Tuesday, November 27, 2018

New interview with author Tom Corbett

Welcome, Readers. I’m happy to have Tom Corbett back for a new interview. Today we’re chatting about his humorous memoir – Confessions of a Clueless Rebel (along with a companion book titled Confessions of a Wayward Academic).

Tom Corbett is emeritus Senior Scientist and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he served as Associate and Acting Director for a decade before his retirement. He received a Doctorate in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin and taught various social policy and program evaluation courses there for many years. During his long academic and policy career he worked with governments at all levels including a stint in Washington D.C. where he helped develop President Clinton’s welfare reform legislation. He has written dozens of articles and reports on poverty, social policy, and human services issues and given hundreds of talks across the nation on these topics. In addition, Dr. Corbett has consulted with numerous local, state, and federal officials on various poverty, welfare, and human services issues both in the United States and Canada. He also has testified before Congress, worked directly with the Wisconsin Legislature on important legislation, and served on an expert panel for the National Academy of Sciences. Now retired, the author lives with his wife of 46 years, Mary Rider, and their lovable Shih Tzu dog, Rascal, in Madison Wisconsin.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Tom.
Thank you so much for inviting me back.

Please tell us about your newest release.
Confessions of a Clueless Rebel is a coming of age story where I trace the profound transitions that I experienced in the 1950s through the 1970s. The story is told with great sensitivity and humor but also contains serious lessons and insights. It demonstrates that everyone is capable of enormous change and growth and even success against all odds. I was raised in a very confining Catholic, working class, ethnic neighborhood where I showed absolutely no promise early on and seemed destined to an average life of no consequence.

Instead, I enjoyed, or perhaps endured, a series of transformational experiences including a stint in a Catholic seminary, radicalization in college, and service in the Peace Corps, among several other adventures. The author both captures the times perfectly and explores the inner growth and development he enjoyed as he forged his own unique world view and purpose in life. As such, it is a story for everyone yet totally unique.

The first Amazon reviews (all 5-stars) talk about how much the readers laughed at the author’s early struggles with life and Catholic girls along with the entire range of emotional responses to the challenges and frustrations faced as the more daunting impediments of life were confronted. One reviewer characterized the reading experience as a roller coaster ride of emotions. That it is. In the end, though, it is a tale of triumph over one’s limitations, a tale of inspiration to all who feel they have little to contribute to the world.

At a deeper level, beyond the humor, here is a more profound story to be found. What should we make of the culture that surrounds and shapes us, particularly in our formative years? Is it a prison or a springboard from which we are to seek our own identity and direction?

What inspired you to write this book?
The deep origins of this work started with my work to develop two edited volumes recounting the experiences of my Peace Corps group (India) from the 1960s. That exercise got me thinking more broadly about my own life and growth. I initially wrote a memoir of my professional life as I struggled with the political and policy battles over what to do with welfare and the poor in recent decades (Confessions of a Wayward Academic). It as a seminal time in our nation’s poverty policy history and I as at the very center of it. It was a view of doing policy from one who did it on the front lines though at a high level.

I realized, though, that was only part of the story. How did I get to become a nationally known policy guru given my extremely humble origins? As a young kid, after all, I as put in a class with the slow kids in my working-class elementary school, not an auspicious start. That story begged to be told, not just because it was fascinating but because it might inspire others. Above all, it is a story shared with great humor and unabashed honesty. If you cannot laugh with as I recount my early speed bumps in life, you clearly take life way too seriously.

What’s the next writing project?
I am well into a sequel to my last fictional work, Palpable Passions. It is tentatively titled Ordinary Obsessions. My publisher says it is superior to the first volume which was well received. I am planning a third volume to make this a trilogy.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
Other writers talk about writer’s block and other such hurdles. For me, writing is pure joy. I experience a form of depression when a project is completed and cannot wait to get into the next one. Oddly enough, I wanted to write even as a young kid though no one in my rough and tumble, working-class world had such ambitions. However, I as way too busy as an academic at a top-level research university and nationally known policy expert. Now I have the time and opportunity to explore my childhood dream.

If I have any frustration, it is that I hate marketing my works. I want to keep writing.

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?
Though all of my works are infused with humor, substantive content and commentary on important policy issues are woven into the narrative. Since I helped run the pre-eminent social policy academic research unit in the country, and taught policy courses for many years, I don’t have to do much additional research. Still, I sometimes need to reacquaint myself with local sites or update myself on emerging political controversies and characters. I do that as I go along.

Writing is a protean process for me. I have a general idea of here I am going but the journey is not laid out in detail. In my fictional works, characters and plot twists take on a life of their own.

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.
No special spot, wherever I am comfortable with my laptop. Of course, it must be a spot that will accommodate my dog who insists on cuddling next to me.

In truth, whether for memoirs, policy works, or fiction, ideas and narrative are constantly floating through my head… in bed trying to sleep, walking the dog, simply having a cup of coffee. The creative process never stops. Also, the itty, wry sense of humor found in all my work comes naturally to me. It is me.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
No particular authors. However, I like mysteries, biographies, and works on political and policy issues.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
One reader commented on my books, “he makes me laugh a lot and think a little.” Good enough for me.

Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!

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