Bill please tell us about your book, Second Thoughts.
Thanks to you, STEPHANIE..and your IndiBrag website and to Geri Clouston of B.R.A.G. Medallion for giving me this opportunity to do just that.
The full title of the book – Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations gives a pretty good idea of what’s between the covers. And, just like all the rest of us, Presidents of the United States do make mistakes and sometimes, just like all the rest of us, they too come to regret some of their actions.
The difference is, when you and I make a mistake, its effects are fairly marginal. But when the President makes a mistake, it can be monumental. For instance, what do you do when you’re Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States, and you appoint and fight for and get a specific Supreme Court nomination? Then, you wake up a few months later to screaming newspaper headlines that your vaunted nominee – to the highest court in the land – has been discovered to be — a lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan!
Or, suppose you’re Ulysses S. Grant – Civil War hero and two-term American President. One of your Supreme Court nominees has just committed one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the history of jurisprudence. One of Grant’s nominees was sitting as judge in a New York State trial – which Supreme Court judges used to do back then when they had to “ride the circuit.”
After hearing all the evidence from the prosecution and an impassioned defense in Susan B. Anthony’s so-called “illegal voting” trial, your candidate dismisses the jury entirely, reaches into his robes, and pulls out a previously written of verdict of “Guilty!” Your man is Judge, Jury, and Executioner – in a highly publicized and volatile trial!
These are the kinds of stories we write about in Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations. And they’re all true.
Were there any challenges you faced while writing/researching your story?
One of the challenges was that most of the people therein that I write about are long-gone. Tough to get interviews in that case. Another challenge is what I’ve been calling some of the “salty” language used by these distinguished jurists and by our American Presidents.
There are in Second Thoughts any number of stories with comments that don’t need to be sanitized. For instance, Teddy Roosevelt later said of one of his appointees to the Supreme Court – the famed Oliver Wendell Holmes – that he – Teddy – could “find a banana with more backbone” than that Justice.
Then, there are the mild epithets. President Eisenhower said of his appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that – it was “the biggest damned fool thing I ever did in my life.” But, when a Supreme Court Justice calls the President of the United States “a crippled son of a (female dog, or a word to that affect)” – how is one to use that language?
When President Nixon says every single member of the Supreme Court is the “child of (unmarried parents – or, again, a word to that affect),” how do you clean it up? Or, in this day and age, do you?
I chose not to clean it up – and let me tell you why….
In my book Eleven Days in Hell – about the taking of hostages in a Texas prison in Huntsville in 1974 – one of my interviewees was the Catholic priest, Father Joseph O’Brien, who was among the hostages taken. In one of his early sentences, he said something like, “So I asked the guy who the Hell he thought he was?”
To hear a priest talk like shocked me a bit so I said something like, “Whoa, Father O’Brien. Isn’t that unusual language for a member of the cloth?” His answer was like a searchlight. It was that strong. “When you want to communicate in a prison, Bill,” he told me straight out, “You have to speak the language of the prison!” And in the words of famed TV newscaster Walter Cronkite, I feel when writing history, you have to let the reader know, “…that’s the way it is.” I’ve tried to keep that in mind for all my writings ever since.
Is there a message in your story that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t know about a message, Stephanie. But what I have found in writing Second Thoughts is that it contains a whole raft of intriguing stories that many of our most learned members of the legal profession had never heard before. I constantly hear reports from judges and lawyers saying things like, “Gee, they never taught me that in law school!”
A lawyer who tried the predecessor Roe v. Wade case wrote to me and said, “I must confess that some of this history is just about unknown and so new to me.”
So to again try to answer your question, Stephanie, the “message” of Second Thoughts is a history lesson – trying to teach why we have some of the laws – and the law-makers – we’ve had over the years.
How long did it take you to write, Second Thoughts?
That’s a good question, Steph. I don’t have any idea of how long it took because I have no idea where its genesis began. Unlike my award-winning Eleven Days in Hell book for which I know exactly how, when and where that book was born, the only clue I have for Second Thoughts is that which is shown on one of my computer’s listing October 2009 as the earliest date the master file was created – and the book was published almost exactly two years later.
What is your next book project?
There’s a 60-year-old unsolved murder mystery up in Illinois with more twists and turns than a bag full of pretzels. And it’s just begging to be written. There’s a most influential person in the history of Texas about whom I can find exactly only one biography that has been written.
There’s the story about the Windham School District – which sends its teachers and librarians into prison classrooms in an effort to keep inmates from coming back in after they get out. How many teachers do you know that had to step over a dead body to leave her classroom?
The 60th anniversary of the start of the Nation’s Interstate Highway System is looming and in which I have a local interest in down here at Texas A&M University. I teach Memoir Writing and there are simply dozens of stories there that need amplification.
My problem is not finding stories to write about. My problem is choosing which stories to write about.
Who or what inspired you to become an author?
Many long years ago, I started my full-time working career with the then third largest newspaper in the nation – the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ve been writing in one form or another ever since.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
First and foremost – in this day of the emergence of self-publishing as the primary source for getting read – and because as an “aspiring” author – I’m guessing one wouldn’t have much of a platform, nor much of a following. That being the case, I’d say that aspiring author better learn more about marketing your work than you did in writing it!
What is your favourite quote?
There so many, Steph. One I truly like says a lot – about America’s conditions throughout its history. As another writer of some note put it – a penman named Mark Twain – “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”
And one more, if I may, by a writer of lesser note – your humble scribe. There’s nothing significant about this one. It just comes from one of my books, We Three: Fred, the Ferry Boat, and Me. That’s the story of a 2,400-mile sailboat odyssey through the Great Lakes and in the Inland waterways when I “ran away from home” in Minnesota and ended up in Freeport, Texas. To get out of a horrific Lake Superior storm, I had to drive my 47-foot sailboat up what looked like little more than a stream. In the book, I called it: “A sliver of a river.” I like that!
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Bill Harper who is the author of Second Thoughts, one of our medallion honorees at http://www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Second Thoughts merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.