Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have Debra H. Goldstein talking about a childhood promise, high-powered careers, and writing.
When I was a child, I spoke so quickly I couldn’t be understood. My parents dragged me to professional speech therapy supplemented by reading poetry aloud every night. My favorite poem was John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Barefoot Boy.” It inspired me to never want to be confined in my thoughts or actions.
My resolution to think outside the box resulted in choosing to graduate college a term early, determined to immediately go to New York to try to accomplish two goals: landing a publishing job and getting on Jeopardy. Lest you not think me pragmatic, by day I looked for a job while at night I applied for admission to law school. Eight months later, my two goals fulfilled, I started law school. I figured down the road, I would mesh writing and law.
My first job out of school was as a corporate international tax attorney. I hated it. A year later, I gave up my big salary and benefits to become a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor. I loved litigation and kept my hand in writing by producing a number of boring legal articles and continuing legal education pieces. After a few years I reached a fork in my legal career—continue as a litigator or seek a federal administrative law judicial appointment. Many people advised me not to get my hopes up as I was in my thirties and the average age for a federal Administrative Law judge was fifty-eight, plus only thirteen women held the position in the country. I applied anyway. In 1990, whether because of luck, having tried an equal pay case of first impression, or I don’t know what, I became one of the youngest people ever appointed as an Administrative Law Judge. During the next twenty years, I carried a heavy docket, raised four children, was a wife, volunteered in the community, and continued to write legal articles and decisions. I also was the go to person for party skits, but other than occasionally commenting that I’d like to write, that was as far as my creative writing went.
In 2009, two friends challenged me to stop talking and actually write. One went so far as to loan me a beach condo for a weekend. I left that condo with eighty-five hand-written pages and the confidence I could write a book. Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, was published in 2011. It contained four or five pages from the original eighty-five. Between juggling promotional appearances, signings, my continued responsibilities as a judge, and making a consistent effort to write non-fiction and fiction pieces, the next two years flew by. I found myself joking that I had a day and a night job.
I started to feel I only wanted to do one of these jobs. When I announced that I was stepping down from the bench, my colleagues thought I was crazy. They pointed out that the last three judges to retire from our lifetime appointments were 89, 86, and 79. I responded that I had been on the bench twenty-three years and that with luck I might have the opportunity for my new career to last as long or longer.
Will I write the great American novel? Probably not, but I’ve been enjoying a very diverse new career. It includes writing non-fiction, fiction, and beach or bedside fun pieces like my 2012 IPPY Award winning novel, Maze in Blue, and the book I now am shopping, Should Have Played Poker: A Mah Jongg Murder Mystery, which recently won an Alabama Writers Conclave First Chapter Award. Whether this is my final act or an interim one, I know the variety of things I have done and people who have influenced me can all be tied back to the decision I made in childhood to never be pigeonholed.
Judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, civic volunteer, University of Michigan grad, and transplanted Yankee are all words use to describe Debra H. Goldstein. Her writings are equally diverse. Her debut novel, Maze in Blue, a murder mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the late 1970’s received a 2012 Independent Book Publisher (IPPY) Award. Even though Maze in Blue is a murder mystery, it is a safe bet that when it comes to her writing, “It’s Not Always a Mystery.”
Where to find Debra…
WOW! Thank you, Debra, for giving us glimpses of the beautiful life tapestry you have expertly woven.
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Loved this, Debra! I remember when you talked about stepping down. I had no idea it was from a lifetime appointment. Quel courage! We’r e having fun in our second (or actually third or fourth) acts, aren’t we?
Great insight into an interesting person! Loved the interview. (And it was fun seeing you at Killer Nashville, Debra.)
Thank you. Enjoyed getting to know you better at Killer Nashville and congrats again on being a Silver Falchion finalist!
Debra is an amazing women and a real inspiration for those of us looking to make changes in our lives. Thank you!
Ann, thank you for your kind words. The fun thing is we all have the ability to make changes as seen by many of Joanne’s other second actors. Again, I appreciate your thoughts.
Thanks for having me today! As part of my 2nd or 3rd Act, I’m off to Killer Nashville.