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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Anthony J. Mohr shares what inspired him to write his new book, Every Other Weekend: Coming Of Age With Two Different Dads.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Anthony J. Mohr about his life and career, how his parents divorce inspired him to write his new book, Every Other Weekend, and his creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Anthony J. Mohr. I served for twenty-six years as a judge on the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. I also sat as a judge pro tem on the California Court of Appeal. In January 2021, I became a fellow at the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and am now a senior editor of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative Social Impact Review.
My stories and essays have received five Pushcart Prize nominations. I’ve worked on the staffs of Fifth Wednesday Journal, Hippocampus Magazine, and Under the Sun. I enjoy hiking and traveling. Once upon a time, I belonged to the LA Connection, an improv theatre company.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I thought about writing book as early as 1972, but never attempted to do so.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I was co-editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper and managing editor of my college paper. Even while I practiced law, I wrote a number of articles and submitted them to various magazines. Some made it into print. But I still didn’t attempt a book.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first book was a legal textbook, California Paralegal Manual—Civil Trials and Evidence, which another judge and I co-authored. Thomson-Reuters published it, and we still produce yearly updates. It took us about a year to write it. We also wrote a second book on personal injury litigation, which Thomson-Reuters also published.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Every Other Weekend took approximately three years to write. Initially I’d written a few essays with no thought of collecting them into a volume. But then I was encouraged to do so, and once the pandemic hit, I had the time to revise and incorporate them into a memoir. I worked in earnest on Every Other Weekend starting in early 2020 and finished it in 2022.
What made you want to write Every Other Weekend?
Forty years ago, Dorris Halsey, a family friend and literary agent who represented luminaries like Aldous Huxley, Ring Lardner, Henry Miller, and Upton Sinclair, urged me to write about my biological father and my stepfather. She saw a story there, but I was too busy practicing law. Then I became a judge and was too busy hearing cases. What’s more, I didn’t think my life was exciting enough that people would want to read about it.
Dorris passed in 2006, and I dropped all thoughts about the project. But years later, at the Community of Writers (f/k/a Squaw Valley Writers Workshop), an editor urged me to put both men on the page and light up the times in which they lived: the Southern California of the 1950s and early 1960s.
The light went on, and I decided to “compare and contrast” my two fathers, Gerald and Stan, and chronicle my time with them. The result was Every Other Weekend.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Every Other Weekend?
Despite my love and gratitude for both fathers, I had to discuss their faults, of which there were plenty. Writing about my parents’ divorce was hard; his second wife had “taken him away” from my mother. He then had a long-running affair that proved difficult to discuss. I saw it first-hand. While I don’t blame my father for it—his mistress provided him with needed warmth and support—I found the tryst confusing.
As for my stepfather, I felt obligated to show, in a flash, how he could pivot from peace to anger, even violence. To this day these memories hurt, but I felt an obligation to include them.
To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, families are complicated for their own reasons. They face their own unique demons, but their troubles don’t necessarily rule out successful child raising. My stepsiblings on both sides turned out well, and I think I did too. I hope a reader will take away an appreciation for two men who tried their best.
What was your research process for Every Other Weekend?
It was a combination of ‘laid back interviewing’ with people who knew my family. I had extensive conversations with my step-siblings as well as my cousins. I also spent time in the Margaret Herrick Library, which contains a treasure trove of original letters and documents from almost everyone connected with the television and film industry.
Fortunately, I kept a large number of letters, papers, and documents from the years I was writing about, including my mother’s divorce file. She saved everything. Finally, I interrogated my memory—a lot. Sometimes an old song would wake up a remembrance. Other times, an odor, a taste, or a smell would do the same.
How did you plan the structure of Every Other Weekend?
I was torn between opening with my mother’s and father’s second marriages, both of which occurred in 1958. But that would have necessitated a lengthy series of backstories to fill the reader in about my relationship with my biological father. In the end, I settled on a chronological structure: open during childhood with my dad, lead the reader through the divorce, and then move into the ‘every other weekend’ life with both fathers, which I experienced from the sixth grade through high school.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Every Other Weekend need?
For years, I’ve had a writing coach: Leslie Schwartz. She’s great. BTW She is teaching at the 2023 Iowa Writing Festival. She helped me throughout. Koehler placed two editors on the book, and they also were excellent.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Don’t wait around. Start writing. It doesn’t matter if you turn out clunky pages. It’s a start. Spend time reading good books by the masters. Steinbeck, Dickens, Marquez, Faulkner, Patchett – you get the idea. And then attend writing workshops. There you probably will find a supportive community who will be happy to comment on your work.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I am torn between writing about life as a judge and writing another memoir about the Southern California of the 1950s and early 1960s—only this time I’d turn the lens outward and focus on life in school and in the community, not my family.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes. At the end of the day, I wrote a memoir. I know my stepfather’s children like it, and so do their children. So do my cousins. So do the high school friends whom I put on the page. That does make me proud.
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