Sunday, April 9, 2023

Leslie Karst Interview - Justice is Served

Photo Content from Leslie Karst

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst waited tables and sang in a new wave rock band before deciding she was ready for “real” job and ending up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney in Santa Cruz, California, that she rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking, at which point she once again returned to school—this time to earn a degree in culinary arts. Now retired from the law, Leslie spends her days penning the Sally Solari culinary mystery series, as well as cooking, gardening, cycling, and singing alto in her local community chorus. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai’i.

Greatest thing you learned at school.
Reading. Nothing else comes even close. I can’t imagine life without the ability to decipher product labels, street signs, and menus. Or to read the newspaper and send texts. (Okay, so maybe this boomer who grew up long before the existence of personal computers would actually do perfectly well without texting.) But to live life without being able to curl up in a chair and immerse myself in the worlds of Jane Austen and J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy L. Sayers? That would be simply dreadful. So thank you, teachers, for the gift of reading!

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I’d been writing extensively for years—first, with term papers in high school, later drafting literary criticism as an English major in college. But it wasn’t until after receiving my undergraduate degree, when I started a New Wave rock band and began penning songs for the group, that writing became a true vocation for me. Each song was a little story—one of heartbreak or mystery or undying love—so much more fun than cranking out dry essays about the use of figurative language in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales! It took over twenty more years (during which I found myself writing dry, legal briefs), but I was eventually able to go back to stories and pursue my dream of writing fiction, and began work on what would become Dying for a Taste, the first novel in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. A murder mystery in disguise, this love-letter to Alexandria, Egypt is a four-volume work, in which we watch the same action unfold three times, through three different lenses, before again moving forward in time in the last book. I’ve now read it numerous times, and never cease to be amazed how Durrell’s vivid sense of place deliciously transports me to the beauty and intrigue of 1930s Egypt.

For a book outside of the mystery genre (though, mind you, The Alexandria Quartet isn’t generally classified as such), my pick is Ulysses, by James Joyce. Each page is jam-packed with delightful insights, and its everyman protagonist, Leopold Bloom, is perhaps the most truly human character ever created in the world of fiction.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Having people email or come up to me in person to say how much they enjoyed one of my books. Writing is such a solitary vocation, and one becomes so immersed in the process, that it’s almost impossible to be objective about it all. Is what I’ve done brilliant or is it crap? So I never tire of positive feedback from readers. Okay, it must be worth it, I think after hearing from someone. I’ll soldier on....

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
One often hears about books that “changed my life,” but in the case of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, that is actually the truth. In this compelling and meticulously-researched book, Pollan follows from source to final product the processes of the three primary food chains, and by making me truly aware of where my food actually comes from, his book quite literally changed the way I think about what I put into my mouth.

  • 1. The original working title of the book was Cooking for Ruth, but my publisher and I decided on Justice is Served after learning that Nina Totenberg would soon be releasing a memoir called Dinners with Ruth.
  • 2. I hadn’t planned on writing a book about hosting dinner for RBG (“the Dinner,” as my family came to refer to it); it was only afterwards that I realized it would make a for a compelling story. And so, on the drive from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz the day after the event, I filled over twenty pages of scratch paper with tiny, scribbled notes about everything I could remember of the experience—the months leading up to dinner as well as the meal itself.
  • 3. RBG wasn’t fond of raw red onions, as demonstrated by the ones she left on her plate at the Dinner.
  • 4. Martin Ginsburg generously agree to read the sections of an early draft of Justice is Served relating to him and his esteemed wife, and he provided me not only with helpful corrections and edits, but also heartfelt encouragement regarding the memoir.
  • 5. RBG’s first job after completing a judicial clerkship was to coauthor a book on Swedish judicial procedure.
  • 6. One of the things I learned from the events recounted in the book is that pot of butternut squash soup left to simmer unattended on the stove is likely to send bright orange spatters all over your range top and walls.
  • 7. My father first met RBG back in the late 1960s, when the two law professors had both been involved in comparative law.
  • 8. Whereas presidents, vice presidents, and visiting foreign heads of state are guarded by the Secret Service, justices of the US Supreme Court are protected by federal marshals (who also transport federal prisoners, among other duties).
  • 9. Starting in 1980, RBG never cooked for her family; that task was thereafter taken over by her husband Marty, who was the far better cook.
  • 10. It took seventeen years from the time of the Dinner to the publication of Justice is Served. Which goes to show, you should never give up on your dreams.
What is the first job you have had?
Babysitting my little sister, for 30 cents an hour.

What's your most missed memory?
Hanging out with my mom on rainy afternoons, watching Julia Child or old movies on TV and eating popcorn.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Well, since I did in fact go through a searing heartbreak back in my 20s (though I’m still friends with the gal who split up with me), I can safely say that I’d absolutely choose to undergo that misery again if the alternative were to never have loved at all. And hey, the experience is fodder for lots of great story ideas!

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid?
The one I in fact got to live in—growing up in the 1960s, with all the kids in the neighborhood hanging out together in a gang playing tag and baseball before the advent of computer games and cell phones. Bliss.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
I never actually saw it, but my wife loves to tell the story of how she once lived in a funky, dive apartment in Santa Cruz back in the ’70s that had a working toilet in the middle of the living room.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I’ve always thought that the year my family spent in South America when I was six years old would make for a great movie or TV series. It was 1962, and my 33-year-old mother (whose Spanish was minimal) had to look after four children, ages 1 through 9 (and educate via correspondence school the eldest three), as we took a steamer from New Orleans to Buenos Aires and then moved about the continent, experiencing all sorts of adventures—including two different coups d’etat—along the way, while my academic father did research regarding Latin American land reform issues. What a trooper you were, Mom!

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
You mean during the hours it generally takes me to finally fall asleep? That would be: I wonder what I should make for dinner tomorrow; What was the name of that TV show that my sister recommended?; Why didn’t Gandalf simply send the eagles to take Frodo to Mt. Doom with the ring?; Did I remember to put milk on the shopping list?; and, Oh, I mustn’t forget to get up early for that Zoom date I agreed to attend at seven am.

When Leslie Karst learned that her offer to cook dinner for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her renowned tax law professor husband, Marty, had been accepted, she was thrilled—and terrified. A small-town lawyer who hated her job and had taken up cooking as a way to add a bit of spice to the daily grind of pumping out billable hours, Karst had never before thrown such a high-stakes dinner party. Could she really pull this off?

Justice is Served is Karst’s light-hearted, earnest account of the journey this unexpected challenge launched her on—starting with a trip to Paris for culinary inspiration, and ending with the dinner itself. Along the way, she imparts details of Ginsburg’s transformation from a young Jewish girl from Flatbush, Brooklyn, to one of the most celebrated Supreme Court justices in our nation’s history, and shares recipes for the mouthwatering dishes she came up with as she prepared for the big night. But this memoir isn’t simply a tale of prepping for and cooking dinner for the famous RBG; it’s also about how this event, and all the planning and preparation that went into it, created a new sort of connection between Karst, her partner, and her parents, and also inspired Karst to make life changes that would reverberate far beyond one dinner party.

A heartfelt story of simultaneously searching for delicious recipes and purpose in life, Justice is Served is an inspiring reminder that it’s never too late to discover—and follow—your deepest passion.

You can purchase Justice Is Served at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you LESLIE KARST for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Copy of Justice is Served by Leslie Karst.

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