browsing through My Candy Store; and The Other Side of the World. He lives with his spouse of 46 years, Mary Rider, in Madison Wisconsin.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Tom. Please tell us about your newest release.
It is titled Palpable Passions. This is a story about how our surrounding culture can prevent us from achieving our dreams and how the human spirit can break those cultural chains. The narrative focuses on two families, one born in privilege in America and the other struggling under the Taliban regime in Kabul. Circumstances bring the two together in the Panjshir Valley of Northern Afghanistan as Osama Bin Laden attacks the United States. The unanticipated connections they make in this remote part of the world helps members of each family find renewed hope to pursue their private destinies. From despair, each finds a path toward realizing the personal passions within, passions they once thought beyond their grasp.

What inspired you to write this book?
I have always been interested in the notion of culture, how it shapes who we are and how some find a way to achieve much either because of it or in spite of it. As an academic, I focused on how phenomenon such as institutional and professional culture informs how we go about our professional lives. As an observer of life, I looked hard at my own past and how I escaped from the tenets and the binds of my own cultural milieu. In this work, I look at two very different families who seek to realize what burns inside them despite political and relational impediments. It is a universal story of finding oneself.

What’s the next writing project?
I have several projects on tap. I am updating and revising an earlier professional memoir, Browsing through My Candy Store, that will be republished this year. I have started a sequel to my latest fictional work, Palpable Passions, that is tentatively titled Original Obsessions. That sequel continues the struggle of Azita Masoud to pursue her dreams and that of Christopher Crawford’s efforts to confront his father’s right-wing politics. A third project involves a possible collaborative work with Peter Adler who also served in the Peace Corps in India in the 1960s.We have been encouraged to turn our earlier works on our Peace Corps experiences into a witty exploration of young Americans stumbling around trying to save the world. Finally, a colleague from the University and I are being asked to publish a second edition of an academic work on Evidence-Based Policymaking. It is a good thing I am retired.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
After two fictional works, I find that genre fundamentally different and uniquely challenging. For me, it is like creating a little symphony. I strive to balance several attributes of what I consider good story telling…pace of plot, depth of character, humor and drama, broad appeal intertwined with substance and intellectual gravitas. It is far easier to write an academic work or a memoir, they flow off the mind. I was taken with a comment from a reader recently who wrote that I…” make her laugh a little and think a lot.” That is perfect.

If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
After seven decades of experiences, I have a lot to draw upon. In Tenuous Tendrils, I drew upon my experiences in academia and the anti-war fervor of the 1960s. In Palpable Passions, I drew on my own experiences living in a remote village in India for two years in the Peace Corps. My works integrate drama, humor, and substance. I delve into serious political and social issues without getting bogged down. A lifetime of debate in the academy and struggling with serious social problems has refined my skills in that area. In the end, aids like the internet and Google Earth help where needed. I tend to reference some things once I have decided on a narrative.

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
Not so much a spot as a pattern. At night, as I am falling asleep, I tend to focus on where I am in the narrative. As my brain begins to relax, I let it imagine several alternative paths for pushing the story forward, weighing the alternatives according to my balancing act mentioned above. When I like one, I go over it several times in my head since I am afraid I will awake in the morning and not be able to recall my previous evening’s insights. I try to get back to writing as soon as a I awake in the AM. Once started on the day’s writing, it takes care of itself.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
I like biographies, historical works, and political commentary. For fun, I do like mysteries, particularly period pieces such as those by Ann Perry or the classics such as Agatha Christie.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
I feel very fortunate to have time to embrace my writing muse at this point in life. Growing up in a rough, working-class neighborhood, becoming a writer was not a common aspiration. I did put that dream on hold as I stumbled into a career as a policy guru and academic. I have no regrets. I often say that I was very fortunate to be able to fly around the country working on society’s most difficult issues while working with the best and the brightest. I also got the opportunity to teach very bright students at the University of Wisconsin. And they paid me to do it. Getting back to my first love is the icing on the cake.

Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!

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