Sunday, April 15, 2012

Interview with Debra H. Goldstein

Cover image of Debra Goldstein's Maze in Blue.


Debra H. Goldstein

1) When did you begin writing?  Why?

I first began writing stories, skits, and poems when I was a child.  I had no idea that everyone didn’t write because it was just something I had to do.  My first acclaimed poem was written for a first grade Thanksgiving play.   I was given the role of the announcer, but I wanted more lines so I wrote a poem and convinced the teacher to let me recite it between Act I and Act II.  The result was that I wrote myself into the biggest part in the play.

2) When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

Although Maze in Blue is a mystery, my writing, like my blog, can be characterized as “It’s Not Always a Mystery.”  For years, I only wrote party skits and legal articles.  My legal writings were published in journals including The Alabama Lawyer, The Journal of Higher Education, and The Addendum.  I didn’t pursue non-legal writing until a few years ago when the husband of a friend took me aside after hearing a run through of a skit I had written for a leadership group graduation.  He commented at how well I had caught the personalities and voices of the members of our graduating class and encouraged me to do some more informal writing.  His unsolicited compliment and the fact that the activities of my four children no longer took up most of my non-working time made me realize that I wanted to write more seriously. 

I started by writing short pieces.  My non-fiction essay, “Maybe I Should Hug You” received a 2009 Alabama Writer’s Conclave Award.  A retooled version of that piece was published as “More Hugs Less Fear” online by MORE Magazine in April 2010.  As I evolved into writing more humorous fiction, my legal background started finding its way into my stories.  In September 2010, “Malicious Mischief,” won second place in the Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference Short Story contest.  “Legal Magic” won a 2011 Alabama Conclave Writers Humor Award.  Maze in Blue is my first full length novel.

For me, fun and escape comes from reading a mystery.  Whether a thriller, cozy or suspense novel, I love the challenge of trying to figure out whodunit.  Consequently, when I decided to write a book, there was no question that it would be a mystery.

3) Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?  Explain your basic idea for your series.

Maze in Blue is the first book in the Denney Silber series.  In Maze in Blue, headlines scream “University of Michigan co-ed murdered” and the intrigue begins.  All senior Denney Silber wants is to enjoy football games, sorority parties, and concerts – plans that go awry when her friend is murdered in the office of the faculty member Denney most despises.  Compelled to find her friend’s killer, Denney soon learns she can’t trust friends, teachers or even the cute guy in Poetry 331.  What she is sure of is that friends don’t kill friends.

The basic idea for my series comes from talking with my characters.  As they quickly explained to me, they couldn’t be part of stories about lawyering or judging until they experienced life as undergraduates.  My goal in the series is to see life through their eyes as they finish college and move on grad school and work while experiencing the life cycle events we all are familiar with.

4) Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

The background story of Maze in Blue being published is I periodically worked on it for several years, but it wasn’t ready for submission when I began writing short stories and non-fiction pieces for competition in 2008.  “Maybe I Should Hug You” won a 2009 Alabama Writer’s Conclave Non-Fiction Award and was published online in 2010 as “More Hugs Less Fear” by MORE Magazine.  Two short stories, “Malicious Mischief” and “Legal Magic” won other competitive awards.  In 2010, as president of The Women’s Network, I moderated a panel of women who each had published a book through different types of publishers.

Although I prefer to be a neutral moderator, when I asked for audience questions, the first one was directed to me:  “Tell us what you’ve been writing?”  Embarrassed, I told them about the “Maybe I Should Hug You” award and its subsequent publication.  I tried to guide the next question back to the panel, but I was commanded to “Tell us what you’re working on now.”  I responded I had a mystery finally ready to be submitted.

I thought nothing of my offhand remark, but two hours later my blackberry had a message indicating a person in the audience had called her best friend, the co-owner of a small publishing house, and told her “There’s a judge with a mystery and I’ve seen her writing.  You might want to look at the book.”  The publisher offered to read my manuscript.  I jumped at the opportunity.  One week after receiving the manuscript, she sent me an e-mail saying “My partner, Joy, and I have read Maze in Blue and would like to offer you a contract.”  Without an agent, I signed a two book contract.  I performed their requested rewrites and Chalet published the book.

5) Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?

I chose to set Maze in Blue on the University of Michigan’s campus because I fell in love with the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan when I was a student there in the 1970s.  Places like the Diag, Markley, Angell Hall, and the Michigan Law School quadrangle each hold special memories for me that I want to share with others.  When I realized my characters needed to experience life as undergraduates before they could attend law school or go to work, there was no better place to send them to college than the University of Michigan (although my husband, whose blood runs Crimson, and a few of your readers might dispute this).  

Maze in Blue’s main purpose is to be fun for the reader.  It is meant for a reader who wants to enjoy a fast paced book at the beach, on a place, or before bed.  Although Maze addresses behind the scenes issues found in academia, domestic violence and friendship, it does so while the reader is enjoying concerts, sorority life, and the University of Michigan of the 1970s with Denney Silber and her friends. 

6) How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

Since the publication of Maze in Blue, I have been on a magical ride.  I have met so many wonderful and kind people either in person or online that I never would have had the opportunity to become friends with.  Although it is sometimes difficult to juggle being a full time sitting judge and family obligations with the marketing required for a new book, it has been a joyous balancing act.

7) Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

I’m a little shy on this one…….go to my Reviews Page on my website, and pick and choose what you want to quote.

8) What other books have you published and where, when?

Maze in Blue, a murder mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, is my debut novel.

9) Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

I am working on the next book in the Denney Silber series, another mystery series based two characters from short stories I have written, and a women’s fiction piece that is a cross between Gaffney’s The Saving Graces and Ephron’s I Hate My Neck.

10) If you belong of Sisters in Crime, and /or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How?

I am a member of Sisters in Crime and a Guppy.  Both have been helpful to me because of the support and encouragement I have received and because of the wonderful information that members generously share through the websites, e-mails, message boards, books, and In Sinc [Sisters in Crime quarterly newsletter].

11) What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

The experience of interacting with writers and readers and to be a participant in class sessions has been invaluable.  Writers tend to be isolated, but conferences demand being involved to get the most out of them.

12) What else would you like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

My goal is to provide a reader with a fun experience.  Whether it is the next book in this series or any piece I write, I want the reader to enjoy, even while digesting an important theme.  Hopefully, readers will look forward to having my books on their bookshelves or downloading them to their e-readers.


Debra Goldstein is a judge, award-winning author, litigator, civic volunteer, Yankee,and Southern woman writer.  Maze in Blue (2011), which takes place at the University of Michigan in 1971, is her debut mystery.  A second mystery in her series is in the works.  For many years her writings were legal articles, but now she enjoys writing fiction and non-fiction.  Like her sleuth, Denny Silber, she doesn't like to be pigeon-holed. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.


  1. It sounds like a book I would enjoy, Debra. I look forward to getting it at Malice and meeting you.

  2. Thanks Gloria! I'm looking forward to meeting you at Malice, too. If you do pick up a copy of Maze in the Malice bookstore, I'll be glad to sign it for you :).

  3. Congratulations, Debra! I look forward to reading this!

  4. Judy, thank you for sharing these wonderful interviews. I have a blog about academic mysteries, and if you or any of your panelists would like to guest post, please let me know. Good luck at Malice! Wish I could attend this year and hear the panel. (Cynthia--same as above comment.)

  5. Cynthia: You definitely are right that Judy is to be thanked for hosting all of us! We are looking forward to her moderating our academic panel at Malice (wish you could attend especially after just peeking at your academic mystery get what we are writing about). Keep up your good work and thank you for commenting on my interview (Maze in Blue) and the other interviews Judy has posted.

  6. Fun interview, Debra! I've got Maze in Blue in my TBR stack and am so looking forward to reading it and meeting you at Malice.

    Thanks, Judy, for doing these interviews and for all the work you've put into making our panel on academic mysteries a success at Malice!