Sunday, December 19, 2010
Author Interview with Theodore Jerome Cohen
Today we're talking with Theodore Jerome Cohen, author of End Game: Irrational Acts, Tragic Consequences.
FQ: The first book in the Antarctic Murders Trilogy, Frozen in Time: Murder at the Bottom of the World, begins with the 16th Chilean Expedition to the Antarctic and the third book, End Game: Irrational Acts, Tragic Consequences, ends with the 20th. Obviously you, as a participant in the 16th, would be highly interested in these expeditions. Can you tell us what happened during these expeditions and what progress, if any, happened in this time frame?
I only participated in the 16th Chilean Expedition. When I returned to Madison, Wisconsin, I completed my work on the gravity survey we performed in the Antarctic and prepared and published the results in the Journal of Geophysical Research. At that point, I joined Dr. Robert P. Meyer’s UW-Madison team that was performing crustal seismology studies of the North American upper crust and began work on a PhD in seismology. This kept me pretty busy, and I didn’t see much of the others from the Geophysical and Polar Research Center who went with me to Chile in 1961—Drs. Robert Dott, Jr., Martin Halpern, and Kevin Scott. But we remain in contact…often daily, by e-mail. I completed my PhD in 1966 and moved on with my life. What happens in the Antarctic Murders Trilogy after my return to Madison in 1962 is pure fiction. I never did follow the progress made by the Chilean expeditions that followed the one in which we participated.
FQ: Your primary career, aside from authoring and presenting scientific papers, was not a literary one. Many people are sure to be curious about your work in the scientific realm. Perhaps you'd like to share with us what you actually did after you left the Antarctic.
Long story short, as they say, I completed my PhD in 1966, and spent two years as an officer in the US Army—Captain, Corps of Engineers—fulfilling the obligation I incurred under the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) Program. I then worked in the fields of defense, homeland security, and anti-terrorism, and communications-electronics as a scientist, engineer, corporate officer, and lastly, consultant, for several firms in the greater Washington, DC, area. We left Washington in the spring of 2006, and moved to Bucks County, PA, where we now make our home. Though I’ve been writing all my life, both as a vocation and avocation, the latter primarily focused on articles, columns, and interviews in the field of Amateur Radio, I didn’t start writing novels until 2009, with Full Circle, of course, being my first.
FQ: This trilogy has excited and intrigued many people, including your own family. Naturally family members tend to applaud when a family member is first published, but you have received many outside kudos. Of all the applause, which pair of clapping hands has tickled you the most?
Wow! That’s a difficult question. Thanks for letting me off the hook on family members. But on the outside, I’d have to say Bernard (Bernie) Garfield, former Principal Bassoonist with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1957 to 2000. He congratulated me on writing the trilogy, which he likened to writing my ‘first concerto’. A concerto, of course, is a musical work in three parts or movements. But here’s what tickled me the most. When he finished reading End Game, he sent me a note: “Ted, in every successful musical composition there is a great start, an interesting and exciting middle, and most importantly, a successful ending. Well, the Epilogue of End Game is very satisfying. The tale is now finally completely over, and I'm at peace with all the characters.”
FQ: Most writers tend to develop idiosyncratic ways of writing. For example, some devote one hour to writing every morning or think writing on yellow tablets is the way to go. Do you have any special habits you've adopted as you've begun to write or are you keeping secrets that only the Chilean Naval Intelligence could crack? Fess up!
Well, I won’t make you wait for Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks to reveal my secrets. When I write, I just sit down at my computer and type. I usually outline the book by putting down chapter headings, though chapters do get added as I go along if it seems appropriate. But basically, I write…and write…and write! Sometimes four hours a day, sometimes eight, sometimes even twelve. I have written as many as 5000 words in one day, and, in the case of my novel Death by Wall Street, for example, which really was my fourth novel, I wrote 80% of the book in two weeks. Then, my efforts focus on editing and refinement, meeting with my developmental editor, discussing edits with a few close friends, and so forth, before I finally submit the manuscript to AuthorHouse for publication. The process is very intense. I simply can’t stretch it out. Frankly, I like to work on one thing, finish it, and move on.
