Let’s Read: Time of My Life

Welcome to our virtual book club! Grab a cup of coffee and settle in. Here in our virtual world, you can put your feet up on the coffee table (or your desk, if you’re reading at work) and make yourself comfortable. No one will even know if you’ve combed your hair! I had originally planned to open up the book club on Oct. 9, but decided to post a little early in case anyone wants a head start.

Our pick this month was Time of My Life: A Novel by Allison Winn Scotch. Leave your ideas, questions and thoughts on the book in the comments section. As an added bonus, Scotch is going to be stopping by and joining in our conversation!
About the book: In the novel, Scotch tackles the ‘what if’ questions that face the main character, Jillian Westfield, who finds herself asking about her old boyfriend and her career. Jillian seems to have it all (even the perfect organized closets straight out of Real Simple that I have come to accept I will never achieve). A massage releases her blocked chi and sends Jillian back in time seven years, allowing her to chart a new course, if she so desires.
So, let’s get talking! I pulled some questions from the reading group guide available on Random House’s Web site to help get the conversation started. You can answer these questions or leave your own thoughts in the comment section.
All of the women in this story struggle to find balance between their various roles in life. Do any of them manage this better than the others? How so? Can that perfect balance be achieved?
When Jillian goes back in time, she realizes that her memory of events may not be as clear as she thought. What does Jillian gain by looking clearly at the reality of events? Do you think you’ve ever skewed the past, for better or worse, to help you deal with the present?
Jillian has the chance to go back in time and see what would have happened if she had taken her life in another direction. How would your life be different if you had taken a different route? Do you ever wonder “What if?” and think about what might have been?
And, here is my question for you: What were your favorite lines of the book?
Comment away! Scotch is a New York Times best-selling author, a freelancer and a mom, so she’ll pop in when she has a chance.

Author Q&A with Charles Brandt

Best-selling author and attorney Charles Brandt was nice enough to speak with me from his home in Idaho about his book I Heard You Paint Houses, which I wrote about yesterday here. We also talked about his research, the writing life and what he is working on now.

Q. I came away from the book really liking Frank even though he was a mafia hit man. Since you were a pallbearer at his funeral, I’m assuming you liked him as well. Did that ever get in the way of your research or did it work to your advantage?

A. Let me start by saying I’d known Frank for many years before the research for the book ever began. In Wilmington, Delaware, he was our local gangster. He was the head of the Teamsters and we had no gangsters in Wilmington, Delaware. When he became a Hoffa suspect in 1975, he was very unlikeable. He was a very mean fellow.

The Frank Sheeran who I got to know in the last five years of his life was a man who had already begun to change. That was a man who was feeling remorse and wanted to get it out and get it on the table. When people want to confess they want you to work for it. They don’t want to just spill the beans. At times I would be very exasperated with Frank Sheeran, but during that time I grew to like him a lot. I think that grew to help the book. As a trial lawyer, I always had to be objective, but me liking him helped him and made him comfortable knowing that I liked him.

My wife said that she had to pinch herself when she would leave him and remember that he was a killer because he was so charming and so engaging and had a twinkle in his eye.

Q. You spent five years conducting research for the book. How did you organize your material?

A.  When you really get familiar with material as a trial lawyer, for example, and you know how you want to present it, the device that most lawyers use is the outline. I did work a lot on the outline—I worked it and reworked it. The outline was very important. There are some writers that don’t like the outline, but for this book that structure worked very well. I might move a chapter without ever writing a chapter. I wanted to structure this outline that you knew the man first. You knew him first and you knew what he did. You truly understood him as a child and as a young man and as a war veteran. The structure was to try to show in the early chapters what he was like and what he grew to in the later chapters.

Q. How did you decide what to leave in and what to take out?

A. I was guided by Frank. What he didn’t want made public was left out. He would say, for example, ‘Now what I just told you about Russell, you can’t use that.”

Q. Were you ever afraid as you were researching the book or after it was published?

A. I take precautions obviously. There were things I left out of the book. I talk about a ring that Russell made up for himself, Frank and one other person. The other person was Billy D’Elia. Billy was a successor to Russell Bufalino and was Russell’s nephew–but I don’t use Billy’s name. That is one example of exercising caution. I can tell that now because Billy is in jail. I also kept my role out of the book as best I could. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was convincing Frank to talk.

Q. I love narrative nonfiction and the way real life can read like a novel. What did you learn from your experience with fiction that helped you tell this story?

A. My first book was fiction. In 1988 I wrote the book The Right to Remain Silent. There is a line in it that confession is a basic human need. Frank Sheeran read that book and said to me that he was tired of being written about in all the other books on Hoffa. He wanted to tell his side of it and he wanted me to write it. That was in 1991. Right then and there I knew that he wanted to confess because you don’t say that without wanting to confess.

