A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Dr. Eric Mondschein’s memoir, Life at 12 College Road. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with him.
IDI – Eric, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you join me here today. For those who may have missed the review, Life at 12 College Road is a book of vignettes, stories from your childhood. Not only was it well-written, but your stories reminded me of my own childhood, an era gone by. I also want to mention that your book is still holding a 4.9 rating on Amazon. Impressive.
Eric, when did you know you were meant to be a writer?
EM – That is an intriguing question and one I have thought about. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have ever experienced a “Eureka moment” about writing or anything else for that matter. But I do know it was in my first year as a college student at Wesley College in Professor William A. Hughes creative writing and English Literature classes that I found that I was interested in writing. He urged me to write. At the time it was poetry, but that is where the seed was planted. But at the time I chose a different path and it would be many years before I returned to writing as he had warned me would happen. He is gone now, but I am sure he knows I finally took his advice.
I also want to say that no one makes me write. In the professional positions I’ve held over the years, I have been required to file reports, write memoranda, even treatises, but I was never required to publish law-related articles, write poetry, or, of course, author Life at 12 College Road. But I certainly did not write because I had nothing better to do. The time spent away from family and the activities that were sacrificed along the way attest to that. It was more often a feeling of being compelled to write. Not for others, although most writers do want people to read their work, but to feed a need or a desire coming from within. I’ve felt particularly driven to write about my experiences growing up. The writing is not really so much about me as it is about those feelings and emotions—joy, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, even loss—that each of us, in our own way, inevitably encounter.
Through this writing experience, I have also come to recognize that even in the solitude of writing, we are not really alone. Our memories of loved ones; friends, and those we admire are always with us. Some are nearer to the surface of sentience than others, but they are there nonetheless.
And if we are really willing to listen, they have much to offer.
That might of have been more than you wanted to know by your question, but that is where it led me.
IDI – I want what’s in you to say. For the record, I’d prefer a long, comprehensible answer than one-line that tells the reader nothing.
How did you come up with the idea for Life at 12 College Road?
EM – That is a good question because I actually had not intended to write this book at all. I was on a mission to write an action/adventure thriller and was attending a writer’s retreat in Maine several years ago to do just that. But I wasn’t getting anywhere with it, so I decided to take a short nap. As fate would have it, the idea for Life at 12 College Road came to me while I was dreaming, or perhaps during that period of time just before awakening.
I recalled sitting at the dining room table where I had shared Sunday dinners with my family growing up. As I sat at the table, I realized the other three chairs had been tilted forward so that their ladder-backs rested against it. They were obviously no longer of use. And it was then that I remembered what had been bothering me: I was alone. You see, my mom, dad, and younger brother have all passed on without me. They are exploring new worlds and I have been left behind. Heck, even my dog is gone.
It was that realization, those memories, which provided the impetus for me to put my novel on the shelf and write Life at 12 College Road. The book is a collection of thirty-three “real life” short stories that, when taken as a whole, paint a mosaic of a time and place both familiar and distant. Although they fit together, each piece of the mosaic can be viewed and enjoyed on its own, and each provides a different glimpse into the world of growing up in 1950s and 1960s America.
In time, I may get back to the novel, as every once in while I think I hear the characters trying to talk to me.
IDI – What are you working on now? Can we get a peek?
EM – I would like to tell you that after I finished writing Life at 12 College Road I picked up where I had left off with the thriller. But that is not the case. I am now co-authoring a monograph and teaching supplement that is being published by the Education Law Association (ELA) with a colleague and friend, Ellery (Rick) Miller Jr., on the subject of sexual harassment and bullying. It’s called Sexual Harassment and Bullying: Similar, but not the Same, and will be available in November of this year. The monograph explores the current legal developments in the areas of sexual harassment and bullying K-12. It also examines strategies for developing and implementing policies and training to create an educational environment that allows each student to feel safe and secure, and to ensure a safe school environment conducive to learning. The Teaching Supplement is designed to provide the instructor with activities that will enhance students’ understanding of sexual harassment and bullying as they explore the legal issues involved, examine the concerns related to developing strategies and crafting and implementing policy to confront them. We both thought the issues of bullying and sexual harassment were too important to ignore and we wanted to provide not only teachers and administrators with information and activities to confront them, but also the entire community. If people are interested the books will be available in November from the: Education Law Association Bookstore.
