New interview with novelist Tom Corbett

Novelist Tom Corbett has come back to
Reviews and Interviews and today we’re chatting about his new work of fiction, Palpable Passions.
Tom Corbett
is an Emeritus Senior Scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He
holds a Doctorate in Social Welfare and has both taught social policy at the
University and has consulted on policy issues at all levels of government in
the U.S. and Canada. His most recent books include Tenuous Tendrils; The Boat
Captain’s Conundrum
; Ouch, Now I
Browsing through My Candy
and The Other Side of the
. He lives with his spouse of 46 years, Mary Rider, in Madison
Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews,
Tom. Please tell us about your newest release.
It is titled Palpable Passions. This is a story about
how our surrounding culture can prevent us from achieving our dreams and how
the human spirit can break those cultural chains. The narrative focuses on two
families, one born in privilege in America and the other struggling under the
Taliban regime in Kabul. Circumstances bring the two together in the Panjshir
Valley of Northern Afghanistan as Osama Bin Laden attacks the United States.
The unanticipated connections they make in this remote part of the world helps
members of each family find renewed hope to pursue their private destinies.
From despair, each finds a path toward realizing the personal passions within,
passions they once thought beyond their grasp.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have always
been interested in the notion of culture, how it shapes who we are and how some
find a way to achieve much either because of it or in spite of it. As an
academic, I focused on how phenomenon such as institutional and professional
culture informs how we go about our professional lives. As an observer of life,
I looked hard at my own past and how I escaped from the tenets and the binds of
my own cultural milieu. In this work, I look at two very different families who
seek to realize what burns inside them despite political and relational
impediments. It is a universal story of finding oneself.
What’s the next writing project?
I have
several projects on tap. I am updating and revising an earlier professional
memoir, Browsing through My Candy Store,
that will be republished this year. I have started a sequel to my latest
fictional work, Palpable Passions,
that is tentatively titled Original
. That sequel continues the struggle of Azita Masoud to pursue
her dreams and that of Christopher Crawford’s efforts to confront his father’s
right-wing politics. A third project involves a possible collaborative work
with Peter Adler who also served in the Peace Corps in India in the 1960s.We
have been encouraged to turn our earlier works on our Peace Corps experiences
into a witty exploration of young Americans stumbling around trying to save the
world. Finally, a colleague from the University and I are being asked to
publish a second edition of an academic work on Evidence-Based Policymaking. It
is a good thing I am retired.
What is your biggest challenge when
writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
After two
fictional works, I find that genre fundamentally different and uniquely
challenging. For me, it is like creating a little symphony. I strive to balance
several attributes of what I consider good story telling…pace of plot, depth of
character, humor and drama, broad appeal intertwined with substance and
intellectual gravitas. It is far easier to write an academic work or a memoir,
they flow off the mind. I was taken with a comment from a reader recently who
wrote that I…” make her laugh a little and think a lot.” That is perfect.
If your novels require research – please
talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while
you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
After seven
decades of experiences, I have a lot to draw upon. In Tenuous Tendrils, I drew
upon my experiences in academia and the anti-war fervor of the 1960s. In
Palpable Passions, I drew on my own experiences living in a remote village in
India for two years in the Peace Corps. My works integrate drama, humor, and
substance. I delve into serious political and social issues without getting
bogged down. A lifetime of debate in the academy and struggling with serious
social problems has refined my skills in that area. In the end, aids like the
internet and Google Earth help where needed. I tend to reference some things
once I have decided on a narrative.
What’s your writing space like? Do you
have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us
about it.
Not so much a
spot as a pattern. At night, as I am falling asleep, I tend to focus on where I
am in the narrative. As my brain begins to relax, I let it imagine several
alternative paths for pushing the story forward, weighing the alternatives
according to my balancing act mentioned above. When I like one, I go over it
several times in my head since I am afraid I will awake in the morning and not
be able to recall my previous evening’s insights. I try to get back to writing
as soon as a I awake in the AM. Once started on the day’s writing, it takes care
of itself.
What authors do you enjoy reading within
or outside of your genre?
I like
biographies, historical works, and political commentary. For fun, I do like
mysteries, particularly period pieces such as those by Ann Perry or the
classics such as Agatha Christie.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers today?
I feel very
fortunate to have time to embrace my writing muse at this point in life.
Growing up in a rough, working-class neighborhood, becoming a writer was not a
common aspiration. I did put that dream on hold as I stumbled into a career as
a policy guru and academic. I have no regrets. I often say that I was very
fortunate to be able to fly around the country working on society’s most
difficult issues while working with the best and the brightest. I also got the
opportunity to teach very bright students at the University of Wisconsin. And
they paid me to do it. Getting back to my first love is the icing on the cake.
Thank you for coming back to Reviews and

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