FQ: The thrilling finale of End Game comes immediately after Gustav Mahler's final movement of his Symphony No. 5. Only someone who has a passion for Mahler can describe his work (in particular the pacing of No. 5) only if one is a devout fan. Are you? Pray tell us about your passion for music.
Yes, of course. I do love music. All genres, in fact, but especially classical music. Now, more than ever. One of my greatest regrets in life is that I did not continue playing the violin after I left high school. But as readers of my semi-autobiographical novel “Full Circle” know, life intruded, and my father’s dream that I would be a concert violinist never were realized. Fortunately, life sometimes gives you a second chance, so returning to the violin over four years ago has brought me great joy and fulfillment. Today, I am playing the violin at a level I never dreamed possible, thanks to my teacher, John Aumann. And I was thrilled in 2007, when Maestro Daniel Kujala, Music Director of The Bryn Athyn Orchestra, asked me to join the BAO. Dan is the man who introduced me to the great music of Gustav Mahler, a personal favorite of his. Through the performances of the BAO, I have come to love Mahler, as well as Berlioz, Copland, Dvorak, Moussorgsky, Mozart, Saint-Saens, among many, many others. It seemed only natural to incorporate classical music into my novels, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 was ideally suited for “End Game” because of its length and the pacing of its movements. I hope the readers are as antsy as Captain Valderas as waits for the concert to end…a concert he had been waiting for months to attend, but now, can’t enjoy because…well, I’ll let your readers learn why.
FQ: Putting aside your own work for a moment, let's think about other authors. If you were to head to a book store (unnamed of course), which section would you head over to immediately? If you could add just five of your favorite authors' works to your basket, who would they be?
Good question. I tend to read a variety of books and various categories. I love the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars, and still have some to read. The writings of Harold Kushner are quite inspirational, and give a person much to think about. I even enjoy reading the classics now and then…things from the pen of Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll. I guess what I find most interesting about them is that they can be read on so many different levels. Frankly, I just select books that pique my interest from time to time. Now I’m reading Sean Carroll’s From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time and Robert Spaethling’s Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life.
FQ: You have been a ham radio operator for many years and have also have co-authored a book entitled The NEW Shortwave Propagation Handbook. Just have to ask ... have you Worked All States? Any interesting contacts you'd like to talk about? Did you have to continually shout to get that one last contact you needed? Have you contacted Pitcairn Island by any chance?
I’ve been licensed since November 1952, and currently hold an Extra Class license and the call sign N4XX. Yes, I’ve worked all of the United States and just about every country on Earth. I never did work North Korea, though, but then, I’m sure I’m not the only one. Some of the more interesting contacts I’ve had were with the Kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. And yes, I’ve made contact with Pitcairn Island on many occasions. Most of those contacts were with a man named Tom Christian, VR6TC, who is a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian of HMS Bounty. I have to laugh…you must know a few Radio Amateurs. There were many times when I was literally shouting into the microphone to get that last watt of power into the antenna so that I could be heard over the other stations calling an operator who was on the air from some godforsaken place I needed to contact for an award. Truth be told, I prefer using the International Morse code over talking into a microphone. Until I went off the air in 2005 because we moved to a community that won’t allow me to put up a tower for my antennas, most of my on-air activities from 1990 to 2005 were in code. I just loved the challenge. Anyone can talk into a microphone, but it takes real skill to communicate in code at speeds of 35 words per minute.
FQ: Back to your own work after a bit of bookstore browsing and shouting at your ham radio contacts. End Game appears to be doing quite well at the moment, a fact that no doubt excites you. Are you hard at work writing again (see question number four) or are you going to sit back and relax a while before you put your pen to the paper so to speak?
I’m taking it easy for now. Five novels in 14 months is rough, both on the mind and the pocketbook. So, I’m going to take a break here, do some reading, play the violin, do a little traveling, and just enjoy life!
In the meantime, please be sure to visit my website at: TheodoreCohenNovels.com
To learn more about End Game: Irrational Acts, Tragic Consequences please visit our website and read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.