(It is not your “regular or traditional Excerpt, but if interested here is an excerpt from Sexual Harassment and Bullying: Similar, but not the Same)
We all remember those school experiences when we were bullied. Often they are etched on our memories, a permanent scar of humiliation, of being defeated, of being embarrassed. Often we were told to get over it, ignore it, and turn the other cheek. We were told, “boys will be boys,” or “that’s just the way girls are.” It was part of the school experience, but in the great majority of incidents the results were not life-threatening and the physical injuries usually minor. Conversely, we might look back and consider with some chagrin and regret when we were the bully, picking on someone with less power, less popularity, or less status in the group. Incidents of bullying occurred, but in most schools they were the exception rather than the rule.
Today, bullying is occurring much more often and, with our new technologies, students are being bullied at school, on the bus, and in their homes. V-mail, e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook have become weapons used to humiliate and bully. Recently, bullying has received major attention in the national media as horrific stories of the results of ongoing bullying have surfaced. Sadly, some of these incidents have resulted in the deaths of young people. School systems are scrambling to develop appropriate policies and procedures. A number of states have passed bullying laws that either criminalize bullying incidents or provide prescriptions for school system enforcement.
As the focus on bullying has grown, attention to incidents of and concern about sexual harassment has diminished. It is easy to understand that sexual harassment can be a form of bullying, especially when it is used to intimidate, but it is also a form of discrimination prohibited by federal and state laws. It is not a new phenomenon, but its unacceptability is now ingrained in our laws and practices. Both girls and boys can be victims and/or predators. Since the 1980s, schools have been required to address issues of sexual harassment of students. Yet, after over twenty years, nearly half of seventh through twelfth-grade students in an American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) national study complained of being sexually harassed in 2010. The study indicated that students used rumors, gossip, groping, and/or physical assault to harass other students based on sex or their gender. Just under one-third of students self-identified as engaging in harassing behavior.
Of course, when I am finished with this project I will have a discussion with the characters in my novel to see if it’s time to take them down from the shelf.
IDI – That sounds like something we can’t stress enough in our current times as it seems to be a growing issue within our schools.
Do you have a blog and if so, what type of posts would a visitor find on it?
EM – Yes I do have a blog and it can be found at: http://www.ericmondschein.com. There you will find my musings on current events, commentaries on issues of import, poetry, the outdoors, and even some of my recipes. I have even included several of the short stories from my book. But if readers really want to know more about me they should read Life at 12 College Road.
IDI – Do you have a favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
EM – That is not an easy question to answer, but as you have put me on the spot, I would have to say Dean Koontz. He has a way with character development that makes them so human and alive. In many cases the main character is someone I would really enjoy meeting. Odd Thomas is one such character I would thoroughly enjoy hanging out with if it were possible. He is also is a phenomenal storyteller and his plots and dialogue bring every page to life. I find in many cases once I pick up a book of his I just can’t put it down until I have finished it. And I would be remiss if I did not state that he also knows how to scare the heck out of his readers.
IDI – I’ve asked this same question in the past and this is not the first time his name has been mentioned. I am almost embarrassed to say that with the many books I read, I don’t believe I have ever read one of his. I’ll have to change that!
How much time/effort do you put into social media as a means of self-promotion?
EM – Now that is a question I have been grappling with for a while now. Not just how much time and effort, but wondering often if it is worth it? Today we are working in a world of author-driven marketing. The days of sitting back and doing a book signing here and there are a thing of the past, if in fact that is all it ever really was. These days I find myself beginning each day checking my mail and then going to Facebook, Twitter, BingBing, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn making sure to post not only about my book, but also making sure I am heard from, sharing poems sharing writing tips, commenting on events if the day, but keeping my work and my name in the public domain. So I spend over an hour or more each day, seven days a week, reading and posting in the world of social media. Have I sold books through social media? The answer would be yes, but more importantly I do know it has increased the number of visits to my website and that has helped sales as well. It is something today’s author just has to do.
IDI – We all know marketing lies (mostly) with the author. Aside from social media, what forms of marketing have you engaged in? Book fairs, signings, podcasts, et cetera… Have you found them beneficial?
EM – Besides the social media marketing efforts I have also participated in book fairs, book signings and readings at local bookstores, and I have spoken at book clubs, and at senior citizen writing group meetings. I must confess I have enjoyed these events very much and but for one, sold books at each event. I especially enjoy book readings where I can share my stories with people and it is also fun to mingle and get to know folks interested in not just my stories, but books in general during the social portion of these activities. I also believe it is important to support our independent bookstores as so many are closing around the country, and these bookstores and public libraries are more important to the life and health of local communities than they realize.
