Thursday, May 14, 2015

Easy Reader News

From Easy Reader News

May 14, 2015

By Bondo Wyszpolski

BOOK REVIEW: Rich Man, Poor Man

Talking dollars and sense with writer Ivan Goldman

Ivan Goldman has a new novel, and here’s how it begins: “When they brought out the sidewalk chicken costume, Liz hoped they were pulling her leg, but every passing moment chipped away more of this hope. It was a one-piece outfit–bright yellow with red highlights and a gap-toothed smile sewn permanently into the chicken face.” And a page or two later: “Only one thing to do in an outfit like this–dance!”
“The Debtor Class” is Goldman’s fifth novel (he’s also authored two nonfiction titles). He resides in Rancho Palos Verdes and the other day we sat in the quieter corner of a shopping center while his dog, Daisy, napped in the bushes nearby. Goldman has been a local resident for quite some time, and “The Debtor Class” takes place largely in the South Bay. Which is where the girl in the chicken costume comes in.
Some years ago, and on a couple of occasions, Goldman noticed a young woman near the corner of 190th/Herondo and Pacific Coast Highway as he drove by. She was holding a sign–condominiums for sale, something like that. However, “She was always dancing; I’d never seen that before,” Goldman says. One guesses she had a Sony Walkman or other musical device. In case you’re wondering, no, she wasn’t dressed like a rooster or a hen: “That’s what I like about fiction; you can lie.”
Sometimes a chance occurrence or just an image can stick in the memory of an artist, and then later on it nudges up to the surface (“Make way, look out, coming through!”). That’s what happened here, and along the way there were other recollections that came to the fore as Goldman was plotting and writing his latest book.
“The Debtor Class” is an intriguing story that follows several characters (I’d call them marginal characters in that on the margin is how most of them live) who work for a collection agency run by the curiously named Philyaw, which is located in a ratty warehouse in downtown El Segundo. There are lots of plotlines that–like eels in a basket–wiggle back and forth. It’s a bit like Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice,” but more comprehensible. As the inner flap of the book jacket warns us, “All bought the American dream but couldn’t pay the price.”
“It didn’t start with the young woman dancing,” Goldman explains. “The idea for it came from many years ago when I was a reporter on the Washington Post. I did a series on a collection agency. It was a good series, and I made the front page with it.
“I remember I was very surprised,” he says. “It was my idea: let’s go to a collection agency and see what they do. I didn’t know what I was going to find, but I think like most of us I expected to find some pretty negative stuff–I didn’t expect to find nice people.
“The two guys running it were brothers. They were Korean War vets, educated, college grads, intelligent, a sense of humor. They weren’t cruel, bloodsucking scumbags. They were pretty nice guys. And the whole office was like that; they weren’t putting on a show. So it mixed me up; it surprised me. That’s not what I expected, and so it was very interesting. And over the years I remembered it.”
As he remembered the girl dancing on PCH in Hermosa Beach.
Well, and that’s another thing, our perhaps very selective memories.
“That collection agency,” Goldman says, “I remember whole conversations. At some point, after I became a novelist, I realized there’s a reason why you remember this. It’s because it’s interesting.” He  laughs. “And that was the springboard for the book.”
Okay. But why is that important?
“Because a collection agency gives you kind of a front row seat to the American opera. As we all know, money isn’t just about money, and it’s not just about possessions. It’s about experiences, it’s about vacations to Disney World or whatever else you’re buying with that money.
“So, money is currency,” Goldman continues; “but it’s the currency of a lot of things, not just material things. And people don’t talk about money, really. I don’t ask you, What’s your salary? That would be a vicious thing — it’s like asking someone, Tell me the personal details of your sexual life. You don’t do that, and you don’t ask people’s salary. So money is very, very personal.
“So what they’re discussing ostensibly in this collection agency is money that’s owed to them. But how did it get owed to them? Who are those people who owe them money, and who are these people who are collecting the money? I felt very strongly that the people collecting the money, the ones I met, weren’t very different than the people they were collecting the money from, and maybe were themselves done by collectors in the past.”
Every book requires some kind of foundation that monitors length and pacing and whatnot. Did Goldman meticulously outline the 41 chapters of “The Debtor Class” before he began writing? And does this apply to all of his novels?
“I have a semi-outline,” he replies. “I have an idea how it will end, but in this particular case I really didn’t, and that’s why it was so important to create good characters because if you create really good characters it’s like a parent sending off their children into the world. I try to create these good characters and it’s as though they decide what happens.”
It sounds a little like winding up a clock or some other device that in turn sets the wheels in motion. “The book is quite character-driven,” Goldman says, “and the characters pretty much created the plot.”
“The Debtor Class” took maybe two years to write, “but probably only six months of those two years were full time. Ideas would come to me gradually and I’d write them down — ideas about characters, about events. I’d think about them in the back of my mind and try to tie them all together.”
Are there numerous rewrites or revisions?
“I revise as I go along,” Goldman explains. “You have these people who do first draft, second draft, third draft. I do that to some extent, but mostly I revise as I write. Sometimes if the ideas are flowing I’ll just keep writing” — meaning that he’ll plow through any rough patches, all the while knowing he’ll “go back and fix that later. I know there’s something wrong with it, but I’m riding this train and I don’t want to jump off.”
Goldman, who was a Fulbright Scholar, has had a distinguished career as a journalist — writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Utne Reader, The Nation, National Review, Rolling Stone, The Ring, The New York Times, and the aforementioned Washington Post — and he seems to have ended up in a place that suits him well.
“Life is just a crapshoot,” he says, “and you don’t know where the dice are gonna come up. I’m not a famous novelist but I really am quite content with that. I’m very happy to be doing what I like to do and to actually get it published. And somebody reads it.”
But books have a lot of competition from the entertainment industry and other art forms.
“People will pay $200 for their sunglasses,” Goldman says, exaggerating a little although not by much. “They’ll pay $100 to see a crappy fight on TV, and they’ll pay $12 to see a terrible film — but they don’t want to put out $25 for a book.”
Writers write, most of them because of an inner compulsion, but sometimes to impress friends, families, or colleagues, and yet probably without knowing who their wider audience will be. So who else might Goldman be writing for?
“Maybe a million years from now creatures will land on Earth and dig through the shards of our civilization,” he says. “They’ll find my work and get a big kick out of it. I’m writing for them too.”
In the meantime, we humans can get a headstart.
THE DEBTOR CLASS,” by Ivan G. Goldman, is new from The Permanent Press (well, it better be “permanent” if aliens are going to find it in a million years!). The publisher’s website is

