Our interview today is with James Kaufman author of The Collectables (rated 4.3 stars on 232 reviews). Before we get to the interview a short book description: In his award winning debut novel, James J. Kaufman delivers a gripping and unforgettable story of two strong men from separate worlds – one touched by tragedy, the other by greed – brought together with unexpected results. In chronicling how their lives and those they touch are dramatically changed by their encounter, Kaufman reveals the power of relationships, the nature of love, and ultimately the meaning of life.
Author Interview with James Kaufman
1. Given your background as a successful businessman, judge and attorney, why did you decide to turn to writing?
My experiences in business, law, and on the bench were challenging and exciting because they all involved helping people navigate through a series of difficulties to a better end. I have always enjoyed writing. Years ago I wrote “Noise, A Problem to be Heard,” “What to do Before the Money Runs Out,” and other legal material. But these writings were professional and narrowly focused. I wanted to draw upon these experiences without limitation—to have the freedom to tell a story that had been incubating inside me for years. I don’t think I turned to writing as much as I accepted the fact that I had no choice.
2. How did you come up with the idea for The Collectibles?
Many people are keenly interested in collecting things (knickknacks, cars, dolls, wooden boxes, rare coins, stamps, and baseball cards to name a few). My thought was”what if people put the same intensity, energy, and focus into an out reach to one another?” I’m not referring to people in the same way as collecting things, but rather in developing relationships. The core of The Collectibles is a way of approaching life. It’s a philosophy, a principle, a belief. My idea in writing The Collectibles was to put in words what has been in my mind, heart, and hopefully, my deeds throughout my life. It’s not about control or money; it’s about extensions of the heart.
3. How much of your own life is featured in The Collectibles?
4. Most think of a collectible as a sought-after object of value. Explain your use of collectible as it pertains to the characters in your story?
For years, I have watched people collect and proudly display all kinds of things (watches, clocks, wooden boxes, figurines, furniture, cars, whatever). I’m a collector myself (old bullet molds, wooden boxes). My idea for The Collectibles was to suggest that the same level of intensity could be employed to help one another. Success today is too often viewed in terms of wealth. We focus on “net worth,” meaning the economic bottom line of value. What does this say for all those people in the world who don’t have a large “net worth?” Or any net worth? Does that mean these people are not successful? I have represented many multimillionaires over the years. In some cases, I’ve helped them make their millions. I’ve also represented many people who are at the other end of the economic scale, many with no economic assets. When you look at the faces of some of the latter, you often see a peace not present in the millionaires. Where does that come from?
When their inherently good qualities are recognized, the characters in my story are not only enriched, but so are the lives of those who reach out to them. This is the investment we should be making. The collectibles increase in value over time.
5. Mountains, literally—with Joe growing up in the mountains and returning to them—and figuratively—Joe states that he wouldn’t “come down from that mountain” in regards to honoring his wife—have significance in The Collectibles. Explain the symbolism. Do mountains have a specific meaning to you?
As a young boy—six or seven—I camped in the mountains and fished in the mountain streams. At eight, I built my first boat on Canandaigua Lake, in the heart of the Finger Lakes at the foot of the mountains. I spent many summers fishing and hiking through Canada. While in law school, I worked during the summers as a counselor and guide in the Adirondack Mountains, leading canoe trips through the chain of lakes and through the wilderness. In terms of symbolism, the mountains provide a frontier, an area in many respects still unspoiled. The light looks different in the mountains, the air smells different. It is quiet except for the birds and the sounds of nature. The mountains necessarily require self reliance, resourcefulness, putting up with the unexpected, an understanding of nature, the need for self-protection. You can’t order fast food or a pizza on the telephone. You can’t tune out the world by putting your headphones on or watching TV. You can’t sleep on a Tempur-pedic mattress in an air conditioned room. But, you can see the moon, and the stars. You can hear the water falls. You can drink from the lake. You can see the animals. You can rediscover yourself spiritually, and if you reach high enough and look far enough, you can find the strength you need. Leaving that point of perspective is to come down. Getting caught up in the pressure and process of our daily lives- what we want, what we need, what we must have—or in Joe’s case, taking advantage of Missy’s well intended offer—would be too easy, and ultimately a let-down.’