I think I always had an ear for dialogue and Frank would say memorable things I would never forget. It was like a tune melodies on the piano. He would say tremendous things.

Q. I read that the book is being made into a movie. Martin Scorsese will direct the film and Robert DeNiro will star as Frank. How involved will you be with the film? 

A. They’re the pros. They have a great screenwriter, Steve Zaillian. He won the Oscar for Schindler’s List. Paramount flew me to New York to meet with Martin Scorcese, Robert DiNero and Steve. The purpose was for me to give them material that wasn’t in the book to help polish the screenplay. The meeting was supposed to last an hour. It was a 5:30 meeting. Finally at 9:30 I said I had to go to the bathroom. They kept putting off their own personal dinner plans and they just peppered me with a lot of questions. Now I am free to answer these things because so many years had gone by and people who might have been concerned are either in jail or dead.

Q. What else have you been working on?

A. I wrote another book after I Heard You Paint Houses—I co-authored with Joe Pistone Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business. I just finished writing a book that will be out in December. It is about a FBI agent who was framed on four homicides by the mafia. It is called We’re Going to Win This Thing.

You can visit Brandt’s Web site at http://hoffasolved.com/.


I Heard You Paint Houses


Years ago my dad told me I needed to read “I Heard You Paint Houses”: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and the Inside Story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the Last Ride of Jimmy Hoffa. “It’s a book about the mafia and Jimmy Hoffa,” he said. I normally listen to the fatherly advice my dad gives me, but I tucked this little bit of information away and didn’t pick the book up until last week.

Like usual, my dad was right. Author and former prosecutor Charles Brandt digs deep into the Hoffa mystery and compiles a great story based on years of research and interviews with Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran who confesses to killing Hoffa.

To paint a house is to kill a man—the paint is the blood that splatters the walls and the floors, according to the book. Sheeran painted houses for Hoffa and the mafia. He was also a WWII veteran, a Teamsters official and a ballroom dance instructor. Brandt does a great job of explaining what made Sheeran the person he eventually becomes. After learning more about him, Sheeran actually comes off as likable.

Sheeran unknowingly begins associating with mafia boss Russell Bufalino who helps Sheeran one day when his truck is broken down. The relationship continues to grow until Sheeran is eventually doing “favors” for the mafia. Sheeran eventually gets a job with the Teamsters.

Brandt explains who the major players in the mafia were and how they all interacted with Hoffa. I’ve never known much about the Hoffa disappearance, but the roles everyone played were clear. I learned a lot about the Kennedy’s and their interaction with the mafia, too.

The book, which was published in 2004, is currently being turned into a movie that will star Robert DeNiro as Sheeran. Martin Scorsese will direct the film and Oscar winner Steve Zaillian is writing the screenplay. It should be out sometime in 2011. I definitely recommend the book, but let me warn you, you might find yourself repeating some mafia sayings for a day or two.

You can read a 2004 New York Times review of the book here: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/20/books/killing-him-softly.html.

I was able to speak with Brandt about the researching and writing of the book. Tune in tomorrow for a Q&A with the best-selling author.


Let’s Read


Good books are even better when you can talk about them, preferably with someone else who has read the book! Since my friends and family are spread out all over the country, we’ve created a book club online.

Here’s the premise: Everyone is welcome and we’ll pick a new book each month that I’ll announce in a blog post. On our set “book club” day, I’ll make a new post about the book and we can all post our comments, questions, thoughts, etc. I’m hoping authors will join in on the conversation and be willing to answer some of our questions.

Our first virtual meeting is set for Oct. 9 and we’re reading Time of My Life: A Novel by Allison Winn Scotch. I’ve wanted to read it ever since I stumbled on Allison’s blog one day, http://www.allisonwinn.com/ask-allison/. She is also a freelancer, which is part of why I think I like her.

But I’ll admit, after making the selection and letting my friends know, I was struck with a sudden sense of panic. The same kind that sets in when Bryan and I go out and I pick the movie. For the whole two hours I sit there hoping he likes it, peeking at him to see if he’s laughing, etc. (He STILL reminds me about the time he went with me to see The Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood SEVEN years ago. Really—how was I supposed to know he would be the ONLY man in the theater?).

Luckily, the book has gotten good reviews: http://www.allisonwinn.com/reviews-toml/ and so far I am definitely enjoying it. Allison has a reading group guide on her blog, too, http://www.allisonwinn.com/reading-group-guide-toml/, which will come in handy next month when we talk about the book.

Let me know what you think—and if you have suggestions for the November book, pass those along, too.