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

First Reader Reviews for The Debtor Class, by Ivan G. Goldman (Permanent Press, April 2015) (Reviews from Amazon &

Amazon review (5 stars)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful

By Stephen Campbell on May 12, 2015

Format: Hardcover

A dark, quirky and laugh out loud funny book that beautifully 

captures the effect the recession has had on so many 

Americans. The author has put together an unforgettable 

cast of characters in what is one of my favorite books of 

2015. Debtor Class goes directly to the "I'll want to read this 

one again" shelf in my bookcase. Highly recommended.

Goodreads review

 rated it 5 of 5 stars
Bento lost it all when he went to jail. Sussman almost loses his life. Philyaw loses his temper and finds a new employee. The rich have fame and fortunes. Drug-dealers have hard-earned cash. And the cop has blue skin! But it all makes perfectly believable, imperfect sense, as author Ivan Goldman collects an unlikely group of characters together, and the Debtor Class begins. Unspooling lives weave together in unexpected ways, and the color blue can be sadness, survival, beauty or even folly, depending on your point of view.

The Debtor Class centers around the modern world’s most unlikely heroes—its debt collectors. The novelist peoples their world with fine characters, colors them deeply in shades of genuine humanity behind wholly believable bantering, and sets them loose on a rich man about to lose his fortune. But loss can be faced in many different ways, and Job’s patience combines with the Buddha’s serenity as these characters face their tragedies and learn to hold more loosely to their dreams. Perhaps that was Job’s problem in the end—that he held on too tight and needed to be freed to be redeemed.