IDI – Every author has their own style/voice (if we’re doing our jobs right), but what author would you say your work most resembles?
EM – You do ask some tough questions. I have listened a lot to stories by Garrison Keillor and have always enjoyed his writing. And I was quite humbled when a review of my book was posted on Amazon.com suggesting that if you liked Garrison Keillor you would like my book. So I guess I would have to say my writing in a small way may resemble that of Garrison Keillor. Perhaps it’s more so because of the subject matter of the stories rather than the writing. My style however may be similar as I do try to write as if I am sitting in front a few close friends, and telling them a story. So I guess my writing style is one of storytelling. I want the reader to feel that I am talking to them and sharing something of value to me.
IDI – What is the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
EM – As it relates to writing, the best advice was given to me by Professor Hughes, who I mentioned earlier, and that was to “read, read, read and then read some more.” Conversely, the advice I chose to ignore was that I probably should not try to write, and there is no need to mention who gave me that advice.
IDI – Even in an interview, you leave your reader wanting more! That’s okay, we don’t need to know who it was, just that they were wrong. 🙂
Do you have anything specific you would like to say to your readers?
EM – Without giving anything away, I would think that after reading the book one might come away wondering just how I could have survived. But as I wrote the book, and am now answering your questions, I am happy to report I survived. The book is about growing up in suburban/rural New York in the 1950s and 1960s. The main character, as a young boy and teenager, is confronted with many of the issues and concerns of that time. I think, however, that many of the concerns, questions, problems, and conflicts I encountered will be familiar to just about anyone, at any age.
The tools and knowledge at our disposal may differ, but as human beings we all generally go through the same stages of growing up and discovering what is really important. In reflecting on my past, I found that it was not the earth-shattering events that were most significant to me. Rather, it was the small things; many long forgotten until recently, that deeply and indelibly touched me. Sure, some of the memories involve fire trucks, police cars, and hospital visits. But most do not. And if their retelling can help the reader to connect with similar moments from their own life, well, that to me is special.
IDI – Eric, I would like to thank you for appearing here with me today. After reading your memoir and speaking with you today, I almost feel as though I know you. I’m a fan for life! Best of luck with your upcoming endeavors.
EM – It’s been my pleasure, Kathy
Life at 12 College Road
Life at 12 College Road is a collection of thirty-three “real life” short stories that, when taken as a whole, paint a mosaic of a time and place both familiar and distant. Although they fit together, each piece of the mosaic can be viewed and enjoyed on its own, and each provides a different glimpse into the world of growing up in 1950s and 60s America. The book differs significantly from most traditional memoirs in both content and form. Rather than relate the most newsworthy moments of his life in a linear, chronological narrative, Mondschein focuses instead on more intimate memories from his childhood life in rural New York in a series of colorful vignettes.
It’s not always the earth-shattering events that are most significant in our hectic lives. More often, it’s the small things, many long forgotten, that touches and shapes us most deeply. Our memories of these events might bring smiles, or anger, or even a desire to forget, but every one of them helps to make us who we are today—and in some ways, who we will become tomorrow. Join Eric Mondschein at the unhurried pace of a cup of coffee for a surprising and powerful journey in which laughter inevitably mingles with tears, sorrow turns to joy, and loss almost becomes bearable.
Dr. Eric “Rick” Mondschein is an author and education consultant. He has taught law and education at the undergraduate and graduate levels of education. Having worked for the U.S. government in several capacities, he has published and edited numerous articles and books in various areas of law and education, and has written and managed numerous grants from the private and public sectors. Rick has also consulted on policy development and implementation, and conducted training for administrators, teachers, and school staff. He directed an award-winning, law-related education program for the New York State Bar Association from 1980 through 1994. In 1993, he was the recipient of the American Bar Association’s Isidore Starr Award for exemplary achievement in law-related education.
From 1995 to 2006, Rick advised the governing board of an international, non-governmental organization in Haifa, Israel, in the area of external affairs, including government relations and security. He provided analysis of human rights situations in select countries throughout the world in general, and in Iran and the Middle East in particular. He also served as the citizen representative of The Post Star editorial board, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
Rick is the author of Life at 12 College Road, published by Something or Other Publishing, which is a collection of short stories about growing up in America in the 1950s and 1960s.
He currently resides in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York with his wife, Ginny.