6. Why was it important that Joe and Preston had met as teens and that Joe had saved Preston when he fell off the mountain?
It illustrates the difference in viewpoint. Preston never accepted that Joe saved his life. He didn’t want to be in the mountains in the first place, and that it was that old guide’s responsibility and Joe’s as well, to get him out of the crevice—which they shouldn’t have let him get into in the first place. After all, they were hired hands, responsible for his safety. When Preston was desperately in need of help to save his empire, and couldn’t get it from his big shot city lawyers (who only wanted to take advantage of him financially), he saw Joe as the best choice—the one with the most utility. He vaguely remembered their meeting as teenagers, and he figured that he could use that connection to persuade Joe to help him. Joe, on the other hand, remembered Preston with mixed feelings: one of those rich kids from the city with a chip on his shoulder who didn’t pay attention as required in the mountains, but also with curiosity—a kid from another world more about which Joe was interested in learning. When Preston pitched Joe for help and tried to use their former relationship for leverage, it caused Joe to talk to Preston in language he could understand, and tell him what “the deal” was.
7. The Collectibles issues include domestic abuse, bi-polar disorder, developmental disability, Alzheimer’s and gambling. Why did you choose these particular challenges for your characters?
I chose these particular issues because of my experience with people affected by these challenges. For fourteen years as a judge, I dealt with domestic abuse. As a Stephens Minister I still deal with it. I hate it. I can’t count how many men and women with bi-polar disorder I have worked with over the years, and still do today. I have felt the impact of Alzheimer’s in countless situations throughout the years. It is a huge problem and will only become worse. We need to be doing much more in this area. I was first exposed to developmental disability with the Newark State School as it was called in those days. I was moved then, and am now, by the obvious needs of those facing these challenges, and have done what I could over the years to help in that arena. Gambling too, is an area of keen interest to me. I know many addicted to gambling and have seen how it can destroy their lives, just as so many other addictions have done. ‘
8. It would be easy to say that the themes of the novel are “pay it forward” or “do the right thing,” but at its heart, what’s message of The Collectibles?
This book may mean different things to different readers. At bottom, in order to survive, let alone prosper, we must recognize that there is a universe larger than ourselves and that we are all in the same boat. Instead of focusing on money, we should try to figure out how we can take responsibility for ourselves and help one another. Hopefully the story will provide readers a platform for introspection. I like the way a writer friend of mine described the theme, “Life is not about who is in control, it is about connections from the heart.”
9. What do you hope readers will take away from your novel?
There is worth in each individual, and value in making the effort to find it. We can adjust the lens we look through, and in doing so, see how we can help one another and, in the process, help ourselves.
10. Explain your writing process.
It starts with Lord knows how many thoughts swirling around in my head, which is filled with stories. I find a place where I can quietly process them and move closer to their organization. My writing starts early in the morning and lasts for five or six hours. Then I look at what I have written, get some sleep, and start again the next morning. At some point, I have a beginning, middle, and end to the story. Then come the rewrites. Endless, agonizing rewrites. Then the edits. Then more rewrites. And finally, hopefully, the manuscript.’
11. Most difficult part of writing?
The editing and rewriting process.
12. Anything special you do to stay motivated—both in writing and in life?
I have been highly motivated all my life. I find life exciting and people fascinating. I want to live it, be fully engaged in it, and part of that involves writing about it. I am passionate about the people and things I believe in. If I am able to help others in some small way, it makes me feel good. I suppose it’s a need. I doubt that will ever change. I hope not.
13. What did you learn about yourself in writing this book?
How much I need to learn about writing. How little I know and how much I have learned. That I can still tell a story, and I can still learn how to tell it better.
14. What’s next?
I’ve already started my next book. It, too, focuses on relationships and the meaning of life. The characters are different and compelling. It’s coming together well.
Get your copy of The Collectables on Amazon.