In the Debtor Class, readers can smile, laugh, frown and weep; they might even feel blue. But hope springs eternal when humanity runs deep, and the sort of faith that friends have in each other might one day even move mountains. It’s an enthralling read, that really doesn’t want to let go when the last page is turned.

Disclosure: I was given a free preview edition and I offer my honest review.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ivan G. Goldman
The Debtor Class is moving onto store shelves and now being shipped from sites such as Amazon. It's also on Kindle and Nook. It has a much-prized starred review in Booklist, published by the exacting American Library Association. And Publishers Weekly called it a 'gripping ... triumphant read.' If you read it, please write a short review for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and/or Goodreads. It helps. I feel like a clown putting out this marketing message, but selling books is hard, and I promise you this one is worth a look. Please help spread the word. Booklist predicted this could become a cult classic. Here's the Amazon link. If The Debtor Class isn't at your local bookstore, ask the store to order it.

Friday, May 08, 2015

My friend Tom Dworetzky showed me where I could find some of my old blogs that died when the host site suddenly went under. I think this one from July 9, 2012 held up well - about a NY Times reporter who thought he was 'lucky' because a man set himself on fire. It reminded me of my days as a general assignment reporter.

Tunisian on Fire Spelled ‘Luck' to NY Times Reporter
By Ivan G. Goldman
Emergency personnel and journalists all chase tragedy. The difference, I can tell you from personal experience, is that medical technicians, firefighters, and cops, for example, respond by fighting whatever dark force they’re responding to. The journalist is just there to record it. If someone’s on fire you don’t smother the flames with a blanket. You snap a picture.
            There’s a conflict of interest between the journalist’s career and his/her humanitarian instincts. Because the journalist essentially chases the news that sells, and that is in almost every instance bad news of one sort or another -- fire, flood, murder, mayhem, poverty, disease, disillusionment and death. You want to get ahead? You find yourself some horror. This was artfully portrayed in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, whose paparazzi were odious locusts burrowing deep into the victims' suffering in the hell beneath the fa├žade of postwar Rome.
            I know a fair number of journalists who quit the business over this inescapable set of circumstances, over the continuous chase after whatever is ugly. They understood they weren’t the cause. There’s something within the human psyche that lusts for bad news. But at some point they just couldn’t take it anymore. Journalists at prestige media -- The New York Times comes to mind -- tell themselves they’re above the race to bad news, that they pursue greater ends and seek to get at the heart of things. But do they? In the car yesterday I tuned into NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. Gross’s guest was David Kirkpatrick of the Times Middle East bureau in Cairo. As the interview began she recalled that when he was a Washington reporter she’d interviewed him on a wide array of topics prior to his overseas assignment. Did he, she wondered, get ordered to the Middle East? Or did he volunteer?
            This was his answer. I couldn’t believe I was hearing what I was hearing so I went home and replayed it off the Internet. Yes, there it was.
            Kirkpatrick:  “I volunteered and now I probably am the luckiest journalist working today. I arrived, I was on duty in Egypt beginning in January, I think January 9, 2011. January 10 I arrived in Tunisia where someone had killed himself by burning himself alive and January 14, four days later, the president of Tunisia fled and then the whole region was up in flames.”
            Let's be frank. The answer was hideous, curiously devoid of introspection and reeking of the most simplistic analysis possible. He thanks his lucky stars that someone torched himself just as arrived and then, oh what a gift, the whole region went up in flames. Apparently looking any deeper than this was just not part of his job description and something he preferred not to do. He never seemed to examine the true nature of hiw work or how he viewed it. Dealing only with surface realities, his answer was downright creepy. Apparently if two people had set themselves on fire he'd have been twice as lucky. I have nothing personal against this Kirkpatrick, but if he ever comes to my town I fervently hope he has a run of bad luck.